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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. 

STAND Conflict Update: January 2020

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Sudan’s transition faced several challenges this month. An attempted mutiny by members of the intelligence forces raised questions about the role of the military in the new government. Meanwhile, violence in Darfur escalated, displacing an estimated 40,000 and killing over 50. The continued presence of militia groups – including the military-affiliated Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – in the conflict region has made securing peace difficult even with the ongoing Juba peace talks between the government and the rebels. Darfuris say that they are not feeling the effects of the revolution and that they do not trust local governing bodies to prevent the violence. The Sudanese government has responded by promising to create processes to ensure justice and accountability in Darfur.

The transitional government issued a budget this month that would result in a deficit of 1.62 billion USD. Rebuilding Sudan’s infrastructure has been a major priority for the new government, along with securing removal from the United States State Sponsors of Terrorism list. Sudan’s inclusion on the list has prevented their access to financial resources. Last month, meetings between the U.S. State Department and Sudan suggested a mutual commitment to this outcome. It seemed as though both sides were ready to begin the six-month process of evaluating Sudan’s progress that would ultimately lead to normalization. However, the recent decision to add Sudan to the 2020 version of the infamous travel ban suggests continued reluctance from the U.S. The previous ban has been challenged and upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

South Sudan 

Though certain security provisions and other issues remain, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), have expressed full intention to meet the quickly approaching February deadline to form a coalition government. Some tokens of “goodwill,” such as President Kiir pardoning prisoners – such as a prominent economist charged with treason – have been given in hopes of signaling the peace process is on track. While there are still outstanding issues, such as the number of states, international pressure is still pushing the leaders in South Sudan to reach the deadline. In an effort to push for the unity government, the U.S. Senate agreed to a resolution supporting peace and dialogue in South Sudan, while the Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on South Sudan’s First Vice President, Teben Dang Gai, for alleged killings of an opposition leader and human rights lawyer.

Approaching the deadline, a ceasefire was reached on January 15 by the government and opposition forces in Rome. Despite the ceasefire, attacks have still occurred, especially around the disputed territory of Abyei along the Sudan-South Sudan border. On January 22, almost 30 people were killed in their homes. The violence broke out amongst peacebuilding efforts, which has caused concern amongst UN security forces. 

 

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) released a report in January about the ethnic tensions between the Hema and Lendu groups in DRC. The report mentioned that 142 people have been subjected to sexual violence, in the territories of Drug and Mahagi from December 2017 to September 2019. It also documented multiple cases of women being raped and children being killed. One of the stories described a Hema man’s efforts to prevent his wife from being raped by armed assailants. He also witnessed the beheading of his 8-year old son. The report mentioned that the “barbarity of these actions” reflects the desire of “attackers to inflict lasting trauma.” These acts of violence may amount to crimes against humanity. 

Due to recent ethnic-based fighting, hundreds of Congolese people have fled their homes. Gerald Menya, the commissioner for refugees in Uganda, said that over 60,000 arrived in Uganda from DRC over the past year alone. However, there are few resources available in Uganda, a country that has 1.3 million refugees, most of whom fled from the neighboring country, South Sudan. Additionally, Lendu armed groups have targeted and destroyed many of the villages where the Hema people were taking refuge. 

Middle East

Yemen

Dengue fever has become a problem in Yemen. In Hodeidah, there are trash-strewn pools that attract mosquitoes carrying the fever. Hodeidah has the most cases of Dengue fever in the country and is difficult to access because it is on the frontlines of the war. Yemen’s health and sanitation systems are practically obsolete, making the poverty-ridden population vulnerable to disease. There is no specific treatment and no widely available vaccine has been constructed as of yet. 

On January 21, the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen stepped up its bombing campaign. It launched airstrikes in Nehlm, the Houthi-held capital, killing at least 35 people. Throughout the day, both sides fired rockets and pounded the area with gun weaponry, wounding and killing dozens. Abdu Abdullah Magli, a spokesman for the Yemeni Armed Forces, stated the militia made progress on the ground, taking control of several strategic roads and Houthi sites. The Houthis reinforced their outposts and deployed new troops to the front. The wave of bombings comes in retaliation for a Houthi missile attack on a mosque in Marib that killed at least 116 Yemeni government troops over the weekend

On January 22, the Commander of Joint Operations at the Yemeni Ministry of Defence, Major General Sagheer Bin Aziz, called on the armed forces to advance towards the capital, Sanaa, to recapture it from the Houthis who had taken control in 2014. This comes after numerous failed attempts by the coalition to regain control over the region. The Yemeni armed forces supported by the Saudi-led coalition have been fighting the Houthis in the district of Nehm. 

Syria

A ceasefire deal within the Idlib province of Syria was introduced by Russia and Turkey on January 9, but was already broken by January 15 with overnight airstrikes on the towns of Khan al-Subl, al-Hartamyeh, and Maasaran. No deaths were reported as a result of those attacks, but several were killed soon before the ceasefire officially began.

Since then, more airstrikes have occurred in the northwestern regions of Aleppo and Idlib, killing at least 21 on January 16 in a strike on a marketplace, and at least 40 on January 21 through multiple rural town attacks. In the past week, military escalation has resulted in the deaths and injuries of around 259 civilians and 220 Syrian, Russian, and rebel militia troops due to nearly 3,900 air and ground strikes. Despite the many attacks on civilian areas that have killed people, destroyed towns, and knocked down schools and hospitals, the Syrian and Russian governments deny their roles in the bombing of civilians, instead blaming them solely on Iranian-backed militant groups.

Currently, around 350,000 Syrians, mainly women and children, have fled rebel-controlled Idlib and sought shelter near the Turkish border. These displaced people have joined the almost 400,000 others who escaped from earlier conflict. For those still in Idlib, the humanitarian crisis has only worsened as recent Russian attacks near densely-populated areas have left nearly three million people trapped.

Iraq

Protests in Iraq, sometimes called the Tishreen Revolution or the Iraqi Intifada, have come to not only demand an overhaul of Iraqi politics, but also to resist American presence in the region. The recent American drone strike which killed Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani took place on Iraqi soil, and Iran’s retaliation consisted of missile strikes against an American military base in Iraq. Any future conflict, though unlikely at the moment, could take place, at least in part, in Iraq because of the military bases there, and neither the U.S. nor Iran want fighting on their own soil.

On January 24, prominent Shia leaders, in concert with Iranian-linked leaders, called for a million-man march. 200,000 protesters showed up to protest American influence with chants like “Death to the U.S.” The United States has had troops in the country since its 2003 invasion, with 5,000 currently there to fight ISIS. In a nonbinding vote, the Iraqi Parliament decided along (religious) party lines to remove American troops.

At the same time, Iraqi protesters continue to demand systemic change, with many still opposed to Iranian influence in the country. Before the “Million Man March,” leaders of the original protests increased their protests to bring attention back to their movement. They rallied more people, began burning tires, and started to cut roads. The Iraqi government responded with violent force, injuring twelve protesters. Over 500 have been injured since the protests began in October.

 

Southeast Asia

Burma

Following the beginning of the International Court of Justice trial last month, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to officially condemn the human rights atrocities committed by the Burmese government against the nation’s ethnic minorities in the Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan states. The resolution does not compel action by the Burmese government, but does reflect public opinion and pressures other nations to formally acknowledge the injustices being carried out in Burma. In response, Burma’s ambassador to the UN criticized the resolution, calling it a “double standard” and warning that it would only “sow seeds of distrust.” 

The ICJ remains in deliberation and has yet to release the verdict of the case filed by the Gambia last fall against Burma. However, the ICJ issued a provisional decision ordering that the state must protect any Rohingya remaining within the country’s borders, marking the first step towards holding the regime accountable for atrocities against the Rohingya. It is estimated that this case will take somewhere between three to five years to be completed. Just a few days before the ICJ released their ruling, a commission created by the Burmese government concluded that they found no evidence of genocide during the 2017 crackdown in Rahkine state. Without releasing the full report nor mentioning the Rohingya by name, the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) has been questioned on its methodology, autonomy, impartiality, and thus credibility since its launch. Despite the concern, Burma has been able to use the report as a basis to dispute the initial ICJ ruling. 

Rohingya refugees continue to be stateless indefinitely, unable to seek citizenship in Jammu and Kashmir due to India’s new Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). This controversial law grants Indian citizenship on the basis of religion; Muslim minorities including the Rohingya are therefore left out. “Sizeable populations” of Rohingya refugees currently residing in Kashmir and Jammu will soon face deportation, according to Jitendra Singh, the Union Minister of India. These refugees will likely be sent to Bangladesh’s mass refugee camps, where children receive no education and adults are barred from finding work. 

 

Emerging Conflicts

New Blog Series!

Stay tuned! 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.

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 has 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.

Aisha Saleem is a sophomore at Barnard College, and a member of STAND’s Managing Committee. Previously, Aisha was a task force member where she contributed to monthly blogs and op-eds about genocide-related issues around the world. She is also interested in current issues in education and enjoys doing neuroscience research. Aisha contributed to the Yemen 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 Syria 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 to 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.

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: December 2019

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

It’s been a year since protests began against the Sudanese government. Now, Sudan is making progress in its transition to democracy even as protestors continue to demand lasting change. This month saw the signing of an initial peace agreement between rebel groups and the transitional government, the delivery of long-awaited aid to the conflict zones and the lifting of old restrictions on women.

December also saw the conclusion of the Omar al-Bashir trial. The former president was tried and sentenced to two years in a reform facility for financial corruption. The verdict did not mention genocide in Darfur or violence against protestors, an omission which led to frustration from rights organizations and protestors. However, investigators are now working to open a war crimes probe into the Darfur conflict. This investigation has already implicated over 50 people, including members of the regime and Janjaweed fighters.

