The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Weekly News Brief, September 4 to 10, 2009

Areas of Concern


·         Britain and the European Commission have called for the Sudanese government to return the assets of the thirteen expelled humanitarian aid programs. The Sudanese government believes that it can redistribute the funding as it sees fit.

·         Fighting in the Darfuri region of Jebel Marra heated up this week. Sudanese troops were responsible for the death of 11 rebels and the displacement of thousands due to violence

·         Darfur peace mediator and the Qatari facilitators announced on Monday that the next round of talks between the government and Darfur rebel groups would be held during the last week of October.


·         The Karen Human Rights Group released a report stating that Burmese army abuses continue in Karen State as the Tatmadaw and its DKBA proxies remain on the offensive against the KNLA.

·         The ruling junta announced that the Kokang ethnic region will be autonomous after the 2010 election.

·         The fighting in Kokang may have been sparked by a Chinese-Burmese meeting which discussed the location of an arms factory in the region.

·         Earthrights International released new reports linking Chevron and Total to human rights violations and negative environmental impacts in relation to their operations in Burma’s natural gas industry.

·         Human Rights Watch called on the US government to complete its Burma policy review and work on improving the effectiveness of its sanctions, humanitarian aid and diplomatic stance vis-à-vis Burma.

·         In a Washington Post Op-Ed, Pro-Democracy politician Win Tin wrote that the upcoming elections are likely to be a sham and will lead to the permanent enshrinement of military rule in Burma.

Democratic Republic of Congo

·         Former CNDP rebels who had been integrated into the FARDC reportedly deserted their posts and attacked the villages of Kitcharo and Nyamilima.

·         MONUC and UNHCR issued two reports detailing possible war crimes committed in the Congo last fall. The reports cover crimes committed by the CNDP in Kiwanja and the FARDC in Goma and Kanyabayonga which led to the death of civilians and the looting of property.

·         Congo is preparing to re-integrate IDPs into society after UNHCR closes its camps in North Kivu. The camps are expected to be closed in the coming weeks after violence in the province has dropped.


·         More than 70 Afghan civilians were killed and dozens more injured after a NATO airstrike in northern Afghanistan last Friday. The airstrike targeted two tankers hijacked by the Taliban Thursday night. Gen. McChrystal, the U.S. commander for troops in Afghanistan, visited the region on Saturday and expressed regret that any civilians had been killed. NATO is investigating the strike

·         A Swedish aid agency, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, says U.S. troops stormed an Afghan hospital last Wednesday in search of injured Taliban fighters. The agency’s regional director called the move “unacceptable” and warned future military raids would not be tolerated.

·         The ICC is examining claims that war crimes have been committed in Afghanistan by both NATO and Taliban forces. Afghanistan is a state-party to the Rome Statute, but the ICC cannot take action with either approval from Kabul or the UN Security Council.


·         A dozen bombings shook Iraq last Thursday, killing at least six and wounding 85 people. The attacks appeared targeted at civilians, as 11 of them took place in the evenings when streets are busier than usual for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Several Shiite shrines were also targeted.

·         A suicide bomber targeted a police checkpoint in the western city of Ramadi on Monday, wounding 13 and killing nine, including three children and two women. In Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, a car bomb targeting the leader of a local pro-government militia killed a family of eight.


·         At least 50,000 civilians fled their homes in Waziristan as Pakistani troops begin another offensive against Taliban insurgents. The Pakistani military said Tuesday it is setting up relief camps for the displaced. The operation is also targeting insurgents in Khyber, another border district, where troops have already killed at least 43 militants.

·         A Pakistani news agency reported that U.S. drone attacks killed over 400 militants in northwest Pakistan in the last nine months, The number of civilian casualties in the attacks is not yet known.

·         Secretary of Defense Robert Gates praised the Pakistani military’s handling of extremist groups over the past 16 months, citing the “success” of the Swat Valley offensive in which 2 million civilians fled. Gates said the Pakistani government exceeded expectations and “performed admirably.”


·         UNCHR announced on Monday that the number of conflict- and drought-displaced Somalis has reached 1.55 million. At least 95,000 Somalis have fled their homes in the last two months, 77,000 of those fleeing Mogadishu. This comes after a U.N. report last week stating that 3.8 million Somalis, almost half the population, depend on humanitarian aid.

·         An Oxfam statement called camps for Somali refugees overcrowded, poorly managed and “barely fit for humans”. The aid agency said the international community had failed refugees, as most lack basic access to water and medicine, and demanded more action from international partners. Oxfam also said Somalia is suffering the worst drought in a decade, which the TFG confirmed on Friday.

