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STAND Conflict Update: July 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan 

This month, Sudan’s government ratified a series of laws that included the criminalization of the wide-spread practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Practices of FGM are punishable for up to three years in prison, and hospitals that violate the new law will be promptly shut down. The decision was applauded by human rights advocates and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The Prime Minister of Sudan, Abdalla Hamdok, publicly supported the law, which was a drastic change from former President Omar al-Bashir, who shot down a 2015 bill trying to achieve the same thing.

The United Nations has condemned the violence in Sudan’s North Darfur this month when reports came in that unidentified men attacked a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) on July 12th. The attack happened in the town of Katum at the Fata Borno IDP camp, where at least nine people died and twenty were wounded. Unidentified gunmen have inflicted attacks in the region for the past weeks on protests demanding “better security and a civilian state government.” Among the growing protests, Abdel- Karim, the acting governor of North Darfur, said in a public statement that he pledged to work on the demands of the protestors.

Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia have reached a “major common understanding” on the dam project along the Nile that has contributed to regional tensions. Sudanese Irrigation Minister, Yasser Abbas, agreed to continue negotiations to maintain a fair relationship that utilized the dam for the interests of all parties involved.

South Sudan 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Sudan is facing economic challenges in relation to their oil production. South Sudan’s oil production has dropped due to the pandemic delaying the transportation of materials and maintenance of the equipment. Oil is South Sudan’s major export, and it is a crucial component to the success of the country’s economy. South Sudan is also an OPEC+ participant, which means it must contribute to the cartel’s wider supply. Awow Daniel Chuang, who works In the Ministry of Petroleum, stated that South Sudan is experiencing prices it never has before and the country is “running at a loss.”

United Nations coordinator in South Sudan, Mohamed Ag Ayoya, reported that two aid workers and four others were shot dead after an unknown armed group opened fire. The attack occurred in the Jonglei state, which has seen violence throughout this year. The threat of violence in the region has limited aid organizations, causing Ayoya  to call on the South Sudanese government to do its part in protecting aid workers. This proved an even greater problem as malaria continues to kill people in South Sudan. A report released on July 19th by South Sudan’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization states that an estimated 100 people have died from Malaria since January. Malaria cases have increased and aid workers are already wary of entering the region after the attacks on aid workers. The country has reported 2,000 COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths, although the number is derived from very limited testing.

Middle East

Yemen

Concerns over a potential oil dump in the Red Sea are increasing due to the decaying SAFER FSO tanker residing off the Port of Ras Isa. The 45-year-old supertanker, which carries over 1.1 barrels of oil, is at a high risk exploding. The vessel has been stranded off the coast for over five years and has failed to be maintained.  Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen, explained the importance of preventing the spill: “Time is running out for us to act in a coordinated manner to prevent a looming environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe.” Andersen fears that the tanker would cause irreparable damage to the environment, including poisoning coral reefs and exhibiting gases into the sea. UN officials predict that a spill would unleash nearly four times the oil of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. The UN stated that a spill would not only kill birds and marine life, but also impact the lives of 28 million individuals in Yemen. The largest consequence of the eruption would be the closing of the ports and shipping lanes that assist the arrival of international aid to Yemen. 

On July 12, a series of airstrikes in the province of Al-Jawf killed at least seven Yemeni civilians. There have been three similar incidents near this region since June. The Yemen director of Save the Children, Xavier Joubert, issued a statement condemning the violence in the region: “Yemeni children are paying with their lives in a war they have no part in, leaving families torn apart while the airstrikes continue to indiscriminately target civilians.” The Yemen Data Project and United Nations recently released statistics showing the Saudi-led coalition has been responsible for injuring and killing over 3,481 children in the last five years of conflict. The UN Yemen envoy stated that they will launch a thorough investigation into the airstrikes and the overall surge in violence seen in Yemen these past few months. 

Syria

Despite the global coronavirus pandemic, war continues to wage on in the Idlib province of Syria. Due to the pandemic, Idlib has seen a decrease in direct airstrikes, however, the region has been negatively affected by a series of decisions made by the UN Security Council on the provision of humanitarian aid. In early July, Russia and China vetoed a resolution that would provide humanitarian aid across two Syria-Turkey border crossings for the next six months. Just days later, China and Russia joined again to shut down one of the border crossings, creating a bottleneck of refugees trying to escape the violence of Idlib. Around a week after these decisions, an unclaimed car bomb explosion killed at least five and wounded around 85 others at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing. 

Asia

Burma

The internet shutdown in Burma is said to continue until at least August 1, 2020, in multiple townships in Rakhine and Chin State. This is one of the many attempts the Burmese government has made to halt transportation of resources, free speech, and access of information. 

In 2018, the Burmese military sentenced members of the security forces to a decade in prison for the killing of 10 Rohingya in Inn Din village, but they were released after serving less than a year. Many noted that this performative accountability is common within the Burma military, which, as Human Rights Watch recently stated, “reflects ongoing government efforts to evade meaningful accountability, scapegoating a few soldiers rather than seriously investigating the military leadership who oversaw the atrocity crimes”. Additionally, human rights groups accused the Burmese military of committing atrocities in Gu Dar Pyin village in Rakhine State, where at least five mass graves had been found. Two journalists who exposed the massacre were arrested and eventually released from jail after spending more than 16 months in confinement.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s current leader, will run for president in November. Although her previous election led to an end of a five-decade military rule, she did not intervene or condemn the genocide against Rohingya Muslims and continues to allow the Burma military to perpetrate violence towards the rest of the nation’s ehtnic groups. The lack of attention to giving autonomy to minority groups has estranged Aung San Suu Kyi’s relationship with her political allies. The Associated Press predicts that these allies will not hold up in this year’s elections.

Kashmir

The presence of the COVID-19 pandemic has only fueled the tension in Jammu and Kashmir. The two territories have been in an 11 month lockdown following Prime Minister Modi removing the region’s autonomous status. Due to this, Kashmiris had been confined in their homes long before the coronavirus hit. The implementation of Indian soldiers in these territories has led to a number of human rights violations. According to a report by the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, “There has been denial of the right to bail and fair and speedy trial, coupled with misuse of draconian legislation, such as the Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), to stifle dissent.” 

The region’s limited access to the outside information has made their fight against the coronavirus much harder. Kashmir is restricted to 2G internet, slower than elsewhere in India. These slow internet speeds are supposedly implemented to fight terrorism. The throttling of internet speeds has inhibited the abilities of health care professionals-for instance, it took Kashmiri health providers over an hour to download international recommendations for COVID patients. According to JKCCS, the internet in Kashmir has been cut over 55 times by the Indian government in 2020.

There has also been a significant impact on the quality of education in the region due to COVID. School shutdowns happen frequently and sometimes last for months. Schools have barely functioned for 100 days in 2019-2020. During this time, students have been locked in their homes with very little access to educational resources. Even when schools are opened parents are reluctant to send their children out of fear for their safety. Shaheena Akhter, a Kashmiri mother, questioned what parent would ever send their child to school in this situation

Xinjiang, China

On June 17, the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act was signed into law in the U.S., over a year after it was introduced. This act, condemning human rights violations against the Uyghur people that include torture, harassment, and surveillance in forced detention camps, is an important step in putting global pressure on the Chinese government for its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. However, the exact form of oppression seems to be changing, as forced Uyghur labor becomes more common. A recent investigation into the production of personal protective equipment in China for the COVID-19 pandemic found that many Chinese companies have been using Uyghur labor through a government program that sends Uyghurs as well as other ethnic minorities to work in factories. With those detained being sent from camps to factories and even more being recruited by this program with penalties for not complying, oppressive labor systems are another way to continue the oppression of Uyghur muslims under the guise of “counterterrorism”.

The production of P.P.E. is only one of the many industries that use Uyghur labor. At least 83 global corporations have been found to use Uyghur labor at some point in their supply chains, according to a recent report. Conditions at these factories, which include constant surveillance, ideological retraining, and restrictions on religious observance, show the continued oppression of the Uyghurs. In response to this information, the U.S. has put economic sanctions on eleven Chinese companies linked to these human rights violations, preventing them from buying goods and technology from the U.S. While this may put pressure on the Chinese government, it may also continue the ongoing trade conflict between the two countries. 

Central Africa

Central African Republic

On July 13, an ambush in the Northern Central African Republic killed a Rwandan United Nations peacekeeper and wounded two individuals. The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic stated that this attack was likely carried out by the Return, Reclamation, and Rehabilitation (3R) armed group, which was formed in 2015 to respond to conflict with the Anti-Balaka, one of CAR’s main militia groups. CAR has been plagued with armed conflict between militia groups since 2013, with violence causing at least one million people to become displaced. Although fourteen armed groups, including the 3R, signed a peace agreement in February 2019, violence and conflict between groups has steadily increased and is on track to eventually break the peace accord. Secretary General António Guterres noted that attacks on peacebuilders can constitute war crimes and is looking to forward peace in CAR. 

CAR has struggled with child soldiers since 2013 and has recruited thousands of children to armed groups. Many have had issues reintegrating into society after returning from conflict, but some 100 children have begun to return to their communities as of mid-2020 due to a 2017 program between the USAID and Caritas. COVID-19 has continued to cause issues in CAR due to what CAR’s health minister deems a “big inequality crisis” in terms of coronavirus testing. The health minister noted that CAR is still waiting on testing kits from the World Health Organization and may be an overlooked country because of its status as a “small and fragile” state. 

Cameroon

At the beginning of July, representatives from the Cameroonian government held a meeting with leaders of an Anglophone seperatist group. One notable participant in these talks is Julius Ayuk Tabe, a separatist leader who is the president of the self-declared, English-speaking state of Ambazonia. In the meeting, representatives from both groups discussed a possible ceasefire to their ongoing conflict, which has resulted in more than 3,000 deaths and forced many civilians out of their homes. 

On July 22nd, the Cameroonian armed forces announced that Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea had come to an agreement on the matter of cross-border defence and security, an issue that the two countries have been negotiating since June. 