Sudan is also working to improve relations with the United States. The U.S. has recognized Sudan’s progress, specifically related to the treatment of religious minorities, and the countries have agreed to exchange ambassadors for the first time in over twenty years. Sudan’s position on the U.S. State Sponsor of Terror list remains a point of discussion. Civilian Prime Minister Hamdok, along with multiple rights groups, has consistently stressed the importance of removing that designation to Sudan’s reforms. Removal from the list would mean lifting economic sanctions and allowing Sudan to access international financial support. The State Department expressed willingness to begin the process. However, it will require congressional approval to proceed. 

South Sudan

President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar have announced that regardless of their ability to resolve all remaining disagreements, a transitional unity government will be formed by the February 2020 deadline. This is the second delay in creating a transitional government since the September 2018 peace deal was first signed. The United States, unhappy with the delay, placed sanctions on senior officials claimed to have delayed implementation of the peace deal, and have announced they will place visa restrictions on anyone who impedes the process. In response, South Sudan recalled its ambassador to the United States back to the capital of Juba for consultations shortly after the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan returned. 

A recent UN report found that the South Sudanese government has been breaking key aspects of the peace deal as they have recruited 10,000 Dinka soldiers of President Kiir’s ethnic tribe. Shortly after the report was released, the government announced an allocation of $40 million towards integrated armed forces. The 2018 peace deal remains fragile as key milestones towards implementation have not been achieved; the ceasefire long seen as stable has shown signs of slipping as violence rises in some communities. December 2019 marks six years since the civil war began partly along ethnic divides, leaving 400,000 dead and millions displaced. 

Meanwhile, South Sudan faces severe flooding affecting most of East Africa. The floods have demolished homes, killed livestock, and cleared crops, leaving experts to predict looming famine. According to an executive at the World Food Program, the threat of food insecurity prompted by both years of conflict and recent floods is worse than expected, and famine is likely within the next few months. The government has declared a state of emergency.

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

At least 43 people were killed over the course of one weekend earlier this month in attacks likely committed by the Allied Democratic Forces, one of the many armed groups targeting civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These attacks are some of several that have hindered the ability of medical workers to combat the DRC’s ebola epidemic while outbreak control has seemed within reach. Insecurity and conflict put aid workers bringing necessary medical aid at further risk, limiting their ability to reach those in rebel-controlled areas and causing some organizations, such as the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, to withdraw from certain areas.

Within the United States, the human rights group International Rights Advocates filed a lawsuit on behalf of 14 Congolese families against tech companies including Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Tesla, and Google for their involvement in the deaths of children forced to mine cobalt to manufacture technology for these companies. Of the 14 families whose children were killed or maimed due to forced, exploitative child labor, six saw their children die in mining accidents while the others saw their children injured, sometimes to the point of permanent paralysis. The majority of these companies have not yet publicly responded to the case, but the few that have commented have only said that they do not knowingly use child labor, not that they actually do not. If the families win this case, it has the potential to be a landmark that holds companies accountable, forcing them to restructure their supply chain to  respect human rights and sustainability. 

Middle East

Yemen

In Northern Yemen, the health ministry run by the Houthis declared Tuesday that a bout of fast-spreading swine flu had killed 94 people in October alone. Thousands of reported cases have overwhelmed health care facilities already crippled by constant violence, said Mohammed al-Mansour, a senior Houthi health official, warning that the death toll would likely rise. A new outbreak of dengue fever has also swept across the country, killing 68 people, including 16 children under five so far this month. The disease has re-emerged due to the deterioration of Yemen’s health and sanitation systems. This comes as the country continues to be plagued by cholera. 

There has also been a massive influx of attacks on markets in Yemen this month, killing thousands. Several humanitarian groups have been forced to halt their work due to such attacks. The suspension of aid work came after unknown perpetrators fired rocket-propelled grenades at three aid organizations in the southwestern province of Dhale. According to the UN, this halted the distribution of much needed aid to about 217,000 residents. The International Rescue Committee reported that grenades exploded in its office and women’s center, rendering the space too dangerous to work in. 

On December 26th, the UN condemned an attack on a busy market that killed at least 17 people earlier in the week in northern Yemen, a region that has been under the control of Houthi rebels. It is not yet known who was behind the attack, but Houthi spokesman Yehia Sarea has blamed the Saudi-led coalition, saying on Twitter that the attacks “will not go by unnoticed” and promising that the victims would be avenged. 

Syria

The Russian-led coalition’s attacks on Idlib have only intensified this month as the Syrian government closes in on the last rebel-held province. These attacks, which began in April, have been characterized by indiscriminate bombing of schools, healthcare centers, and civilian gathering sites, such as markets. With the government now controlling over 40 villages in Idlib, many activists believe that the heightened attacks are a means of distracting rebel fighters, many of whom are now choosing to evacuate their families from the region. The UN released an estimate that approximately 60,000 people have fled Idlib due to increased attacks this month. 

On December 29, U.S. forces attacked sites in Iraq and Syria claiming to target an Iranian-backed militia that the Pentagon has found responsible for attacks on joint US-Iraq military facilities. At least 25 were killed in the attacks. Just over a week before, a U.S. defence policy bill passed the Senate on December 17, aiming, among other things, to impose sanctions on Syrian forces and others responsible for atrocities. In the UN, the U.S., France, and Britain are pushing against Russia and China in favor of provisions of humanitarian aid which would be concentrated on key border crossings in northern Syria. 

Iraq 

Protests in Iraq entered their 13th week, despite a brutal response from the government. Over 400 people have been killed in these protests, and about 19,000 have been wounded. Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has resigned, though he is still involved in the government. Protests continue in part because of the passing of the deadline on December 22 for Parliament and the President to appoint a new Prime Minister.

Protesters believe a complete overhaul of the system is needed to reduce corruption and poverty. Iranian influence has infiltrated the government, and officials of Ayatollah Khamenei’s (supreme leader of Iran) have made themselves crucial parts of the search for a new prime minister. President Barham Salih threatened to resign rather than to suggest any of the candidates supporting Iran, creating further tension and gridlock. 

There are significant challenges for protesters’ success, but they have managed to shut down some of the country’s operations. State offices and schools have been closed for weeks in the south, and on December 29th, protesters for the first time blockaded an entire oil field. On Tuesday December 31, protestors attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as part of demonstrations against American airstrikes. The embassy has been put under lockdown, with the USG placing blame for the attacks on Iran. These latest developments show that the protesters have the power to create real effects throughout the country, but the question still remains whether they will be able to influence the creation of a new, reformed government. Protests are likely to continue throughout January as protesters’ conviction grows stronger with every act of violence committed by the government.

Southeast Asia

Burma

The Burmese government is once again delaying the repatriation of Rohingya refugees that have lived in displacement camps in Bangladesh for over two years now. The government previously signed an agreement with Bangladesh in late 2017 to repatriate a significant portion of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya that had fled to the country, but that has not occurred. They stated that repatriation would be put on hold until the genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is completed and potentially even until after Burma’s next elections in late 2020. Very few Rohingya have returned to Burma because of the fear of “continued violence and systematic discrimination,” and most will not consider returning until measures are taken by the government to ensure their safety.

After the Gambia filed a case against Burma at the ICJ last month with charges of genocide, the court held public hearings concerning the allegations. From December 10th to the 12th, the court was presented with detailed testimony about the vast atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Burma while Aung San Suu Kyi, the de-facto civilian leader of Burma and representing the country in front of the ICJ, vigorously denied the accusations. She argued that claims by the media and foreign actors of an orchestrated campaign of persecution against the Rohingya by the Burmese government and military were exaggerated and false. However, she did not directly respond to or even explicitly deny the various crimes that were alleged to have been perpetrated against the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi’s reputation, record, and values have seen a startling reversal compared to the time she was once a gleaming icon of human rights around the world.

Since the hearings completed on December 12th, the judges of the ICJ have stated they will soon make a decision regarding the case. The purpose of the proceedings was to “determine whether judges need to issue an emergency order to protect the Rohingya still in Myanmar.” It is unclear what decision the judges will come to, but the hope of the Gambia and most of the international community is that interim measures will be enforced to protect the Rohingya from further violence. However, it will be more difficult for the court to declare that Myanmar acted with the intent of genocide against the Rohingya, and such a decision would take years to make. Even then, the ICJ would not necessarily have the power to enforce such a judgment and the guilty would likely evade punishment besides the possibility of sanctions.

Emerging Crises

Mali

Security in the Sahel region is worsening as attacks on the Malian army continue to cause casualties despite French backing. On November 26, 2019, 13 French soldiers were killed in Mali after two helicopters collided whilst descending to support ground forces engaged in combat with Islamist militants. This is the largest loss of French troops in a single day since a conflict in Beirut 36 years ago and is representative of the extent to which ISIS and Al-Qaeda branches have strengthened their hold across the region. Following the losses in Mali and an attack that occurred in neighboring Niger, the United Nations Security Council held a briefing on violence in West Africa, convening Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso, but released a joint statement that offered few details on how to secure peace in the Sahel region. 

Save the Children estimates that over 105,000 children have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to violence in Mali, with the number of those in need of humanitarian assistance rising from 3.2 million in January 2019 to 3.9 million in December 2019. As of current, France is the only Western country with significant military presence in Mali among other West African countries working to combat the violence.

Venezuela

Amid ongoing allegations of extrajudicial killings and various human rights violations, the Venezuelan Supreme Court opened criminal cases against four anti-Maduro lawmakers on the National Assembly for rebellion and treason. The Constituent Assembly, a legislative body created by Maduro to oppose the National Assembly, stripped the lawmakers of any immunity from criminal persecution and approved the trial. The National Assembly is virtually the only branch of government not under Maduro’s control. Meanwhile, Guido claims that 30 other lawmakers remain detained, exiled, hiding in embassies around Caracas as the re-election vote for Guido as leader of the National Assembly quickly approaches.

Protests have decreased this month after thousands of national, largely student-led protests took place in November against President Maduro and the hyperinflation rendering the bolivar more useful as craft paper than currency. While the economic crisis persists, Venezuelans, especially children, suffer from malnutrition. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, spoke to the Human Rights Council about rising rates of malnutrition among other signs of severely deteriorated conditions. 

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.

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 has 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 and Venezuela portions 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 to 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 to 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.