·         Heavy fighting broke out between AMISOM troops and insurgents in Mogadishu last Thursday, killing 5 and injuring 9 others. Clashes continued throughout the week. Meanwhile. the TFG again announced it is planning to decisively drive out rebel forces from the capital.

·         The African Union has revised AMISOM’s mandate in Somalia, now allowing the peacekeeping force to carry out pre-emptive attacks against insurgent groups.

·         A foreign minister of the TFG said last Saturday that members of the two insurgency groups, Al-Shabaab and Hisbul Islam, had joined government officials for secret talks.

Sri Lanka

·         The Sri Lankan government will reportedly release IDPs from refugee camps to their relatives and that it hopes to resettle the majority of IDPs by the end of the year.

·         The Sri Lankan government expelled a UNICEF official from the country on Sunday, accusing him of spreading pro-LTTE propaganda. JamesElder had previously raised concerns about children caught in the crossfire between the government and rebels. UNICEF is appealing the government’s decision, saying it was “extremely concerned and disappointed” by the move.

·         U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with a Sri Lankan minister last Thursday to discuss conditions for the 300,000 Tamils in IDP camps. Ban also expressed his concern over possible summary execution of LTTE rebels by the government, a potential war crime depicted in a video released in August.

Central African Republic

·         The Ugandan Army reportedly captured an LRA officer during its new operations in the Central African Republic . Brigadier Mickman Opuk is reportedly a close confidant of Joseph Kony

South Sudan

·         Special Envoy Gration called on north and south Sudan to resolve concerns about the census in preparation for the 2010 national elections as well as working to refine details of the 2011 referendum.

·         25 people were killed in attacks between the Dinka and the Shilluk near the settlement of Bony-Thiang in Sudan’s Upper Nile state.

·         US Treasury Department altered the sanctions on Sudan to include certain items necessary for humanitarian reasons. Treasury issued a general license authorizing the export of agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices to South Sudan and other marginalized communities within Sudan. The change in the sanctions regime does not apply for devices destined to northern Sudan.

Oil, Natural Gas, and the Burmese Regime: The Shwe and Yadana Gas Projects

The Shwe Gas Movement, a Thai “oil and gas watchdog,”, released a report on Monday titled Corridor of Power: China’s Trans-Burma Oil and Gas Pipelines. The report addresses the humanitarian repercussions of China’s oil and gas pipeline projects throughout Burma. Burma, according to the report, ranks tenth on the list of global natural gas reserves, but lacks the infrastructural capacity to extract these reserves for national usage.

The Shwe Gas and Trans-Burma Oil Corridor projects began in August 2000, when the South Korean corporation Daewoo International signed an exploration contract with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). In February 2004, a month after discovering an offshore natural gas block, Daewoo purchased a neighboring block. Daewoo’s 2004 purchase spurred a wave of sales to Asian oil and gas corporations, the most recent being the sale of natural gas access to the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). Construction of the oil and gas pipelines, which are planned to run adjacent to one another, will begin this month. The Burmese military junta’s share of revenues from natural gas sales is estimated to reach at least $29 billion over the next 30 years.

Past Burma pipeline projects, largely located in eastern Burma, have caused mass humanitarian crises. The humanitarian impact of the Burma-China pipeline, however, is expected to be much more severe. Forced labor, forced relocation, the mobilization of troops into ethnic minority areas, and extortion of civilian resources are anticipated repercussions of the Shwe Gas pipeline project. As the Shwe Gas Movement noted in its report, “[i]ncidents of increased deployment of troops for infrastructure projects are well-documented in Burma. Past and present experiences show that when militarization has occurred alongside securing extractive investments in Burma, local people are subject to abuses by the Burma army such as forced labour, sexual assault, forced relocation, and land confiscation.” The pipeline, which travels through the recently ravaged Shan State, represents an imminent danger for the security of Burmese civilians.

In a similar vein, EarthRights International, an environmental non-profit organization, has released two report condemning energy firms Chevron and Total for their tacit support of the Burmese regime’s human rights violations. Total and Chevron operate the Yadana gas pipeline, which runs across Burma from the Andaman Sea to Thailand. In a striking demonstration of corporate irresponsibility, Total and Chevron’s pipeline project has resulted in well-documented occurrences of land confiscation, forced labor, and forced relocation. The Burmese regime’s increased militarization of pipeline zones has additionally resulted in increased instances of rape, torture, extrajudicial killings, and other human rights abuses. Total has dismissed EarthRights International’s condemnation. The French energy firm’s chief executive recently stated that “[L]eaving will not make human rights more respected…If this gas was not produced by Total, it would be by others, and it would change nothing to the revenues of the junta.” Urgent action is needed to halt the human rights abuses associated with the two oil and gas pipelines.