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW),  Mozogo soldiers are forcing civilians to  perform guard duty to protect against terrorist attacks by Boko Haram. These duties include completing dangerous tasks without training, necessary equipment, or compensation. Local authorities beat and threaten civilians who refuse to perform guard duty. Any civilians left are currently living in hiding to avoid the forced labor and abuse. 

Democratic Republic of Congo

In mid-July, protests broke out  in response to the appointment of Ronsard Malonda as the president of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI). Malonda has been accused of rigging elections in favor of Joseph Kabila, who came to power in 2001 and only stepped down last year. Malonda was also accused of rigging Parliamentary elections to give Kabila supporters a majority when current President Tshisekedi came to power. It was this Parliament that appointed him, although the President has not yet approved his appointment. Three people died as police cracked down on the protests.

Since then, the protests were banned under a broad declaration of a public health emergency, supposedly to contain the spread of COVID-19. After the ban was lifted, protests began again on July 23. Many of these protests were against President Tshisekedi and alleged abuses of power, not only through the ban but also through controversial judicial appointments. There has been no government response to the new round of protests. 

Refugees

The Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning Recognition as a Stateless Person came into law this month. This law gives an estimated 35,000 people the chance to gain citizenship, which affords them the rights to obtain residence permits, move freely, work, receive education, and utilize health services. Anna Miryasheva, a current stateless Ukrainian states, “With this law, I will finally get a sense of how it is to be someone who exists.” Although not all stateless people are refugees, this law lays the foundation for naturalization as a Ukrainian citizen for those who are stateless or have an unidentified nationality. 

The closure of Morton Hall detention center in Lincolnshire, United Kingdom marks another positive stride in the rights of refugees. A report showed that this detention center has higher levels of self-harm, violence, and use of force. As the UK has one of the largest detention systems in Europe, this demonstrates that detention centers are not needed to monitor immigrants. However, this is not the case for refugees in other parts of the world. Pope Francis has recently called the detention centres in Libya concentration camps. Traffickers and armed groups operate these detention centers using extortion, rape and abuse. Refugees are kidnapped on land or at sea and taken to “off-the-grid” detention centers. 

COVID-19 continues to impact refugees everywhere. Refugees have become a scapegoat for the pandemic globally because of the spread of false information and xenophobia. The pandemic also impacts refugees economic well-being, as they are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The World Economic Forum reports that “refugees are 60% more likely to lose jobs or income due to the pandemic.” However, the United Nations raised its budget to $10.3 billion to help fragile and vulnerable countries fight the pandemic. This appeal could help 250 million people in 63 countries. 

Refugee rights also hit close to home, as the Canadian court determined that, “the STCA (Safe Third Country Agreement) violated Canadian constitutional guarantees of life, liberty, and security, due to the risk of detention that returned asylum seekers face in the U.S.”

Alondra Becerra is a student at Texas State University. Alondra contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan portion of this update.

Abby Edwards is STAND’s co-Student Director and a senior in the Dual BA program between Sciences Po Paris and Columbia University, where she is pursuing degrees in Human Rights and Politics & Government. In addition to her work with STAND, Abby is currently a research fellow with the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University and an intern at the Embassy of France in the United States. Abby contributed the Syria portion of this update.

Claire Sarnowski is a junior at Lakeridge High School and a STAND Managing Committee member. In 2019, Claire introduced legislation to make Holocaust and genocide education mandatory in Oregon schools. Claire works to boost STAND’s grassroots fundraising efforts and collaborates with communities to launch their own genocide education initiatives. Claire contributed to the Yemen portion of this update. 

Mherat Woldemeamlake is a bioengineering student at George Mason University, and former vice president of STAND GMU chapter. Mherat contributed to the Burma portion of this update.

Simmy Ghosh is a student at College Station High School, and is a member of the STAND Kashmir, Yemen, Burma, Sudan, and Xinjiang Action Committees. Simmy contributed the Kashmir portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a rising senior at Tampa Prep High School. She has been a member of her school’s STAND chapter since her freshman year and currently serves as its president. With STAND, Grace is the co-Xinjiang and co-High School Outreach lead. Grace contributed to the Xinjiang portion of this update. 

Caroline Mendoza is a senior at Cerritos High School and works with STAND as a co-Education and co-Burma committee lead. Caroline contributed to the Central African Republic portion of this update. 

Sulphia Iqbal is a student at South Brunswick High School and a member of the STAND Yemen and Burma Action Committees. Sulphia contributed to the Cameroon portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo portion of this update.

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-education and co-policy lead. Jenna contributed the Refugee portion of this update. 

STAND’s Special Edition Conflict Update for World Refugee Day: June 2020

“One person becomes displaced every 2 seconds– less than the time it takes to read this sentence.” -UNHCR

Introduction to World Refugee Day

In December of 2000, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 20th an international day, where June 20th would represent the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Each year, the UN Refugee Agency celebrates this day with a variety of activities led by or involving refugees. The UNHCR designated the 2020 theme “Every Action Counts” to remind the global community, “No Matter who you are or where you come from, pandemic or not; every one of us can make a difference. Every action counts.” This year, STAND honors the refugees around the world through this special edition Conflict Update focusing on the refugees in our priority conflict areas. 

Sudan and South Sudan

South Sudan

Since December 2013, brutal conflict in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives and driven 3.3 million people from their homes. While an estimated 1.9 million people remain displaced inside the country, 2.2 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries in a desperate bid to reach safety.” -UNHCR

South Sudan is Africa’s largest refugee crisis. Over 2 million have left the country, and an additional 1.86 million people are internally displaced. South Sudan’s conflict, which began in 2013, remains unstable despite ongoing peace negotiations. Refugees continue to flee into Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and other East African states. Uganda hosts the majority of South Sudanese refugees, who are primarily women and children. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Uganda announced on March 25 a 30 day suspension of refugee arrivals. Uganda has over 700 cases of coronavirus already, and there is widespread concern about preventing the virus from spreading into the refugee camps. Social distancing measures are not enforceable in these camps, and lack of food, water, and medical supplies would make stopping an outbreak difficult. Similar concerns exist within South Sudan, related to both internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees from neighboring states, including Sudan. 

Sudan

Sudan’s own refugee situation remains volatile, despite promises from civilian Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok. Sudan hosts nearly 1 million South Sudanese as well as refugees from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia. Moreover, 2 million Sudanese remain internally displaced as a result of conflicts in the Darfur and Nuba Mountains regions. Hunger, general health and COVID-19 prevention for these people will require more aid. Sudan’s government has asked for funding, but so far this call has gone unanswered. Additionally, there are currently about 800,000 Sudanese refugees in neighboring states who remain unable to return. 

While peace processes in both states offer some hope of eventual return, lack of resources remains the biggest problem facing Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees. Fears about COVID-19, along with general food and medical concerns, are pressing. This makes a coordinated humanitarian response even more necessary. 

Middle East

Yemen

Nearly 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance. Those forced to flee their homes are especially at risk. Over 2 million people now languish in desperate conditions, away from home and deprived of basic needs. The situation is so dire that 1 million displaced Yemenis have lost hope and tried to return home, even though it is not yet safe.” -UNHCR

The Yemeni War has produced one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. Today, there are over 11,000 refugees and more than 3.6 million internally displaced people as a result of the violence and human rights abuses that have ensued. Many of these internally displaced people have been displaced multiple times because other countries are not accepting refugees, and violence seems to follow them. This has also made it difficult to access the limited international aid that is able to get into other parts of Yemen.

With so many people displaced from their homes and most civilian infrastructure destroyed, the country is struggling to respond to COVID-19. In fact, only about half of Yemen’s health facilities are currently functioning. Moreover, the millions of internally displaced people living in makeshift shelters across the country are forced to live in close quarters. This means that people cannot socially distance, and disease spreads fast. Many Yemeni people are also at high risk because of malnourishment- about two-thirds of the population struggles to afford food, and about half of the country is considered on the brink of famine. Food has only become harder to access as remittances, money from family members abroad, have seen an unprecedented decrease. International donors, despite having pledged 1.35 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to Yemen, have still fallen short of the 2.4 billion dollar fundraising goal.

The conflict in Yemen has put all of its citizens at higher risk in the midst of the pandemic, but the situation is particularly dangerous for the internally displaced people and refugees.

Iraq Special Focus: Yazidi Displacement

More than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced across the country since the start of 2014 and more than 240,000 are refugees in other countries including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Germany.” -UNHCR

In 2014, ISIS attacked Sinjar, Iraq, forcing the survivors of a predominantly Yazidi community to relocate. Yazda, a global Yazidi organization, predicts that 360,000 Yazidis currently live in  internally displaced peoples camps in the Kurdish Region of Iraq, 1,800 Iraqi-Yazidis live in Turkey, 1,500 in Syria, and 1,000 in Greece, with an additional 90,000 Yazidis having fled from Iraq since 2014. Yazidis living in IDP camps have ill-equipped medical services, especially in this time of COVID-19. However, because of their close proximity to their atrocities, some Yazidi refugees, with the help of a research agency Forensic Architecture, can gather evidence of the genocide through drones made out of clear plastic bottles, rubber bands, helium balloons, and a camera.

Other Yazidis have found refuge outside of Europe. As many as 3,000 Yazidis found a new home in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Yazidi Cultural Center, sponsored by Yazda, draws the Yazidis to Lincoln because of the established cultural community and variety of resources provided, such as a youth mentorship program, English classes, and legal immigration assistance. Canadian organizations also work to help Yazidi immigrants with language barriers and medical needs.

Syria

Syrians continued to be the largest forcibly displaced population in the world, with 13 million people at the end of 2018. That’s more than half of the Syrian population.” -UNHCR

Over 5.5 million Syrian refugees currently seek refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. These individuals are fleeing a brutal and deadly conflict, which is now entering its 10th year. Refugees face many challenges to meet their basic needs, and these challenges have only increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. Refugees with already unstable income are now unable to pay rent or purchase basic necessities. For example, in Lebanon, 55 percent of the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees fell below the Survival Minimum Expenditure Basket, meaning they lived on less than $2.90 US per person daily. These financial losses have hit members of host countries as well, exacerbating already strained relationships between Syrian refugees and their neighbors. 