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, Abby 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. This summer, Abby 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.

Moni Islam is a senior at George Mason University, serves as secretary of the STAND chapter at George Mason, and is a member of STAND’s Burma Action Committee. He is an Anthropology and Global Affairs double major, with a concentration in the Middle East & North Africa, and hopes to pursue a career in ancient Near Eastern archaeology in the future. Moni contributed to the Burma portion of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a STAND Managing Committee member and an incoming senior at Cerritos High School in California. She and served as STAND’s 2018-2019 West Region Field Organizer, and on STAND’s Burma and Yemen Action Committees. In her free time, Caroline participates in Model United Nations, marching band, and Girl Scouts, and pursues Holocaust and genocide education. Caroline contributed the Mali portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: November 2019

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Sudan is in the process of removing their forces from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. This is not a complete withdrawal: a smaller group will remain in the country. This comes after Houthi rebels claimed to have captured and killed thousands of Sudanese troops. Over 40,000 Sudanese troops have been deployed in Yemen throughout the conflict, primarily members of the General Mohammed “Hemedti” Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The RSF has been accused of deploying to Libya despite UN sanctions and of committing war crimes in Darfur. Dagalo is a member of the Sudanese transitional government.

Sudan’s civilian Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok visited Darfur earlier this month. He met with internally displaced persons (IDPs) and promised to meet their conditions for return. These conditions include peace, security, education, healthcare, and an end to RSF attacks, as well as justice for the Darfur genocide. Specifically, Darfuri leaders want former president Omar al-Bashir to be handed over to the ICC on war crimes charges. Bashir is on trial for corruption and for his role in the 1989 coup which brought the National Congress Party dictatorship to power. A verdict is expected in December.

Also in December, peace talks will resume between rebel groups and the Sudanese government. The talks were supposed to take place this month, but they have been postponed, with multiple reasons given for the delay.

The United States government is considering removing Sudan from the state sponsored terrorism list and lifting remaining sanctions. Sudan has been on the list since 1993, making them ineligible for World Bank and IMF aid. Hamdok has made removal of the designation a priority for the new government, saying that a change would offer the Sudanese economy a chance to grow. 

South Sudan

Postponing their November 12 deadline to form a transitional unity government, President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar agreed on a 100-day delay. Crucial aspects of the peace deal signed in September 2018 remained contested between Kiir and Machar, especially relating to “security arrangements and governance.” Because negotiations were already stalled, there were fears that the country would relapse into civil war should either side be pushed too far. Some South Sudanese civil society groups encouraged the postponement in order to avoid returning to violence. 

The U.S. announced the day following the intended deadline that it is “gravely disappointed” over the extension. Because of it, the U.S. will be reconsidering the relationship between the two states. There is a possibility of new sanctions on those “impeding South Sudan’s peace process.” Ten days after the postponement, the UN Security Council also expressed their disappointment and concern.

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The fight against Ebola in the DRC has grown increasingly hopeful in the past month. UNICEF’s DR Congo Ebola Situation Report for 28 October-10 November cited increased community support in response to Ebola in the region as well as increased access to medical care and vaccines for hundreds of thousands of Congolese. One of the most promising developments in the fight against Ebola has been the release of a new vaccine that is expected to be tested on 500,000 Congolese in the next month. Despite these positive developments, the relationship between violence in the area and combating Ebola was highlighted when a journalist involved in Ebola awareness programs was attacked and killed in his home.

Violence in the country has continued with rebel fighters killing several civilians in an Eastern providence earlier this month. As a response, the central government launched a large scale operation against rebels with the goal of creating and sustaining peace throughout the country. One of the outcomes of this operation was the killing of the leader and four bodyguards from a Hutu armed group with connections to the Rwandan Genocide. Also an important development in the past month was the release of an independent strategic review of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The review re-emphasized that DRC continues to be unstable and unpredictable but that a strong democratic government would be essential in creating sustainable peace.

Middle East

Yemen

On November 20, the Houthi rebels warned that they could hit vital targets deep inside Israel’s “occupied territories” in order to combat Israel’s ambitions in the Yemen region. In an event held in Sana’a, Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree claimed that the Israeli government planned to extend control over strategic sites in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. He also stated that the Houthis had the capacity to make such strikes.

A Saudi Arabian tugboat was seized by the Houthi Rebels in the Red Sea on Sunday, November 17. The ship was carrying a drilling rig from South Korea when it was hijacked. At a news conference, Saudi military spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki stated that the ship “fell under hijacking and armed robbery by two boats.” The Saudi ship was reportedly one of the three ships seized close to Uqban island and taken to the Salif Port in Yemen. This comes as the Saudis and Houthi rebels are holding indirect peace talks to end the five year conflict. 

The peace talks are being held with Oman, a Gulf Arab country that borders both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as a mediator. The two parties have been in contact via video conference over the past two months, according to Gamal Amer, a negotiator for the Houthis. However, the current objective is to consider what will work in the short term such as reopening Yemen’s Sana’a international airport, which was shut down by the Saudi-led coalition in 2016.

Syria

Since the Turkish invasion of Syria last month, more than 200,000 people have been displaced. 15,000 of those displaced have escaped to northern Iraq. The majority of those remaining are without clean water and shelter. Turkey promised to keep Syrian forces from a “safe zone” on the Turkish-Syrian border, however heavy fighting has continued. 

Despite a supposed ceasefire, airstrikes continue in the northwestern province of Idlib. Beginning in April, the Russian-led coalition has orchestrated regular attacks on Idlib, systematically targeting hospitals, markets, and schools. Since the attacks began, over 1,000 civilians have lost their lives. A recent airstrike on a camp for displaced people killed 12–mostly women and children. 

Iraq

Protests in Iraq have gained momentum, with over 200,000 people coming out to protest every day for the past five weeks. Protesters are coming from all around the country. Some of them are young, educated, and secular, but the majority are Shi’ite members of the working poor. The economy is suffering, with one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world at about 25%. More than just economic policy, protesters are decrying corruption and Iranian influence in the country. The Iraqi government lacks transparency, and Iranian spies have been able to control officials in significant leadership positions. Many people thought that the removal of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of Iraq as a republic would make the government more effective and trustworthy as well as spur economic recovery.  However, persisting problems have led to a sense of desperation and inspired rebellion.

Despite the momentum and strength of these protests, the government has not made any changes. In fact, it has used tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some cases, even machine gun fire against the protesters. Over 300 people have died, and about 15,000 people have been wounded. Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Iraqi Armed Forces, General Abdul Kareem Khalaf, has repeatedly lied about the situation. He denies that the military used force against the protesters and made false claims about the protesters provoking soldiers. The protesters continue their dissent against the government, hoping that reforms will come in the future.

Southeast Asia

Burma

This month, The Gambia filed a genocide case against Burma at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) because of atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Burma. Past efforts to hold the country accountable for the murder, rape, and torture of Rohingya civilians in the Rakhine state and to seek justice for the victims of this genocide have failed to prosecute leaders who perpetrated violence and human rights abuses. Human rights activists hope that the ICJ will pressure Burma to address its responsibility, help survivors, and prevent future violence. 

Additionally, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has greenlighted a separate investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the Burmese government against the Rohingya. Finally, a Rohingya and Latin American human rights group submitted a lawsuit in Argentina, naming several high-ranking Burmese officials, for crimes against humanity under universal jurisdiction. These investigations have the ability to show the horrors the Rohingya face at the hands of Burma’s government and hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes at an international scale.

Despite the ongoing investigations, many Burmese government officials refuse to accept publicly that they took part in a genocide. Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi does not acknowledge any wrongdoing done by Burma and will defend the Burmese government in front of the ICJ in December. Her refusal to condemn the Rohingya genocide has led some to call for her Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked, which would not be the first humanitarian award she has lost due to her indifference towards the suffering of the Rohingya people. Once a revered political figure, Aung San Suu Kyi has lost respect and credibility through her continued defense of genocide. 

Emerging Crises

Mali

On November 2, 2019, 53 soldiers in eastern Mali were killed after an attack from the Islamic State (IS). This attack is noted to be one of the deadliest against the Malian forces, which included at least three suicide bombers who detonated explosives inside the military camp. Sporadic violence on the part of the IS has caused consistent struggle amongst the G5 Sahel force, a joint military initiative between Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, and Mauritania, as November’s attack is the second in the region in two months. The G5 is noted to lack training, finance, and equipment, and numbers 4,000 despite an originally planned 5,000. 

The UN is struggling to defeat al-Qaeda and Islamic State-linked groups, as Mali is now the most dangerous country in the world for UN peacekeepers with a death toll of 123, and 358 severely wounded. On November 19, another 24 Malian soldiers were killed by regional counter-insurgency forces as reported by the French military. Continual violence has caused more than 1,500 civilian deaths in Burkina Faso and Mali, with an additional one million internally displaced. To combat this issue Western African leaders have pledged $1 billion over five years, starting in 2020. 

Venezuela

Over the past week, Venezuelan students, heeding the call of opposition leader Juan Guaido, have organized demonstrations in the capital of Caracas against President Nicolas Maduro. One march, attended by several hundred singing and chanting students, attempted to reach the Defense Ministry, but was nonviolently blocked by riot police and a National Guard blockade. Students remain optimistic and determined; however, hyperinflation and water shortages, among other issues, undermine capacity for mass mobilization like protests of 2018. Despite this, other smaller demonstrations have been happening even before Guaido’s call for large-scale protests. As reported by the Washington Post, the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict recorded about 14,330 protests this year alone, mostly demanding improvements in the economy and the country’s infrastructure. 

These protests have unfolded as Venezuela enters its 36th month of hyperinflation; the economic crisis created a humanitarian crisis. The UNHCR recently reported that as of November 2019, the over 4.6 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants need $1.35 billion in order to help them and host countries. A “harmonized plan” was launched by the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to address humanitarian needs with a particular focus on social and economic inclusion.

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.

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 has 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 and Venezuela portions 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. 

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, Abby 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. This summer, Abby 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.

