The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

What You Need To Know: Week of 4/20/15


Sixteen Burmese soldiers were killed and over 100 wounded during fighting between the Burmese Army and the Kokang rebels of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The fighting erupted on Thursday, April 16 in northeastern Burma near the border with China. More than 40 civilians were injured according to reports. The fighting comes just after a draft national ceasefire agreement was reached last week and the Burmese Army apologized to Beijing for bombing rebels in Chinese territory. In the past two months, fighting between the Burmese Army and MNDAA has killed over 100 people and displaced thousands of civilians, though the exact number is not known due to the remote location of the conflict.

On Friday, April 10, the first of six party talks on constitutional reform was held. The talks’ six participants include President Thein Sein, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, speaker of the lower house of parliament Shwe Man, speaker of the upper house of Parliament Khin Aung Myint, commander-in-chief of the military Ming Aung Hlaing, and ethnic representative Aye Maung. The group agreed to amend the constitution written in 2008, which many critics believe give too much power to the once-ruling military. Currently, one in every four seats of Burma’s parliament are reserved for military personnel. Additionally, the constitution bans candidates with foreign-born children from running for president, a clause many believe was written specifically to target Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Burmese government has reportedly hired a Washington, DC lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, to represent the country’s interests in the United States at the cost of $840,000 per annum. The Podesta Group was established in the late 1980s, and its founders have close ties to the Clinton and Obama Administrations, as well as Hillary Clinton’s current presidential campaign.

Central African Republic (CAR)

On April 13, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that it reunited eleven displaced children with their families in the Central African Republic. The children were forced to seek refuge in Chad over a year ago in the wake of CAR’s sectarian civil war. This was the first family reunion operation between Chad and the Central African Republic since the start of the conflict in December 2013, though one of many that the ICRC conducts on a periodic basis.

The environment was less optimistic at the United Nations Security Council, where on April 14 the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Babacar Gaye, told the body’s representatives that conflict between Muslim Séléka and Christian anti-Balaka militias are still ongoing. He expressed hope however for the upcoming Bangui Forum on reconciliation, which he noted would be an “important milestone” in the CAR’s transition. He also noted that while MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping force in CAR, has performed remarkably in stabilizing the country, “[r]estoring security, promoting an inclusive political dialogue and completing the transition is just the beginning of the CAR’s long journey towards stability and sustainable development”.

On April 16, President Barack Obama nominated Jeffrey Hawkins Jr., a career foreign service officer, to become the U.S. ambassador to the Central African Republic.  Mr. Hawkins would replaced Ambassador Lawrence Wohlers, who has served as Ambassador to CAR since September 2010.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The UN Security Council (UNSC) renewed MONUSCO’s mandate at the end of last month, reducing the mission’s troop size by 2,000. The mandate renewal comes at a time of turmoil for many parts of the DRC: armed groups such as the Force de résistance patriotique de l’Ituri (FRPI) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) remain active in Orientale province, while the FDLR continues to destabilize parts of North Kivu. The renewal also comes at a time of tension between the UN and the Congolese government. While both parties desire a reduction in militia-sponsored violence, Kinshasa refuses to accept UN intervention in its political affairs as the 2016 elections cycle approaches.

Controversy emerged in early April as Congolese authorities acknowledged the existence of a mass grave containing over 400 corpses in Maluku, a suburb of Kinshasa. Authorities reportedly buried the bodies under the cover of darkness on March 19. UN officials continue to call for the government to exhume the bodies, while the state remains ambiguous on any action it plans to take. While the Kabila administration maintains that the deceased include unborn fetuses and members of the Kinshasa homeless community, advocates suspect that the number may also include victims of government suppression related to pro-democracy activism. The interim governor of Kinshasa, Robert Luzolamu Mavema, accused Congo’s Red Cross of complicity in the mass burial, though the organization denies these claims.

In late 2013, the UN deployed its first ever contingent of unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVS or “drones”) in organization history in eastern DRC, to monitor the movements of armed groups across difficult terrain. Some neighboring states voiced concerns that the drones may serve covert purposes across international borders, while others welcomed the technology as a tool to combat illegal militias. In February 2015, the UN released a peacekeeping performance report favoring the use of UAV technology in conflict regions. In late March, the UNSC adopted a resolution calling for accountability in the organization’s use of these “flying cameras.” Many within the UN view drone surveillance as the next frontier for civilian protection and combating human rights abuses.


Last week, Islamic State forces besieged the primarily Palestinian refugee-inhabited city of Yarmouk. Since ISIS seized control of the city, the humanitarian situation for the 18,000 residents has rapidly deteriorated. Though the invasion of ISIS has further blocked residents’ access to humanitarian aid, even prior to the siege by ISIS, Syrian military forces impeded the delivery of vital supplies and provision of medical treatment to its residents. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called Yarmouk refugee camp “the deepest circle of hell,” and is coordinating a mission to secure humanitarian access to civilians with UNRWA commissioner general, Pierre Krähenbühl. Speculation has emerged that the mission may include negotiations with Islamic State militants. Krähenbühl is currently in Syria consulting the U.N. special envoy on methods of transmitting humanitarian aid to Yarmouk residents.

A new report released by Human Rights Watch claims that the Syrian regime used toxic chemical weapons against Syrian civilians in a spate of barrel bomb attacks this March. The reports are confirmed by recorded videos, as well as eyewitness accounts of civilians, local activists, and journalists. The accounts contain reports of barrel bombings from helicopters, and numerous civilian and medical-practitioners suspecting the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon. Responding to the disclosure of this evidence, a Syrian security official claimed that the accusations were “lies the insurgents say when they incur losses.”

The United Nations has announced a series of peace talks to take place in May, facilitated by U.N. Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura. According to U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, the talks will involve separate consultations between de Mistura and key parties involved in the conflict. The talks will entail a revival of the failed 2012 Geneva comminiqué, a proposal that outlined a political transition for Syria but failed to address the future of Bashar al-Assad’s presidency. A U.N. official in Geneva claims that Iran, which did not sign onto the Geneva communiqué, may participate in the talks, though this has yet to be confirmed by other U.N. officials.