In order to address the increasing needs of Syrian refugees, and as a part of their global response to the coronavirus outbreak, the European Union Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis has mobilized an additional €55 million for Syrian refugees along with other vulnerable persons in Jordan and Lebanon. This aid is timely, but by no means sufficient for the many Syrian refugees in Lebanon where multiple crises and lack of protection for refugees has resulted in a significant need for increased humanitarian assistance. 

Asia 

Burma 

At the end of 2018, the UNHCR estimated that there were over 1.1 million refugees from Myanmar. This made it the fourth largest refugee population in the world.” -Refugee Council of Australia

Burma is a country that has long experienced ethnic tensions dating back as early as the 10th century when ancient Burmese kingdoms existed and fought with other kingdoms and experienced invasions from other groups of people. However, such ethnic tensions became even more aggravated due to British colonization, when colonizers favored certain ethnic groups more than others. After receiving independence from Britain in 1948, Burma struggled to solidify a shared national identity amongst its over 135 ethnic groups, and clashes between the Tatmadaw (Burmese/Myanmar Military) and ethnic armed rebel groups continuing to this day are demonstrative of how this same struggle persists in the present. This marks the longest-running civil war in the world. 

Not only is Burma home to the longest-running civil war in the world, but it is also home to the world’s longest internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin states, where people have had connections cut off from family members and the rest of the world since June 21, 2019. The human rights violations documented in Burma have been some of the most severe in the world, as well, with far too many accounts of sexual and gender-based violence, war crimes, and crimes against humanity amounting to genocide, committed by the Burmese Military. 

Since 2011, more than 17,000 Shan and over 120,000 Kachin have been displaced from their homes in IDP camps, and more than 200,000 Chin have fled as refugees, with over 39,000 having fled to Malaysia. Due to the military crackdown in Arakan State on August 25, 2017, an estimated 1,600 Chin fled to India’s Mizoram State while over 700,000 Rohingya children, women and men escaped to Bangladesh as of April 2018, creating the world’s largest refugee camp in history. Rohingyas are still on the run–even as recent as this month, Rohingyas were arriving in boats to Malaysia and Thailand. As of January 2020, more than 160,000 Arakan have also been displaced from their homes, and as of January 2019, around 162,000 Karen IDPs have been displaced, with 97,439 Karen refugees residing in nine different camps on the Thai-Burma border. 

To this day, IDPs in Kachin, Shan, Arakan, Karen, and Chin States within Burma, and refugees in neighboring Bangladesh and India have limited access to food, medical care, and educational opportunities. As it has nearly been a decade now that IDPs in Myanmar have been displaced, donor fatigue has set in, with many humanitarian organizations and donors, like the World Food Programme, reducing their aid dramatically over the years. Kachin IDPs living within Kachin Independence Organization-controlled areas, in particular, are blocked by the Burmese government from receiving international humanitarian aid, too, and there are shortages of not only food but face masks in almost all the refugee and IDP camps. What’s more, Kachin IDPs also have to deal with the possibility of returning back to no home at all after their time in displacement because their land is being grabbed by the government while they are gone. IDPs and refugees alike from Myanmar are thus in need of humanitarian aid now more than ever before, especially in the face of a pandemic. COVID-19 screening centers in IDP camps have been burned to the ground, and IDPs even got in trouble with the Burmese military for receiving face masks. The Myanmar military is not stopping at all, but taking advantage of the pandemic while the rest of the world is fixated on COVID-19 issues, to inflict more harm upon the country’s very own citizens with impunity.

Kashmir

STAND just added Kashmir as a Priority Area for the 2020-2021 Academic year. To get involved in Kashmir advocacy, join the new Action Committee.

When the Partition of India occurred, the state of Kashmir had a majority Muslim population. The rest of the population was comprised of Pandits, Sikhs Hindus, and Zoroastrians. Tensions arose in the 1990s when Kashmir saw an increase in Muslim opposition to the Indian occupation in Kashmir. The conflict grew when Muslim militant groups learned that the Kashmiri Pandits did not recognize their struggle. In addition, many of these rebellious groups started calling the Pandits “informers of the Indian Government”, which caused animosity towards the Pandits. Tensions kept growing as India appointed a Hindu Governor to look over Kashmir, which deepened the divide between the Kashmiri Pandits and the Muslims in the area. This resulted in a huge uprising, where Muslim militants set homes ablaze, raped women, and murdered Pandits, forcing most to leave Kashmir.  

The Indian Government recommended that the Pandits leave the area as they could guarantee their safety and set up refugee camps. Many of the Pandits left the land they lived on for thousands of years. These refugees settled everywhere from Jammu to Johannesburg. When the refugees left, they thought that they could return in the future but that was not the case. The trauma inflicted caused the Pandits to become refugees within their homeland. As of recent, Congress at the Centre announced a package for rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, but this plan was stalled. In 2017, Union Minister Rajnath Singh announced the government’s decision to make 6,000 transit accommodations for the Pandits, but this plan did not come to fruition either. 

In 2019, when the Indian Government revoked the special status of Kashmir, a lot of rhetoric began being used which suggested that the current violence against Kashmiri Muslims was being justified with the pain inflicted upon the Kashmiri Pandits due to the exodus in the 1990s. On the other hand, many people looked at the current conflict as not one caused by religion but as one caused by a lack of correct leadership. Even in 2020, 4G internet is still not available to Kashmiri’s due to the fear of militant groups rising. This state-imposed internet barrier has caused a disconnect between Kashmiris and the rest of the world which has major effects, especially during COVID-19. Since information is not readily available, doctors do not have access to new research related to the disease. Even though the world has just now gone on lockdown due to coronavirus, Kashmir has been locked down since 2019, and the effects have been detrimental to its citizens.

Xinjiang, China

STAND just added Xinjiang as a Priority Area for the 2020-2021 Academic year. To get involved in Xinjiang advocacy, join the new Action Committee.

China routinely uses its international power and influence to pressure states into returning Uyghur refugees to China where they are frequently jailed or forcibly disappeared, if not killed. Furthermore, China has extended the bounds of their surveillance state across the world, spying on Uyghur refugees, forcing them to stay quiet on their experiences in Xinjiang and human rights more broadly, and threatening them with the internment or disappearance of their family members back in China. Uyghur refugees are rendered stateless by the Chinese government that refuses to renew their passports, making it incredibly difficult for them to travel, work, or establish a new life abroad. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the inaction of Chinese officials has stranded thousands of stateless Uyghurs in Turkey, including over 1,000 orphans and 1,000 single mothers in dire need of aid.

Still, Uyghur refugees have proved essential in raising awareness of the systematic persecution of Uyghurs within the tightly veiled region of Xinjiang. President Trump signed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act (UHRPA) on June 19—the same day that leaked clips from former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton’s memoir accused the President of expressing support for the detainment of Uyghurs in concentration camps. Uyghur refugees across the world expressed support for the policy as an important first step. However, some argue that the bill’s provisions—for instance, demanding reports on the construction of camps and the surveillance state—are now outdated and would be redundant to reports already created by non-governmental organizations. More recent research shows that China is “in the process of decommissioning [the camps] and pushing the Uyghurs who occupied them into various forms of forced labor.” Nury Turkel, Uyghur activist and co-founder of the Uyghur Human Rights Project, urged Congress to follow the UHRPA with the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA). Introduced into the House in March, the UFLPA would ban imported goods from the Xinjiang region, assumed to be created by forced labor. 

Central Africa

Central African Republic

Since 2013, nearly 1 million men, women, and children have fled their homes in desperation, seeking refuge within mosques and churches, as well as in neighboring countries (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and the Republic of the Congo.” -UNHCR

In December 2013, armed conflict and violence spread across the Central African Republic (CAR), causing thousands to be forcibly displaced and killed by indiscriminate attacks. The UNHCR estimates that there are over 593,000 CAR refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, and South Sudan, in addition to the over 600,000 internally displaced peoples taking shelter in CAR’s forests. In Mbilé camp in Cameroon, over 11,000 CAR refugees scavenge for food while many women walk up to five hours a day to retrieve firewood. In refugee camps on the River Ubangi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, many suffer from outbreaks of malaria in addition to extreme heat, hunger, and lack of sanitation. Before the influx of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo, over 110,000 refugees received aid from the UNHCR, however, a mere 11 percent of the UNHCR’s 2017 funding appeal has been received. The refugee crisis from the CAR is noted to be one of the most underfunded in the world, where many camps survive off of the charity of local communities rather than governmental or organizational assistance. 

In February 2019, the CAR president signed a peace deal with fourteen armed groups, ushering in relative stability as of mid-2020. While many refugees are hesitant to return home, the CAR has stated that it plans to prioritize the reintegration of refugees into society. In October 2019, the UNHCR assisted 6,000 refugees in crossing the Cameroon border to return to CAR, while over 274,000 refugees chose to stay. Although the number of internally displaced people has decreased by 20 percent in the months following CAR’s peace deal, the agreement is extremely fragile. UN agencies hope to repatriate more refugees in 2020 as on-the-ground security improves. 

Cameroon

As of October 2019, “Cameroon currently has 1,575,403 people of concern, including 271,960 Central African and 106,761 Nigerian refugees.” -UNHCR

Cameroon’s English-speaking separatist groups have long been in conflict with the Cameroonian government, where estimates state that the armed disputes have killed over 3,000 and forcibly displaced 679,000 in Anglophone regions. 60,000 people have also become refugees in nearby Nigeria, where about 47.5 percent of refugees live in four UNHCR settlements. The majority of Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria reside in host communities, where the aid of the UNHCR and other agencies does not reach, and many struggle without access to food, education, and basic health necessities.