Want to keep updated on the situation in Burma? Follow us on Twitter @STANDburma.

–Daniel Solomon, National Burma Education Coordinator

A Reality Check on Sudan

In the past 6 years Darfur has taken center stage in international politics, and has ignited the largest student activism campaigns since the Vietnam era. 

      We have seen the birth of many NGOs focused on the issues in Darfur including STAND, the Save Darfur Coalition, the Genocide Intervention Network, and the Enough Project, as well as special focus from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch

      Despite the many activist efforts and the attention of the international community violence in Darfur has continued to persist.  This past week alone thousands were displaced by violence in Jebel Marra which left 11 dead.  Next month peace talks are expected to resume between the rebel groups and the Sudanese government, and as activist groups preach, government groups discuss, and violence continues it is important to remember that we need to listen to the voices of the victims.  IDPs in Darfur  are asking the government of Sudan and the international community to consider their demands.  Their demands are simple, yet complex: security and the return to their land. 

      As the international community pushes for peace in Darfur it is imperative that the victims and their demands are always considered in whatever deal is contrived.  So as you push the Darfur agenda at your school and in your community don’t forget about the victim’s agenda to achieve lasting peace. 

NATO Airstrike Exemplifies Heavy Impact to Civilians in Afghanistan

A NATO airstrike that killed at least 70 civilians in northern Afghanistan last Friday has set off a flurry of queries and concerns about the heavy civilian death tolls caused by such operations.


The attack, which targeted two fuel tankers hijacked by Taliban fighters , struck in the northern province of Kunduz, an area previously considered relatively safe and stable.   


Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, expressed regret that any civilians had been killed upon visiting the site, as Afghan president Hamid Karzai called the airstrike a major “error of judgment.”  Yet while condemning the airstrike’s civilian impact is an appropriate and positive response, more persuasive action must be taken to prevent civilian deaths.


NATO, which has already begun conducting a probe into the incident, admits that civilians were killed or injured. Its investigation must answer why German forces, who called in the airstrike, failed to note the heavy civilian presence near the tankers before the bombs were dropped. The German Defense Ministry has defended the troops’ decision, saying the presence of armed Taliban fighters triggered the order to strike. Nonetheless, scores of unarmed, non-combatants surrounded the tanks and were the primary victims of the attack. The United Nations mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, is following up with its own investigation into whether the attack was even warranted.


Under Gen. McChrystal’s command, the rules for launching air strikes have been tightened, and the number of airstrikes has been halved in the last year. Although his policy of prioritizing civilian protection above large combat operations is a positive sign, this latest attack demonstrates civilian casualties are still occurring on a massive scale in Afghanistan.


Any investigation and policy analysis must consider how to minimize civilian impact and emphasize civilian protection as an utmost priority. Afghans deserve safety and stability, especially from the forces which aim to protect the country from radical insurgents.


Furthermore, incidents like this exemplify why the current conflict in Afghanistan has prompted GI-NET to monitor the country as an Area of Concern. The rising number of civilian deaths due to counter-insurgency operations, coupled with insurgent attacks, presents a worrisome downward trend in the security of the Afghan population.


“As commander of the International Security Assistance Force, nothing is more important than the safety and protection of the Afghan people,” General McChrystal said in a message to be released to Afghan news organizations. “I take this possible loss of life or injury to innocent Afghans very seriously.”


It’s time these words were met with concrete action. NATO and American forces in Afghanistan must take the increasing numbers of civilian casualties seriously, and make civilian protection their highest priority.


For more information about Afghanistan, visit GI-NET’s informational page.


Weekly News Brief, Week of September 7-13

A roundup of the most urgent and important developments in the conflicts that GI-Net and STAND are monitoring.

·         UNAMID Commanding General Martin Luther Agwai stated that he believes that there is not a war in Darfur at the moment. Before he finished his UNAMID rotation, Agwai characterized much of the ongoing violence as banditry and insecurity. Agwai was replaced as force commander by Rwandan General Patrick Nyamvumba.

·         Two UNAMID civilian staff were kidnapped in the town of Zalingei on Saturday, the latest in a series of kidnappings in Darfur, but the first targeting UNAMID staff.