Emerging Conflicts: Bangladesh

Over 100 people have been killed since January in political violence in Bangladesh. The violence centers around the conflict between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia. Hasina is the head of the ruling Awami League, while Zia is the head of the Bangladesh National Party and the wife of former military dictator Ziaur Rahman. The Bangladesh National Party is also allied with fellow opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami.

Over 300 people were killed in 2013 in conflicts between supporters of the two parties. In January 2014, the opposition boycotted the election and a number of clashes took place between the two parties. Then, on January 5, the anniversary of the 2014 elections, the opposition called for protests against the ruling party. Zia called for her supporters to block roads and railways, but a number of other protests took place as well. The government responded with a harsh crackdown, arresting over 7,000 opposition members. At least 35 opposition activists have also been assassinated. Violence was particularly heavy around January 20. Tactics on boths sides have been brutal, including burning opponents alive with petrol and bombing busses.

Violence continues, and Zia maintains that Hasina should step down and new elections should be held. The economy has suffered enormously from the instability. The garment industry, key to Bangladesh’s economy, has seen exports fall by a third.



What You Need To Know: Week of 4/6/15


The Burmese government has signed a draft ceasefire agreement with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT). The NCCT is a group representing 16 different armed groups in Burma and has been in talks with the Burmese government for months. Fighting between the Burmese Army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) regularly interrupted the talks. The draft agreement was later called “a historic and significant achievement” by the United Nations. A nationwide ceasefire has been one of President Thein Sein’s most important and difficult goal since being elected in 2011.

On Thursday, Beijing announced that Burma had apologized and accepted responsibility for bombing the Chinese province of Yunnan last month. Five people were reportedly killed as fighting between the Burmese Army and a group called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army moved across the border to China.

Central African Republic (CAR)

The border between the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been a hotbed of activity in recent months. Since the arrest of Dominic Ongwen, a top commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army, the LRA has intensified its attacks on villages across the border. On March 21, the LRA kidnapped 15 Congolese refugees and 1 Congolese national and held them for several days before releasing 13 of them. The LRA, a militant group best known for being the subject of “Kony 2012” has been the subject of international attention for its widespread atrocities and use of child soldiers. The kidnappings have inflamed relations between CAR and the DRC.

In another incident, residents in eastern Cameroon reportedly killed a number of suspected fighters from CAR who had attempted a large-scale kidnapping. This followed an attack earlier in the month, when fighters from CAR had kidnapped 16 people near the border. Some suspect that the attack was launched by a rebel group known as the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC), which was at one point a part of the Seleka militia that overthrew the national government in March 2013. The leader of the FDPC was arrested in Cameroon in 2013, and the FDPC retaliated by abducting 26 people. While Cameroon eventually released their leader, tensions were never fully resolved.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

On March 26, the UN Security Council (UNSC) renewed MONUSCO’s mandate. UNSC Resolution 2211 (2015) authorizes MONUSCO to remain in eastern Congo through March of 2016. The new resolution cuts the mission’s troop strength by 2,000 peacekeepers, while retaining an existing 21,000 troop maximum that allows the UN to send additional troops in response to security concerns. Tension remains between the Kabila administration and MONUSCO, and Kabila continues to call for an immediate troop drawdown of 6,000 peacekeepers and to request an explicit timetable for the UN’s departure from the DRC. Speaking for the administration, DRC information minister Lambert Mende said, “no one should come here within the bureaucracy of the UN to transform our country into a colony.” Civil society endorsement of the mandate renewal remains far more positive, however, suggesting that the administration’s views may not represent those of the nation.

National elections in 2016 may prove a crucial test case for the efficacy of Western electoral aid in promoting democracy abroad. On Tuesday, March 31, President Barack Obama called Congolese President Joseph Kabila to express concern over the head of state’s refusal to explicitly refute suspicions that he may seek an illegal third term in 2016. With the departure of U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region Russ Feingold in late February, Western influence in the DRC appears at a crossroads. In response to the detention of a U.S. diplomat earlier this month, the Kabila administration responded that the Congo was not a “sub-prefecture of the United States.” The diplomat has since been released. Meanwhile, activists of the pro-democracy Filimbi movement from Congo, Senegal, and Burkina Faso remain in government custody.

MONUSCO Mission Chief Martin Kobler maintains that the Congolese army’s (FARDC) counter-FDLR operations stand to achieve only limited success in the absence of UN support. Civil society representatives from North Kivu met with Kobler in late March to convey concerns regarding the negative impact that the FARDC offensive continues to impose on Congolese civilians, and to ask the mission to work with Congolese authorities to mitigate these risks. While the FARDC claims success in neutralizing nearly 200 FDLR rebels and driving the force out of twelve towns in the Kivus, residents in North and South Kivu note that the militia retains effective governance over a non-negligible number of towns and villages in the region.


During an official visit to Damascus, Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to discuss increased coordination between the two countries in opposition to Islamic State forces. The current Iraqi government is among the few Arab countries that have continued to voice support for Assad, in spite of the suspension of Syria’s membership from the Arab League in 2011. Although the United States and Iraq coordinate militarily in opposition to the Islamic State, the United States refuses to ally itself with the Syrian regime in this capacity, on account of Assad’s ongoing actions in the Syrian Civil War.

This week, a United States warplane airdropped approximately 60,000 anti-ISIS propaganda leaflets over Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS. The comic-like flyers graphically depict potential recruits lining up in an ISIS recruitment office, only to be placed into a meat grinder. According to Pentagon Spokesman Colonel Steve Warren, the leaflets are intended to discourage people from joining ISIS because, “It’s not beneficial to your health.”

With the Syrian conflict entering its fifth year, the surge in refugees in neighboring countries has been matched by a massive jump in the number of Syrians seeking asylum. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 150,000 Syrians applied for asylum last year, marking a 166 percent increase in Syrian applications since 2013. Syrians alone comprise approximately one-fifth of all asylum seekers.

Chief of the prominent Nusra Front opposition group, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, is calling for greater unity among different Muslim factions in the Syrian city of Idlib, as well as the establishment of a religious court to preside over local issues and restore legal order to the city. In November, the Nusra Front gained control of Idlib by ousting several Western-backed Syrian opposition groups. Al-Jolani has categorically rejected Western support in the fight against ISIS and the Assad regime.