Cameron’s army confirmed anglophone journalist Samuel Waizizi died in prison 10 months ago “as a result of severe sepsis” after accusing him of associating with “terrorists” referencing English-speaking separatist groups. Cameroon’s journalist union reported that the army tortured and killed Wazizi. Reporters Without Borders called Wazizi’s death “the worst crime against a journalist in the past 10 years in Cameroon. He was arrested in the city of Buea on August 2 and “accused of speaking critically on the air about the authorities and their handling of the crisis”.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The DRC currently hosts more than half a million refugees and five million internally displaced people (IDPs) – the largest IDP population in Africa.” -UNHCR

On April 12, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) believed that the Ebola outbreak was over in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) due to the lack of new cases. This announcement came about a year after WHO declared Ebola a public health emergency in the eastern area of the country. The vaccination seemed to control the outbreak, and officials did not see any new cases for a few weeks. To officially declare the outbreak over, there must be no new cases for 42 days, or until June 25. However, on June 1, 2020, health officials reported new cases of Ebola in the northwestern region of the country. As of June 1, four people already died from the outbreak in the city of Mbandaka. Because of the resurgence of Ebola, refugees are in  greater need of resources. The DRC is a refugee hotbed, hosting over 500,000 refugees from Rwanda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Burundi, as well as 5 million internally displaced people due to conflict dating back to 1960. The UNHCR is increasing its capacity in the DRC to combat the heightened risk. This agency is working to improve sanitation efforts and to distribute medical resources, shelter, food, and water. 

Additionally, many mining companies are sealing off mining sites in the southern DRC region to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks. These companies force workers to choose between working or losing their jobs. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also reported that workers are given insufficient amounts of food and no adequate personal protection equipment (PPE). One company, Glencore, claims to provide efficient PPE and that it is working closely with the government. Other companies including, Eurasian Resources Group, Chemaf, Huayou Cobalt, and Ivanhoe Mines, have not replied yet.

Abby Edwards is a senior in the Dual BA program between Sciences Po Paris and Columbia University, where she is pursuing degrees in Human Rights and Politics & Government. Abby will serve as Co-Student Director on the 2020-21 MC. In addition to her work with STAND, Abby interned at the Buchenwald memorial, the US Department of State, and the Journal for European and American Intelligence Studies, as well as served as a research fellow at the Center for Khmer Studies in Cambodia and Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Abby contributed to the Xinjiang potion of this update.

Alison Rogers is a journalism student at Baylor University and the lead on the Sudan Action Committee. Alison is also an Enough Project Upstander and was previously the Texas advocacy lead for STAND. Alison contributed to the Sudan and South Sudan portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School and a co-lead of the Yemen Action Committee. Prior to this, she was the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead and served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed to the Yemen portion of this update.

Jenna Walmer is a graduate student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania working towards an M.A. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an M.A. in General Psychology. With STAND, she is the co-education and co-policy lead. Jenna contributed to the Iraq-Yazidi portion of this update.

Megan Rodgers is a senior International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish major at the University of Arkansas and served as the Democratic Republic of the Congo Committee Lead prior to becoming one of STAND’s Student Directors for the 2020-2021 school year. She became interested in the DRC during her time studying abroad in Kigali, Rwanda during spring 2019 and through relationships with refugees in her community who are from the Congo. Megan contributed to the DRC portion of this update.

Htoijan (Jan Jan) Maran is a senior at George Mason University in Virginia, where she is studying Global Affairs and Environmental Sustainability Studies. She serves various roles as Co-lead of the Burma Committee, Assistant Secretary for both the Calvary Burmese Church Youth group and the Kachin Alliance, and is involved with grassroots organization, Action Corps, as VA Lead Organizer and Burma Policy Lead. Jan Jan contributed to the Burma portion of this update.

Ishreet Lehal is a student at Terre Haute South Vigo High School and is the Kashmir Committee Lead. She is active in the Together We Remember Youth Action Network and CANDLES Holocaust Museum Youth Board. Ishreet contributed to the Kashmir portion of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a senior at Cerritos High School and a co-lead of the Burma Committee in addition to a co-Education lead. Prior to this, Caroline served as STAND’s West Region Field Organizer as well as a Burma co-lead and High School Outreach Coordinator. Caroline contributed to the Central African Republic portion of this update.

Rohan Shah is a senior at the University of Chicago Lab School, and State Advocacy Lead for Illinois. He is involved in Model UN and Mock Trial at his school. Rohan contributed the Cameroon portion of this update.

Aisha Saleem is a junior at Barnard College in NYC. She is a biochemistry major and enjoys being a mentor to underrepresented youth around the world. She served on the Managing Committee last year and is excited to continue her work with this movement. She is excited to mobilize grassroots organizations to take part in campaigns and co-lead the Yemen committee. Aisha contributed to the DRC portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: May 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

At the beginning of the month, civil society leaders spoke out against Prime Minister Hamdok’s request to transition United Nations support from peace enforcement to peacebuilding. They highlighted the need for continued UN security forces to protect civilians in Darfur amidst mounting tensions and persistent intercommunal violence.

The African Centre for Peace and Justice Studies recently released a report documenting extensive human rights violations perpetrated by Sudanese soldiers, including the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), over the past few months. Despite clear violations, Deputy Chairman of the Sovereign Council “Hemedti” continued to hail the RSF as “protectors of the people.” While civilians have faced arbitrary arrests, assault, and torture by the armed forces, healthcare workers have also increasingly come under attack. The Sudan Doctors Committee, a leading organization in last year’s protests to remove former president Omar al-Bashir, estimated that at least 24 attacks across Sudan targeted healthcare workers and facilities. In response, doctors considered going on strike unless they received protection. While this prompted the transitional government to organize a new police force to ensure the safety of healthcare workers, civilians continue to face gross human rights violations.

Relations between Sudan and the U.S. continue to evolve as the removal of Sudan from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism list seems more likely. On May 18, the Supreme Court determined that Sudan owed over $10 billion in damages for 1998 terrorist attacks near U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The punitive measures, in addition to other recent settlements made by the transitional government for terror-related crimes, could assist the civilian-led government in removal from the list. However, it is unclear how the payment can be made when the transitional government faces pressing domestic issues.

South Sudan

Though the February formation of South Sudan’s unity government brought hesitant excitement, continued disagreement over key aspects threatens the eventual full implementation of the peace deal. At the end of April, the United Nations Panel of Experts on South Sudan warned the Security Council that actual commitment to peace varied. They documented explicit violations of both domestic and international agreements, such as arms embargoes and forced recruitment of soldiers including children. 

Substantiating the concerns of the Panel of Experts, violence increased drastically over the past month in Jonglei State. Nearly 300 people, including civilians and humanitarian aid workers, were killed in clashes between the Lou Nuer and Murle ethnic groups. No formal local government leadership presently exists in Jonglei state. President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, unable to find consensus over authority figures for newly established states, created a power vacuum which facilitated the rising violence. The number of states and Kiir/Machar previously stalled the peace deal, yet dissent continues over the appointment of governors for the 10 new states. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet denounced the escalating conflict, holding that those affected should “have access to justice, truth and reparations” in order to secure durable peace. 

Central Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

At the beginning of May, the self-proclaimed new leader of the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) militia group Ngabu Ngawi Olivier announced that they would enact a ceasefire. Olivier held that the ceasefire would have allowed for talks with the government, but made no promise on the potential timeline. Since then, the factionalization of CODECO following the death of its former leader made it clear that Olivier held little power over the competing sects. Another army spokesman announced that Olivier was an “imposter.” The power struggle amongst various factions within CODECO has resulted in new attacks on villages in Ituri province of northeast DRC, during which the UN has recorded at least 3,000 human rights violations. During one such CODECO raid in mid-May, at least 20 civilians were killed while at least 14 were left injured, according to the local administrator. 

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently reported increased government crackdowns on protestors. In Kinshasa, as well as several towns from the surrounding area, the Congolese police responded excessively to separatist demonstrations, resulting in at least 55 deaths and even more injuries.

Middle East

Yemen

In early May, the Saudi-led coalition announced “a unilateral truce” for the duration of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, the Houthi rebel forces did not agree to a ceasefire. Fighting has continued in the al-Bayda and Abyan governorates in the south of the country. Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis has become part of the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebel forces as the Yemeni government claims that the Houthi rebels, who have only reported four cases of the virus, are hiding a major epidemic. While the Saudi-backed government has called for international aid, access for humanitarian organizations, especially in the north of the country, is hindered by differentiations in faction control over the country. 

Syria

The UN urged parties in the Syrian War to pursue a ceasefire in light of the worldwide COVID-19 crisis. While the beginning of this year saw the highest number of Syrians displaced thus far in the decade-long war, a provisional ceasefire that began in early March has slowed fighting. Still, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains dire, with food prices the highest they have been since the conflict began. Furthermore, the threat of coronavirus is compounded by the country’s devastated infrastructure and high levels of displacement. 

An Amnesty International report released this month found evidence that the Russian-led coalition committed war crimes. The report cites attacks on medical centers and schools that took place throughout 2019 up to late February 2020. These attacks indiscriminately targeted civilians, thus violating International Humanitarian Law, and possibly constituting war crimes. 

Southeast Asia

Burma

As part of provisional orders given by the ICJ in January, the Burmese government submitted its first report on its steps to prevent genocide against the Rohingya Muslims. While the report has not been publicly released, many see it as an important first step to ending violence against the Rohingya. 

Because of high government restrictions on press and movement, humanitarian organizations have turned to satellite technology to track violence against the Rohingya in Burma. Human Rights Watch used satellite imagery to identify an estimated 200 homes in Let Kar, a Rohingya village in the Rakhine State, that were burned down on May 16. The organization has called for the UN to conduct an impartial investigation on the source of this mass-arson. However, many have noted that the burning closely mirrors acts previously committed by the military in Rohingya villages. 

Megan Smith is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California and served as Education and Outreach Co-Coordinator of STAND’s 2019-2020 Managing Committee. Previously, she served on the Policy Task Force of STAND France during her junior year and as California State Advocacy Lead during her sophomore year. Outside of STAND, she has interned at the USC Shoah Foundation, Dexis Consulting Group, DigDeep Water, and HAMAP-Humanitaire. Megan contributed the Sudan, South Sudan, and DRC sections of this update. 