·         Rodolphe Adada, political head of the UNAMID mission, submitted his resignation to Secretary General Ban. Adada’s service ended on August 31.

·         Last week, 700 JEM fighters who felt marginalized by JEM’s leadership chose to leave the rebel faction. The 700 are reportedly working on forming their own rebel organization. 

·         The United States is reportedly considering deploying logistics advisors as part of the UNAMID mission.

·         While IDPs in Darfur restated their support for ongoing negotiations between rebels and the government of Sudan, they have requested that the government remove the new settlers and restore lands to the rightful owners before continuing with the peace process. 

·         In Ethiopia to mediate rebel unity talks, US Special Envoy Scott Gration praised Ethiopia’s efforts to bring peace to Darfur and across East Africa. 

·         Sudanese authorities arrested 27 IDPs in North Darfur’s Abu Shouk camp. According to Abdul Wahid Al-Nur, this appears to be an attempt to intimidate Darfuris who oppose the peace process. 

·         The two kidnapped Irish Aid workers are expected to be released during Ramadan.

·         Venezuelan President Chavez invited President al-Bashir to the Africa-South America Summit in Caracas in late October. The summit seeks to increase African-South American ties.


·         Burma’s military occupied the Kokang region after fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Kokang Army forced more than 30,000 people to flee over the border to China’s Yunnan (Hunan) province.

·         The editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News said that the Burmese Army may move against the United Wa State Army after its attacks on the Kokang.

·         China called on Burma to properly handle stability in the region and protect the rights of its citizens, a message that may go unheeded by the Burmese junta. The ongoing offensive appears to show that Burma is more concerned with its domestic policies as opposed to its trade ties with China.

·         The junta reportedly sent seven additional Light Infantry Battalions to Shan state in response to the recent fighting in the Kokang areas.

·         The US is reportedly ready to release a new Burma policy “soon,” once the policy is finalized. The review reignited the debate over the effectiveness of continued sanctions, which have yet to influence the junta’s policies.

·         Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyer appealed her conviction for violating the terms of her house arrest.

DR Congo

·         FPJC militia attacked the villages of Ngombe Nyama and Bodi, south of the Ituri capital of Bunia. The FPJC is partially staffed by members of the former FRPI militia.

·         Undersecretary-General for Field Support, Susana Malcorra said that the UN mandate for MONUC would have to be changed in order to confront the LRA in northern Congo and southern Sudan.

·         The LRA’s new negotiating team said that they want the peace deal with the Ugandan government to be revised and to revisit the provisions governing ICC prosecution of LRA leaders. This comes as LRA fighters have reportedly been seen in the far eastern Central African Republic.

·         The Kimia II operation against the FDLR has reportedly killed more than 500 FDLR members.

·         FARDC soldiers in Uvira, South Kivu reportedly mutinied over a failure by the government to provide their back-pay. The soldiers barricaded the main road, forcing most of the population to remain hidden throughout the day.

·         The ICC trials of accused war criminals Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui were pushed back until November 24 to adjudicate evidentiary issues, rule on whether Katanga’s arrest was lawful and consider protective measures for witnesses. 


·         General Stanley McChrystal, commanding general of US-NATO forces in Afghanistan issued a new set of counterinsurgency guidelines, redefining the protection of civilians in Afghanistan as a central mission for ISAF.

·         A powerful truck bomb killed 41 civilians and injured dozens in the southern town of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold, on Tuesday night. Officials said many of the casualties were women and children. A suicide bombing also killed 23 people in the eastern Laghman province, 100 miles east of Kabul.


·         The Iraqi government issued a report this week stating that last August was the deadliest month in more than a year, with 393 civilians dead and more than 1,500 injured in attacks. The report raises concerns about whether national security forces are properly equipped to defend civilians since the departure of American troops in June.


·         As of Thursday, at least 80 percent of the more than 2 million people displaced by recent fighting in the North West Frontier Province have returned to their homes.

·         A suicide bomber killed 15 police recruits in the Swat Valley city of Mingora. This bombing illustrates the ability of the Taliban to attack security forces despite the recent military gains against the insurgents.

·         The Pakistani military continues its offensive against militants in South Waziristan, as Hakimullah Meshud takes over for Baitullah Mehsud as leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Sri Lanka

·         Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka released a video appearing to depict extra-judicial killings by Sri Lankan troops. The video shows two naked, bound and blindfolded men being executed by a man wearing a Sri Lankan military uniform, with several other bodies in the background. The Sri Lankan government says the footage was staged by the LTTE, though Journalists for Democracy says it was shot in January and is evidence of human rights atrocities. UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston called for an investigation into reports that the Sri Lankan army summarily executed non-combatants earlier this year.