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 to the Burma 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.

Caroline Mendoza is a STAND Managing Committee member and an incoming senior at Cerritos High School in California. She and served as STAND’s 2018-2019 West Region Field Organizer, and on STAND’s Burma and Yemen Action Committees. In her free time, Caroline participates in Model United Nations, marching band, and Girl Scouts, and pursues Holocaust and genocide education. Caroline contributed the Mali portion of this update.

15 Reasons to Give to STAND

This holiday season, for our 15th anniversary, students are sharing 15 reasons to give to STAND. With your support, STAND will be able to continue our one-of-a-kind mission to build the anti-genocide constituency.

Give Now

1. STAND is student-led.

Claire Sarnowski, Lakeridge High School, Sophomore

Our volunteer Managing Committee directs our campaigns and committees. STAND puts a strong emphasis on “student-led” and encourages students to contribute to a new generation of atrocity-prevention leaders.

Meet our Managing Committee. 

2. STAND is one of a kind.

Jan Jan Maran, George Mason University, Junior

STAND is the only student organization in the U.S. focused on atrocity prevention- as such, it has allowed me to connect with an amazing network of student activists who are just as passionate as I am about preventing genocide, and has encouraged me to continue using my voice for those silenced by repressive regimes. Coming from a Kachin ethnic background myself, I had always wanted to do something about the atrocities in Burma but wasn’t sure how I would until I met STAND. Since joining the Managing Committee, I have been given various opportunities to advocate for people endangered by genocide not only in Burma, but in countries all over the world. There’s literally no other organization that will allow you to do this, and that’s what makes STAND so unique.

Learn more about Burma.

3. STAND has grassroots reach.

Aisha Saleem, Barnard College, Sophomore

STAND has grassroots outreach to many different high schools and universities across the U.S. There are very few atrocity prevention organizations that have national support across the U.S., specifically support from the youth who get to decide our future.

Start a chapter at your school.

4. STAND connects the global and local.

Grace Fernandes (Student Director), Simmons University, Senior

In my experience at STAND I have had the opportunity to learn about and advocate for both global and local issues. I’ve learned from diaspora and activists from a variety of background across the globe as well as advocated for issues at home regarding the land into trust status of my own tribes reservation land through our Indigenous People’s committee. Through campaigning and teaching about atrocity issues abroad we strengthen our connections from local to global.

Join the IP Action Committee.

5. STAND bridges classroom learning and civic engagement.

Caroline Mendoza, Cerritos High School, Senior

My public high school barely taught about the Holocaust- much less other mass atrocities, both past and present. STAND has allowed me to become knowledgeable on current human rights abuses and has given me the tools and resources to advocate for change on these topics, whether that be lobby days, call-in scripts, or committee engagement.

Read about historical atrocities. 

6. STAND enacts policy.

Megan Smith, University of Southern California, Senior

Right now, I am a member of the Managing Committee, but I began during my freshman year here and stuck around because I saw how STAND truly enacts policy. Utilizing our wide network of youth activists, STAND represents a strong voice in advocating for mass atrocity prevention. Throughout my time with STAND, the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act was a key ask, and I remember writing op-eds, lobbying on the Hill, calling my representatives from Los Angeles… When I heard that it was enacted in January, I remember feeling so excited and proud of myself, my STAND community, and all of our allies in getting this milestone piece of legislation for the U.S. in genocide and mass atrocity prevention enacted.

Join the STAND Rapid Responders Facebook group.

7. STAND provides opportunities for individual activists.

Vishwa Padigepati, Yale University, Freshman

As a STAND MC member, I’ve gotten the opportunity to interact with individual activists from several states, coast to coast. Through STAND, I was able to help equip activists with the research, resources, and connections to the nonprofit and government sectors. From lobbying to research to writing, STAND has helped thousands of activists fight against genocidal history and present in its own historical journey.

Apply to be a State Advocacy Lead.

8. STAND empowers young people with professional skills.

Megan Rodgers, University of Arkansas, Junior

Through being a STAND MC Member, I have had the opportunity to interact with leaders in the Atrocity Prevention field, collaborate with other students who are passionate about atrocity and genocide prevention and learn effective methods for policy review and lobbying. Due to the training I received through STAND, I felt empowered to schedule meetings with my elected officials to discuss current pieces of legislation that I am passionate about.

Learn how to lobby.

9. STAND uses technology to democratize access to power.

Jordan Stevenson, Eastern Washington University, Senior

Being from rural Washington state, it can be hard to engage on policy that is made in D.C., especially foreign policy. STAND gives me the tools to organize national action, lobby, and help build the movement to end mass atrocities all from a far corner of the U.S.

Read about Our Issues.

10. STAND updates the public on issues often left out of the news.

Mira Mehta, Westfield High School, Junior

STAND is really amazing because it puts out monthly Conflict Updates and blog posts to inform people about a lot of issues that are often left out of the news, but affect real people. Genocides and mass atrocities aren’t things that we like to talk about or things that we like to teach about in schools, but they’re affecting real people every day, and it’s super important that we have resources like STAND to learn about it.

Alison Rogers, Baylor University, Junior

Through STAND, I’ve been able to engage with activists across the U.S. and internationally. Being part of STAND means that I’m always learning more and getting to participate in new, exciting ways. As a journalism student, I’ve especially enjoyed getting to write op-eds for my school paper and contribute to the conflict updates. I think of advocacy as story-sharing, and STAND is teaching me more about how to do that in ways that are impactful and create change, and that respect the voices of the people affected by genocide and atrocities.

Follow our Conflict Updates.

11. STAND promotes Holocaust and genocide education.

Abby Edwards, Columbia, Junior

Genocide education is currently only mandated in 12 states. Our team is working on creating accessible and appropriate curriculum to facilitate education about atrocity prevention in all schools.

Start a campaign in your state.

12. STAND creates a network of peer support and mentorship.

Grace Harris, Tampa Preparatory School, Junior

By being a part of STAND, I have been able to build important connections with peers. Thanks to STAND, I have a whole network of people I can reach out to for help with anything from editing an op-ed and researching a current crisis to balancing schoolwork and extracurriculars with activism!

Join the network.

13. STAND takes meaningful action for peace.

Daud Shad, Yale University, Junior

STAND raises awareness about humanitarian crises that are generally neglected or met with apathy across the country. Over the past 15 years, STAND has supported thousands of student advocates who work to end mass atrocities.

Learn about Our History.

14. STAND encourages youth activism.

Rujjares Hansapiromchok, George Washington University, Master’s Candidate

STAND empowers and emboldens youth’s voices in activism. The organization allows young people to speak up against injustice and guides us towards impacting change around the world. STAND has given me opportunities to speak up and take action on issues I am passionate about. I have learned different forms of advocacy and activism through the organization.

Organize youth in your area.

15. STAND builds a generation of leaders.

Our model of student-created and -led campaigning has led numerous STAND alumni/ae to work on related issues, by founding organizations and running for elected office.

Tim Hirschel-Burns, STAND Alum

STAND provides a constituency for genocide and mass atrocity prevention: People suffering from mass atrocities in Yemen, Myanmar, and South Sudan, and more don’t get a say over US policy even as it has enormous effects on their lives. STAND activists do, and it’s vital that elected officials and policymakers know that Americans want their government to effectively prevent atrocities.

Give Now

STAND Conflict Update: October 2019

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Talks between the Sudanese transitional government and rebel groups from the regions of Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile began in Juba this month. The talks were temporarily disrupted October 15, after the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North movement–based out of the Nuba Mountains region–implicated government forces in a bombing killing at least one. The Nuba Mountains were the target of an intensive bombing campaign under the previous government. After further discussion and the decision by the Sudanese government to announce a “permanent ceasefire” in the conflict zones, the parties continued the talks. Sudan also agreed to allow humanitarian aid into these areas for the first time in eight years. These talks are expected to last for two months and will hopefully result in lasting peace. They are also opening up an opportunity to improve the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan, and a potential resolution of issues related to the Abyei region and a long-running border dispute.

Demonstrations continue as people respond to the ongoing trial of deposed President Omar al-Bashir and express support for a full democratic transition and justice for those killed during the earlier protests. These protesters are also calling for Bashir’s ruling party, the National Congress Party, to be disbanded. Despite the presence of the newly-formed civilian transitional government, many of the state positions are still filled with Bashir appointees. In addition, there are calls for Bashir, who is currently on trial for corruption, to be handed over to the ICC to stand trial on the charge of genocide in Darfur.

Meanwhile, work continues on a new Sudanese constitution. No end date has been announced, but the constitutional process is working to include members of various opposition organizations and to fulfill the revolution’s goals of justice and reform.  

South Sudan

The November 12 deadline for South Sudan to form a coalition government is quickly approaching. However, opposition leader Riek Machar recently voiced that meeting this deadline could push the country back into civil war. The date, already delayed by months, is critical in securing this fragile peace deal over a year after its anniversary. Machar claimed that should a government be formed on the 12th, the ceasefire that has lasted over a year will fall apart. Because there has been no agreement on how to integrate the army, Machar claims that he would be unlikely to take part in the unity government. 

The response from the international community has been mixed. 15 diplomats visited South Sudan over the weekend of October 20th, strongly pushing for the deadline to be met. Though they are concerned about Machar, they think that three weeks should be enough time for a security arrangement to be made. Despite the UN Security Council urging for the deadline to be met, some experts from organizations like the International Crisis Group doubt this to be the right approach. 

Meanwhile, the head of UN peacekeeping recently reported that the border dispute between Sudan and South Sudan could see a breakthrough. Given the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir, the political process to establish formal governance over the oil-rich territory of Abyei looks promising under the leadership of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Abdalla Hamdouk, the civilian Prime Minister of Sudan.

Amid the fragile peace, heavy flooding that has been ongoing since July is reported to have affected over 900,000, including large communities of refugees and internally displaced people. Flooding is only expected to worsen with rains estimated to continue for another month or more. This has exacerbated the humanitarian situation, limiting access to health centers and basic services amid an already crippled economy. 