Abby Edwards is a senior in the Dual BA program between Sciences Po Paris and Columbia University, where she is pursuing degrees in Human Rights and Politics & Government. Abby will serve as Co-Student Director on the 2020-21 MC. In addition to her work with STAND, Abby interned at the Buchenwald memorial, the US Department of State, and the Journal for European and American Intelligence Studies, as well as served as a research fellow at the Center for Khmer Studies in Cambodia and Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Abby contributed the Syria, Yemen, and Burma sections of this update.

Graduated but Not Forgotten: Class of 2020 Farewell

The 2019-2020 Managing Committee was so #blessed to celebrate our 15th STANDiversary year with these amazing soon-to-be graduates. From totally revamping our State Advocacy Lead programs, to standing up new Action Committees, to keeping our Conflict Updates concise and informative, these four prove that youth aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow – they are leading the atrocity prevention field TODAY! We are beyond proud and honored to know these ladies. Congratulations!

Grace Fernandes, Student Director, Simmons University

Dear Grace, I can never repay you for being my STAND sherpa and guiding me through this journey all year, every step of the way! You have taught me so much about STAND, Cape Cod, and appreciating one’s elected officials. You approach absolutely every issue placing human dignity first. You show up and show out for the most vulnerable – every single time. The world could use a lot more Grace, which is why I’m investing in the latest cloning technologies (not really, I’d clone my cat first). I’m so excited to see all the ways you will combine arts, humor, activism, and hair accessories in the future. Thank you for finding every Google doc ever created. Thank you for keeping it candid AND kind. Thank you for putting your whole heart and art into fundraising. Thank you for always putting the team first. Sincerely, truly, simply: thank you. – Laura Strawmyer, Program Director


23467232_10155980346817049_6019639685719165377_oI knew about you before you knew about me. You were described to me as incredibly creative, thoughtful, kind, and a great team player–all things that I am happy to report are true. My first real introduction to you was through your artwork. Grace: your art has impacts far beyond what you know. I have been so often inspired by how you weaponize your talents to fight ignorance, to spread knowledge, and to encourage empathy. You have always been a friend to us, making us laugh with your creative icebreakers and randomcchats posts, but first and foremost, you have served as a leader who has treated us with nothing but respect and warm professionalism that has inspired me and shaped how I hope to lead in the future. Your time at STAND precedes any of us here, your impact will live on for at least as many years. I cannot wait to see what you do in the future and I hope you will think of us at STAND as often as we will remember you. – Abby Edwards, Communications and Education


GRACE! You are a queen! Watching you lead our team with diligence and compassion has been a highlight of my year. Your passion is so evident in everything that you do and you complete every task with excellence. You spread kindness in every interaction and empower those around you to be the best version of themselves. One of my favorite things about you is the way that you live your life as an advocate, not only for big political ideas, but also for those around you. You use your voice in order to uplift the voices of others, making sure that everyone on the team is heard and valued. It is that uplifting of my voice and ideas that first made me feel welcome on the team. I remember feeling so out of place at the August retreat, I had never even been to DC before and I felt as though my accomplishments were so small compared to the rest of the team. You were intentional in making sure that I felt confident to share my thoughts and ideas, and asked intentional questions that let me know that you valued me as a person beyond what skills I could bring to the table. I am going to miss having you at STAND so much, but I am so excited to see you continue to be an advocate in your future career and know that any team would be truly blessed to have you! – Megan Rodgers, DRC Action Committee

Rujjares Hansapiromchok, George Washington University (MA)

Rujjares, you arIMG_0905e dangerously funny. Thank you so much for consistently bringing humor and compassion to the team this year! You always give everyone your full presence, even working on a team with younger members. We were so lucky to have your thoughtful leadership on the Sudan Action Committee this year. I was so impressed by how you put the members first and sought new and creative ways to keep them informed and engaged. Please reach out whenever you’re in DC. STAND will miss you so much, but we’ll be happy to see your megaphone-announcing, merch-wearing face on every marketing item for years to come. -Laura Strawmyer, Program Director


Rujjares, you are an incredible example of what hard work and dedication look like. I remember meeting you at the August retreat and the first thing that I noticed was your smile and your infectious laugh. You have an amazing personality and your sense of humor is unmatched. One of my favorite things about you is that after you finish speaking on MC calls, you always say “thank you!” Every time you say it I smile and I just love it! My favorite memory with you was getting to lobby with you in January at my senator’s office. Your passion and dedication to make the world a better place is truly inspiring. At every retreat and on every Zoom call your positive energy brought out the best in all of us. You have accomplished so much, not just with your involvement with STAND and amazing leadership of the Sudan action committee, but throughout everything you have done and continue to do. I will miss seeing and hearing your energy and drive on MC Calls. I feel so fortunate to have met you and will forever be thankful for the time we spent working together! – Claire Sarnowski, Fundraising and State Education


6“Hey girl!” I can still hear the way your voice rings in a melodic pitch whenever you greet me with this simple phrase over the phone and in-person–and I love you for that!! Thanks for always being such an upbeat and fun person to be around, Rujjares. Even though I’ve only technically known you for one year, I feel like I’ve known you for a long time already, and it’s just crazy to see how time has played out this way and passed so fast simultaneously. From sending me that funny video of ratchet girls baking chicken and distributing the deliverables to Congresspersons’ offices together after a long lobby day in the summer, to taking selfies together on a staircase before visiting Ted Lieu’s office together once again for our lobby day during winter retreat, I am so glad to have shared so many memories with you already within the span of one school year. I remember when I first met you in person at the summer MC retreat and began to get acquainted with your jokester self. I was in awe of how you were able to be so carefree, sitting in a room amongst people gathered to discuss the serious topic of genocide, but your straightforward personality and eagerness to learn about genocide atrocity prevention in discussions we had with guest speakers, later on, made it clear to me that you were in the MC for a perfect reason. I love how relatable and understanding you are and admire how you are able to strike a conversation with anyone so effortlessly! I remember how you would always tell me that you were nervous before walking into a lobby meeting, only to end up nailing it when we were inside the office speaking with a Congressional aide. From what I can recall from our last lobby day, you were able to, as always with your outgoing personality, open the conversation with friendly chatter before getting to the deep stuff, which put me at ease for how the rest of the meeting would turn out because you set the tone just right at the beginning. For that, I am so grateful as well, because I was also able to learn from you that lobby meetings don’t always have to be so serious! Thank you for your presence, and for all the support you have offered me in STAND (such as offering your attendance and help for any future events I would plan to host for GMU STAND). I will forever treasure the moments we have shared lobbying and working and talking over the phone together. I can’t wait to see where your brilliant self will go next with that genuine passion, practical sense, and intelligent mind of yours. As always, STAND will always be here for you, and I’m only one call away (and a thirty-minute drive from D.C. if you’ll still be here) too! I’ll miss seeing you at MC retreats girl, but am super excited for where you’ll end up next! – Jan Jan Maran, Burma Action Committee

Jordan Stevenson, Eastern Washington University

Image from iOS (28)Jordan! You are an inspiration to me and everyone you meet! I am so very impressed by all of your accomplishments and the many incredible things that you have done for STAND this year. I am so grateful for the skills and ideas that you have brought to the team and your tenacious work ethic that has allowed you to make those ideas a reality. But more than your skills and accomplishments, I am impressed by the woman you are! You are strong, kind, compassionate and resilient and you make those around you feel loved and valued. I have loved getting to chat with you at retreats and learn more about your family, your passions and your experiences. It truly is a blessing to know you and you make those around you feel safe by setting an example of vulnerability and acceptance. Your encouragement throughout this past year has meant the world to me! I am going to miss having you on the team so much, but I am excited to continue being your friend outside of STAND, come visit Arkansas soon! – Megan Rodgers, DRC Action Committee


Jordan!! You’ve worked so hard this year and have truly opened my eyes. I’ve felt so connected with you the moment we met at the August retreat because you are unapologetically yourself! You put effort into every single thing you do and we can tell the passion you have for advocacy. I’ve truly enjoyed talking to you about marriage (lol even though I’m not married) among a variety of other things. I’ve felt connected to you as a first-gen student and I am so sorry that you don’t get to graduate this year. But you should still be proud of yourself for being one of the first in your family to graduate college because it is not easy! You have touched many hearts at STAND, including the MC and SALs, and I know you’re destined for great things. If you are in DC, please please visit us at retreat! We will miss you a ton and thank you again for everything you’ve done for STAND. – Aisha Saleem, Outreach


Image from iOS (11)Jordan!! Hola mi amiga hispanohablante. I’m so happy to have a friend like you who I can practice Spanish with at random! Let me first start off by just saying that I absolutely admire the effort, dedication, and commitment that you give to STAND. I know that you’ve confessed before about being a workaholic by nature, but I feel like even despite that being used as an excuse to explain why you always go over-the-top in your work, your passion truly shines through in everything that you have done as manager of STAND’s State Advocacy Lead Program. I am always blown away by how you are able to get so much done not only for SAL, but for all of us MC members when bringing our attention to new policies and sign-on letters countless times. It makes me so glad to know that there are truly authentic people like you in the world who put people at the center of their work and treat others gently with kindness while going hardcore at work. I aspire to be like you in this regard especially, and look forward to seeing the ways that you continue to use this amazing trait of yours in future endeavors. Te voy a extrañar definitivamente, pero me alegra que estes pasando a cosas mejores mi hermana. We’ll keep in touch for sure! – Jan Jan Maran, Burma Action Committee

Megan Smith, University of Southern California

Image from iOS (4)When I first met you at the August retreat, I was immediately intimidated. You were the last one to go to bed, staying up late to work, and the first one out of bed, to go to the gym at 5 am. What? Who does that? Meg does. Absolutely incredible. You are so dedicated to your work that I knew from the beginning that I would have to run to keep up with you. In the end, we formed such a good partnership that it ended up being much more of a relay than a race. Over the past year, I have seen your passion, your work ethic, your drive: you do not stop until things are done and done well. Thank you for the dancing banana emojis, the cowboy hats, the life advice, and for having my back every step of the way. I know you’re nervous about the future, but all of STAND’s work is a testament to your potential. I believe in you, we believe in you, and can’t wait to watch you do incredible things. – Abby Edwards, Communications and Education