Emerging Conflicts: Yemen

Yemen is in disarray and civilians continue to suffer heavy costs. The Houthis, a primarily northern Shi’ite rebellion, took over the capital, Sana’a, in January. President Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi fled with his government to the southern city of Aden, one of the government’s last remaining areas of control. However, the Houthis are now fighting to take over Aden as well. President Hadi has fled to Saudi Arabia and heavy fighting continues throughout the city.

The Houthis and Iran have been developing a loose alliance. The Houthi rebellion has also been bolstered by support from the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced from office after a series of protests in 2012. Saleh, formerly an opponent of the Houthis, has joined their attempt to remove President Hadi from power, although it is unclear whether this alliance will last. Saudi Arabia remains a staunch ally of the Hadi government, and fears increased Shia and Iranian power in the region. On March 25, Saudi Arabia began leading airstrikes against the Houthis, and may even launch a ground invasion in the future. The United States, also a supporter of the Hadi government, joined the coalition along with Egypt, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain, Jordan, and Sudan. However, the conflict between the Houthis and the Hadi government is not the only conflict in Yemen. A southern separatist movement and a strong al-Qaeda branch, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) both remain active in Yemen.

The conflict is causing massive human costs for Yemeni civilians. The economy is already one of the poorest in the region and economic activity has been heavily disrupted by the fighting. On March 21, a group claiming to be a Yemeni branch of the Islamic State sent suicide bombers into mosques in Sana’a, killing 142 people. UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos estimates that 519 people have been killed in the last two weeks. Heavy fighting in the densely populated cities of Sana’a and Aden has been especially dangerous.

Saudi airstrikes are also incurring massive civilian casualties. On March 30, 29 people were killed when an airstrike hit a camp for internally displaced persons. On March 31, 6 civilians, including four children, were burned to death when an airstrike hit a fuel depot. The next day, 27 people were killed after a strike hit a dairy factory. Humanitarian aid agencies have also struggled to get support into the country due to a Saudi-led blockade. Heightened security risks have put further pressure on the distribution of humanitarian aid, as a Red Crescent worker was recently shot and killed.

The International Crisis Group has called for an immediate ceasefire and a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The Houthis recently expressed their openness to talks, provided that the Saudi-led coalition halts its bombing campaign and that negotiations are conducted by “non-aggressive” parties.

What You Need To Know: Week of 3/25/15


Last week, a United Nations official claimed that Burma is showing signs that it is reversing its much-praised democratic reforms at an accelerating rate. In a report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights council last month, Yanghee Lee, the special rapporteur on Myanmar, cited “a growing atmosphere of fear, distrust and hostility,” and urged the government to “reverse the current slide towards extreme nationalism, religious hatred and conflict.”

In addition, three people (two from Burma and one from New Zealand) have been sentenced to two years in prison for posting an image on Facebook of the Buddha wearing headphones to promote an event. Court officials claimed the image violated the country’s religion act, which prohibits insulting, damaging, or destroying religion.

Looking ahead, Burma is set to hold additional peace talks next week between the Burmese government and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, or NCCT. However, many are skeptical about the upcoming talks as sporadic fighting between the Burmese Army and Kachin Independence Army and a variety of smaller ethnic rebel militias has occurred over the past few weeks.


On 15 March, the Congolese government arrested nearly 30 activists in the capital Kinshasa. Two days later, on 17 March, authorities arrested at least ten peaceful protesters in Goma, North Kivu, as the demonstrators called for the release of the Kinshasa 30. The arrests on 15 and 17 March also included a U.S. diplomat, Belgian journalists, and youth leaders from Senegal and Burkina Faso. The 15 March demonstrations followed a press conference by the pro-democracy youth movement Filimbi. The U.S. embassy provided support for the conference, intended to promote civic engagement among youth. Congolese information Minister Lambert Mende claims that the activists from Senegal and Burkina Faso were arrested for “promoting violence.” On 19 March, authorities released seven musicians arrested during the pro-democracy demonstration, and Mende claims that others will be released “very soon.”

In early March, a coalition of opposition activists visited Washington, D.C. to voice concerns regarding their perceptions of Congolese President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to cede power in 2016. The visiting delegation also explained that the Congolese electoral commission’s (CENI’s) 1.5 billion USD budget stands to impose unnecessary delays on the electoral process. Tensions between opposition parties and Kabila’s ruling coalition remain high: on 5 March, the leaders of seven parties sent a letter to the President stating that January’s #Telema protests signaled a break between the ruling majority and the will of the Congolese people.

Despite a withdrawal of United Nations support, the Congolese military (FARDC) continues to gain ground against FDLR rebels in eastern Congo. In late January, the FARDC launched an offensive against the rebels, rumored to number around 1,400 in DRC’s eastern provinces. The UN withdrew support from the operation in response to the government’s appointment of two generals accused of human rights violations as commanders of the offensive. On 9 March, FARDC captured a key rebel base in Virunga national park, killing 62 FDLR militants and injuring over 100. The mandate for the UN peacekeeping force in eastern Congo, MONUSCO, expires at the end of this month.


Both Syrian rebel groups and the Assad regime have accused each other of employing chemical weapons in attacks. The United Nations Security Council has accepted a United States draft resolution calling for stronger reinforcement against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, referring to a series of chlorine gas attacks carried out from April to August of 2013. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has yet to identify the party responsible for these chlorine attacks, President Assad denies the regime’s use of chemical weapons. However, in a recent statement, U.S. Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, strongly suggested that the Assad regime is behind the chemical attacks.

The commander of Syria’s Nusra Front rebel group, Abu Hammam al-Shami, was killed in an air strike, raising questions about the future of the group’s leadership. While the Syrian military claims responsibility for the attack, early reports pointed to a US-led coalition as responsible for the strike.

In northeast Syria, the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia and Islamic State engaged in combat after ISIS fighters attacked the Kurds using tanks and other artillery. In response, the U.S. led coalition successfully carried out air strikes at night against ISIS bases near the Turkish border. The number of casualties on either side of the fighting has yet to be confirmed.