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s ongoing Ebola outbreak is still considered a public health emergency, although the number of new cases is dwindling. Only 15 cases were reported between October 7 and October 13 and much of the outbreak has shifted from cities to rural areas of the country. At the same time, the number of deaths due to a measles outbreak has surpassed the number dead from Ebola in the country, killing 4,096 and 2,143, respectively. Humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF continue to work to combat these deadly diseases.

In addition to this, conflicting armed groups pose a separate but still very deadly problem to Congolese citizens. Recently, Burundian security forces killed 14 armed Congolese men as the forces entered the province of Bubanza in Burundi. The group intended to replicate last year’s attack on Ruhagarika, a city near Burundi’s border with the DRC, where at least 26 were killed. Last month, the UN Office of the High Commissioner reported that fourteen people, including eleven children, were killed and then decapitated in the province of Ituri. Just a day later, 12 others were killed, all belonging to the Hema ethnic group. These acts of violence have led Leila Zerrougui, the head of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC, to declare in a recent meeting that she will step up cooperation with the government of the DRC to fully defeat these armed groups in an effort to return peace to the region.

Middle East

Yemen

The United Nations announced on October 22 the establishment of four joint observation posts in the city of Hodeida. The posts are occupied by forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government as well as the Houthi rebels. Last year the government loyalists backed a Saudi-launched attack to regain control of the formerly Houthi controlled territory. The UN hopes that this move will enhance de-escalation efforts at one of the most vital entry points for humanitarian aid.

Yemen officials claimed on October 24th that the Saudi-led coalition is increasing its military presence in the southern parts of the country. They have deployed additional troops along with armored vehicles, tanks, and other military equipment. Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (a main ally of the Saudis) continues to withdraw troops from the country.

In a report recently released by the UN, September was the most deadly month in Yemen this year with an average of 13 killed each day. However, since the beginning of September, the UN response plan to Yemen has gone from 45% funded to 65% funded. This shows improvement in the amount of aid that can be used to save lives, but the obstacle of getting aid to civilians remains unsolved.

Syria 

Earlier this month, President Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from Syria, a move that has left the region’s Kurds in danger of Turkish military action. The Kurds have historically served as the primary partner of the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. The U.S. withdrawal and the vulnerable position of the Kurds have created conditions allowing hundreds of ISIS terrorists in Kurdish-run prisons to go free. 

Despite the withdrawal of U.S. troops, President Trump announced this weekend that the U.S. will send armored vehicles and troops into eastern Syria to protect oil fields from falling to ISIS control. Additionally, the President announced that a U.S. commando raid on Saturday led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

In the past week, nearly 200,000 Kurds have fled the battle zone on the Turkish border, pushed further into Syria. Footage of Kurds being tortured by Arab forces in northern Syria has been announced by U.S. special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, as well as Kurdish officials as evidence of “potential war crimes.” 

The Turkish government has repeatedly stated that it plans to move up to 1 million Syrians currently living in Turkey to a safe zone. However, Amnesty International reports that Turkey is forcibly sending refugees back to Syria against their will. The report claims people were handcuffed, beaten, and forced to sign ‘voluntary return’ forms they were not allowed to read. 

Southeast Asia

Burma 

Human rights violations against the Rohingya people continue in Burma. Most recently, the Burmese authorities arrested a group of 30 Rohingya Muslims for attempting to travel from Rakhine State to the city of Yangon. On October 4, after a one-day hearing and a reported lack of access to legal representation, 21 of the Rohingya were sentenced to 2 years in prison and 8 children were sent to a detention center. 

Human Rights Watch says that Burma should “lift all arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement for Rohingya, repeal discriminatory regulations, and cease all official and unofficial practices that restrict their movement and livelihoods.” The restrictions the Burmese government is imposing on the Rohingya violate international human rights law, which grants the right to freedom of movement within, and to leave, Burma. More than 700,000 Rohingyas have fled from this abuse to neighboring Bangladesh. However, the refugee camps are overcrowded with around 1 million displaced Rohingyas. 

The Bengali government plans to relocate around 100,000 Rohingyas to the island of Bhasan Char. This relocation presents a problem for the Rohingya because Bhasan Char is a flood-prone island, which could prove to be especially unsafe during the monsoon season. Many human rights groups are reporting that this relocation plan would only further the hardship these refugees already face. The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, established by the United Nations, released its final report on October 22, 2019, calling on UN Member States to keep watchful over the persisting threat of genocide. At the UN General Assembly, Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, says she sees no improvement to the situation. Human rights experts are calling on the Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court or to try alleged perpetrators of international crimes. 

Emerging Crises

Mali 

As Mali continues its struggle against local al-Qaeda affiliates, at least 38 soldiers were killed on October 2 after two army camps on the border of Burkina Faso were raided and attacked. The Malian army and lost soldiers are part of the greater G5 Sahel Force, a multinational military backed by France to secure peace in the Sahel region. This attack is representative of the violence spreading throughout West Africa, affecting countries including Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali, all of which have seen losses due to jihadist insurgencies dating back to as early as 2015. 

After the October 2 attack on Malian forces and a succeeding attack in neighboring Burkina Faso, Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita shut down rumors of a military coup on October 7. According to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), one peacekeeper was killed and five others were wounded by a roadside bomb that same day, adding to MINUSMA’s total of 200 peacekeeper casualties since its establishment in 2013. In an October 2nd meeting on Mali and the Sahel, UN chief Antonio Guterres stated that “We are losing ground to violence and terrorism,” noting that the number of civilian deaths in the region had quadrupled since 2012. 

Venezuela

Since 2015, an estimated 4.5 million Venezuelan citizens have fled their homes due to Venezuela’s ongoing political and humanitarian crises. Nearly 80 percent of these citizens have stayed in Latin America and other regions of the Caribbean. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), European Union, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have partnered to host an International Solidarity Conference on October 28 and 29 focusing on the Venezuela conflict. Keynote speakers at this conference include Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Commission, António Vitorin, IOM Director, and Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. In the press release issued last week, these organizations strongly encouraged surrounding countries to continue showing solidarity towards Venezuelan migrants and refugees. The purpose of the conference is to further raise awareness for the conflict and call for increased international aid for Venezuelan citizens.

Due to recurring blackouts, Venezuela’s water system is collapsing. The shattered economy and lack of basic infrastructure have led to insufficient water access. The New York Times commissioned professional researchers from Universidad Central de Venezuela to initiate a study of Venezuela’s water quality. The researchers discovered that nearly one million Venezuelans have been exposed to contaminated water sources, which put them at an elevated risk for waterborne illnesses. This water crisis is a serious concern for scientists as infants, children, and the elderly are most susceptible to contracting these illnesses. In the most recent study conducted, samples were taken from over forty water sources in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. One-third of these samples failed to meet the national expectations of water quality. Humanitarian organizations across South America plan on making the Venezuelan water crisis a top priority in the coming months. 

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 to 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 has 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 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 to 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 to 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, Abby 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. This summer, Abby 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.

Yasmine Halmane is a senior at Teaneck High School, and is a member of STAND’s Yemen, Sudan, DRC, Indigenous Peoples and Burma Action Committees, hoping to gain as much insight into these conflict zones as she can. Outside of STAND, she works with the volunteering network at CODEPINK and with UNICEF’s New York advocacy team. Yasmine contributed the Burma portion of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a STAND Managing Committee member and an incoming senior at Cerritos High School in California. She and served as STAND’s 2018-2019 West Region Field Organizer, and on STAND’s Burma and Yemen Action Committees. In her free time, Caroline participates in Model United Nations, marching band, and Girl Scouts, and pursues Holocaust and genocide education. Caroline contributed to the Mali 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. Over the 2019-2020 academic year, Claire will be working to boost STAND’s grassroots fundraising efforts and work with communities to launch their own genocide education initiatives. Claire contributed the Venezuela portion of this update. 

Key Questions and Answers: U.S. Foreign Policy in Syria | October 2019

Recent events related to U.S. foreign policy in Syria and U.S.-Turkey relations have been major news in the past couple of weeks, but it can be tricky to follow along with all of the details. STAND has compiled some key questions to help you better understand the context and add avenues for engagement. These are short answers to very complex questions, so please feel free to connect with STAND for more information (info@standnow.org). 

Context

On October 7th, 2019, the Trump Administration announced a change in United States foreign policy in Syria following a phone call with President Erdogan of Turkey. This change would remove U.S. troops from a Kurdish-controlled border region in Syria, where they have been preventing conflict between the Turks and Kurds and maintaining the delicate balance in the war against ISIS and Bashar al-Assad. This change opened up the floodgates for Turkey to attack the Kurds, a persecuted ethnic group and embattled ally of the United States. For more information on how the U.S. withdrawal of troops in Syria is complicit in the targeting of the Kurdish population in Syria, please read STAND’s previous statement here.

Who are the Kurds?

The Kurds are an ethnic group with large populations in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. However, they do not make up a majority in any country. They are the largest ethnic minority in Syria and previously made up 5-10% percent of the Syrian population as of 2011. Most Syrians Kurds live close to the border with Turkey in the north. The United States has a long and complex relationship with Kurdish peoples.

How did the Kurds become U.S. allies?

A Kurdish militia, known as People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., was one of the many factions that sought control of Syria as civil war broke out in 2011-2012. Y.P.G. became recognized as effective in taking on extremists. The international coalition led by the United States selected the Kurdish militia as a local partner. Gradually, the militia forced ISIS out of northern Syria and gained control of the land, including much of the border with Turkey. 

Why does Turkey see the Kurds as a threat?

The Turkish government is afraid dissidents and/or insurgents may find a safe haven in the Kurdish controlled area so close to its border. The Turkish government sees the Y.P.G. as an extension of a terrorist group, claiming it is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey. However, the militia in Syria has made efforts to distance itself from this affiliation. The Y.P.G. now makes up the majority of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which was founded in 2015 and also includes Arab and Assyrian militias.

Why are there concerns about ethnic cleansing?

