The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

To our MC seniors, with love

To paraphrase Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky we are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” We have had an incredible year thanks to our 2015-2016 Student Leadership Team, and our MC seniors have been such a vital part of all that we’ve accomplished.

Francesca, Jake, Emily, Zac, and Clara – we have learned so much from each of you, and you’ve contributed an incredible amount, not only to STAND, but to the genocide prevention movement as a whole. Thank you hardly seems enough for the time, energy, and passion you’ve given over the past year(s) with STAND, but we’re giving it a go!

Francesca Freeman, Student Director, University of Chicago

 IMG_5125Francesca, I have felt so incredibly #blessed to be your right hand lady this year. Your commitment, passion, and vision have made STAND stronger and more effective throughout the past year. You have truly gone above and beyond in every aspect: from overseeing our ~amazing~ summer interns while I was in Rwanda; to double-editing every single blog post, national email, and facebook post; to drafting countless social media posts and leading conference call after conference call, you have done us all proud. I deeply admire your selflessness, commitment, and mad organization skills and will so miss our multiple hour chats and your barrage of punny memes and gifs. I’ve learned so much from you as a colleague and a friend, and I cannot wait to cheer you on as you find your next adventures. Looking forward to many (many, many) more dollar frozen margaritas, genprev chats, and matzo ball soup. So much love!

Yay!

P.S. This is the first meme I ever got from you so we must frame it and cherish it forever.

– Mac Hamilton, Executive Manager

Francesca, I can’t believe I am about to pick up the torch from you for the 2016-2017 school year. Being SD is a huge role and responsibility and I have learned a lot from your passion and energy in the position. You are one of the people who first drew me to STAND and I find it touching and fitting that I’m now stepping into your shoes. Thank you for your faith in me as I was just getting started and for being such an instructional and invested team member throughout the last year. This organization is better because you were in it and I know STAND’s love for you will continue beyond your time as SD. Thank you for a wonderful year and for all you’ve done within the genocide prevention sphere — you are loved and appreciated.

– Savannah Wooten, outgoing Education Coordinator, incoming Student Director

Jake Ramirez, Campaigns Coordinator, University of Arizona

IMG_9254At least to me, Jake initially came off as quite unassuming. While quite a few people in STAND have the (endearing, of course) habit of making sure you know within 5 minutes of meeting them that that they identify first and foremost as an activist and want to do nothing else with their life but fight atrocities, Jake’s backward hat and basketball vibe was slightly different. However, as I got to know Jake it became clear that he was one of STAND’s strongest assets. Jake is dedicated to learning and making STAND as effective as possible. As anyone on the MC would tell you, having someone as funny, kind, and chill as Jake made the MC much more enjoyable to be a part of. It will take a long time for me to separate the names Jake Ramirez and Roy Hibbert in my head, but it will take much longer for STAND to get over the loss of such a valuable member. To conclude, there are only two things left to say: first, thank you, and second, bees?

– Timmy Hirschel-Burns, outgoing Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizer, incoming Policy Coordinator

Jake, I feel so lucky to have worked with you over the past two years. From the moment I joined STAND as a staff member, I knew we were going to be good friends. You were the first person to welcome me to the team individually, were always super responsive, and were the first to volunteer when the team needed anything, whether or not you knew how to do it. I’m thinking, amongst many other things: figuring out how to use our old website and set the stage for our new one, logging into MailChimp (how the heck am I ever supposed to teach that to anyone else?), learning and mastering PhotoShop in one night, and writing tons of national emails with wicked catchy sub-lines. I will really miss having you on the STAND team next year, but am excited to see what’s next for you–don’t be surprised if I continue to gchat you for national email advice! Can’t wait to have you as a guest speaker at our next conference, which may or may not be called “Kreating, Aiding, Nurturing Youth Evolution (KANYE).”

-Mac Hamilton, Executive Manager

Emily Collinson, Communications Coordinator, American University

BOOOOIIIIIII do I luuuuv Emily Collinson. I was so intimidated by you when I first met you, which only happens when I meet someone I am totally in awe of (which I was). When I found out I was going to be sharing a room with you during our first conference in DC I was pumped but also scared to death like I just wanted to make a good impression on you SO badly so I was trying to be cool but it’s kind of hard to be cool with someone you just met in a hotel room, but I think we hit it off pretty well. I feel SUCH a strong connection to you (wow this is sappy? are we dating?) and you have honestly become one of my best friends. As a part of STAND, you have provided comic relief and reason at the same time, not to mention a variety of skillz in COMMS and other things. I look up to you in every way and I can’t wait to come stay wit u in DC <3.

-Bethany Vance, outgoing Southeast Regional Organizer, incoming Education Coordinator

IMG_9304Emily, I am so thankful to know you and to have worked so closely with you this past year. You have brought your humor, grace, wit, and skill to STAND this year and have rocked our social media like no other. You are a light and a kindred spirit and the MC has been lucky to have you as both our Comms Queen and our friend. I have nothing but love for you and I know that STAND is just one of many stepping stones in your bright future. I hope you remember your year with STAND fondly — I know you made a huge impact on mine.

-Savannah Wooten, outgoing Education Coordinator, incoming Student Director

Zac Peloquin, Northeast Regional Organizer, Clark University

IMG_9327I am so lucky to have met Zac because, without his passion and excitement for STAND, I would have never joined such an amazing organization. Zac started out as my boss for my work study job at Clark University. Upon hearing that I was majoring in Holocaust and Genocide studies, Zac showed up to work during my shift one day to try to convince me to join STAND. I had no idea what he was talking about whenever he said “National STAND” but he was so passionate about it I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

After being in the club for about a month, Zac asked me to go to DC with him for a STAND summit. We spent about 20+ hours together on a bus to and from DC. Since then, ZP and I have become good friends and have worked together on many STAND events at Clark. It is so great to work with Zac because he is always ready with a creative and ambitious idea. Not only that but he is incredibly hard working–I have no doubt that he could put an entire event together in one night (which I’m pretty sure he did this past semester).

Zac is always the first one to help you when you’re feeling down. I can think of countless times when I was in the library having a rough time studying and he gave me a hug and tried to cheer me up. STAND will not be the same without the constant pictures of his adorable chinchilla, his huge appetite, or his commitment to genocide prevention. Thank you, Zac, for being a great Regional Organizer and friend!

– Casey Bush, outgoing Midwest Regional Organizer, incoming Campaigns Coordinator

As a former Northeast Regional Organizer, I am so so thankful for the incredible work you’ve done in strengthening and expanding our reach in the Northeast this past year. Your passion and work ethic are truly exceptional and I’ve loved watching your work throughout the year. From Day One, you pushed each and every MC member to stay up-to-date on current events, volunteered to be first during roundtables, and were always willing to help out whenever a hand was needed. I’ll miss your videos of chinchilla dust baths, your political commentary, and your giant hugs! Thank you for all you’ve done for STAND national, the Northeast region, and for Clark STAND over the past year – please stay in touch!

– Mac Hamilton, Executive Manager

Clara Lee, Digital Media Coordinator, St. Olaf College

12651224_10153949577312049_3439320654459187367_nI feel so lucky to have known and worked with you in a variety of capacities, first as a delegate to Global Youth Connect’s Rwanda Human Rights delegation, before I became STAND’s staff member, then as a STAND intern, and finally as a STAND MC member! You have the biggest heart and the most contagious kindness I’ve ever seen. Your thoughtfulness, curiosity, and willingness to try new things have added so much to our team over the past semester. Thanks for your friendship, hard work, and endless tiny tweaks to our graphics (I know my perfectionism isn’t always the easiest to work with). I love you lots and know you will rock whatever comes next for you!

– Mac Hamilton, Executive Manager

Clara, you are actually the sweetest, kindest person on this whole MC. Okay not even just on the MC, you’re one of the nicest people I’ve EVER met and we were SO lucky to have you. I feel like there were times where we would have fallen apart without your amazing work ethic and dedication. I know you are going to have an incredibly bright future in whatever you choose to do because everyone is going to love you immediately after meeting you, just like we all did. Also, you totally kill the graphic design game. Also thank you for following me on instagram and liking all my pics, it’s a great confidence boost u da best.