As the conflict in Syria marked its fourth year since the start of the civil war, the United States Department of State announced it would contribute $70 million to supporting and training opposition forces to the Syrian regime, totaling its contributions at about $400 million since the start of the revolution.

Emerging Conflicts: Burundi

Controversy over this June’s presidential elections has raised fears of violence in Burundi.  The opposition believes that since the Constitution only allows presidents to serve two terms, and as President Pierre Nkurunziza has served two terms, he cannot run again. While Nkurunziza has not officially declared he will run again, he says that the two terms specified in the Constitution only count terms when the President was elected. As he was appointed by Parliament for his first term, he believes that he is eligible to run again.

The opposition party, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), has expressed their clear opposition to a third term Nkurunziza. The Roman Catholic Church, the religion practiced by two-thirds of people in Burundi, has also stated that the Constitution forbids Nkurunziza to run again. Tanzania, a key peace mediator in Burundi, has warned of violence if Nkurunziza attempts to gain a third term. During a visit to the country, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called Nkurunziza’s actions “extremely divisive” and “very destabilizing.” However, many analysts believe that the opposition could win the election even if Nkurunziza runs, and the FNL has confirmed that they will not boycott the elections as they did in 2010. There have also been splits in the ruling CNDD-FDD party. Nkurunziza’s intelligence chief and two deputies wrote to him asking him not to run again, and he responded by firing them. There is no clear successor to Nkurunziza within the CNDD-FDD.

Small cases of violence have already begun. The wife of FNL leader Augustin Rwasa was shot and wounded on 16 March. Rwasa claimed that it was an assassination attempt organized by Nkurunziza. Some fear that Nkurunziza has been arming and training the youth wing of his party, the Imbonerakure, in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.



What You Need To Know: Week of 2/9/15


Nine soldiers from the Burmese Army and one from the Ta’and National Liberation Army or the TNLA] have died during clashes in Burma’s northern Shan State. The source of this clash is uncertain. The TNLA and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are the only two ethnic militias yet to sign a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government. Talks were scheduled for February 12, but have since been postponed until later this month.

In their annual report on human rights, Human Rights Watch said that, “After two years of steady if uneven progress, Burma’s human rights situation was a car crash in 2014.” The report cited the country’s ongoing persecution of Muslim Rohingya, backtracking on media freedoms, continuing imprisonment of political prisoners, and maintenance of military personnel in the Parliament. Brad Adam, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, “The army is still calling the shots on major issues, while the government seems confident it has satisfied other countries to keep the aid and investment dollars flowing.”

In addition, a United Nations human rights envoy to Burma was criticized by the Burmese government in response to their recent visit. Burma claimed the visit infringed upon Burma’s sovereignty and further contributed to domestic tensions. Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma, claimed she and her team acted in a “constructive manner” and well within their mandate and Burma’s obligations to various human rights treaties.

Burma has officially opened a deep-sea port for a Chinese oil pipeline off the country’s west coast, according the AP. The project is a joint enterprise between two state-run companies, one Burmese and the other Chinese.

Central African Republic (CAR)

An unconditional cease-fire was reached between the Séléka and the Anti-balaka factions on Thursday, 5 February in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Former Speaker of the Kenyan National Assembly, Kenneth Marende, served as a mediator between representatives of the two factions. Reportedly, the parties agreed to “a cessation of hostilities, and a DDRR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration) agreement.” The interim government of President Catherine Samba-Panza was not a party to the dialogue.

While this is a positive step towards peace and reconciliation, there is little to guarantee the success of this most recent cease-fire. Previous cease-fires have been ignored or reneged upon, either by the signatory parties or by the CAR government, which has struggled to assert authority over the peacemaking process. Less than one week ago, the CAR government challenged the legitimacy of a separate peace deal reached by Séléka and Anti-balaka leaders because it occurred outside of the official government-led peace dialogue.

In other news, the scale of weapons proliferation in CAR was highlighted this week by reports of Chinese-made hand grenades selling for less than the cost of a soft drink in Bangui. Locals can purchase grenades on the black market for less than a dollar, a worrying fact due to the potential risk of upsetting the uneasy cease-fire. The ease of access that any civilian with grievances against the Séléka or the Anti-balaka has to weapons in CAR may undermine the success of this and future cease-fire agreements.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The Congolese parliament convened in January to discuss a proposed electoral law, which would link upcoming 2016 presidential elections to a national census. A census provision, included in Article 8 of the law, would likely delay elections by up to three years and prolong current President Joseph Kabila’s tenure. In response to the proposal, a week of civil society protests and the corresponding law enforcement crackdown left 20 to 40 demonstrators dead. In the end, parliament rejected Article 8, exposing division in the political coalition of President Joseph Kabila. Opposition activists view the rejection of Article 8 as a partial victory. They are now calling for the Congolese electoral commission (CENI) to release an explicit timetable for the upcoming elections. In a press statement on 5 February, Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende announced that Kabila intends to step down after his term ends in 2016.

On 29 January, President Kabila announced the beginning of Congolese military (FARDC) operations against the FDLR, a rebel militia in eastern Congo with an estimated 1,400-2,000 remaining combatants. Kabila’s statement came as a surprise to UN officials, who threatened to withdraw support from the offensive after the DRC government appointed two generals accused of mass rape and summary executions as commanders of the operation. DRC information minister Lambert Mende stated on 5 February that the FARDC plans to move forward with military operations while retaining the accused, Generals Bruno Mandevu and Sikabwe Fall, as commanders. The FDLR expressed a commitment to disarmament once more on 30 January, while the U.S. Department of State expressed support for the offensive, provided that operations are “conducted in a way that protects and minimizes the impact on civilians, in accordance with international law, including international humanitarian law, and in line with the UN’s human rights due diligence policy.”

Criticism continues to amass in opposition to Dodd-Frank Section 1502, a provision in a U.S. law intended to regulate trade in conflict minerals in the DRC. Critics assert that the law poses harmful consequences for the nearly ten million Congolese civilians who depend on mining to earn a living. Rather than freeing these miners from forced labor and human rights abuses, skeptics maintain that, in the absence of livelihood support programs, the law pushes newly unemployed miners deeper into poverty. Proponents of conflict minerals policy contest that in the months following Dodd-Frank’s enactment, two-thirds of surveyed mines in eastern Congo became certifiably conflict free. They also note a reduction in violence against civilians in many mining communities.