·         Colombo’s High Court sentenced a journalist to 20 years in prison on charges of terrorism and supporting the LTTE on Monday. This prompted the U.S. State Department to state its concerns about the state of media freedom in Sri Lanka. Several human rights groups condemned the verdict, calling it a purely political case.

·         Last Friday the Sri Lankan government said it would resettle 50,000 Tamil refugees within two weeks. More than 260,000 people remain in temporary camps in northern Sri Lanka.


·         Ethiopian troops crossed into Somalia and seized the border town of Beledweyn last Saturday, driving out Al-Shabaab insurgents. TFG officials denied that Ethiopian troops were on Somali soil before the troops partially vacated the town on Monday. This came after TFG officials said they planned to take control of the entire Hiran region,  which includes Beledweyn, from insurgents.

·         One of two French security advisers kidnapped in July escaped his captors last Wednesday.

·         Thousands of IDPs in Somalia’s south-central town of Jowhar are facing a severe food shortage. UN food shipments to the camp stopped in June due to insecurity concerns and no other food has arrived since.

·         A report released last week by the FAO warns that half of the Somali population is now dependent on food aid, especially those in conflict-prone regions.

·         The UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, called for an end to fighting there during the holy month of Ramadan, asking warring parties to cease the cycle of “Somalis fighting Somalis.”

Around the World

·         Violence in Indian-controlled Kashmir has dropped to its lowest levels in twenty years, with killings have dropped to one-per day in the contested region. Over the first seven months of 2009, 195 people, including 45 civilians were killed by violence in Kashmir.

South Sudan

·         41 people are dead and 28 others injured in Jonglei’s Twic East County when cattle raiders from neighboring Lou Nuer attacked a Payam headquarters early Friday. Jonglei’s governor Kuol Manyang attributes the problem to criminality and lack of jobs as opposed to ethnic tensions.  At least 1,200 people have been killed by inter-tribal violence in South Sudan in 2009.

·         Reports released suggest that Kenya and the United States are working together to train the SPLA. The Kenyans are reportedly in South Sudan to train the SPLA in administrative tasks, and not how to use the newly imported T-72 tanks.  


Is the war in Darfur over? [Discussion of the Week]

A weekly guide for your group to use in discussing the critical questions facing us as a constituency.


This week instead of writing a blog post which answers all the questions I will be posing a question to STAND readers. This week the outgoing commander of UNAMID released a statement claiming that the war in Darfur is over. To many this claim seems ridiculous, absurd, and insulting especially to the many refugees and IDPs still reluctant to return to their homes. However, rather than instinctually answering this question I am venturing to ask STAND readers to take a closer look at the conflict.   I have included several press releases from this week from leading news sources in response to the commanders statements. While you are reading about what’s going on the second question that I would like you to ask of the conflict is, Is genocide in Darfur over? While I think that the answer to the first question is almost self-evident and very easy to develop a personal opinion about, the second question requires some more thought and digging. As many are aware proving genocide is a very difficult if not nearly impossible task with regards to Darfur, and leading scholars disagree on the legitimacy of Darfur being considered as genocide. This week I want you to challenge yourself to answer both of these questions. Please send your responses to and we will post them to the blog. 


And from now on, in the spirit of sparking more discussions like this, STAND’s Education Team will be putting forth a Critical Discussion Guide every week on one of the challenging questions facing our actions in the world. Please continue to check the blog every Monday for a new discussion that your chapter can take on in your weekly meetings. And as always, we would love to hear from you about this week’s question or proposing one of your own at


STAND Discussion Guide: Week of 7st-11h of September


Is the war in Darfur over?

  •  How has the conflict in Darfur changed over the years?
  • How do we define “war” versus “conflict” versus “genocide” versus “ethnic cleansing?” What importance do these words have?
  • What is the reality facing civilians on the ground? How can the international community best fulfill its responsibility to protect these civilians at the current state of the conflict?
  • How should the US policy towards Sudan reflect what is happening on the ground? What should remain the same? What should change?
Important Quotes:

"As of today, I would not say there is a war going on in Darfur…Militarily there is not much. What you have is security issues more now. Banditry, localised issues, people trying to resolve issues over water and land at a local level. But real war as such, I think we are over that."– the outgoing head of the joint UN-African Union mission, General Martin Agwai