– Bethany Vance, outgoing Southeast Regional Organizer, incoming Education Coordinator

“Our Generation is Gone”: The Islamic State’s Targeting of Iraqi Minorities in Ninewa

By Brooke Chambers and Sean Langberg

In the summer of 2014, the self-proclaimed Islamic State carried out a violent campaign against civilians in Ninewa province in northern Iraq, home to many of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities. In less than three months, IS decimated millennia-old communities and irrevocably tore the social fabric of the once-diverse region, with 800,000 individuals displaced, thousands more kidnapped, and at least one thousand people were killed.Capture

In September 2015, the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide undertook a Bearing Witness trip to northern Iraq to learn about the atrocities that had occurred there, assess the current situation, and understand the future risks to ethnic and religious minorities and other civilians in the region. We found that IS targeted civilians based on group identity, committing mass atrocities to control, expel, and exterminate ethnic and religious minorities in areas it seized and sought to hold. IS committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing against Christian,Turkmen, Shabak, Sabaean-Mandaean, and Kaka’i and perpetrated genocide against the Yezidi people.

We met with individuals and families who had been forced to flee with little more than what they were wearing. Yezidi men wrote name after name of their missing family members—wives and daughters, who they believed were kidnapped, and sons and brothers, whose circumstances they did not know. Villages and towns that have simply ceased to exist. Minority communities that helped to shape Iraq’s rich and diverse history and today face exile and extinction in the country. As one man told us, “We have no future. Our generation is gone.”

The Way Forward

The US government has specifically stated that preventing mass atrocities—all atrocities, not just genocide—is a core national security priority. As such, the United States and other countries combatting IS should articulate, as part of their broader coalition strategies, efforts and tools that they can employ to address and minimize the ongoing threats to civilians. In the immediate term, this should entail assisting targeted populations in achieving two main goals: (a) protecting civilians and (b) improving accountability for past atrocities.

Protecting Civilians

The current counterterrorism and counterinsurgency paradigms do not prioritize an assessment of, or compel a response to, the unique threats and risks of mass atrocities that local populations and individuals may face. IS will continue to pose a threat to local populations. Countering the group necessitates an ongoing assessment of both IS’s motivations, organization, and capabilities for committing atrocity crimes, and of the vulnerabilities of at-risk communities, as well as their resiliencies that can be strengthened.

Protecting civilians also entails ensuring that those engaged in counter-IS efforts do not harm civilians. The tactics used to win the war to defeat the group and liberate the territory it holds might very well contribute to future cycles of violence, displacement, and devastation. Iraqi security forces and affiliated militias, the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, and local self-defense militias all have been accused of human rights abuses in the past. There is a risk that this will continue as IS-held territories are reclaimed.

Improving Accountability for Past Atrocities

Young displaced Iraqis wait for food distribution at a camp on the outskirts of Erbil. —Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The culture of impunity that has prevailed in Iraq for decades is a key driver of violent conflict and mass atrocities today. The general lack of and mismanagement of investigations and prosecutions, and lack of accountability for perpetrators, send a strong signal to those considering taking up arms, whether in support of or against IS, that there are few costs to committing atrocities against minority communities. The Iraqi government’s limited capacity and lack of political will surrounding accountability issues also create significant barriers to transitional justice programs going forward.

There needs to be an immediate investment in transitional justice measures that address both current and past mass atrocities committed in Iraq. This includes documenting crimes perpetrated by IS and affiliated groups, as well as those committed during counter-IS efforts, for the purposes of understanding the full scope of atrocities in Iraq and future prosecutions of perpetrators.

Contact Sean Langberg (slangberg@ushmm.org) for more information

unnamedBrooke Chambers is an Intern at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide

 

 

 

 

17e20e3Sean Langberg is a Policy Assistant at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

 

Join #BooksNotBombs, Create Opportunity for Syrian Students

On January 15, 2013, the first day of final exams, two airstrikes hit Aleppo University, killing 82 students. Since then, more than 4,000 schools have been attacked, putting thousands of children and young adults out of school because it is simply too dangerous to go, or because their schools have been destroyed. Once in refugee camps, the UNHCR has no mechanism for providing higher education to those affected by the conflict that has claimed the lives of over 20,000 children and 189,000 people overall. As barrel bombs continue to fall, and with peace talks just now beginning, we face the fact that the Syria crisis is creating what Malala Yousafzai terms a “lost generation” of uneducated youth in Syria, many of whom have been out of school since the beginning of the conflict nearly 5 years ago.

12347815_218671291797560_5480883326057070544_nThat’s why STAND is teaming up with Students Organize for Syria on Books Not Bombs, a campaign to encourage universities to create scholarships for Syrians. This campaign offers a tangible way for students and universities in the United States to both support their Syrian peers and to promote a genocide prevention agenda. By mobilizing our campuses, we can both raise awareness and invest in Syria’s future. By offering scholarships to Syrians, universities can help build the next generation of doctors, lawyers, architects, and teachers. This is vital, as it is Syrians who will create sustainable peace in Syria and rebuild their homes and communities when the conflict ends.

Genocide prevention is the core of what we do. Books Not Bombs advances this mission in several vital ways. It provides Syrians in dangerous situations an avenue to pursue an education that would otherwise be unattainable. It helps young Syrians develop the skills they need to rebuild their country after the conflict. It provides a valuable cultural learning opportunity for both Syrian and American students. Most importantly, it breaks, the cycle of violence in a small but meaningful way. It tells Assad and any who threaten the Syrian people that we are investing in a beautiful future for Syria and Syria’s youth–a future within our reach.

The conflict in Syria has dragged on for five years too long. The fear of a whole generation of Syrians losing their chance at an education is becoming a terrifying reality. This “lost generation” is the generation that can rebuild Syria and promote peace if they are nurtured and given the tools to do so. Join us — call on your university to create scholarships for Syrians. Young Syrians are seeking peace and education. All we have to do is provide the Books.

Start a Books Not Bombs campaign on your campus by visiting www.books-not-bombs.com!

 jake headshotJake Ramirez serves on the STAND Managing Committee as the Campaigns Coordinator. He is a senior at the University of Arizona majoring in Business Economics and minoring in Regional Development. Jake served as STAND’s Communications Coordinator for the 2014-2015 school year and helps run his local STAND chapter. Jake can be reached at jramirez@standnow.org.  

 

francesca headshotFrancesca Freeman serves on the STAND Managing Committee as the Student Director. She is a fourth year at the University of Chicago double majoring in Anthropology and Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies and minoring in Human Rights. She was STAND’s Midwest Regional Organizer for the 2014-2015 school year, was involved in her high school STAND chapter, and helps organize anti-genocide initiatives at the University of Chicago. Francesca can be reached at ffreeman@standnow.org.

US Anti-Genocide Movement STAND Merges with the Aegis Trust for Genocide Prevention

US Anti-Genocide Movement STAND Merges with the Aegis Trust for Genocide Prevention

STAND, the US-based student movement to end mass atrocities, is merging with the Aegis Trust as the US branch of the Aegis Youth Department. Founded in 2003 by a group of Georgetown students, over the following years STAND chapters sprang up at schools and colleges across the USA. Originally an acronym for ‘Students Taking Action Now: Darfur’, STAND subsequently expanded its focus to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities wherever they may occur. 

This is a mission shared by the Aegis Trust, which developed in 2000 from the work of the UK National Holocaust Centre. Aegis addresses genocide as a public health issue and works to prevent it in three stages; first, through commemoration and peace-building education designed to break long-term cycles of violence; second, through research, evidence-based policy advice and advocacy for people now at risk of mass atrocities; third, through support for survivors and communities trying to rebuild when genocide is past.

Responsible for the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda – a site where some 250,000 victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide lie buried – Aegis is now being urged by leading figures in Kenya, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR) to take its successful model for peacebuilding beyond Rwanda’s borders.

In particular, the move to help CAR is backed by a youth-led campaign launched in February by STAND and Aegis Students, the youth arm of the Aegis Trust. With STAND now sharing the Aegis umbrella, ‘Action for CAR’ (www.action4CAR.org) promises to be the first such international youth-led campaign.

“Aegis is an international leader in the field of genocide prevention and we’re excited to be a part of their expansion,” said Natasha Kieval, Student Director at STAND. Mac Hamilton, STAND Executive Manager added, “Merging with Aegis strengthens our impact and broadens our resources to fight against genocide and mass atrocities internationally. By joining Aegis, with their focus on youth empowerment for peacebuilding, we will only expand our commitment to experiential student leadership.”

“We have long admired the passion and commitment of our colleagues at STAND. The Aegis team is delighted to be joined by them in this merger,” says Dr James Smith, CEO of the Aegis Trust. “We know from experience just how important youth-led advocacy and peacebuilding are in breaking cycles of violence, and we look forward to working closely with our American colleagues not only for the Central African Republic, but ultimately for the prevention of mass atrocities wherever people are at risk.”