A British monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), has released a report claiming that so far this year ISIS has killed 50 civilians accused of religious dissent, apostasy, or spying on behalf of enemy fighters. In November, SOHR released a report claiming that ISIS had killed 1,432 captives, civilians, and combatants since the Islamic State declared a caliphate in June 2014.

The Islamic State released a video depicting a man, identified as Jordanian military pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh, being burned alive. ISIS captured al-Kasasbeh in December after he ejected himself from his F-16 fighter jet. The video comes three days after the news of the second decapitation of a Japanese hostage, Kenji Goto, at the hands of ISIS. King Abdullah of Jordan responded to the news of al-Kasasbeh’s murder by cutting short his trip to Washington to return home. In an online video broadcast, King Abdullah voiced his solidarity with the pilot’s family, claiming that the event would “only make us stronger.” A Jordanian army spokesperson said that the nation’s reaction to the murder would “be proportional to this catastrophe that has struck all Jordanians.” Jordan’s immediate response has included the execution of Iraqi prisoner and failed suicide bomber, Sajida al-Rishawi, whose release was demanded by ISIS in exchange for the life of Goto. As King Abdullah met with the pilot’s family, the Jordanian military carried out air strikes against an ISIS stronghold in the Syrian city of Raqqa. Commenting on the air strikes, a Jordanian army statement said it was “just the beginning.”

The Islamic State has retreated from the northern region of Kobani, admitting that repeated US airstrikes were the primary impetus. Kurdish forces, assisted by the US military, celebrated the victory as an important step toward expelling ISIS entirely from the region. In September 2014, ISIS captured over 300 towns in the region, forcing the exodus of 200,000 Kurdish residents. Although a few villages outside Kobani remain under ISIS control, Kurdish officials said that Kurdish YPG fighters have launched an offensive to reclaim the territories.

Emerging Conflicts: Ukraine

Ukraine is at a crossroads after heavy fighting in recent weeks.  Despite the signing of the Minsk agreement, which called for an immediate ceasefire to the fighting, in September, conflict has continued in the Donbass region. Little progress has been made by pro-Russian rebels or Ukrainian forces. Although Russia maintains that it is not sending weapons or troops into Ukraine, the Ukrainian government has repeatedly insisted that this is not the case.

Fighting has escalated in the last few weeks with shelling of civilian areas common. In the last three weeks of January at least 224 civilians were killed, according to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. The violence has been most severe in the Donetsk region, much of which has been proclaimed part of the Donetsk People’s Republic. The heaviest fighting in this area has taken place in Debaltseve, which is still controlled by Ukrainian troops but is nearly surrounded by rebel forces. Much of the town has been forced to evacuate. While the Ukrainian army has held its ground so far, it lacks resources and strong leadership and looks likely to lose the town. Additionally, Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the rebels, has called to increase his army to 100,000 troops. The city of Donetsk has also seen shelling in recent days.

Foreign nations are weighing decisions that look likely to change the course of the conflict. NATO has announced that it will be creating a 5,000 soldier rapid response force to support Ukraine. While the US has avoided arming Ukrainian forces throughout the conflict, it is considering sending arms. However, the news that President François Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany will be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin have raised some hope of an upcoming peace plan.

Ukraine has a number of worries besides the most recent fighting. The Ukrainian economy is in collapse and the hryvnia was the worst performing currency in the world last year. The IMF is currently negotiating a bailout with the Ukrainian government. Over 5,000 people have been killed in the conflict since it began in early 2014.

What You Need To Know: Week of 2/2/15


According to recent reports, as many as 2,000 civilians from both Burma and China are trapped in Burma’s northeast due to ongoing fighting. The fighting erupted primarily around jade mines between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army in Kachin State. Further straining the relationship between Burma and China is the arrest of more than 100 Chinese citizens, also in Kachin State. Burmese officials believe that those arrested were planning to engage in illegal jade mining or logging. Chinese officials questioned the validity of the charges and are currently pursuing diplomatic channels to resolve the growing tensions between the two countries.

Burma’s Parliament is considering a 20% budget increase to boost educational, defence, and health initiatives for the next fiscal year’s budget, which would begin on April 1, 2015. How to allocate funding between military initiatives and social services is under debate. Burma is the poorest country in Southeast Asia, but according to Burma’s constitution, the military is guaranteed 25% of the seats in Parliament. Burma’s Parliament also heard debates on so-called “religious protection” bills that would put restrictions on interfaith marriage and religious conversions in an effort to strengthen the relative majority position of Buddhism in the predominantly Buddhist country. Many critics of the bill believe it will specifically target the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim group in Burma’s west that are denied citizenship, used as force labor, made to live in camps, and denied other basic rights by the Burmese government, which is justified by a 1982 citizenship law.

Central African Republic

Séléka fighters attempted to kidnap two senior CAR government officials this week, highlighting the continued instability and the growing boldness of the Séléka rebel coalition. The CAR Minister for Youth and Sport, Armel Ningatoloum Sayo, was kidnapped on January 25th by a group of armed gunmen; his present fate remains unclear. In a separate incident, Séléka fighters also attempted to kidnap the CAR Minister of Education, Eloi Anguimate, as he was traveling through a northern market town. Anguimate managed to escape his captors; however, his accompanying assistants and several local officials were taken captive.

The United States issued a statement condemning the kidnappings and recent attacks against UN officials and humanitarian aid workers. The statement reaffirmed U.S. support for free and democratic elections, while condemning those “who would foment violence and disrupt the transition process.” Earlier in the week, two French aid workers working for a Catholic medical organization were also kidnapped—ironically by Christian anti-balaka fighters.

Leaders from the United Nations joined the U.S. in condemning the violent militia leaders, calling for the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity. The proposal stems from the findings of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Central African Republic, which issued a report in December of last year warning of ethnic cleansing and the growing risk of genocide.

In brighter news, the vice president of CAR’s Catholic bishop conference announced that Pope Francis intends to visit the war-torn country later in the year, in an effort to “bridge the gaps between [the Muslim and Christian populations] and direct them towards dialogue and reconciliation.”