Meg, I still remember our first bonding calls where you showed me the Washington monument. I’m so sorry Barnard rejected you (their loss honestly), but I congratulate you for the amazing effort you’ve put at USC. I loved meeting you at retreat because I feel like anyone can easily get so close to you. I remember being so driven by your passion for YPS during retreat in August. It’s amazing that it has been introduced in the House now (time flies!). Thank you soo much for how much effort you’ve put into outreach and conflict updates – I truly appreciated having you as a partner to give edits and comments on things! You’re honestly a burst of joy and I wish you the best of luck for everything in the future. I can tell how much effort you put into things you’re passionate about and I can already tell that you’ll be doing amazing things in the future. Also, I’m glad we’re one of the few people who don’t watch Friends. Thank you once again for how much you’ve done for STAND and hope you stay your happy/bubbly self! Also I apologize for how choppy this is, a bunch of random emotions were coming to me as I wrote this. – Aisha Saleem, Outreach


Image from iOS (21)Meg!!! Getting to work with you has been one of the best things about my time on the MC this year. I remember meeting you when I first arrived at the retreat in August. I was a little nervous going into it and scared that I would feel out of place being the youngest out of our group. I will never forget your bright smile and welcoming spirit. When I think of you so many adjectives come to mind: strong, ambitious, sincere, kind- the list goes on. However, the trait that best describes you is passionate. Whether it was working on outreach, editing conflict updates, or commenting on docs, your passion for STAND shone through. Through getting to know you, I have seen your passion when you talk about your goals for the future and your hobbies. I know that no matter what your next adventure is, you will succeed in making the world a kinder and brighter place. My favorite memory with you was this January at the retreat when we sat at the same dinner table. I loved getting to talk with you in French and hearing about your experiences abroad. Your genuine personality and compassion towards everyone you meet is something that will forever inspire me. I will miss you more than I can explain- please stay in touch and if you are ever in Portland, hmu! – Claire Sarnowski, Fundraising and State Education

STAND Conflict Update: April 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan 

One year after Omar al-Bashir was removed from power in Sudan, the nation’s transitional government is struggling to retain popular support. Protests have become more frequent as rumors of a military coup spread and tensions within the government became visible. The military has denied these rumors, but concerns remain. Lack of economic development is another major factor fueling this month’s protests. While some of the protestors overtly support the previous regime, others appear disillusioned with the Sudanese revolution.

Meanwhile, peace talks between the transitional government and rebel groups continue over video conferencing. The talks are scheduled to continue through May 9, as the details of the agreement, including the appointments of non-military provincial governors, remain uncertain.

This month also saw continued violence in Darfur and a second assassination attempt in Khartoum, this one against a U.S. diplomat. 

South Sudan

The formation of a unity government in February marked a turning point for South Sudan, though the opposition party now faces problems as key members defect to the ruling party. These members have cited a lack of democracy and transparency, in addition to leader of the ruling party First Vice President Machar’s unwillingness to share power, as the reasons for their change in party. The defections began as an immediate response to Machar’s appointment of his wife as defense minister, a move which many saw as a signal that he did not want to share power or consider other people’s opinions. Changes in parties pose a challenge to peace, as the terms of the peace agreement allowed each party to select a certain number of ministers. With people’s parties uncertain, it will be difficult to implement this agreement while still maintaining trust. At best, the selection process will be delayed; at worst, confidence in the peace process and willingness to abide by it could be destroyed.

In order to create a stable government, governors have to be appointed to run the country’s ten states and three administrative areas. Local leaders are needed to effectively respond to local violence. This is particularly relevant in the Jonglei State, where violence last month displaced thousands. Despite the barriers to its success, the existence of a transitional unity government is a sign of hope for the country and has the potential to limit the humanitarian crisis which has been going on since 2011. For now, the government is focusing on responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been exacerbated by the lack of healthcare infrastructure and the number of internally displaced people.

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Attacks by fighters from the Coalition of Congolese Democrats (CODECO) in Eastern DRC have escalated since their commander was killed by the DRC Military on March 25. In total, more than 150 people in the Djugu and Mahagi territories have been killed since early March. Additionally, many others have been killed or abducted in this conflict. In one of these attacks, CODECO fighters killed 22 civilians while they were sleeping in the village of Koli. Six civilians were also killed in Halungupa in North Kivu province in an attack that was blamed on the rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Recent attacks have had international implications as three Chinese civilians were killed in an attack at a cobalt mine in the Northeastern province of Ituri earlier this month. The Chinese government has strongly discouraged Chinese citizens from traveling to Ituri due to the presence of armed groups in the area. In response to these recent deaths, the Chinese embassy has asked the Congolese government to “take effective measures to protect the lives and property of Chinese citizens”. They also requested an expedited investigation into the killings.

Heavy rainfall in Uvira town in the past week has caused the Mulongwe river to flood, affecting 80,000 people. Many of those impacted are refugees fleeing violence throughout the region. On April 21, the UNHCR announced assistance measures for those affected by the flood in coordination with local partners. Unfortunately, the recent attacks in Eastern Congo have hindered humanitarian access and assistance to displaced people, making it difficult for the UN to effectively distribute aid. 

Middle East

Yemen

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen extended the two-week ceasefire first implemented in early April by one month through late May. Despite the ceasefire, several Yemeni provinces continued to experience violence. This was mainly due to the lack of cooperation from the Houthi rebel group, who voiced their demands in order for them to comply with the ceasefire. The Houthis had never previously agreed to the ceasefire and furthermore demanded that air and sea blockades imposed by the coalition be lifted.

In March, the United States made major cuts in aid to UN programs that assist Yemen. Since then, it appears that the effects are beginning to take place. Thirty-one of the UN’s major Yemen programs will begin shutting down in the coming weeks. In a briefing to the UN Security Council on April 16, Mark Lowcock, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, stated that “despite all the challenges to maintain principled aid delivery, I want to remind everyone that the humanitarian operation remains a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.” That being said, the cuts to the aid could still have drastic effects on the civilians who rely on the UN’s protection from the conflict.

Syria

Earlier in April, a UN Board of Inquiry released the summary of their investigation, affirming that the Assad regime and their allies had systematically targeted civilian infrastructure in Idlib, including schools and hospitals. Attacks on healthcare facilities have strained the capacity of the rebel-controlled region to prepare for the impact of Covid-19. Furthermore, World Health Organization aid has been stalled in Idlib and other areas, due largely to bureaucratic challenges, budgetary issues, and early denials of need by the government. 

As usual, tension in the region remains high; a recent airstrike by Israel allegedly targeting Iranian forces was thwarted by Syrian defenses. However, the ceasefire has still held through the month, and reports of a conference between Russia, Turkey, and Iran have stoked hope for a resolution to the conflict. Furthermore, a trial began of Syrian forces accused of torture and other crimes against humanity. The United States still remains largely disengaged from the conflict.

Southeast Asia

Burma 

The military continues to reject rebel groups’ calls for a ceasefire. At least 32 civilians, mainly women and children, have died since last March due to regular airstrikes and shelling from the Burmese army over western Burma. Furthermore, the continued internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin states prevents many from accessing information about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Crackdowns on civil liberties remain an alarming issue as Burma transitions to democracy. The Ministry of Transport and Communication shut down 221 websites, including ethnic newspapers. These restrictions come after the International Court of Justice ordered Burma to implement protective measures for the Rohingya, and have complicated the Court’s ability to ensure accountability of the Burmese government. Additonally, the raid and arrest of journalists upon trumped-up charges of terrorism prompted significant public outcry. Editor Nay Myo Lin faces a life sentence in prison for interviewing a spokesperson from the Arakan Army, a rebel group fighting for greater autonomy of the Rakhine State.

Boats overcrowded with Rohingya refugees were rescued after two months adrift in the Bay of Bengal. They sought a safe harbor but were pushed back to sea by Malaysia about ten days after setting sail. Finally disembarking this week in Bangladesh, authorities discovered that over 30 had died aboard, and the 396 survivors were in need of immediate medical care. In response, the human rights groups have called for countries to show compassion to those in desperate need, and condemned Malaysia for using the excuse of COVID-19 to turn boats away. But just today, Bangladesh, a nation with more than a million Rohingya in its refugee camps, announced that it will no longer accept any Rohingya refugees – though there are thousands still likely lost at sea. 

Alison Rogers is a junior International Studies and Journalism student at Baylor University, and the STAND State Advocacy Lead for Texas. She is also an Enough Project Student Upstander. Alison contributed the Sudan portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead. Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the South Sudan portion of this update.

Megan Rodgers is a junior International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish major at the University of Arkansas and serves as the Democratice Republic of the Congo Action Committee Lead. She became interested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during her time studying abroad in Kigali, Rwanda during spring 2019 and through relationships with refugees in her community who are from the Congo. Megan contributed the DRC portion of this update.

Brandon Alonzo is a student at Baruch College in New York City. He serves in the STAND Yemen Action Committee. Brandon contributed the Yemen portion of this update. 

Jordan Stevenson is a senior at Eastern Washington University in Washington state. As a Managing Committee member, she manages STAND’s State Advocacy Lead program, works on communications, and co-leads policy. She also works on campus at the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis, volunteers on the economic development committee of Partnering for Progress, and is currently completing a research project on women’s rights and the environment for the United Nations Environment Program office in Nairobi, Kenya. Jordan contributed to the Syria portion of this update.

Megan Smith is a senior at the University of Southern California, a member of STAND’s Managing Committee, and an intern at the USC Shoah Foundation. Previously, she served on the Policy Task Force of STAND France during her junior year and as California State Advocacy Lead during her sophomore year. Outside of STAND, she has interned at Dexis Consulting Group (Washington, DC), DigDeep Water (Los Angeles), and HAMAP-Humanitaire (Paris). Megan contributed to the Syria portion of this update.

Ellie Wong is a junior at Palo Alto High School and a member of STAND’s Burma Action Committee. She also participates in Lincoln-Douglas debate, writes about East Asian affairs for her school’s foreign policy magazine, and serves in her church youth group. Ellie hopes to pursue international relations or history in college, and will continue to do all she can to learn about genocide-related issues. Ellie contributed the Burma portion of this update. 