After the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, Turkey has continued to target the Kurds, a stateless population, American ally, and group with a long history of persecution.  On Thursday, October 17th, President Trump made a statement regarding Turkey’s “pause in fighting” in Syria. In this statement, he referenced Tukey’s campaign to remove Kurdish fighters and their families saying “they had to have it cleaned out.” This language, combined with the actions of Turkey in removing these individuals, coincide with the acts of ethnic cleansing as defined by U.N. entities. Additionally, President Trump referenced the fleeing of the Kurds during this pause in fighting as an “incredible outcome.” 

This decision is especially alarming given the Turkish government’s earlier statements. In August, President Erdogan proclaimed, “Turkey has the right to eliminate all threats against its national security[…]. God willing, we will carry the process started with Afrin and Jarablus (previous offensives into Syria) to the next stage very soon.” Erdogan has also refused to recognize the Armenian genocide or reconcile with its lasting impacts, despite campaign promises and international pressure to do so. The U.S. government reportedly considered finally recognizing the Armenian genocide in order to pressure the Turkish government, but decided not to do so.

Politicians and activists have warned about the likelihood of ethnic cleansing and even genocide, including Senators briefed on classified information, SDF leadership, presidential candidates, and diaspora groups.

What is ethnic cleansing?

Ethnic cleansing, while not legally defined by the U.N. General Assembly, was defined by the U.N. Commission of Experts in relation to crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. It is considered the intentional removal of the civilian population of one ethnic or religious group from a geographic area by another ethnic or religious group via the means of violence and terror. In this report, the Commission concluded that ethnic cleansing can constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. 

What can be considered as acts of ethnic cleansing?

The following acts, and more, when committed with the intent of removing a civilian population:

  • Murder
  • Displacement and deportation of the civilian population
  • Torture
  • Rape and sexual assault
  • Destruction of property
  • Confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas
  • Deliberate attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas

Is there a difference between ethnic cleansing and genocide?

While the lines are somewhat blurry, and the difference between definitions of ethnic cleansing and genocide can appear somewhat unclear, there are several points of distinction between the two crimes. Genocide, as defined by the United Nations Genocide Convention, includes acts committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. These acts can include killing members of the group but also other acts such as causing serious bodily or mental harm to the group or preventing births within the group. 

Ethnic cleansing goes beyond this definition to include acts committed with the intent of “removing a civilian population” from a certain geographic area — not necessarily the destruction of said group. This definition can encompass some acts similar to those above but importantly include the forced removal, displacement, and deportation of ethnic and religious groups. 

How can I take action to address this situation?

1. Stay Aware

There will be two hearings in Congress on Syria this week: 

You can watch these hearings via C-SPAN or online via the links above. 

2. Call Congress

The House passed a joint resolution on this policy change. If your Rep voted yes, thank them! 

A similar resolution was introduced in the Senate. Call your Senators to urge their support.

Call Script Syria Oct 19 (2)

If you do call, be sure to let us know so that we can help you follow up with their office, and we can keep a record of activists who are engaged on this issue.

3. Keep Up to Date

STAND will be following any policy changes closely and will add more actions as opportunities arise. Join our mailing list and follow our social profiles @standnow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram if you haven’t already!

Where can I find more resources?

STAND Conflict Update: September 2019

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

Throughout the creation of Sudan’s new civilian government, emphasis has been placed on female inclusion. Of the 18-member cabinet, four are women. Women were leaders in the protest movement which toppled former president Omar al-Bashir and led to the establishment of the transitional government. Establishing new, less restrictive roles for women in the society will be an important part of Sudan’s transition. 

New Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said that “the top priority of the transitional government is to end the war and build sustainable peace.” Sudanese leaders traveled to Juba earlier this month to meet with rebel leaders from Sudan’s conflict regions of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile, and to build a better relationship with South Sudan.

Sudan’s government also expressed the desire to end Sudanese involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Thousands of Sudanese troops are estimated to be in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia is accused of recruiting child soldiers and mercenaries from Sudan. These goals remain uncertain due to the continued involvement of military leaders, such as Rapid Security Forces leader Mohamed “Hemeti” Dagalo, who have been implicated in violence against protesters and in Darfur.

The trial of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir continues. Al-Bashir was charged with illicit financial activities, including taking at least 90 million in cash from Saudi Arabia. As evidence, piles of euros and Sudanese pounds were shown at his trial on September 20. Al-Bashir admitted himself last month that he received $25 million from Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. However, Saudi Arabia has not responded to this accusation, and the BBC reports that they also provided financial support to military leaders within the transitional government. If convicted, al-Bashir will serve a prison sentence of about ten years. 

The charges do not address war crimes or human rights violations, an omission which was a factor in protests last week. It is widely perceived as a “sham trial,” as protestors are also concerned that the court system is stacked in al-Bashir’s favor. The government response did little to alleviate these concerns, as protestors were met with police opposition and tear gas. Protestors are demanding accountability measures and justice for the June 3rd  killing of nearly 130 people. Those responsible include members of the transitional military government. In response, the new Sudanese Prime Minister and civilian leader Abdalla Hamdok announced late on the evening of Saturday September 20 that there will be a new independent probe into the violent response to the June 3 protests, and may seek outside support of the African Union.

South Sudan

A recent investigation has found that a South Sudanese oil company financed military groups accused of committing human rights atrocities during the civil war in South Sudan. Accountability has yet to come for this corrupt funding, but this has drawn public attention to the situation. 

This news comes amid a continuing ceasefire and fragile peace talks. On September 11, South Sudan President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar met in Juba to renew a commitment to creating a transitional power-sharing government in South Sudan. The November 12 deadline for this interim government leaves just under two months for South Sudan to organize a peaceful transition. 

Since the ceasefire between South Sudanese and Sudanese officials and a representative of an armed group alliance was extended in July, more internally displaced persons are willing to return home. However, the peace remains fragile with many still in need of humanitarian aid. An estimated 6.35 million people, 54% of South Sudan’s population, face food insecurity, with 1.7 million of them in a more severe category of hunger. Although access to aid is increasing, these people still remain in dire need. 

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

President Felix Tshisekedi’s government has made many important actions throughout the past month, with the most notable being the announcement of the new government’s cabinet at the end of August. The appointments heavily favor former president Kabila’s party, the FCC, with forty two of the sixty five members of the cabinet coming from that coalition. Another milestone for the new government came with Tshisekedi’s first visit to continental Europe when the president visited Belgium in mid September and was met with protests for crowds who claimed that he was a “usurper” and “national shame” among other titles. 

The Congolese diaspora in the U.S. has also voiced opinions about their home country’s politics, with protests in Arizona bringing attention to disagreements between the Congolese about who should be held responsible for bringing peace to the Congo, and what the U.S. government’s role in promoting that peace should be. The new government also faces opposition within the Congo, as a longtime opposition party leader Moise Katumbi returned to the Congo after three years of exile. Another prominent figure from the Congo’s past also made headlines this month as former health minister Oly Ilunga, who resigned from his position in July, was detained and accused of mismanaging $4.3 million of public funds which had been allocated to combating the Ebola outbreak. 

Throughout the past month, the international community has expressed growing concerns over the Ebola outbreak, highlighted by a three-day visit of UN chief and senior officials and a U.S. delegation. Meanwhile, the disease has continued to spread with an average of eighty-one new cases being confirmed weekly.Widespread violence continues to delay the treatment of patients, however, the armed non-State actor APCLS signed the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment on protecting health conflict in armed conflict in mid-August, resulting in increased access to treatment within violence affected and APCLS controlled areas. Increased security and peace has also led to the return of about 8,500 refugees to the Kasai region. 

Other important events in Congolese news this month include a boat accident earlier this week which left thirty six individuals missing and feared to be drowned, the derailment of a train that caused at least 50 casualties, and the killing of FDLR (Rwandan rebel group) leader Sylvestre Mudacumura by Congolese troops in eastern Congo. Mudacumura was wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against civilians in the Congo where the rebel group has operated since the end of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. In more encouraging news, Congolese human rights activist Evariste Mfaume was named the regional winner for Africa for the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for his work advocating for the rights of refugees and displaced peoples.

Middle East

Yemen

In the early hours of September 14, 2019, there was a drone strike attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields. The Houthi rebels, who have been fighting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, have claimed responsibility for the attack. This comes weeks after the coalition stated that a joint committee was being formed in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates to stabilize a ceasefire in the Yemeni provinces of Shabwa and Abyan. The stated goal of the ceasefire is to achieve disengagement and redeployment of troops as part of the coalition military efforts. Despite Saudi Arabia calling for a summit to discuss ending the standoff, Hadi’s government states that they will not participate in the ceasefire until the separatists give up control of the various sites they seized. 

Obstacles to aid delivery in Yemen have worsened. United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Chief informed the council that operating conditions for delivery of humanitarian aid have “never been worse.” During June and July, aid agencies reported 300 incidents which have hindered the delivery of aid to 4.9 million people. This includes obstacles to beneficiary registration, attempts to divert aid, and efforts to control selection of implementing partners. Humanitarian workers have even been detained at checkpoints in some situations and in several cases capriciously arrested. Staff also face intimidation and harassment at Sana’a airport. 

Syria

After two years of negotiations, a 150-person Syrian constitutional committee made up of government, civil society, and opposition leaders was announced by the United Nations on the morning of September 23. The committee, first proposed in 2018 at peace talks hosted by Russia, will be completely “Syrian-organized and Syrian-led,” according to UN Secretary General António Guterres. Facilitated by the UN in Geneva, the formation of this committee is seen as pivotal in finding a sustainable political solution to the now eight-year conflict.    

The Russian-led bombing campaign of the rebel-held Idlib province continues into its fifth month. Idlib, being one of the last rebel strongholds in Syria, is home to three million people, around half of whom are internally displaced from other areas in the country captured by Syrian government forces. In the creation of a UNSC resolution calling for a ceasefire in the country, the UN released reports that two-thirds of those living in the province currently are women or children. The resolution, described by its supporters as “purely humanitarian” aimed to put an end to the bombing campaign which has indiscriminately targeted civilians through the bombing of health centers, schools, and large public spaces. The resolution was vetoed by Russia and China marking their thirteenth and seventh vetoes of resolutions on the Syrian conflict, respectively.