Weekly News Brief 5/02/2013

Sudan

About 95 people are still missing three days after the collapse of a gold mine pit in North Darfur. Sources say rescue workers have not yet reached the Jebel ‘Amer mine, which the local commissioner attributes to the poor security situation in the region. In January, Jebel ‘Amer was the source of a deadly conflict between the Abbala and Beni Hussein tribes who fought over its control. More than 150,000 people were displaced by renewed violence in Darfur in the first three months of 2013. For a summary of the recent escalation of violence in Darfur click here. For a brief summary of the conflict in Darfur as it has evolved over the past decade click here.The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebels swept through Umm Rawaba in North Kordofan on Saturday morning in an attack that took the Sudanese government and observers by surprise. The Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which launched an unprecedented assault on Sudan’s twin capital city of Omdurman in May 2008, confirmed its role in the attack. JEM is a member of the SRF, which also includes the Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N), which is fighting the Sudanese army in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. It also includes the factions of Sudan Liberation Movement-Minni Minnawi (SLM-MM) and another of Abdel-Wahid Mohamed Nur (SLM-AW).

A new report confirms Sudan’s renewal of support to the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group from October 2009 through at least February 2013. The report includes satellite imagery of a likely LRA encampment in Sudanese-controlled territory where rebel leader Joseph Kony was last sighted in late 2012 and reportedly remained for several weeks. The imagery indicates the camp was abandoned by March 2013, but Kony reportedly remains nearby in neighboring Central African Republic and could seek to reestablish his presence in Sudanese-controlled territory in coming months.

A first round of mediated peace talks between Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement – North has ended without an agreement. Talks are centered on politics, security and providing humanitarian aid to Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

South Sudan

More than 1,000 members of one of the largest active rebel groups in South Sudan, the South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM), are poised to lay down arms and surrender to the government, officials said last week. According to a government spokesperson, the surrendering rebels will not be prosecuted. South Sudan President Salva Kiir offered amnesty to all rebel groups operating in South Sudan after he took office in 2011. The SSLM was formed in 1999 to fight with southern Sudanese rebels against Khartoum in Sudan’s long civil war. But ahead of South Sudan’s independence in 2011, the rebels turned against Juba, accusing officials of corruption and tribal favoritism. They were one of the largest of the active rebel groups in the state. A team from the SPLA is scheduled to arrive in Unity State on Friday for talks on integrating members of the SSLM into the national army.

An attack on Pibor town by about 200 insurgents led by David Yau Yau has left one SPLA soldier and two rebels dead, officials said Tuesday. The attack, which took place on Monday, followed another raid by Yau Yau’s forces on an SPLA base on Sunday. No one was killed in that attack, which came days after South Sudan President Salva Kiir offered amnesty to six rebel groups, including Yau Yau’s, who have been fighting the government. SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said the attack on Pibor made it clear that Yau Yau was not going to accept Kiir’s offer of amnesty.

The spokesperson for the South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A) has denied the group was among thousands of rebel fighters that surrendered to the government after accepting an amnesty offer by president Salva Kiir. The SSDM/A was formed in 2010 by former SPLA general George Athor after he failed in his bid to become governor of Jonglei state.

Syria

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emphasized Iran’s ongoing support for the Assad administration and stated that a rebel victory would destabilize the whole region on Sunday. His remarks follow efforts by Egyptian and Iranian officials to establish an “Islamic quartet” with Turkey and Saudi Arabia to help resolve the conflict. On Tuesday, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah made similar remarks, saying that the Assad regime has “real friends in the region” that would not allow it to fall. The main opposition group, the National Syrian Coalition, condemned his statements as threats and warned against any intervention by Iran or Hezbollah.

On Monday, an Israeli lawmaker stated that that Syria’s chemical weapons have begun “trickling” to Hezbollah and that he “has no doubt” that the Assad administration has already used chemical weapons. Israeli defense officials have distanced themselves from this statement. Turkish government and health officials announced Wednesday that Turkey has begun testing blood samples taken from Syrian casualties to assess whether or not they were the victims of chemical weapons. Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari said Tuesday that the use of chemical weapons in Syria cannot be tolerated and demanded a UN investigation of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Aleppo by rebel groups. He has so far refused calls for investigation into two other alleged uses of chemical weapons.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron stated that there is “limited but growing” evidence that the Assad regime has in fact used chemical weapons and agreed with the Obama administration’s warning that use of chemical weapons would constitute a ‘red line’ for possible intervention, but cautioned that the latest intelligence does not yet constitute proof of such usage. Meanwhile, President Obama stated that he was not prepared to act unilaterally in Syria and suggested that an international consensus on whether or not the Assad regime used chemical weapons in Syria would be necessary for any military intervention. Senior administration officials have also revealed that the Obama administration is preparing to arm the Syrian opposition and has “taken steps to assert more aggressive U.S. leadership” among those seeking to oust President Assad. The officials also emphasized that the administration will continue to pursue political negotiation and is seeking to dissuade Russia from continuing its support of the Assad administration.

On Wednesday, President Assad made a public appearance at a power plant in central Damascus to commemorate Labour Day as one of only three public visits this year. This visit comes a day after a bombing in downtown Damascus was reported by Syrian state television to have killed at least 13 people and wounded many others. On Monday, a car bombing targeting Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki exploded, killing at least nine people.

Burma

More anti-Muslim violence erupted again on Tuesday. Mosques and Muslim-owned properties were destroyed, although with no injuries have yet been reported. A Buddhist monk named Wirathu, who calls himself the “Burmese Bin Laden”, has been inciting anti-Muslim sentiments and gaining popularity across central Burma. He was sentenced to 25 years of prison in 2001 for his preaching but was released in 2010. Wirathu and his nationalist, anti-Muslim movement known as “969” has been accused of inspiring recent sectarian violence against Muslims in Meikhtila, Central Burma, which has left over 40 dead and 13,000 displaced.

Human Rights Watch published a report on the status of Rohingya in Burma on April 22. The Rohingya are a stateless, Muslim people in Western Burma that were the subject of widespread communal violence late last year. The report urges the Myanmar government to grant citizenship and other basic human rights to the Rohingya and allow humanitarian organizations and the UN access to afflicted areas. Most importantly, however, Human Rights Watch accuses the Myanmar government of failing to stop ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. A day after the Human Rights Watch report, Myanmar President Thein Sein was awarded a prize for his efforts towards peace by the International Crisis Group. Additionally, the EU lifted many of its sanctions against Burma. However, an arms embargo remains in place.

In response to the sectarian violence against Muslims late last year, a Myanmar government commission released its findings on Monday. The investigation suggested that family planning education would help mitigate the “undermined peaceful coexistence” caused by the Rohingya. Additionally, the commission recommended upholding the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law that denies citizenship and other basic rights to the Rohingya. The commission also claimed that those displaced should not yet return to their homes because the risk of violence is still too great. However, the commission did urge the Myanmar government to quell hate speech and increase aid funding.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

At the end of March the UNSC approved a resolution to extend the mandate of MONUSCO, the UN force in the DRC, and to create an intervention brigade tasked with conducting “targeted offensive operations” against rebel groups. The brigade will be led by a Tanzanian general and will consist of 3,069 troops from Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa. Christoph Vogel at Think Africa Press is skeptical that an additional force will be able to solve the underlying issues any better than previous forces. With such a small number of troops, it is unlikely that the intervention brigade will be able to confront the multiple armed groups that have formed in the DRC. Their inability to focus on more multiple issues may discredit them in the eyes of locals. In order for the brigade to be successful, he argues, it will need a flexible set of rules of engagement, material assets and equipment, and political support at various rebels. Many human rights leaders and activists have expressed concern that the intervention brigade will only further escalate violence against women and girls in the region.

According to IRIN, tens of thousands of displaced people in Katanga Province have received little or no humanitarian aid since attacks in December and January. Displacements are ongoing, with the most recent attack occurring on March 23. There are currently only 450 UN troops in Katanga, which is an area the size of France.

On April 29, Mary Robinson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa, met with the senior leadership of the DRC and the UN mission in the DRC. Robinson is the former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and was appointed to this new position in March.

M23 ex-combatants are renouncing their ties with the group and applying for refugee status in Rwanda. If refugee status is given, they will be free to move freely or move to refugee camps in different parts of the country.