Although violence has diminished in Darfur, a reading of the relevant international conventions indicates that the genocide is not over for those millions of Darfurians still homeless from earlier attacks, unable to go home, and facing targeted rapes and aid cut-offs based on their ethnic identity.” – Dave Eggers, John Prengergast

 “"There has been a large decline in fighting in Darfur, and that is undoubtedly a good thing for the people…But it is the government that turns the tap on and off – they can restart the violence whenever they want." –Gill Lusk, Sudan analyst

Darfur is the “remnants of a genocide” – Scott Gration, US Special Envoy

“Adada and Agwai make much of a decline in violent mortality; but this decline was inevitable for two reasons. First, the actual military conflict in Darfur has drifted into a tactical and strategic stalemate…Second, given the high levels of previous destruction, there is relatively little that remains in the way of promising new targets … If we assume that the total pre-war population of Darfur was between six and seven million, then approximately 70 – 85 percent of the African population is either displaced or dead.” – Eric Reeves, Sudan analyst

UN Definition of an act of aggression/ war:

News Articles and Reports

Global Post – “War in Darfur Over? Not Quite”

CNN – Dave Eggers and John Prendergast – “Were Darfur Promises for Real?”

BBC News – “War in Sudan’s Darfur is ‘Over’”

The Independent – “War in Darfur is finished, claims UN commander”

Sudan Tribune – Eric Reeves – “Has the war ended in Darfur?”

Sudan Tribune – Mahmoud Suleiman – “UNAMID Agwai turns a blind eye to Sudan Atrocities”

Sudan Tribune – Randy Newcomb “’Save Darfur’ Must Save itself”


Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka Require an Immediate Independent Inquiry

A gruesome video released last week by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka highlights the need for an investigation into possible war crimes and human rights violations that may have been committed during Sri Lanka’s final offensive against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).


The video depicts disturbing and potentially incriminating footage: men dressed in what appear to be Sri Lankan military uniforms shoot two unarmed, naked, bound and blindfolded men sitting on the ground, with several other naked bodies in the background. Though the video’s authenticity has yet to be independently verified, Journalists for Democracy says the video was shot in January 2009, during the Sri Lankan army’s fierce battle against the Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lankan government has refuted that Sri Lankan troops summarily executed Tamil prisoners and claims the video was staged by Tamil supporters who wish to discredit the Sri Lankan army.


Despite Sri Lanka’s dismissal of the footage, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions called for an international, independent investigation into the video’s legitimacy and any possible violations of international law, and has even suggested he would like to visit Sri Lanka to further probe the matter. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice has also expressed concern at the footage’s implications, and several human rights groups have denounced the abuses shown in the video and called for an investigation.


The international community is right to demand an independent inquiry: any possible war crimes and human rights violations committed by either side must be immediately investigated. Extra -judicial killings as depicted in the video are considered war crimes and forbidden by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949. Both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers have been accused of committing human rights atrocities during the 25-years-long civil war, by the U.S. government and international organizations alike, but an inquiry into the accusations has never been officiated.


Now is the time to change that. An independent investigation is a necessary step if the Sri Lankan government seriously intends to promote peace and reconciliation among its people since the war. If the Sri Lankan government is certain its troops would never commit such atrocities, it has nothing to lose by allowing the U.N. to explore the video’s possible incriminations. Yet if its past behavior of prohibiting international media and human rights organizations from observing the war – not to mention its refusal to allow them to enter the detention camps where it keeps the war’s refugees – says anything, it’s that the Sri Lankan government must be pressured to act accordingly. As the current president of the U.N. Security Council, the United States has the chance to propose an investigation be placed on the council’s agenda. We must act now.


Sri Lanka’s civil war devastated the country for 25 years. To move past the damage, justice must be offered. The international community must promptly investigate any possible war crimes and human rights atrocities.


*For more information, visit GI-NET’s Sri Lanka page or the International Crisis Group’s report Sri Lanka: After the War.



Rwanda’s arrest of CNDP’s Gen. Laurent Nkuda is one promising step.