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

On 19 January, protests erupted In Kinshasa and in other urban areas across the DRC-notably Goma and Bukavu in the east. Activists rallied against a proposed law that would tie 2016 presidential elections to a census, causing delays in the electoral process of up to several years and illegally extending current President Kabila’s tenure. In response to protests, Congolese police opened fire on demonstrators. Estimates put the total fatality count at 20-40 activists. The government also shut down mobile phone and internet-based communication for several days in an effort to curb the protests. Key Congolese opposition leader Étienne Tshisekedi released a statement on the second day of the demonstrations, expressing solidarity and condolences for victims of police brutality. On 23 January, the Congolese Senate heeded the will of the public and decided to reject the census measure. For a visual representation of the demonstrations, amateur video from Congolese videographers may be accessed here (warning: includes several graphic images).

In August, the DRC and its regional partners set a repatriation deadline for the FDLR militia, requiring forces to surrender or face military action by 2 January 2015. Martin Kobler, civilian chief of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the DRC (MONUSCO) estimates that 1,400 to 2,000 FDLR militants remain active in eastern Congo — a reduction of about 90% from the group’s original strength in 1994. While Kobler states that UN forces are trained and pre-deployed to mount an offensive against the group, U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Lasdous warns that any action must proceed cautiously in an effort to limit civilian casualties, given the militia’s immersion within Congolese communities. Some analysts believe that military action on the part of MONUSCO and the Congolese army (FARDC) is unlikely to yield success against the FDLR, chiefly because the militia is likely to simply flee under military pressure.

Fifteen years ago, the United Nations (UN) passed UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325, calling on women to actively participate in international peacebuilding processes. In eastern Congo, while awareness of Resolution 1325 continues to grow, women still experience significant barriers to participation in the peace process. Women in prominent political and civic roles often face accusations of promiscuity from their male peers, to the effect that many remain pressured into silence. Women activists lament that where peacekeeping organizations may have gender quotas to ensure female representation, the females in these organizations are often forced to accept marginal roles.


Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international non-governmental organization dedicated to providing medical aid to those in need, stated late last week that the Sudanese government is systematically blocking aid from reaching civilians. Because of the government’s continued interference in aid delivery, the organization has stopped its mission in Sudan. After repeated government interference and the bombing of an MSF hospital, the organization has decided it is too risky to stay in a country where the government does not want them. Although some factions of MSF will stay behind in less hostile areas of Sudan, the majority of MSF work in the country will stop.

Additionally, there have been reports that Sudanese rebels in Sudan’s South Kordofan province have detained six Bulgarians working for the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). The flight, which was scheduled to fly from South Sudan to Khartoum, had to land in an area determined an active war zone. The rebels suspected the helicopter of being a government army helicopter, and those aboard were removed from the aircraft for questioning. The rebels have stated that they will release the Bulgarian workers as soon as they confirm that they are with the WFP and “not for the benefit of the Sudanese government”.

Finally, reports have emerged that Sudan’s army has faced severe losses at the hands of the rebel forces. The government defeat reportedly came after local militias loyal to the Sudanese government known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) mutinied in a garrison in South Kordofan. The leader of the rebel faction, Yasser Arman stated that, “Bashir knows he cannot crush what he calls rebellion.” He also claimed that this was the largest attack on government forces since the outbreak of the war in 2011.

South Sudan

The African Union (AU) issued a statement on 31 January in Addis Abba, Ethiopia threatening potential sanctions on South Sudan. The proposed sanctions will be imposed on all warring parties in South Sudan who continue to violate the cessation of hostilities agreement. The United Nations Security Council and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the East African regional bloc, have also threatened to impose sanctions.

The African Union is currently under heat from many human rights organizations for deferring the publishing of its official report on the atrocities committed in South Sudan. According to Amnesty International, the African Union’s Commission of Inquiry has filed a report on the atrocities committed in South Sudan, but refuses to publish it. The commission’s job in South Sudan was to investigate human rights abuses committed by both sides of the conflict and offer recommendations for accountability. Amnesty accused the AU of failing “the thousands of South Sudanese victims who are waiting for truth and justice”.

Finally, President Salva Kiir and rebel rival, Riek Machar have been in peace talks in Addis Ababa since Wednesday. There were rumors that President Kiir was not healthy enough to attend talks, but these rumors were deemed untrue by doctors and the talks have resumed. WHile President Kiir and former Vice President Machar have agreed to form a unity government, they remain deadlocked over the powers of the future prime minister.


According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), as of December 2014, 200,000 Syrians have been killed in the civil war that grew out of the Arab Spring in 2011. Director Rami Abdul Rahman of the British-based monitor claims that these numbers underestimate a much greater death toll, though this has yet to be confirmed by organizations such as the United Nations, which last updated its figure in August 2014.

After insufficient funding forced the suspension of a food assistance program to Syrian refugees, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) launched a successful 72-hour fundraising campaign that exceeded the $68 million needed to continue the program. Thanks to donors and continued cooperation between the WFP and host country governments, the United Nations resumed providing food vouchers to the 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt.

New cases of foreign hostages by the Islamic State have surfaced, most notably the kidnapping of Japanese reporter Kenji Goto and military contractor Haruna Yukawa. In a video released to YouTube, their captors threatened the two Japanese citizens with murder, demanding $200 million (the same amount that Japanese President Shinzo Abe pledged in non-military aid to Middle Eastern countries combating the Islamic State) from Japan before the expiration of a 72-hour deadline. After failing to respond to the ransom, Islamic State released a photograph of Yukawa beheaded, and demanded the release of Jordanian militant, Sajida al-Rishawi, in order to spare Goto’s life.

The Saudi Arabian-backed Islamist armed opposition group, Islam Army, fired between 50 and 150 rockets on Damascus in one of the city’s largest attacks in a year, killing at least seven people. With the passing of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah and subsequent appointment of King Salman, it remains to be seen how the Kingdom will proceed in its commitment to fighting the Islamic State. Near Aleppo, the Al-Qaeda-supported Nusra Front attacked and killed four members of the western-backed Free Syrian Army group’s Hazm Movement. The Free Syrian Army’s Hazm Movement is supported by the United States and is among the few non-Islamist rebel groups that oppose Assad. Near the border between Turkey and Syria, Kurdish fighters backed by the United States have nearly reclaimed the town of Kobani from Islamic State militants who seized the territory in July of 2014. United States-backed forces have bombed Islamic State holdings in Kobani, and are aided by Syrian Kurdish YPG and Iraqi Kurdish groups in their efforts to expel Islamic State militants.