Weekly News Brief 4/25/2013

Syria

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed concern over anti-aircraft and chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands, stating that it is in Israel’s interest to defend itself. On Wednesday, Syria’s Information Minister said that Syria would not use chemical weapons against Israel or its own citizens. The announcement comes a day after a senior Israeli intelligence officer said that the Assad regime’s forces have used chemical weapons against rebels. On Thursday April 25th, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that “the U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria”. While Secretary Hagel stated that the US “cannot confirm the origin of these weapons”, they are “very likely” to have originated with the Assad regime. The Secretary reiterated the obligation of the United States and its key partners and allies to “fully investigate, including with all key partners and allies and through the United Nations, evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria.” The disclosure was sent in a letter to several members of Congress. Senator John McCain responded by saying that “it’s pretty obvious that a red linehas been crossed” and called on the President to begin arming the rebels, enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, and to increase pressure on Russia to cease its support for the Assad regime.

Fighting has intensified at the strategic Minnigh airport in Aleppo province as rebels have taken a key military position outside the airport. The battle is part of a larger strategy of the rebels to cut off one of the Syrian regime’s supply routes. On Wednesday, fighting in Aleppo resulted in the destruction of a minaret of a 12th century mosque, part of a UNESCO world heritage site. Rebels and Syrian state forces have traded blame over the incident. On Monday, Syrian state media reported that armed rebels captured two Syriac Orthodox and Greek Orthodox Archbishops in northern Aleppo province. A Syriac member of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the main opposition group, also reported the kidnapping. Clashes have also grown in the border villages of al-Qusayr near Lebanon. Syrian rebel groups have been firing shells into the Lebanese Hermel region, a stronghold of Hezbollah, in what they claim is retaliation for attacks by Hezbollah.

The European Union has eased its oil embargo on Syria in an effort to help the civilian population and the opposition. Under the new terms, European companies will be able to import crude oil and petroleum products from opposition-held areas. On Tuesday, the EU’s anti-terror chief stated that hundreds of Europeans are fighting in Syria for rebel groups and expressed concern over their radicalization.

Syria accused international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi of partiality and interference after he criticized the regime’s response to a January offer of talks from opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib and said that Assad should not seek another term as president. Syrian state media also accused the United States of “[throwing] oil on the fire” on Sunday by doubling its aid to the opposition. The new aid package, announced on Saturday’s ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting, will go beyond providing food and medical supplies “to include other types of non-lethal supplies.”

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Mai-Mai Kata-Katanga rebel group, which operates in Katanga in southeast DRC, say that they are engaged in an armed campaign to gain autonomy for the province, a mission that traces back as far as July 1960, when Katanga tried to secede from the newly-independent country. They say that the richness of the province is not reflected in living conditions there. On March 23, the Mai-Mai Kata-Katanga launched an attack on Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga, trying to seize the seats of the governorate and the provincial assembly. They entered clashes with the Congolese army before surrendering to MONUSCO forces. 33 people were killed and 60 wounded in the conflict. The March 23 attack was not the first of such attacks. In May 2010, they raised their flag at the Place de la Poste square in Lubumbashi. They are also thought to be behind a number of other attacks.

Bosco Ntaganda’s statement on March 26 at the ICC has revived a long standing debate on Congolese nationality. “I was born in Rwanda but I am a Congolese citizen because I grew up in Congo. I prefer to speak in Kinyarwanda throughout this trial. I was informed of these accusations but I plead not guilty.” Many in Congo consider Kinyarwanda-speakers to be foreign. Yet many of these Kinyarwanda-speakers are Congolese Tutsi who have lived in Congo for generations and consider it their home.

M23 forces reportedly tried twice to protest against the new offensive UN brigade, but had to postpone because the local population refused to participate, and, to the contrary, fled town.

Sudan

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) on Wednesday said it is “ready and prepared” to hold direct talks with Khartoum to resolve the humanitarian crisis and reach a framework agreement on an inclusive process on the country’s new constitution. The SPLM-N, which is now coordinating with Darfuri rebels, hopes to discuss national issues with the government. However, the government believes that the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) should be the framework for Darfur, and wants to focus on establishing a settlement on South Kordofan and the Blue Nile.

The United States is ready to receive a senior envoy from Sudan in a bid to push forward the country’s peace process, an official stated on Wednesday, in a move criticized by human rights advocates. The United States invited a delegation led by an aide to President Omar al-Beshir, Nafie Ali Nafie, after he voiced an interest in traveling to Washington. In addition, the Sudanese defense minister Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein will head to Chad on Thursday despite an arrest warrant for him by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Darfur

Saleh Mohammed Jerbo, an alleged war criminal indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), was killed last Friday in North Darfur. Jerbo, who was also the deputy general commander of the JEM-Bashar faction, was allegedly killed by the JEM, after the two groups started fighting last week. The JEM claims that Chadian troops are fighting alongside JEM-Bashar. According to a JEM spokesman, Chadian troops were “backed by tanks, warplanes and helicopters” in Tina. JEM-Bashar, led by Mohamed Bashar Ahmed, broke away from JEM last year and signed a peace treaty with the Sudanese government earlier this month. Jerbo was indicted by the ICC for supposedly killing 12 UNAMID peacekeepers in 2007. Together with an accomplice, they are suspected of leading 1,000 rebels in an attack on an UNAMID compound in Haskanita, Sudan.

On April 19th, one UNAMID peacekeeper was killed and two others injured in an attack by unidentified assailants on the Mission’s team site near Muhajeriya, East Darfur State. Reports from eyewitnesses claim that pro-government militias killed 18 civilians in the East Darfur cities of Muhajeriya and Labado after government forces recaptured the two towns between Tuesday and Wednesday as Sudan Liberation Army -Minni Minawi withdrew. An estimated 40,000 people have been displaced by the fighting between the Sudanese army and rebel forces of SLA-MM in the region. Witnesses also claimed that the militia had kidnapped a number of girls from inside the UNAMID team site in Muhajeriya and raped them. Several citizens were reportedly tortured, they added.

SLA-MM also claims to have shelled the airport of Nyala, capital of South Darfur, on Monday. This is the first operation of its kind since the war in Darfur began over a decade ago. SLA-MM says the bombardment is a warning to the government that its forces are getting “close” to the town. Earlier this month a Sudanese MP had suggested Nyala could fall in the hands of rebels at “any moment” as the city is besieged by them and lacks security. Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir recently relieved the governor of South Darfur from his duties following the increasing insecurity in the state.

South Sudan

At least three people, believed to have been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels, were rescued by South Sudan security forces at its border with Central African Republic (CAR) on Wednesday. Western Equatoria state officials said the southern army (SPLA) served as part of the African Union (AU) forces. The soldiers, locally known as ‘Arrow Boys,’ liberated a six-year old boy and two young women from rebel captivity. One of those rescued, Mibinina Kumboringi, is suspected to have been a wife of the LRA leader, Joseph Kony. Kumboringi told state authorities that rebels abducted her about six years ago, after raiding a village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), looting food items and abducting several other people.

South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, has announced the formation of a new national reconciliation committee in a move seen as a response to public concerns, a week after suspending the process. Kiir on April 22, appointed the Archbishop of Episcopal Church, Daniel Deng Bul, to chair the national reconciliation committee, deputized by the Archbishop of Catholic Church, Paride Taban. This is the second time the president has appointed Archbishop Bul to chair a reconciliation process, after his first appointment to chair the process among the tribes in his home state of Jonglei, last year. According to the Sudan Tribune, Bul, in the process of reconciling tribes in Jonglei, was accused by the Murle community of allegedly siding with the Dinka Bor, his tribe, prompting the Murle to withdraw from the reconciliation process and demanding for appointment of a neutral person to chair it.

The US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) has carried out a survey among the citizens on the ongoing constitutional making process in South Sudan. According to the survey, the majority people of South Sudan want the freedoms of movement and expression to be clearly stipulated in the permanent constitution. The majority of citizens also gave most of their concerns for access to education in addition to term limits for the president. In addition, the majority of citizens want a multiparty democracy in South Sudan and detest the one-party system. The survey also expressed the importance of respecting and developing traditional authority at local levels in the country, and found that most South Sudanese oppose early marriages, and hope to recognize the disputed Abyei region as part of their country.

Donor and development partners have pledged up to $300 million as aid to support South Sudan’s turbulent economy, the country’s ministry of Finance has announced. Much of this new support, according to the ministry, would be provided through the government budget. The decision, the ministry said in a statement, emerged out of this week’s South Sudan Economic Partners Forum, hosted by the US Department of State on April 16.