Having claimed the lives of 5.4 million people since 1998, and displaced 250,000 since August 2008, DR Congo’s crisis rages on. More and more people are getting displaced in the Eastern towns of Kivu, Rutshuru and Nyakakoma. And those who manage to return home from exile in neighboring Uganda with assistance of organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are met with mere debris left over from their torched homes. With today’s ongoing resettlement, congestion and disease have become a very big problem. Moreover, violence and insecurity in North and South Kivu are getting worse.
Eastern Congo is mainly suffering at the hands of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR); As recently as April 2009, they attacked and set ablaze two villages of Luofo and nearby Kasiki, killing at least 10 people and destroying at least 260 homes. The FDLR, dominated by Rwandese Hutu natives, has ripped Eastern Congo apart in a continuous fight against the government forces. Adding to their ruins is the Lord’s Resistance Army, a run-away movement from Northern Uganda (whose leader Joseph Kony’s arrest warrant has been issued by the International Criminal Court), which has shifted its operations to the Garamba Forest in North Eastern Congo. They have also continued to abduct, kill and mutilate residents of the occupied region.
Currently, the IRC is one of the most active organizations in North and South Kivu, working to deliver relief supplies like tarps and cooking pots. However, the recent escalation of violence in South Kivu, which drives residents away, is frustrating humanitarian efforts. Besides destroying infrastructure, many displaced people are stuck in far away forests, thereby being inaccessible by rescue teams. Congolese are being evicted, raped and forced to labor for the rebels, as ‘punishment’ for allegedly supporting the government army.
Notably, DR Congo’s current government, under Joseph Kabila, is very weak and not in control of the country. Many mines and forest niches, nationwide, are currently controlled by various rebel groups and war loads who have assumed full control of those areas and even charge taxes. They raid and rape at their discretion, and there seems to be no clear police institution to which victims can report. It will therefore be many years before today’s victims can see justice, if they ever in their lifetime. External support and strengthening of the current government seems to me like a necessary step, considering it has been 11 years of ever deteriorating conflict. The government is not capable of capturing the rebels or keeping them under control; their grip over especially the Eastern part of the country is waning.
However, January 22nd 2009 arrest of Gen Laurent Nkunda, leader of the strongest rebel group (The National Congress for the Defense of the People) in Eastern Congo, by the Rwandese government, is one hopeful step towards cooperation by the East African governments, which will lead to eventual peace. Originally, having claimed to be fighting for the protection of Congolese Tutsis, Gen Nkunda was associated with the interests of the Rwandese Tutsi post genocide government; he was helping them to keep the potentially violent Hutu rebels in Eastern Congo under control. When the Rwandese government allied with their Congolese counterparts against the Hutus however, Nkunda changed sides and caused havoc in Kivu, in a bid to gain power. With the new emergent peace loving attitude in the region, the Congolese and Rwandese governments joined hands to arrest him, in an effort to halt his army’s atrocities and move towards general peace in the region. Gen Nkunda had a stronghold over Kivu, Bunagana, Jomba, Bushaki, among other towns, and was threatening to take over Goma. Accused of violating human rights, his army is accused of having raped, abducted, pillaged villages and recruited child soldiers. In what he termed as protecting Congolese Tutsis of Eastern Congo against Hutu rebels (former executers of the 1994 genocide, now based in Eastern Congo), Gen Nkunda had facilitated what has come to be known as the Kivu conflict.

Sharon Muhwezi,
STAND Education Team.


Child Soldiers in Darfur and Burma

Two weeks ago, the Thai-Burmese border-based Yoma News Service released a report detailing the Burmese army’s widespread use of under-age soldiers in combat operations. In October 2002, Human Rights Watch detailed the policy of forced under-age conscription instituted by the Burmese regime, suggesting that "70,000 or more of the Burma army’s estimated 350,000 soldiers may be children." In response to Human Rights Watch’s report, the United Nations formed a Committee for the Protection of the Recruitment of Child Soldiers. The committee’s efforts to enforce the Convention on the Rights of the Child were ineffective. Child soldiers remain a widespread tool for the Burmese army’s genocidal policies in the eastern Karen and Shan States. In fact, the Human Rights Watch report suggested that "Burma is believed to have more child soldiers than any other country in the world."

Though the Burmese junta maintains that the presence of child soldiers is entirely voluntary, the recent Yoma3 report and the 2002 Human Rights Watch report suggest otherwise. Forced conscription occurs among the Burmese army and its proxies as well as among ethnic minority opposition groups. The international community’s feeble attempts to enforce the Convention on the Rights of the Child and, in doing so, uphold the responsibility to protect are blights on our maintenance of human rights. The United States has yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, precluding any conscientious American leadership on the issue of Burmese child soldiers. During Hillary Clinton’s Senate confirmation hearings, blogger Mark Leon Goldberg, of UN Dispatch, indicated the Obama administration’s intention to ratify the Convention sometime over the next four years. It is time to make that intention an actionable reality, in order to overturn the widespread policy of forced under-age conscription in Burma and ensure the security of Burmese children in conflict areas.