STAND Conflict Update: March 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan 

In early March, Civilian Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok survived an assassination attempt. Abdullah Hamdok assured the country that his attempted assassination would not lead to the destabilization of the country’s government or peace process. “What happened today will not stand in the way of our transition,” he tweeted. Hamdok assumed office in August on a controversial platform that promised social and economic change. Some have voiced fears that the assassination attempt might be used to support the formation of a military government to prevent future threats.   

Peace talks in Juba between rebels and the transitional government are postponed after the sudden death of Sudan’s defense minister, Lt. Gen. Omar from a heart attack. Omar was a central figure in the ongoing peace negotiations. 

South Sudan

UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet called on South Sudanese authorities to limit acts of localized violence. Bachelet additionally urged officials to provide medical care to survivors  that would support emotional, mental, and physical health. Last month, violence in the Jonglei state between Murle, Lou Nuer, and Dinka communities displaced over 8,000 civilians from their homes. The UN documented an increase of inter-communal violence, related to disputes about land boundaries, cattle raiding, ethnic groups, and natural resources. 

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) 

President Tshisekedi’s government continues to face pressure from groups and individuals who question the legitimacy of his power and the effectiveness of his rule. Most notably, on March 2, a group of Congolese Bishops made a statement condemning the continued corruption of the Congolese government under Tshisekedi’s leadership. The bishops stated “We are witnessing the illicit and scandalous enrichment by a handful of political actors to the detriment of the population. To make matters worse, these crimes are committed by the same individuals being called upon to be guarantors of the public good. Measures taken to combat these ills have remained largely ineffective.” These comments came before a series of attacks committed by Cooperation for the Development of the Congo (CODECO) in Ituri province in Eastern Congo which led to more than 50 deaths. CODECO claims to defend the Lendu, an ethnic group that mainly comprises farmers and these attacks continue a long history of violence, highlighting the ineffectiveness of Tshisekedi’s government to control militia groups in the region.

Tshisekedi’s government was also put under pressure when Delphin Kahimbi, the powerful military intelligence chief to former President Joseph Kabila, was found dead at the beginning of the month. Kahimbi’s hanging occurred on the day he was set to appear before the Congolese Security Council to answer charges of being involved in a plot to destabilize President Tshisekedi. Kahimbi’s death, as well as the charges he faced, have been controversial throughout Congo with Tshisekedi’s opposition making claims of foul play. In another contentious move, Tshisekedi announced that he would soon appoint the first Congolese ambassador to Israel in more than 20 years, making a clear statement in support of the Israeli state.

Middle East

Yemen 

March 25 marked the fifth anniversary of the war in Yemen which began in 2015 with the Saudi blockade of Yemen’s seaports. Five years into the war, the majority of Yemen’s population is experiencing or at risk of experiencing famine; over 24 million rely on food aid to survive. 

A recent report released by Physicians for Human Rights highlighted numerous attacks on Yemen’s healthcare. Throughout the conflict, multiple parties have used healthcare as a pawn, either occupying medical centers or targeting them in airstrikes. Today, 16.4 million people lack access to basic healthcare, a growing concern as COVID-19 continues to spread. 

Despite the vulnerability of the Yemeni population to an outbreak of COVID-19, the United States has begun withdrawing millions in aid to Northern Yemen. According to James Reinl of Middle East Eye, “a spokesperson for USAID, a US government agency, told Middle East Eye on Thursday that Washington had started reducing assistance to northern Yemen, citing ‘unacceptable interference’ by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels that control the region.” This move has the potential to worsen the crisis as this aid included “sanitation schemes” which would be vital in preventing an outbreak. 

Iraq 

Thousands of individuals have been injured in protests in Iraq, and new reports reveal that these may have resulted from the use of military-style weapons. Protests have lessened since they began in October, mainly as a result of the coronavirus and brutal government crackdowns. This combination of disease and violence has ended weeks of protests which had previously drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Protesters have demanded a reduction in foreign involvement, both from the United States and from Iran. Although the United States had previously opposed demands from the Iraqi Parliament to remove its troops, the US has significantly reduced its military presence (partially as a result of the coronavirus, but also as a means of lowering tensions).

Protesters have also demanded regime change. Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi had been previously designated as the next candidate for prime minister, but Parliament failed to approve his nominees for cabinet positions. Because Tallawi was unable to form a government, on March 20, Adnan al-Zurfi was named the new nominee for prime minister. It is unclear whether he will be able to successfully form a government and officially become prime minister, but his nomination does provide some hope for change in the government.

Syria

This month marked the start of the tenth year of civil war in Syria, where conflict continues to be centered in Idlib, the final remaining rebel-controlled region. Last month, the Russian-backed Syrian government killed more than 50 Turkish troops and at least 134 civilians in an airstrike and other attacks. At the beginning of March, Turkey and Russia negotiated a ceasefire that has held thus far. Nearly one million refugees displaced by conflict struggle to survive in Idlib. 

The increase in conflict and humanitarian crisis led to President Erdogan of Turkey increasing acceptance of refugees by opening the border with Idlib, despite the reticence of Greece and other EU states. NATO has also strengthened its support for Turkey. Finally, although there are no reported cases yet, the UN and other government actors are taking steps to prepare for coronavirus response considering Syria’s high risk for a public health crisis.

Southeast Asia

Burma 

In the western Rakhine state, conflict between Myanmar military forces and the Arakan Army continues, despite the UN’s recent call for a ceasefire. 61,000 people were recently displaced in Rakhine as of mid-march, and at least 21 civilians were killed. Additionally, the internet shutdown in four Rakhine townships and one Chin township that began in February has not ended despite global condemnation. Without an internet connection, access to humanitarian aid, information about conflicts, and even contact with family members are greatly hindered. Many civilians, especially young people, have become increasingly involved in activism, including the six students arrested for organizing a demonstration against the internet shutdown, detained a week before their exams.

Regarding the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, displaced Rohingya refugees in camps outside the country are at a high risk to contract the disease. In crowded camps, the number and density of people make social distancing impossible. Furthermore, many refugees do not have access to clean water and sanitation services, necessary practices in preventing an outbreak. 

In Bangladesh, a country with over a million Rohingya refugees, an internet blackout continues in refugee camps, blocking information from being shared and putting countless lives at risk. This move, called a necessary security measure by the Bangladeshi government, has been criticized by the UN and is seen as a violation of international human rights law. Overcrowded camps, communication restrictions, a lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene, as well as poor government preparation, put Rohingya refugees at additional risk in Bangladesh.

Emerging Conflicts

New Blog Series

Check out our first blog on the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of China, authored by Abby Edwards, STAND’s Communications and Education Coordinator on the Managing Committee. Over the next few months, STAND will be publishing a weekly blog series on different emerging conflicts around the world in order to take a closer look into these issues. If there is a specific topic about which you are passionate, feel free to email Education Co-Leads aedwards@standnow.org and msmith@standnow.org to express your interest in contributing to the series.

Alison Rogers is a junior International Studies and Journalism student at Baylor University, and the STAND State Advocacy Lead for Texas. She is also an Enough Project Student Upstander. Alison contributed the Sudan portion of this update.

Claire Sarnowski is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School and a STAND Managing Committee member. In 2019, Claire introduced legislation to make Holocaust and genocide education mandatory in Oregon schools. Claire works to boost STAND’s grassroots fundraising efforts and collaborates with communities to launch their own genocide education initiatives. Claire contributed the South Sudan portion of this update. 

Megan Rodgers is a junior International Studies, Political Science, and Spanish major at the University of Arkansas and serves as the Democratice Republic of the Congo Action Committee Lead. She became interested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during her time studying abroad in Kigali, Rwanda during spring 2019 and through relationships with refugees in her community who are from the Congo. Megan contributed the DRC portion of this update.

Brandon Alonzo is a student at Baruch College in New York City. He serves in the STAND Yemen Action Committee. Brandon contributed the Yemen portion of this update. 

Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead. Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Iraq portion of this update.

Jordan Stevenson is a senior at Eastern Washington University in Washington state. As a Managing Committee member, she manages STAND’s State Advocacy Lead program, works on communications, and co-leads policy. She also works on campus at the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis, volunteers on the economic development committee of Partnering for Progress, and is currently completing a research project on women’s rights and the environment for the United Nations Environment Program office in Nairobi, Kenya. Jordan contributed the Syria portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a junior at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, where she serves as president of her STAND chapter. She also is a member of STAND’s Sudan, Yemen, Indigenous Peoples, DRC, and Burma Action Committees, and is STAND’s State Advocacy Lead for Florida. Grace contributed the Burma portion of this update.

Abby Edwards is a junior in the Dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po Paris and serves on the STAND USA Managing Committee. Prior to this, she served on the Managing Committee of STAND France and worked as an intern for the Buchenwald Memorial, the Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies, and conducted research for the US Department of State – Office of the Historian. Last summer, she conducted research on memorialization and reconciliation in Cambodia as a Junior Research Fellow with the Center for Khmer Studies. Abby contributed to various portions of the update. 

 

STAND Conflict Update: February 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Former President Omar al-Bashir has been charged by the International Criminal Court with five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide since 2004. A decade after the ICC issued the warrants, the transitional government announced that they will turn in all five of the wanted Sudanese, including al-Bashir. This came after the Sudanese court investigated and sentenced al-Bashir to two years after finding him guilty of corruption and illegitimate possession of foreign currency. Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok made the announcement as a sign of progress and cooperation with the international community.

The Sudanese government and rebel groups have agreed to extend the deadline for a peace deal to resolve conflicts in the Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan regions. A comprehensive peace deal was due on February 14. Instead, they signed a preliminary peace deal granting special status to the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions. The deal allows the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions to draft their own laws. The goal of the comprehensive peace deal is to incorporate the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) into the new government system in Khartoum. The transitional government is pressured to resolve the conflict with rebel groups to attract foreign aid to improve the economy. The peace deal with rebel groups is one of the main priorities as a key condition for Sudan to be removed from the United States’ State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. al-Burhan met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which signaled an end of Sudan’s boycott of Israel. After the meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that two parties agreed to cooperate toward normalizing relations. However, Burhan came out to clarify that there has not been an agreement but an end of hostilities between the two countries. The Sudanese government plans to create a joint committee to examine the benefits and drawbacks of its relationships with Israel. For now, the government will allow flights to and from Israel, except through Israeli El Al airline.  