Lastly, talks between the Sudan and South Sudan governments established ten border crossing points along their border, eight of which are to open immediately. Both governments hope the border openings will promote trade and easier movement among the two countries.

Weekly News Brief 4/18/2013

Syria

On Monday, a Lebanese official announced that Lebanon will send a letter of complaint to the Arab League over recent violations of its territory along the Syrian border, urging the UN to address the increasing refugee crisis. Hezbollah also condemned the violations of Lebanese territory and blamed Syrian rebel groups for one attack. On Sunday, rockets fired into the Hermel region of Lebanon from Syria, killing two and wounding others. UN diplomats said Tuesday that the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, may cut ties with the Arab League.

According to diplomats at the UN, Brahimi has stated that the Arab League’s moves to recognize the opposition have undermined his role as a neutral mediator. Also on Tuesday, Belgian police arrested six men on charges of aiding in jihadist recruitment for Syrian rebel groups.

Russia and Turkey remain split on ending the Syrian crisis ahead of a meeting of a core group of the Friends of the Syrian People, a cooperative of states and organizations that meets periodically to discuss the Syrian crisis outside of the UN, scheduled for Saturday. Russia has denounced the Friends of the Syrian People as making a negative contribution to the Geneva decision and to fostering dialogue in the civil war. On Wednesday, differences emerged in the testimonies given before Congress by Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel over the coherence of the Syrian opposition. Secretary Kerry expressed a more optimistic view over the possibilities of supplying arms to moderates within the Syrian opposition, while Secretary Hagel, along with General Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned that the situation within the opposition had become more confused.

Last Thursday, the Syrian National Coalition stated that Syrian government forces massacred 60 civilians in what the Coalition described as revenge killings for rebel gains in the area. The reported massacre took place in the town of Sunamayn, which has seen heavy fighting between government and rebel forces in recent days and is near a strategic highway between Damascus and Dara’a. The same day, the Local Coordination Committees, a network of Syrian activists working on the ground, denounced al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s call for an Islamic state in Syria as “blatant interference in Syria’s internal affairs.” On Tuesday, rebels regained ground lost on Sunday to Syrian government forces in a battle for control over the main highway leading to Aleppo and a truce was held in the northern Aleppo district of al-Sakhour to allow Red Crescent workers and members of an opposition local council to collect 31 mostly-civilian bodies. Opposition groups accuse government snipers of killing the civilians. An activist group also reported Tuesday that a government rocket attack killed 7, including children, in a village located between Homs and the Lebanese border.

Burma

According to Reuters, the European Union will lift all sanctions “with the exception of the embargo on arms” on Burma next week. This follows the easing of sanctions by the United States over past two years in recognition of Burma’s recent democratic reforms. Rights groups are expected to strongly criticise the move, particularly following recent sectarian violence against Muslims in central Burma that some have called genocide.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi broke her two-week silence last week on the violence in central Burma that targeted Muslims, leaving 43 dead and 13,000 displaced. Suu Kyi advocated for the “rule of law and security for people” as essential to deal with both current and possible future violence.

Following Suu Kyi’s comments, three Muslims were sentenced to 14 years in prison for their role in the recent outbreak of violence. The three people included the owner and two employees of a gold shop where the violence began. According to the court, fighting broke out over the appraisal of a gold hair clip that was allegedly damaged at the store. The fighting quickly spread throughout the town of Meikhtila and, eventually, the region. As of yet, no Buddhists have been convicted.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Two Congolese military officers have been suspended for their implication in mass rapes and other human rights violations committed in Minova in the east in late November 2012. Investigations found that two FARDC units engaged in these atrocities, and in February, MONUSCO sent a letter to FARDC’s chief of staff requesting formal suspension of these units. Last week, the government announced that several arrests had been made as an interim disciplinary measure, and that a number of officers had been suspended and put at the disposal of the Military Prosecutor.

As a result of instability in the Central African Republic, there are now over 30,000 refugees in the DRC, 1,000 in Cameroon, and nearly 7,000 in Chad.

Sudan

Violent battles between the rebel group Sudan Liberation Army -Minni Minawi (SLA-MM) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) over control of Labado and Muhajeriya in East Darfur broke out last week causing about 36,000 civilians to flee to UNAMID bases for protection.The SLA-MM held control of Labado for a short period of time before the SAF forces ousted them. Following the recapture of Labado, the SAF said rebels caused much chaos and looting in the city during their control. SLA-MM in turn blamed the army and allied militias for killing 10 civilians during the town’s takeover.

Fighting between the Misseriya and Salamat tribes resumed in Central Darfur on Thursday.  The fighting came one day after leaders from both groups signed a ceasefire. The conflict has already caused 10,000 people to be displaced. The spokesman of the SAF announced the recapture of the Dandor garrison near South Kordofan’s capital from rebel forces on Wednesday. SPLM-N claims it shelled the headquarters of the SAF headquarters in Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan, in response to the airstrikes on civilian areas by the army.  On Monday, SPLM-N forces had taken control of Dandor garrison, and they plan to regroup and attack the government even more “violently” in the future.

Direct talks between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement- North (SPLM-N) to settle the South Kordofan and Blue Nile conflict will start on April 23, announced the rebel group on Monday.

South Sudan

An independent Swiss Research Group, the Small Arms Survey, issued a report that affirms that Sudan has supplied weapons and ammunition to rebels fighting South Sudan’s government.  Sightings of Sudanese aircraft dropping weapons in South Sudan, as well as the discovery of new Sudanese and foreign manufactured arms offer proof to the suspicions of the South Sudan government.  The report also explains that the SPLM supports the SPLM-N but with significantly less arms support than the Sudanese government has offered South Sudanese rebel groups.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir has withdrawn some powers from his vice president, possibly because he is a likely challenger for the ruling party leadership. Kiir, who has led the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) since 2005, also halted a national reconciliation initiative that had been launched by Vice President Riak Machar, which had been viewed as an attempt to raise his political profile. The two men were on opposing sides of a split within the SPLM during much of the 1983-2005 civil war that ended after the two factions reunited.

The Sudan oil ministry said Sunday that the first crude oil from South Sudan reached its territory, bringing both impoverished nations closer to billions of dollars in revenue after a dispute over fees. This good news comes shortly after presidents Al Bashir and Kiir met in Juba last week, where they both agreed to restart trade relations. The discussions unfortunately did not yield a resolution to controversial status of Abyei.

Weekly News Brief 4/11/2013

Syria

Jordan opened a second refugee camp, paid for by the United Arab Emirates, for Syrians fleeing the conflict on Wednesday. The current refugee camp in Jordan, Zaatari, may see services cut back as UNICEF faces extreme funding shortages. Meanwhile, President Obama has signed off on a new non-lethal aid package for the Syrian opposition. Other US government agencies outside of the White House have not yet been briefed on the final elements of the package, but it is expected to include defensive military equipment such as body armor and night-vision goggles. Syrian refugees are expected to triple in Jordan by the end of the year.

As fighting continues in the strategic Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsoud that rebels entered last week, Kurdish militia YPG has joined with Arab rebel groups to fight government forces there. Although the groups have joined together in Sheikh Maqsoud, they remain in separate areas and have expressed distrust towards one another. After an air raid killed 15 people on Saturday, Kurdish forces killed five Syrian government soldiers at an army checkpoint. Much of Aleppo has seen power outages since the uprising began, and recently water supplies have begun to be cut as well. Official Syrian state media has blamed the shortages on the country’s insecurity and the difficulties involved in carrying fuel. Last month, a suicide bomber was reported to have killed a pro-Assad Sunni preacher in a Damascus mosque. Recently, however, a video has begun circulating casting doubt that his death and that of 50 others was caused by a suicide bomber and raised speculation that the sheikh was killed by the Assad regime.

On Wednesday, UN diplomats announced that talks with the Assad regime reached an impasse over investigating the Assad regime’s possible use of chemical weapons near Aleppo last month. In addition to the attack in Aleppo, the Assad regime has been accused of using chemical weapons near Damascus in March and in Homs in December. The Assad regime is insisting the UN only investigate the Aleppo attack, while UN officials are pressing to investigate the attack in Homs as well. Britain and France have pushed for the inspectors to be allowed to investigate all three incidents. Also on Wednesday, activists reported at least 42 deaths in clashes in the southern province of Daraa.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report accusing the Syrian Air Force of indiscriminate and even deliberate air strikes against civilians. The report also accused rebel groups of operating in heavily populated areas, and called for all governments and companies to cease supplying the Assad regime. It also called for Iraq to allow third-party monitors to inspect convoys and planes for weapons being sent to aid the Assad regime.Iraqi officials announced they have not found weapons in any of the three inspections of Syrian-bound planes conducted as of Wednesday of this week. On Tuesday, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) announced a merger with Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra. Al-Nusra claimed they had not been informed of this decision and pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of al-Qaeda.