Burma’s isolation from the international community frequently muddles our efforts to ensure the protection of human rights throughout the war-ravaged country. Positive steps can be made, however, with regard to the status of child soldiers in genocidal conflicts. The joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) recently facilitated the initial stages of the UN Children’s Fund’s Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program. According to the UN News Service, "[t]hirty-six child soldiers who once served with an armed rebel movement in Sudan’s Darfur region have been voluntarily demobilized and given assistance so they can return to school and their communities." DDR programs have limited effectiveness where UN peacekeeping forces do not operate, as in Burma. UNICEF’s efforts in Darfur, however, demonstrate a genuine commitment by the international community to removing the plight of forcibly conscripted child soldiers in Darfur. We must demonstrate the same commitment to the children of Burma. We must push for an end to forced conscription in the Burmese army and among ethnic minority opposition groups. We must urge ratification of the legally-binding Convention on the Rights of the Child, first and foremost by the United States government. The norms of universal human rights mandate that we reignite our efforts to ensure the protection and well-being of Burmese children, and of children everywhere.

-Daniel Solomon, National Burma Education Coordinator.
Twitter: STANDburma


Reflections on Martyrs’ Day and Aung San

Sunday marked the 62nd anniversary of Martyrs’ Day, the Burmese national holiday commemorating the triumph and assassination of Aung San, the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, and his companions in the fight for Burmese independence from British rule. Demonstrators from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) peacefully marched to the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Rangoon, only to confront a thousand-strong conglomerate of repressive riot police, soldiers, and security forces. The junta’s forces arrested 50 pro-democracy activists. Such actions hardly bolstered the regime’s claim to sincerity regarding the limited-amnesty "promises" of Burma’s permanent representative to the UN

Martyrs’ Day’s symbolic worth stems not only from the withering legacy of Aung San’s independence movement, but also from the brutal crackdowns that frequently surround Martyrs’ Day demonstrations. The Burmese junta’s violent suppression of pro-democracy protests since the 1988 resignation of General Ne Win and ascendancy of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) have lent greater relevance to Aung San’s freedom cries. Indeed, Aung San Suu Kyi’s permanence as a leading Burmese advocate for democracy, human rights, and political freedom stems in part from her father’s history. Aung San’s commentary on the separation of powers between the military and the popularly-elected executive, respect for the democratic process, and unity between ethnic minorities remains pertinent to this day. Insofar as Aung San became both the practical and symbolic leader of Burma’s independence movement throughout the 1930s and ’40s, his daughter has undertaken a similar role in Burma’s movement against the tyranny of authoritarianism and military rule. 
Burma has indisputably achieved its independence, but Aung San’s work is far from complete. His quest for ethnic unity remains unfulfilled–Burma remains a balkanized confederation of largely-homogeneous states. Greatly disturbed by the conflict between the ethnic minority Karens and the majority Burmese, Aung San incorporated a Karen battalion into the anti-imperialist Burmese army. Such demonstrations of goodwill, however, did little to ameliorate ethnic tensions. As human rights advocates like STAND have noted, the military junta has engaged in a policy of mass "Burmanization" in the Karen State of eastern Burma. In May, Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic issued a report, authored by a group of five internationally-renowned jurists, describing the dearth of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in the Karen State by the Burmese regime. The majority of Burma’s 500,000 IDPs have been displaced by the junta’s decades-long military campaign against the Karen National Union (KNU) and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). The regime has restricted regional access for humanitarian aid groups, manipulating outbreaks of dengue fever and malaria to perpetuate human suffering. Campaigns of mass rape, torture of political prisoners, and extra-judicial killings have also become present realities for civilians in eastern Burma. There are indications that the regime also seeks to increase its military presence in the Kachin State of northern Burma, a worrisome prospect for the Kachin civilian population.

Such government atrocities indicate the limitations of Aung San’s work, and the extent to which Burma must progress to truly fulfill Aung San’s legacy of national unity. Unfortunately little can be done: though Congress looks towards renewing sanctions against the Burmese junta (in the form of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act), and the EU has threatened sanctions pending the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s primary providers of security and economic support–China, Thailand, Russia–remain more or less steadfast in their neglect of the regime’s unwillingness to observe the "responsibility to protect." Until the international community can urge action on the part of the aforementioned countries, the fulfillment of Aung San’s legacy will remain stalled in history.

-Daniel Solomon, National Burma Education Coordinator.