On the international front, results of a four-day consultation of Russian diplomats and experts by Syrian delegates were inconclusive, largely due to the absence of the Syrian National Coalition and other key stakeholders in the conflict. Russia continues to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the Syrian and Russian delegations focused on the importance of fighting terrorism, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov offering to facilitate local cease-fires in Syria between the government and opposition forces.

In the United States, the Republican-led House Committee on Homeland Security, responsible for granting the admission of refugees to the US, questioned the Obama administration’s plan to resettle greater numbers of Syrian refugees. Congressional representatives sent a letter to the White House citing national security and terrorism concerns about the plan. The State Department’s expects to admit between 1000 and 2000 Syrian refugees this year, and is currently reviewing around 4000 applications for resettlement.

Emerging Conflicts: Yemen

Yemen’s state is on the verge of collapse after Houthi forces took over the capital of Sana’a on 20 January. The rebels beat back government forces and surrounded the capitol. After the rebels offered a number of demands to President Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi, the President, his cabinet, and the Prime Minister chose to resign. The move seems to have caught the Houthis by surprise and it is not clear who is actually in charge of the country. While normally power would be transferred to the vice president, Hadi had still not named a vice president after three years in office. The next in line is the speaker of Parliament, Yahya al-Rai’i, but Yemen has not had parliamentary elections since 2003 and al-Rai’i only became speaker after his predecessor died in 2007.

The Houthis seem to have wanted large influence over the government but not to formally take it over. However, they have suggested that they will name a Presidential Council to rule the government. If the Houthis do take power, they will likely struggle to control the country.  The rebel group, which is from the north of the country, has little control over the South.  There have been reports that southern parts of the country will push for secession, but al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is also strong in that part of the country. Yemen is also heavily reliant on Saudi aid, and this would likely be withdrawn if the Houthis take power.  Another complication is that the Houthis rise to power was facilitated by an alliance with their long-term enemy, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, but it is unclear how long that alliance will last. Saleh was forced to leave office in 2012 after major protests, but he seems to have worked with the Houthis to remove power from President Hadi. There is also the possibility that Hadi’s resignation will be rejected.

The conflict is shaped by religious affiliations and international political alliances, but these defy easy categorizations. Hadi’s government was Sunni and backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is also Sunni but strongly opposed the ruling government and the Houthis. AQAP has been a major target of US drone strikes, making Yemen a key area of the United States’ counterterror strategy. The Houthis seem to have support from Iran but are acting independently. Both Iran and the Houthis are Shia, although they come from different sects, Twelver and Zaydi, respectively. While the Houthis are a Shia rebel group, they have also worked with Sunni groups in the past. They have tried to address many popular grievances with the government and have participated in nonviolent actions against the government. Still, the often aggressive methods of the Houthis have caused them to be distrusted by many Sunni groups.



What You Need To Know: Week of 12/4


President Thein Sein said in an interview that the plight of the Rohingya is a media fabrication. He denied allegations of human rights violations being committed by government authorities against the stateless Rohingya people in western Burma. He also claimed that international organizations have been conspiring with media outlets to produce such stories.

In other news, Burma’s federal parliament requested a meeting to discuss constitutional reform last Tuesday. The high level talks would be attended by President Thein Sein, speakers Shwe Mann and Khin Aung Myint, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, and Arakanese lawmaker Aye Maung (who would represent Burma’s ethnic minorities). The goal of the meeting would be to alleviate the deadlock in amending the 2008 Constitution which grants a great deal of power to the military and has few checks and balances. However, not all proposed participants have agreed to attend the high level talks, as some believe that such a meeting should only be held after the 2020 elections.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

On Friday, November 7, a Congolese military court convicted Jerome Kakwavu, a general in the Congolese army (FARDC) and former rebel fighter, of war crimes. The court sentenced Kakwavu to 10 years in jail. The court found Kakwavu guilty of multiple counts of rape, murder, and torture, and of failing to take necessary measures to prevent human rights abuses by soldiers under his command. The court’s finding makes Kakwavu the highest-ranking Congolese military official to face a war crimes conviction since the start of the First Congo War in 1996.

Reports of an M23 comeback continue to circulate amongst the group’s military and civilian leaders in Rwanda and Uganda. In November 2013, the UN and the Congolese military defeated the March 23 movement. The rebel group occupied the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma for nearly two years prior to the defeat. Dissatisfied with the Congolese government’s refusal to provide amnesty, the M23 reportedly plans to again mount attacks in eastern Congo. The group’s weak current capacity, however, raises doubts about the validity of these claims.

On November 11, Justin Banaloki, military leader of the rebel group Front de Resistance Patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI) and known as “Cobra Mtata,” surrendered to Congolese authorities. Despite the surrender of Banaloki and former FRPI leader Colonel Adirodhu, the whereabouts of other high-ranking FRPI leaders remain speculative. The FRPI militia is based in Ituri province and remains one of the longest-standing armed groups in eastern DRC.

On Monday, November 10, UN peacekeepers opened fire on Congolese civilians in the town of Mbau, shooting and killing one man. The troops opened fire following a dispute over motorcycles blocking the passage of UN vehicles. The next day, activists staged a protest against the actions of the troops. One protester was killed and two others injured during the demonstrations. The dispute follows a period of heightened tension between the UN force in the DRC (MONUSCO) and Congolese civil society, largely resulting from MONUSCO’s inability to stop attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group.

Sudan ** trigger warning: sexual violence **

This week in Sudan, President Al Bashir condemned the UN mission in Darfur as a security burden to Sudan. Despite the continually declining situation in Darfur with the recent report of mass sexual assaults in the region, Bashir has called the UN mission in Darfur, UNAMID, a security burden to Sudan’s own army. Bashir also stated that UNAMID has been falsifying facts, accusing them of being a biased source for information on Darfur.  Bashir also formally asked UNAMID to shut down its human rights offices in the capital, Khartoum.