Sudan

$3.6 billion was pledged for the development and reconstruction of Darfur at the end of the two-day international donor forum held this weekend. The goal of the conference, held in Doha, Qatar, was to raise $7.2 billion in development aid for the region, making the final total “disappointing” to the UN. The pledged figure includes $2.65 billion dollars from the Khartoum government as part of the 2011 Darfur peace deal (DDPD) with largest donation from the conference at $500 million, pledged by the government of Qatar. The total pledged amount will be distributed over six years.

Protests against the Qatar conference took place across Darfur on Friday by demonstrators who argued that the lack of security made reconstruction efforts premature. The protesters consisted of rebel groups who had opposed the DDPD. In contrast, head of the Darfur Regional Authority (and former head of the LJM and signatory to the DDPD), Tijani el-Sissi, viewed the conference as a success. The pledges cover more than the $177 million needed for urgent projects.

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, was kept from travelling to Kenya to watch the swearing-in of the country’s new president. A Kenyan government spokesperson stated that the government of Sudan was invited to attend, just not Bashir. Bashir was also prepared to travel to Chad for a summit of African leaders, making it his fourth visit to the country despite his arrest warrant, but the event was postponed due to unrelated reasons. The Government in Khartoum has also announced that Bashir will visit South Sudan tomorrow. The visit is in response to an invitation from South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir who visited Khartoum last October. The two Presidents are expected to discuss the remaining outstanding issues between the two states, including the Abyei referendum and the issue of disputed border areas, including “Mile 14.”

The World Food Program (WFP) announced on Thursday the start of its first humanitarian operation in two towns in the Blue Nile, targeting some 51,000 people in dire need of food assistance. Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) Secretary General Yasir Arman, however, minimized this operation saying there is no major breakthrough in the Blue Nile state, stressing that SPLM-N-controlled areas are not included in this operation.Adding support to his claims, the SPLM-N declared that the Sudanese government dropped 16 bombs on different Blue Nile villages on Tuesday, killing five civilians, one child and four adults.

Ali Kushayb, indicted for war crimes in Darfur by the ICC, is leading deadly clashes in Central Darfur between two ethnic groups. Tensions began to rise last Wednesday morning after a member of the Misseriya tribe allegedly tried looting and opening fire on a Salamat man. Hostilities erupted the next day in spite of an attempted mediation. Misseriya fighters have reportedly received the backup of members of the Central Reserve Forces, known as Abu Tira, and are being led by Ali Kushayb. Abu Tira, sometimes described as pro-government militia, have replaced SAF in the region and are said to be a source of insecurity for many of the displaced. Sources are not yet able to confirm the latest death toll, although on Monday different witness accounts put the total number of dead as high as 163 in several different clashes. Salamat fighters now say they are close to capturing Ali Kushayb.  The former militia leader is accused of committing murders, rapes and forcibly displacing thousands of people. An arrest warrant was issued for him in 2007.

As a result of violent clashes between the Sudanese army (SAF) and two rebel groups in North Darfur, 150 acres of land are reportedly on fire. No casualties have yet been accounted for as a result of the fire.  On Monday, the rebel groups Sudan Liberation Army of Abdel Wahid (SLA-AW) and Sudan Liberation Movement for Justice (SLMJ) claimed to have killed 18 SAF soldiers in a joint offensive. The rebels further claimed to have seized an army garrison in East Jebel Marra.

A young child and three adults were killed when an Antonov aircraft “belonging to the Sudanese air forces” dropped several bombs in South Darfur on Sunday. In addition, air strikes carried out by the Sudan Air Force on Saturday evening reportedly left nine people dead in East Darfur, seven of whom were under the age of ten.

South Sudan

Five UN peacekeepers and seven civilian staff from UNMISS were killed on Tuesday in an ambush by an unidentified armed group in Jonglei state. In response, on Wednesday, the South Sudanese Army (SPLA) deployed additional forces into Jonglei State in order to maintain security and find the perpetrators of the attack.

UN agencies in South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile states are stockpiling supplies of food and relief items in preparation for a potential fresh influx of refugees from the Sudanese border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

South Sudan has resumed oil production this weekend, bringing cheers from citizens and a boost to the economy after a halt of more than a year. The long-awaited resumption of production comes after Sudan and South Sudan signed a series of agreements last month in Addis Ababa, including an agreement on oil production.

Burma

Last Friday, eight people died and 15 were injured after a brawl in an Indonesia immigration detention centre. The detention centre housed more than 100 Rohingya refugees, intercepted by Indonesian authorities fleeing on boats, and 11 Buddhist accused of illegally fishing. When the Rohingya inmates learned of the recent violence against Muslims in central Burma that left at least 42 dead, some lashed out against the 11 Buddhist inmates, killing eight of them. Some Rohingya were injured while the remaining three Buddhist inmates escaped the brawl uninjured.

The Myanmar government and Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO)  ‘mutually’ agreed to postpone peace talks scheduled for Wednesday. Both parties claimed they needed more time for preparations following difficulties and disagreements in organizing the attendance of foreign observers from China, the UK, and the US. Some reports also have Japan expressing interest in leading the peace talks. The last round of peace talks was held in the Chinese town of Ruili in mid-March.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

On April 7, reports surfaced that South Africa’s army, SANDF, had deployed troops in the DRC. David Maynier, the Shadow Minister of Defence and Military Veterans (the Shadow Cabinet is a group of individuals who scrutinize their counterparts in the executive government, developing alternative policies), called on President Zuma to immediately inform Parliament if the defence force is being deployed in the DRC. The SANDF will be part of the MONUSCO intervention brigade that was recently authorized by the UN Security Council; there are already SANDF forces within MONUSCO. Xolani Mabanga, spokesperson of SANDF said on Monday that they are “ready to tackle” the M23.  Zuma has been scrutinized since 13 SANDF forces were killed in the Central African Republic last week. SANDF forces have since been withdrawn from CAR.

At Mugunga 3 refugee camp in North Kivu, displaced youth are asking to be partners in administration of humanitarian aid, rather than simply beneficiaries.  “It pains us to see Goma youth coming to work at the camp while we’re unemployed,” said one young refugee, who wishes to remain anonymous. Another commented, “These NGOs do not want us to become financially independent. They are exploiting our situation.” The camp hosts over 8,000 families and is run by MSF. MSF’s head of mission in North Kivu, Philippe le Vaillant, says that there aren’t enough jobs to accommodate the large number of unemployed refugees. Limited funds, institutional politics, and Congolese labor laws compound the difficulty of employing youth living in camps.

Central African Republic

African heads of state refuse to recognize rebel leader Michel Djotodia as CAR’s legitimate leader, and the African Union has suspended the CAR’s membership. Francois Bozize, who was overthrown in the coup, took power in a military coup against former PResident Patisse in 2003.

The situation in the CAR remains volatile, humanitarian access is limited, looting is pervasive, and children are being recruited by armed forces. UNICEF has flown in over 23 tonnes of essential medical supplies and water tanks in order to assist the approximately 200,000 people in dire need of assistance. Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the CAR, Margaret Vogt, emphasizes that the Libreville Agreements signed on 11 January are essential to restore legality in the country.

The Washington Post declared on Wednesday that two human skeletons were found in Bozize’s home in the CAR. It is unclear who the deceased are, and why they might have been hidden in Bozize’s home. The AFP says that ritual killings are common in the CAR, and that it could be possible that the bones were stored for use in witchcraft practices, although these practices are more common in remote areas rather than in the capital.

Weekly News Brief 4/04/2013

Syria

Last Thursday, a mortar attack on the University of Damascus killed at least 12 and wounded several others. The Assad regime and rebel groups blame each other for the attack. The increased violence in the capital city has caused more and more residents to flee the city.