South Sudan

On February 22, South Sudan formalized the new unity government as former opposition leader Riek Machar was sworn in as Vice President. The coalition, agreed upon after over a year of stalled negotiation and missed deadlines, revives the same integration of rival parties before civil war broke out. While there is hope that this unity government will lead to a lasting solution, civil society is still wary of the extremely fragile peace.

A pivotal hurdle was passed on February 15 when President Kiir announced a compromise that would cut the number of states from 32 to 10. However, the decreased number of states was offset by the addition of three administrative areas, all of which are contentious: Pibor, Ruweng, and Abyei. Machar rejected this proposed deal the following day. Aside from disagreement over the number of states, another key obstacle in securing a successful peace process was the integration of security forces. Machar holds that these lingering issues will be resolved through continued negotiations throughout and after the new government’s formation. 

On the same day that Kiir and Machar announced that the government would be formed, the UN released a report uncovering evidence that the South Sudanese government has embezzled state funds while opposition militias purposefully starve civilians. These funds are badly needed as roughly 6.5 million people are at high risk of food insecurity. This comes as the worst locust outbreak in almost three-quarters of a century, largely prompted by climate change, reaches South Sudan from other parts of East Africa, exacerbating already intense food shortages.

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Multiple attacks have occurred in the Beni province in northeast DRC where the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have killed countless citizens. The ADF are blamed for over a thousand civilian deaths in that region since 2014, the latest of which are the murder of eight in early February and thirty-six in late January. These massacres were violent and brutal, intending to rouse fear among civilians. Since October, 265 people have been killed in this region due to ADF retaliation against the government crackdown on the rebel group

Conflict in the Ituri province between the Hema and Lundu ethnic groups has escalated since late 2017, leaving an estimated one million people displaced. Conditions in both official refugee camps and makeshift areas are poor. Even among those who live in camps built by aid groups, many still lack food, clean water, and sanitation. Thousands have died from preventable diseases despite the efforts of humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders to provide medical relief and combat illnesses.

In addition to this, the Ebola virus disease outbreak is still an ongoing crisis in the DRC, with 3,308 confirmed cases and 2,250 deaths as of mid-February. The outbreak still constitutes an international health concern and a major issue within the DRC that is only worsened by instability and conflict that prevent health services from reaching those in need.

Middle East

Yemen 

Saudi Arabia announced that it intercepted missiles fired from Yemen on February 21. The missiles were allegedly fired by the Houthi Rebels toward Saudi cities from the Yemeni capital of Sanaa at 12:30 am. Coalition spokesman Turki al-Malki told the SPA, a Saudi news agency, that, “They were launched in a systematic, deliberate manner to target cities and civilians, which is a flagrant defiance of international humanitarian law,” In a statement by a Houthi military spokesman, the group successfully attacked oil company Saudi Aramco along with other sensitive targets in the city of Yanbu. They stressed that the attacks will only continue in case of “continued aggression” and “economic blockade.”

Additionally, the Yemeni Houthi rebel group has blocked half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs in the war-torn country. Aid officials and leaked documents acquired by The Associated Press indicate that the rebels aim to gain greater control over the UN’s humanitarian campaign. According to the UN, the Houthi obstruction has had heavy consequences, especially on food security and displacement programs. The World Food Program, for example, considered limiting what is now a monthly food delivery program to serve approximately 12 million Yemenis every other month. Another example would be the reported 300,000 nursing mothers along with children under 5, who haven’t received vital nutritional supplements in months due to being held hostage by Houthi Rebels in an attempt to get a 2% cut from UN aid. In spite of these obstacles and demands, both UN and American officials are on the record stating that “they are continuing their efforts to deliver aid to Yemenis.” The Houthis have since shifted their demands from the 2% cut towards other requests. 

Syria 

Syrian government forces, backed by Russia, are closing in on the final rebel-held areas in the Idlib province in northwest Syria marking the beginning of the end of the nearly decade-long Syrian civil war. Much of these advances have been accomplished by the Russian-led coalition’s airstrikes which began in April last year. Since the last series of strikes began at the beginning of December, nearly one million refugees have fled Idlib towards the Turkish border. Turkey, already holding 3.7 million Syrian refugees, has shut its borders. 

In a UN Security Council meeting last week, UN official Mark Lowcock warned that the conflict has escalated to a point that it is nearly impossible to deliver humanitarian aid. Lowcock, as well as others at the UN, have called for a true ceasefire between Russia and Turkey as recent talks between the governments have proved unsuccessful. However, tensions further escalated on Saturday after a coalition airstrike killed a Turkish soldier

Iraq 

Protests have continued, but they have lost the support of Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr whose influence had previously given the movement significant power. Sadr’s relationship with Iran fluctuated in the past two weeks, pushing him to criticize the protests and protesters as immoral. More tangibly, he sent “enforcers,” who allude to UN peacekeepers by calling themselves “blue hats,” to help break up the protests. Protesters have been kicked out of their headquarters, and some have even been turned over to Iraqi law enforcement.

Despite this, protesters continue to demand structural change in the government. In December, Parliament missed the deadline to name a new Prime Minister. Protesters had hoped that the new Prime Minister would be aligned with their beliefs and would support a more independent, democratic Iraq. There were months of debate before President Barham Salih designated Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as the candidate to take the role on February 1. Allawi has proposed several new cabinet members and promised to hold early independent elections, but he is still seen as a member of the establishment elite. It remains to be seen what will actually happen when Allawi takes office; a vote of confidence has yet to happen, partially due to continued controversy over his candidacy.

Without significant support, it will be very difficult for Allawi to enact the wide-reaching changes that protesters are demanding. Despite how little success they have had so far, protests against both the government and the new prime minister are set to continue, as is resistance from followers of Sadr.

Southeast Asia

Burma 

As of February, conflict in Burma’s Rakhine state has rapidly escalated. However, government restrictions have dramatically reduced both the aid from the international community, as well as the information about the conflict. Tensions have increased between the military and the insurgent Arakan Army, due to which over 19 students were injured by an artillery shell that hit a school last week. Consequently, the government imposed an internet shutdown across five townships in the Rakhine and Chin states, widening the scope of the four Rakhine state townships that have lacked internet access since June 2019. The blackout affects approximately one million people living through conflict and humanitarian crisis. 

Zaw Zaw Hutn, a local humanitarian worker, said they have difficulty helping civilians, mainly because of increased displacement and decreased humanitarian access. The UN’s humanitarian aid coordination arm reported that most aid groups have little to no access to eight of Rakhine’s 17 townships after the government ordered telecom companies to shut down mobile internet within most townships. The International Rescue Committee and small local organizations that rely on social media to solicit donations for Rakhine civilians have found it hard to continue relief efforts after the shutdown. The displacement camps are also seeing a deterioration of living conditions. According to Zaw Zaw Hutn, children and pregnant women are suffering from malnutrition due to a lack of food supply. Moreover, clean drinking water is becoming extremely scarce, increasing the threat of diseases like diarrhea within these displacement camps. Furthermore, the military has “commandeered” schools and have put them under direct scrutiny, using them as a means to interrogate civilians who they suspect as potential insurgents. Finally, landmines are now increasingly a threat, killing four children last month in northern Rakhine. 

Emerging Conflicts

New Blog Series

Check out our first blog on the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of China, authored by Abby Edwards, STAND’s Communications and Education Coordinator on the Managing Committee. Over the next few months, STAND will be publishing a weekly blog series on different emerging conflicts around the world in order to take a closer look into these issues. If there is a specific topic about which you are passionate, feel free to email Education Co-Leads aedwards@standnow.org and msmith@standnow.org to express your interest in contributing to the series.

Rujjares Hansapiromchok is a second year graduate student at George Washington University and lead of STAND’s Sudan Action Committee. Alongside her work with STAND, she is also an Enough Project Student Upstander Fellow. Rujjares contributed the Sudan portion of this update.

Megan Smith is a senior at the University of Southern California, a member of STAND’s Managing Committee, and an intern at the USC Shoah Foundation. Previously, she served on the Policy Task Force of STAND France during her junior year and as California State Advocacy Lead during her sophomore year. Outside of STAND, she has interned at Dexis Consulting Group (Washington, DC), DigDeep Water (Los Angeles), and HAMAP-Humanitaire (Paris). Megan contributed the South Sudan portion of this update.

Grace Harris is a junior at Tampa Preparatory School in Florida, where she serves as president of her STAND chapter. She also is a member of STAND’s Sudan, Yemen, Indigenous Peoples, DRC, and Burma Action Committees, and is STAND’s State Advocacy Lead for Florida. Grace contributed the DRC portion of this update.

Brandon Alonzo is a student at Baruch College in New York City. He serves in the STAND Yemen Action Committee. Brandon contributed the Yemen portion of this update. 

Abby Edwards is a junior in the Dual BA program between Columbia University and Sciences Po Paris and serves on the STAND USA Managing Committee. Prior to this, she served on the Managing Committee of STAND France and worked as an intern for the Buchenwald Memorial, the Journal of European and American Intelligence Studies, and conducted research for the US Department of State – Office of the Historian. Last summer, she conducted research on memorialization and reconciliation in Cambodia as a Junior Research Fellow with the Center for Khmer Studies. Abby contributed the Syria portion of this update.

Mira Mehta is a junior at Westfield High School and serves as the New Jersey State Advocacy Lead. Prior to this, she served on the STAND Communications Task Force for two years. Mira contributed the Iraq portion of this update.

Eesha Kashif is a Junior at Clark University and serves as a State advocacy lead for STAND. She is also a member of the Burma action committee. Other than a member of STAND, she is currently the Vice President for the South Asian Student Association for her school. Eesha contributed the Burma portion of this update.