The Turkish government has promised to move forward with their plan to create a ‘safe zone’ with or without the support and aid of the U.S. – the original partner in the plan. President Erdogan has stated that the safe zone will exist near Turkish-Syrian border where between two and three million Syrian refugees could be resettled. 

Southeast Asia

Burma

The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, established by the United Nations in March 2017, released their conclusions on September 16. The panel of investigators found that “the 600,000 Rohingya remaining inside Myanmar face systematic persecution and live under the threat of genocide.” This threat of genocide is greater than ever. Along with the Rohingya, the report highlights the abuse suffered by many of the other ethnic groups living in Burma, who have faced routine persecution for decades. 

Since the conclusion of the fact-finding mission, the investigators transferred their findings to the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, newly created by the UN. The purpose of the Mechanism is to build off of the almost two years of information in order to hold perpetrators of atrocities and war crimes accountable. The report also names hundred of culpable actors in the genocide and persecution and looks towards the international community to work towards prosecution and justice in these cases. Among those investigated could be Myanmar’s current civilian leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.  

Rohingya who have managed to flee Burma still face many obstacles. In Bangladesh, where the majority of Rohingya have settled in overcrowded refugee camps, the government is now restricting communication with the outside world. They have banned the selling of SIM cards to refugees in the camps, for “security reasons” in what media outlets are calling a communication blackout. Rohingya refugees are also facing issues in the United States. The U.S. has opened its doors to some Rohingya children fleeing from conflict, but it is increasingly likely that these children will not be able to reunite with their families, as the Trump administration curbs immigration this year.

Emerging Crises

Venezuela

The UNHCR shared at the end of August that there is “no end in sight” to the largest recorded migrant crisis in the Americas. Last month, rising xenophobia in important neighboring countries highlighted the strain put on host countries by the Venezuelan migrant crisis. Now, countries like Peru, Chile, and most recently Ecuador have imposed firm restrictions on Venezuelan migration, leaving hundreds stranded.. Colombia maintains an open-door policy even as the two countries accuse each other of harboring terrorists and after Venezuela carried out large-scale military “anti-invasion” drills at their border. Colombia, having taken in the largest portion of the refugees, will now receive some assistance from the EU. Despite being as large as the Syrian migration crisis, Venezuelan migrants receive 1.5% of the support from international donors. Hyperinflation and human rights abuses, among other factors, are among the drivers behind the mass migrant exodus. Since the end of 2015, over 4.3 million refugees and migrants have fled Venezuela. 

At the beginning of September, the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council that a “pattern of torture,” including extrajudicial killings and sexual violence among other abuses, seems to be continuing in Venezuela. Bachelet also mentioned that U.S. sanctions, which are aimed to pressure Maduro to step down, exacerbate the already collapsed economy. Despite exceptions for humanitarian assistance, the sanctions have other effects, like a decrease in oil production and lower public revenue, that are beyond the scope of aid. Even so, more allies of the U.S. throughout Latin America are now considering multilateral sanctions

On September 16, Venezuela’s opposition confirmed that six weeks after Maduro’s government discontinued participation, the Norway-mediated dialogue had ended. Though the talks have been discontinued, representatives of both the Venezuelan government and the opposition confirmed that there is a working agenda on some issues. There has been an agreement reached on some issues. The opposition-controlled National Assembly, which Maduro called illegal and overrode through the creation of the parallel National Constituent Assembly, would meet again for the first time since 2017; however, the National Constituent Assembly would, according to the draft agreement, remain. With no current open talks and parallel legislative institutions, the deep political crisis, during which economic and migration catastrophes have dramatically escalated, continues. 

Mali

After falling to armed groups in 2012, Northern Mali has seen sporadic violence targeted towards both the military and civilians. On September 4, at least 14 people were killed in an explosion on a passenger bus carrying 60 people. Although condemned by various organizations, attacks have been common and continue to increase tensions between the rival Fulani and Dogon communities who have engaged in tit-for-tat violence since the beginning of 2019. The Songhoy communities and the Arabs in Timbuktu are two groups that also have long-standing tensions within the region, where a confrontation on September 19 left two children killed and several others injured. 

The United Nations has started to take a closer look at domestic issues in Mali after stating on August 29 that it would be extending its sanctions in the country to those who delay the implementation of a 2015 peace agreement. The resolution was unanimously passed by the Security Council and aims to improve stabilization in the region and remove barriers to compromise. The Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) also recently convened on September 14, citing the rise of Islamic extremism and a need for “greater mobilization.” Mali, alongside other member nations of ECOWAS, is working towards improved coordination of troops and tapping into developed nations’ military equipment to effectively combat attacks within the Sahel region. 

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 to the 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 to 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 R. 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 to 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, Abby 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. This summer, Abby 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.

Maya Ungar is a senior at the University of Arkansas, and a member of STAND’s Burma Action Committee. Previously, she was STAND’s Southeast Asia Education coordinator. Outside of STAND, Maya has interned at the State Department, Peace Corps, and a nonprofit focused on Middle East peacebuilding. Maya contributed to the Burma portion of this update. 

Megan Smith is a senior at the University of Southern California and a member of STAND’s Managing Committee. Previously, she has 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 Venezuela and Syria portions of this update.

Caroline Mendoza is a STAND Managing Committee member and an incoming senior at Cerritos High School in California. She and served as STAND’s 2018-2019 West Region Field Organizer, and on STAND’s Burma and Yemen Action Committees. In her free time, Caroline participates in Model United Nations, marching band, and Girl Scouts, and pursues Holocaust and genocide education. Caroline contributed to the Mali portion of this update.

STAND Conflict Update: Week of August 20, 2019

Sudan and South Sudan

Sudan

After missing his court appearance in late July, ousted president Omar al-Bashir’s trial over corruption charges began August 17. He faces charges of foreign currency possession, corruption, illegal reception of gifts, all of which his lawyers say are baseless. According to the BBC, a detective told a Sudanese court that al-Bashir previously confessed to receiving millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the Transitional Military Council’s ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, said that more than $113 million worth of cash in three currencies have been seized from al-Bashir’s residence since May. Other than corruption charges, al-Bashir has been wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity since June 2008, yet the military insisted throughout power-sharing negotiations that he will not stand trial for these charges.

On the same day the al-Bashir trial began, military and civilian leaders signed Sudan’s long-awaited power-sharing deal. Drafted on August 4, the constitutional declaration describes the three-year interim Sudanese government that will pave the way for a transition to civilian rule. The TMC was supposed to be dissolved and replaced by a new Sovereign Council on August 18, but the process has been delayed. The Council is expected to be an 11-person coalition of five members chosen by the opposition, five chosen by the military, and one civilian member to be jointly chosen. For the first 21 months, a military general will lead the Sovereign Council until replaced by a civilian leader for the last 18 months. The Sovereign Council is meant to be the highest authority. The cabinet of ministers will hold executive power, and has not yet been chosen. Despite any concerns, the signing of the constitution was met with an outpouring of joy. Across Sudan, celebrations filled with music, poetry, and fireworks showed widespread optimism. Sara Abdelgalil of the prominent Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) promised to “go back to the street” should the civilian-led government not be realized by the end of the three-year interim period. 

Notably absent from the signing were Sudanese women, who made up an estimated 70% of demonstrators and were vital to the protest movement despite being systematically targeted by soldiers. There will be one female civilian member of the Sovereign Council. 

Throughout the negotiations leading to the deal, security forces continued killing protestors in Omdurman and El-Obeid. In response, the TMC detained nine members of a paramilitary group, while rallies in Khartoum demanded justice for at least ten deaths, among which included four students. The U.S. Secretary for Political Affairs, David Hale, visited Sudan claiming that the U.S. needs to resolve longstanding issues with the country before considering its removal from the state-sponsored terrorism list. However, he did not discuss sanctions against the TMC’s attacks on protestors. Now that the power-sharing deal has been signed, renewed calls for Sudan to be removed from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list in order to stabilize the deteriorated economy have been met with expert concerns that the military will continue to predominately hold power. 

South Sudan

Although South Sudan formally separated from Sudan in 2011, the border between the two nations—both embroiled in civil unrest—is permeable and controlled by non-state armed groups. On July 27, South Sudan and Sudan successfully negotiated with a military leader in control of the league of non-state armed forces along the border for an extension of this ceasefire along with permission for humanitarian provisions to cross. The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, is expected to continue exerting his influence over Sudan’s new government as it comes into effect. 

Meanwhile, domestic security forces use unlawful detention and torture to intimidate the South Sudanese people. On July 30, Human Rights Watch called on the nation’s security forces to charge or release six airport officials in government custody since November 2018. Similarly, the nonviolent youth action group Red Card Movement released a press statement on August 6 denouncing the non-fatal shooting of a female university student, Mary Agau, at a hostel in Juba. Their statement accused the South Sudanese government of failing to stop the abuses committed by security forces and called for a “peaceful and people-centered” revolution demanding “law, freedom, democracy and equality” for the people of South Sudan.

The International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix Mobility Tracking estimates 530,000 refugees have been repatriated since the signing of the peace accords in September 2018 between Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar. While there have been a few notable exceptions, such as upticks in violence around Lei and uncomfortable delays in the ceasefire monitoring and verification process, the decreasing levels of violence put foreign direct investment (FDI) at $2 billion, up from $250 million in 2016-2017. The financial surge was primarily concentrated in the oil, mineral and agricultural industries, coming on the tail of the launch of the first South Sudanese mobile money service. Called M-Gurush, it aims to incorporate citizens, the vast majority of whom are without bank accounts, into the financial markets. However, the fragile peace has done little to decrease the availability of firearms. Some former soldiers are transitioning into rangers to protect the wildlife on national reserves that are severely threatened as a result of the conflict. 