Anti-government activist groups have reported several key territorial gains for rebels in Syria’s south. The Syrian rebel gains come as rebels work to secure a corridor from the Jordanian border to the capital in light of a recent influx of weapons. Neighboring Arab governments have increased weapons shipments to rebels in the south in a route through Jordan in coordination with the US government. The US and Jordan also stepped up training of Syrian rebels in hopes of establishing a buffer zone along the Jordanian border. Rebel gains in the south have not only caused concern among Syria’s southern neighbors, Jordan and Israel, but also among the minority Druze population located there who feel threatened by Islamic militant groups among the rebels. Rebels also made gains in Sheikh Maqsoud, a strategic neighborhood in Aleppo on Saturday, although different groups have given conflicting reports on the extensiveness of rebel advances. Rebel groups killed a pro-regime Sunni cleric after entering the neighborhood,some reports stating that he was beheaded and paraded through the streets. On Sunday, reports emerged of heavy shelling in Shekh Maqsoud by government forces. A Syrian state news agency also accused rebels of setting fire to oil fields in eastern Syria on Sunday.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Defense Minister warned Palestinian fighters and the Syrian regime that it will respond to any attacks in its territory. This statement comes after a rocket was launched into southern Israel from Gaza and a Syrian mortar shell landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Israeli military responded by firing from a tank towards the source of fire in Syria and launching three air strikes on Gaza. Also on Wednesday, a Syrian government helicopter fired several rockets on the outskirts of a Lebanese town lying on the Syrian border. No casualties were reported. Last Friday, following US pressure to halt Iranian weapon flow through Iraq, Iraq announced that it will stop more aircrafts crossing its airspace and vehicles travelling through Iraqi territory to search for such weapons. Rebels claim to have shot down an Iranian aircraft carrying Syrian weapons last Thursday. As the conflict intensifies, Iraqi government officials have grown increasingly concerned over cooperation between militant Islamist groups fighting the Assad regime in Syria and Sunni extremist groups in Iraq.Syria was one of three countries to vote against the world’s first global arms treatyregulating conventional arms trade at the UN General Assembly meeting on Tuesday. 23 countries abstained, but only North Korea, Iran, and Syria voted against the treaty. The UN has released information indicating that it will consider all options, including a peacekeeping mission, in the event that Assad’s government falls.

Sudan

Authorities in Sudan released seven political prisoners Tuesday, a day after Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir ordered the release of all political detainees. They are all members of country’s main political opposition alliance. They had been held since January, after signing a document that calls for the overthrow of President Bashir. Bashir ordered the release of all political detainees as part of efforts to hold a dialogue with rebel and opposition groups on a new constitution. Authorities in Sudan are believed to be holding hundreds of other protesters and opposition figures.

Thirty-one people captured almost one week ago by a Darfur rebel group (SLA-AW) were released on Saturday in Central Darfur. In addition, a Sudan court issued death sentencesfor seven Prisoners of War belonging to the rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) last Thursday. Darfur’s JEM-Bashar (a breakaway group of JEM) are being assigned positions in the Sudanese government after signing a protocol of political and military participation with the Sudanese government on Friday.

Darfur students blame Sudan militias for a fire that destroyed several dormitories at Khartoum University. They believe the militias targeted the dormitories because the inhabitants were from Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. In addition, a massive fire broke out on Thursday afternoon at a South Darfur camp and residents are calling it a “method to dismantle the camp.”

The Sudanese government dropped 17 bombs on the Nuba Mountains on Wednesday. One SPLA-N member was killed according to a spokesman of the rebel group. He also said that he believes “millions of people” continue to suffer in Blue Nile, South Kordofan, and the Nuba Mountains because “this corrupt” regime denies them food, medicine and education and uses delaying tactics to increase their suffering.

South Sudan

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir will visit South Sudan for the first time since its independence as soon as this week, cementing new deals on oil and border security between the two countries. The South accuses Sudan of launching an attack ahead of Bashir’s visit, killing several people in an area that was agreed to be demarcated as a Safe Demilitarized Border Zone by the two nations. The South Sudanese government still intends to host the Sudanese president.

On Sunday it was reported that a flood displaced over 12,000 in Jonglei state. In addition, the South Sudan army (SPLA) on Tuesday said they captured airbases allegedly used by David Yau Yau’s rebel group in Jonglei to receive military aid from the government of neighboring Sudan.

Burma

Violence has subsided after nine consecutive days of religiously motivated violence in central Burma. Last Thursday, March 28, Myanmar President Thein Sein spoke on the recent outbreak of violence and said he would not hesitate to use force to quell further unrest. In total, 43 people were killed, 93 hospitalized, and 1,277 homes, 77 shops, and 37 mosques  were destroyed (click here to view before-and-after satellite images of the destruction in Meiktila). The situation remains tense; 13 children died in a fire at a mosque on Tuesday in the country’s largest city, Yangon, although officials were quick to blame an electrical fault.

A growing anti-Muslim campaign known as “969” has also added to the increasing tensions. The movement’s head, nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu, has denied allegations that he or members of his organization are to blame for the recent sectarian violence.

In other news, the Myanmar military has begun to reposition itself around Shan State to clear way for a Chinese-backed dam. the Myanmar military has ordered the Shan State Army-North, the regional rebel army, out of the area, violating a 2012 peace agreement.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, made a 10-day visit to DRC for the first time in her role, meeting with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, Congo’s Minister of Gender, members of Parliament, and representatives of civil society to discuss the problem of impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence. “I am here to listen and to learn. As an African woman from a post-conflict country – Sierra Leone – I recognize the many challenges currently facing the Congo,” she said. A Joint Communique signed March 30 lists commitments made by the government, including fighting impunity, accelerating security sector reforms, creating vetting mechanisms when integrating former combatants into the national army, ensuring better control of mineral resources, and greater support services for survivors.

On March 28, the UNSC approved the creation of its first-ever “offensive” combat force, intended to “neutralize and disarm” the M23, other Congolese rebels, and foreign armed groups in eastern DRC. This intervention brigade will work within MONUSCO’s existing forces and will consist of three infantry battalions, one artillery and one special forces and reconnaissance company headquartered in Goma. The mandate is for one year, and will be considered for renewal if necessary.

Clashes between the DRC armed forces and the Alliance pour des Patriotes pour un Congo (APCLS) were renewed in Kitchanga in eastern DRC, on Monday, killing 11 APCLS combatants and one government soldier. Since the fighting began in February, tens of civilians have been killed, hundreds wounded, and thousands displaced.

Central African Republic

More than 50 South African soldiers may have been killed in combat in the CAR on March 23, though South African and French authorities have confirmed the number at 13.The South African soldiers were fighting to protect mining and oil contracts signed by South African  companies with CAR President François Bozizé. South African troops have since withdrawn.

Uganda’s New Vision reports that Uganda and the US have suspended operations to hunt down Joseph Kony in the CAR due to Séléka’s hold on power. “The African Union was operatin in Central Africa under the Bozizé government, and since Séléka is not recognized by the African Union we had to suspend operations,” said Felix Kuliagye, Political Commissar of the Ugandan Army. Uganda will not be removing troops from the CAR, but operations will be suspended. This suspension could give the LRA time to grow and continue crimes in the CAR.

According to RFI, France’s public radio, on Sunday, CAR’s Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye named a 34-member cabinet that includes nine ministers from the Séléka rebel coalition, eight from the former opposition, and one close to François Bozizé. A government spokesperson said the ministers would be sworn in later this week. The rebels have not agreed on who should lead the nation, however. Séléka’s publicly acknowledged military leader, Michel Am-Nondokro Djotodia, announced last Monday that he considers himself Head of State, but others in the rebel coalition say that a consensus on his appointment asSéléka’s leader was never reached. Members of the Economic Community of Central African States met in Djamena, Chad, deciding that it is impossible to “recognize a self-proclaimed president.”

For more information on Séléka and what their takeover may mean for the future of the CAR, see Think Africa Press’ analysis here.

Weekly News Brief 3/28/13

Syria

Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), Syria’s main opposition group, resigned Sunday stating that international powers have failed to help the rebels and that he could only improve the situation outside the Coalition. Analysts have speculated that al-Khatib resigned due to frustration over disproportional influence by Qatar and Islamists in the Coalition. However, Khatib stated that the Coalition refuses to discuss his resignation, which leaves the possibility that he may be asked to reverse his decision. Meanwhile, the political and media coordinator of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced that the FSA refuses to recognize the newly elected prime minister of the SNC’s newly formed interim government, Ghassan Hito, on the grounds that the Coalition did not form a consensus on his election.

On Tuesday, SNC replaced the Assad regime in the Syrian embassy to the Arab League as the League embraced the right for members to supply military aid to the rebels. The move drew sharp criticism from the Assad regime, Russia, and Iran. The following day, Assad sent a letter calling for help from the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the BRICS countries, calling for help to end the war. Russia, China, and South Africa have voted against UNSC resolutions on Syria previously. Moaz Al-Khatib’s call for the US to use Patriot missile defense batteries located in Turkey against Syrian warplanes at the Arab League summit was rebuffed by US officials, who reiterated the purely defensive nature of the missiles.

On Monday, Jordan closed its main border crossing with Syria following increased clashes nearby between Assad forces and rebels. Fighting has also increased in the Quneitra region near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Local Coordination Committees reporting rebels overrunning several army posts. Fighting also intensified in Damascus. Last Thursday, a suicide bombing in a Damascus mosque killed one of the top pro-Assad Sunni preachers and 41 others, wounding at least 84 more.

The New York Times reported that Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey have been funneling arms to Syrian rebels with the help of the CIA since early 2012. Arms flows intensified late last year, corresponding to increased rebel gains. American officials stated that the role of the CIA has been purely consultative, and was offered to influence suppliers to direct arms away from Islamist groups and to prohibit certain weapons that could later be used for terrorism from entering Syria. Some rebels have expressed frustration over the American role in the arms supply, saying that it has limited access to crucial weaponry in the struggle against Assad.

Burma

As of Tuesday, March 26, at least 40 people are confirmed dead and more than 12,000 displaced following sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in central Burma. The violence began last Wednesday, March 20, in Meikhtila following an argument between a Muslim-owned gold shop and a Buddhist couple. The conflict quickly escalated, spreading throughout the area to other nearby towns and even the capital, Naypyidaw causing Myanmar President Thein Sein to impose a state of emergency in the area. Many shops and homes, particularly those of Muslims, as well as mosques, were burned to the ground. Some reports (Washington PostNew York Times) claimed that rumors on social media contributed to the quick escalation and spread of violence in central Burma. The Myanmar military was quickly sent to the area to quell the violence with curfews and bans on public gatherings imposed in nine separate townships. The Myanmar government, as well as the US, UN, and others, emphasized a strong desire to bring about peace, fearing that this religious violence could threaten recent democratic reforms.

On Wednesday, March 27, opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi attended an annual military parade for the first time. Held in the nation’s capital Naypyidaw, the parade commemorated Armed Forces Day. The military, which imprisoned Suu Kyi and many of her supporters, claimed they intended to stay involved in national politics. To the objection of Suu Kyi and her party, the National League of Democracy, the Myanmar constitution guarantees the once-ruling military 25% of Parliament.

In other news, a fire in Thai refugee camp killed 37 and left 2,300 people homeless on Friday, March 22. Many of those killed and left homeless were refugees from Burma.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Bosco Ntaganda’s surrender marks the first time that a suspect has surrendered voluntarily to International Criminal Court (ICC) custody. He arrived in The Hague on Friday, after surrendering himself to the US embassy in Kigali. Arrest warrants for Ntaganda were issued in 2006 and 2012 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and sexual slavery, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and pillaging during the Ituri conflict in northeastern Congo in 2002-2003.

On Tuesday, Ntaganda made his first appearance before the court. His lawyer says he plans to apply for interim release. The charges hearing will begin on September 23, 2013, when judges will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to establish substantial grounds to believe Ntaganda committed each of the crimes he is accused of. Should the charges be confirmed, the case will go to trial. London-based Chatham House says, “Bosco’s surrender clears the way to a negotiated settlement between the M23 and the Congolese government. More symbolically, it marks the end of a cycle of Rwandan-backed rebellions that started at the beginning of the second Congo war in the 1990s,” claiming that “the M23 is likely to be the final iteration of a pattern that has shaped Eastern DRC for fifteen years […] but it is not going to be transformative.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Congolese Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda N’tungamulongo agreed that the upcoming UNSC resolution on the DRC should strengthen the MONUSCO peacekeeping mission and endorse the Secretary-General’s approach to addressing the root causes of instability in the Great Lakes region. He has also called on the UNSC to authorize the deployment of a special MONUSCO force with the ability to conduct, with or without the Congolese army, offensive operations against all armed groups that threaten peace in eastern DRC.

On March 23, Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Joseph Kabila of DRC, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and Denis Sassou-N’Guesso of Republic of Congo-Brazzaville met in Brazzaville to discuss ongoing regional efforts towards ending conflict in eastern DRC and establishing security in the region. The leaders also expressed strong concerns on recent developments in the central African Republic, where Francois Bozize was overthrown earlier this week.

Central African Republic

President Francois Bozize of the CAR fled to Congo after rebels took control of the capital, Bangui, as well as the presidential palace, on Sunday. Since Friday, several towns have fallen after a peace accord between the rebels and the government collapsed. The rebels are made up of several opposition groups officially known as the Séléka coalition. They have faced little resistance from the ill-trained and ill-equipped CAR army. Bozize and his family have since relocated to Cameroon.

A few days before the coup, Amy Martin, the head of the Bangui branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN that security was deteriorating, and that “The agreed conditions are not being respected by either side: release [by the government] of prisoners, the quartering of armed forces by Séléka. There are more rumours of additional former rebel groups to join the Séléka coalition. All remain very uncertain and unpredictable.” Margaret Vogt, Special Representative to the Secretary-General for the CAR, added that “Séléka now controls three-quarters of the country.” The Séléka offensive began on 10 December 2012, and is the latest in a series of crises in the CAR. For an in-depth analysis, see Danny Hirschel-Burns’ blog post here.

Ugandan troops remain deployed around border areas of the CAR, DRC, and South Sudan, where Joseph Kony and the LRA are thought to be. Some analysts believe that the African Union’s decision to suspend the CAR from the AU may have negative effects on the hunt for the LRA. “If Séléka is unable to consolidate control, it would further the physical and tactical net within the which LRA can seek opportunities to rebuild weapons caches,” said Angelo Izama of the US-based Open Society Foundation. The LRA Crisis Tracker reports that in February the LRA was responsible for 13 civilian deaths and 17 abductions in the CAR, and UNOCHA says an estimated 443,000 people are currently displaced in LRA-affected areas. In addition, 5,663 Sudanese refugees in the CAR have been uprooted because of the coup d’état, and are now living in “deplorable” conditions.

South Sudan

Reports surfaced today that a heavy military battle inside South Sudan’s border killed 163people, mostly rebels, when government forces clashed with rebels affiliated with David Yau Yau. South Sudan accuses Sudan of arming Yau Yau’s rebellion in order to block South Sudan’s plans to build an oil pipeline through Ethiopia to a port in Djbouti. Sudan has repeatedly denied these accusations. South Sudan has accused the government of Sudan of launching a heavy and coordinated attack on Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, killing at least three innocent civilians and wounding several others. These reports come as the UN verified this week that Sudan and South Sudan have moved troops from Abyei, the first step of the demilitarization of the border zone that should be completed by early April.

Jonglei women vow to leave men if violence continues. They also demanded that women be given greater involvement in peace talks and political decisionmaking processes. The women-only peace conference outlined 20 key recommendations aimed at bringing peace to their communities and the state at large. The recommendations largely relate to education, security, infrastructure and rights.

A recent article “South Sudan’s Red Army comes of age,” explains how the former child soldier army of South Sudan that fought for independence since the 1980s, called the Red Army, is now becoming a civil society organization. “In a landmark transition from warfare to welfare, former child soldiers in the Red Army are establishing a foundation aimed at addressing social problems in South Sudan.”

Cash was stolen from South Sudan’s President’s Salva Kiir’s Office this week.  Original reports stated millions of dollars were robbed, but those amounts were denied by Kiir. It is believed that 176,000 Sudanese pounds and $14,000 (US Dollars) were stolen.

Sudan

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) announced its readiness for direct talks with Khartoum and proposed a constitutional conference brokered by African mediation. Although the Vice President of Sudan welcomes talks with opposition groups, many are skeptical of his sincerity, as several key members of opposition are still under arrest.

A 64-year-old Sudanese Christian woman is being held without charge by the Sudanese government. This comes as part of a larger crackdown on Christian churches, orphanages, and schools.

In Darfur, reports continue to show sexual violence towards women and girls by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), as well as lawlessness in the region. Militia groups have reportedly looted 50 million Pounds’ in goods from a Central Darfur IDP camp, and seized 31 displaced people at gunpoint on Sunday. The arbitrary seizures are accredited to the SLM-AW Darfuri rebel group.