Great Lakes of Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

On August 1, the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history passed its one-year mark since the government of the DRC declared the outbreak in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces. The outbreak is now recognized as a global health emergency with over 2800 cases, of which about 1905 have resulted in death. The virus recently widened its geographic spread as cases were confirmed in South Kivu, the first cases in the province, and militia-controlled territory of North Kivu. The virus also earlier reached Goma, the capital of North Kivu on the Rwandan border and a hub for international trade. Only one confirmed case in the city was enough for the WHO’s global health emergency declaration, and since then there have been at least three more cases with 12 more people instructed to undergo testing. Rwanda temporarily closed its border with DRC on August 1, causing panic for Congolese and Rwandan citizens who rely on crossing the border daily for work, and a food price surge for border towns. Facing heavy international criticism, Rwandan authorities reopened the border after eight hours. Despite its continued spread, renewed hope followed two experimental drug trials in Congo improving survival rates of Ebola by 90%. 

The security of health workers has been an ongoing issue throughout the epidemic, hindering response capacity. On August 12, three local doctors were charged with killing a Cameroonian WHO doctor after a military prosecutor accused them of plotting the assassination in connection with an armed group. However, without the release of their colleagues, the local Butembo branch of the DRC’s national doctors council threatened to go on strike. Additionally, a report by the Kivu Security Tracker and Human Rights Watch released that 1900 civilians have been killed by the over 130 active armed groups in the Kivu provinces over the past two years alone. This violence and the mass displacement it causes complicate aid workers’ ability to track high-risk patients and contacts, revealing flaws in current response plans.

The Congolese government’s new Ebola response coordinator, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said that with over half of Ebola cases going unidentified, the epidemic could last for at least two or three more years. As one of the scientists who discovered the Ebola virus in the 1970s, Muyembe’s appointment as Ebola response coordinator has calmed some concerns that Ebola response would be politicized. Still, controversies around the recent elections remain, with the Lamuka opposition party reaffirming their December victory. After a recent conference, they called on Congolese politicians and civil society to continue fighting for democratic values and the rule of law in order to improve living conditions for Congolese citizens. 

Middle East

Yemen

After southern separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took control of the presidential palace located in Aden, the interior minister of the internationally recognized Yemeni government admitted defeat to the UAE on August 11. Clashes in the southern port city of Aden, sparked by Houthi missile and drone attacks after the UAE announcement of military drawback, prompted the UN to call for a de-escalation of violence that left at least 40 dead and 260 injured. With the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) defeating forces loyal to the Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni Hadi government, infighting over Aden indicated a widening fracture in the Saudi-led coalition. The International Crisis Group stated that these clashes “threaten to tip Southern Yemen into a civil war within a civil war.” The STC vacated key posts of the Hadi government, including the palace and the central bank, on August 17 under the supervision of a Saudi-UAE delegation. However, they still hold government military bases and support of civilians living in southern Yemeni provinces, as seen through the thousands who demonstrated in Aden for their support of the STC. An end to the infighting is still unclear, with Saudi Arabia calling to host a summit to resolve the crisis. However, the Hadi government refuses to attend unless what they call a “coup” by the STC ends, and the UAE has not actually asked the STC to give back full control. 

In the north, the Houthis carried out a large scale drone attack on a remote Saudi oil and gas field. Though the attack did not result in deaths nor disruption to operations, Houthi spokespersons have promised larger, more aggressive attacks should Saudi Arabia retaliate. Previous Houthi attacks on Saudi oil tankers during May and June resulted in airstrikes by the Saudi coalition on urban centers, which are mainly controlled by the Houthis, like the capital Sana’a. 

The UN’s World Food Program (WPF) and the Houthis have reached an agreement to resume WPF food aid programs for citizens in rebel-controlled parts of Yemen. Aid had been suspended in June because Houthis fighters were accused of stealing food this past December. This halt affected about 850,000 civilians, according to the UN, though nutrition programs for malnourished children and pregnant or nursing mothers were maintained. The Houthis’ website stated that the deal included a biometric database of civilians in need of aid. This database includes fingerprints, facial recognition, or iris scanning and is used to hopefully “benefit the neediest.”

Syria

The Russian-led bombing campaign which began in April came to a brief stop after leaders of relevant factions brokered a truce on Friday, August 2. Syrian state media said that the ceasefire would continue so long as armed groups in the region followed through with a 2018 agreement which aimed to create a buffer zone in the region. This agreement also mandated that the groups “retreat 20km from demilitarised areas around the rebel stronghold, as well as withdraw their heavy weapons from the front lines.”  

Within three days, the ceasefire was broken as the main opposition group in control of Idlib stated that they would not withdraw from the buffer zone. The Syrian government declared the ceasefire officially over on Monday, August 5. By early Thursday afternoon, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 49 air raids in 10 locations. These air raids have made the past week the “bloodiest in three months.” Notably, many of these air raids are targeting health facilities and schools, leading to a call from over 10 members of the UN Security Council to set up an inquiry as to why hospitals have been singled out in the raids. Since the Russian-led campaign began in April, at least 46 healthcare facilities have been attacked in the rebel-held Idlib and Hama provinces, and the UN has documented over 500 civilian fatalities across Syria. 

Between August 15 and August 17, at least 24 civilians were killed by airstrikes. Among those killed are seven members of one family and a pregnant woman and her unborn child. The coalition maintains that they are targeting terrorist groups, not civilians. Turkey and the U.S. are in the process of establishing a safe zone in northeast Syria. Little information has been released as to the details of the safe zone or how it will be operated.

Southeast Asia

Burma

The Burmese government sent an 11 person task force to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh to discuss repatriation in late July. They have controversially mandated that returning Rohingya must register for identification cards. Human rights critics have argued that this will only further discrimination for the minority group. On the other side of the country, some Burmese people who fled decades earlier have agreed to return to the country after living in Thailand. This voluntary repatriation is part of a larger push for repatriation from the Burmese government across ethnic groups. 

In addition to crimes against the Rohingya people, the Burmese government is restricting the rights of their citizens in other ways. Villagers in the Kachin state, for example, are not receiving compensation for land stolen by the army. This land contained crop fields and homes, as well as a community graveyard. Burmese fleeing from this persecution and other crimes from the government have desperately searched for work and freedom in other places. This has been especially problematic for the many Burmese women who seek work in China, and who have found themselves in horrific and exploitative trafficking situations.

For those remaining in Burma, there are 941,351 people in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UNICEF. Assistance is primarily limited due to a lack of adequate funding and restrictions set up by the Burmese government. UNICEF still has a funding gap of 66%, severely threatening their ability to help those in need in the region. Additionally, the Burmese government allows limited access to the regions in most dire need of assistance, restricting the ability of UNICEF and other international aid organizations to create effective change even if proper funding were actualized. 

For the first time since the military began systematically targeting the Rohingya and other ethnic groups, UN investigators have reported evidence of “genocidal intent” from at least six high-ranking members of the Burmese military. The final report of the fact-finding mission suggests that these officials should face prosecution for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. 

Emerging Crises

Venezuela

On August 19, progress in Venezuela’s political crisis seemed possible as allies of Maduro claimed new elections could be considered. Talks in Barbados between the rival leaders Maduro and Guaido, most recently due to Maduro accusing Guaido of celebrating U.S. sanctions on government assets, have continuously broken down. Now, with opposition leaders to speak this week with U.S. officials in Washington, the Maduro government tentatively agreed to a presidential vote, contingent on the U.S. lifting sanctions. U.S. sanctions on Venezuela exacerbate the nation’s unprecedented economic crisis and have been criticized as hurting the people more than the government. Additional sanctions on Venezuelan government officials were placed on August 5, targeting anyone supporting Maduro government. 

These recent sanctions spurred an increase of Venezuelan migrants in what is expected to become the world’s largest human migration by the end of 2020. Though typically relatively open to receiving Venezuelans, Latin American countries have begun implementing restrictions as the Venezuelan migration crisis has worsened since 2018. The exodus of Venezuelan migrants and refugees is now being met with rising xenophobia in countries such as Peru, the second-largest receiver of Venezuelan migrants and refugees. While other countries create legal barriers to incoming migrants, Colombia is struggling to manage the 1.4 million Venezuelans at the border. In addition to Colombia’s inability to handle anticipated “humanitarian shockwaves,” a recent report by Human Rights Watch revealed that armed groups at the Venezuela-Colombia border are committing abuses against civilians. The report follows a statement by President Maduro that two missing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia commanders were “welcome” in the country, raising fears that Venezuela could become a haven for armed groups. 

An additional issue underlying the Venezuelan crisis is the plight of the Wayuu, an indigenous group of shepherds in South America. The Wayuu began leaving Venezuela in late February 2019 to settle in indigenous lands in Colombia in hopes of finding stability from Venezuela’s economic desperation. As of late July, the Wayuu have been struggling to survive in Colombia’s Guajira Desert, where running water and electricity do not reach and children have since died of malnutrition.

 

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, Abby 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. This summer, Abby 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.

Aisha Saleem is a sophomore at Barnard College, and a member of STAND’s Managing Committee. Previously, Aisha was a task force member where she contributed to monthly blogs and op-eds about genocide-related issues around the world. She is also interested in current issues in education and enjoys doing neuroscience research. Aisha contributed to the Yemen portion of this update.

Maya Ungar is a student at the University of Arkansas, and a member of STAND’s Burma working group. Previously, she was STAND’s Southeast Asia Education coordinator. Outside of STAND, Maya has interned at the State Department, Peace Corps, and a nonprofit focused on Middle East peacebuilding. Maya contributed to the Burma portion of this update. 

Rachel Hobbs is a new graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, and a volunteer activist with STAND. She wrote about economic foreign policy for the Berkeley Economic Review, and she works part-time for Naval Information Warfare Center. Rachel contributed to the South Sudan portion of this update.

Megan Smith is a senior at the University of Southern California and a member of STAND’s Managing Committee. Previously, she has 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 DRC, Yemen, Venezuela, and Sudan portions of this update.