In a press conference on 30 November, Bashir stated that Sudan is seeking foreign investors for its extractive industries sector, particularly in natural gas. He said that Sudan is interested both in developing natural gas extraction in Sudan and importing gas from other countries. Some analysts speculate that Bashir is hoping that Qatar will invest heavily in this new venture, as the two countries have had increasingly friendly relations.

Additionally, Sudan’s Agricultural Minister, Ibrahim Mahmoud, stated that Sudan is in need of a massive agricultural revolution. He stated that the country needs to start taking drastic measures to change the way their agricultural system works if they are going to be able to feed their population. This would have to include the implementation of modern technology and modern farming methods. The statement came during a World Bank mission on agricultural investment in Sudan.

South Sudan

A recent UN report showed that the number of South Sudanese refugees continues to increase. As the amount of refugees continues to increase, so too does the need for more aid and funding from the international community. Ethiopia, where most of the refugees are now being relocated, is struggling to provide for the South Sudanese refugees on top of its preexisting Eritrean and Somalian refugee populations. The UN warns that without a solid political solution, the number of refugees could rise to 350,000 by the first quarter of 2015. This means that more and more refugees will have to seek shelter across the border in Ethiopia, further straining Ethiopian resources.

Additionally, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) has begun registering South Sudanese families in Khartoum for relocation. The families are waiting to be relocated to refugee camps in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, funding shortages at the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) mean that the refugee camps in nearby Kenya will be receiving 50% less food from the WFP, with similar cuts possible in Uganda in coming months.

Finally, South Sudanese peace activists have called for a national reconciliation process to ensure that any political solution to the civil war is accompanied by lasting social peace between and within communities. While peace-builders agree that the first step priority is to end the fighting, they have emphasized the need to work towards resolving long-standing issues in South Sudan such as lack of accountability for past grievances.


More than 1.7 Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt are facing malnourishment and hunger as the winter sets in. This comes after a funding crisis forced the UN World Food Programme to suspend food vouchers for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. The World Food Programme has previously provided food for millions of Syrians both inside and outside of the country. The voucher programme allows refugees to buy food from local shops, and has injected around $800 million into the economies of the host countries. However, as reported by The Guardian, the WFP has been forced to halt the scheme after falling short of the $64 million needed to support Syrian refugees in December. Funding crises have already forced the UN to reduce funding of rations within Syria, where it provides for up to 4.25 million people. According to the UN, the WFP requires $412.6 million to support almost 3 million Syrian refugees based in neighbouring countries. Syrian refugees are poorly equipped for winter, lacking warm clothing, shelter, and adequate sanitation. António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement: “[The food aid cuts] couldn’t come at a worse time.”

The UN has documented the appearance of a flesh eating maggot disease called Myiases near Damascus. The cases have been documented in Douma, a rebel held suburb that has been under government siege for more than a year, and whose residents have been subjected to terrible sanitation, and scarce food and medical supplies. The disease itself is indicative of the poor sanitary conditions within Syria, as well as threats to the water supply and what WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier calls the poor “socioeconomic circumstances in besieged and hard-to-reach areas. “

ISIS militants have launched an attack on Kobane from Turkey for the first time. The group has been laying siege to the Kurdish town on Syria’s border with Turkey for months, though this is the first instance of attack from Turkey itself. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attack began with a suicide attack by a bomber in an armoured vehicle on the border crossing between Kobane. Turkey has thus far supported Syrian rebels in the fight against the Assad government, and has also limited assistance to Kurdish fighters confronting ISIS, for fear of – as The Guardian calls it – “stoking ambitions for a Kurdish state.”

Both the US-led coalition and the Syrian regime have been intensely bombing Raqqa, the de facto capital of the self-proclaimed Caliphate of the Islamic State. The regime killed almost 100 people last week in airstrikes on Raqqa. On Sunday alone, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented 19 deaths. This includes seven women and children, when Syrian government warplanes hit the town of Jassim in the southern province of Deraa.

Emerging Conflicts: Afghanistan

Taliban attacks continue to wrack Afghanistan. Three compounds used by foreign workers have been attacked in the last two weeks in Kabul, despite the capital having the largest presence of security forces in the country. Although there are not exact figures, dozens of Afghans were killed in the recent attacks in Kabul. Three South Africans, two British embassy workers, and two American soldiers were also killed. The Kabul police chief unexpectedly resigned after the attacks.

Afghan soldiers and the Taliban also fought over the major military base Camp Bastion in Helmand Province. At least five Afghan soldiers and 26 insurgents were killed. Another 14 soldiers died in an attack on a smaller outpost.

The Taliban’s increase in attacks is believed to be in response to President Ashraf Ghani’s support for continued foreign military presence in the country. Although foreign forces are being phased out, more American troops are staying in the country than was originally expected. However, Afghan forces have suffered from poor equipment and organization in the face of increased Taliban attacks. Over 4,600 Afghan forces have been killed this year. Over 1,500 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2014, and it is currently on track to be the deadliest year of the war. There was further discouraging news for Afghanistan this week as its currency fell to its lowest point for 13 years and Oxfam issued a report finding that women have been excluded from peace negotiations with the Taliban.

What You Need To Know: Week of 11/24


On Wednesday, 22 people were killed and another 15 wounded when the Burmese Army shelled a rebel military academy in Laiza, a city in Burma’s northern Kachin State. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which runs the military academy and is headquartered in Laiza, has been fighting the Burmese Army since a ceasefire agreement broke down in June of 2011. The Burmese Army has apologized for the loss of life and claims their attack was “unintentional”. Instead, the Burmese Army said they wanted to “send a warning” to the KIA for a recent rebel attack on government troops building a road 70 km south of Laiza. To read more about the ongoing struggle between the Kachin and Burmese government, click here.

Central African Republic (CAR)

Sectarian violence has rapidly increased in a town in southeastern CAR, displacing thousands according to the UN. Attacks taking place on 17 and 18 November between communities in Zémio, a town near the Central African Republic’s border with South Sudan, mark the ‘first major inter-community incident in the region’ since the crisis began in 2012, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian relief office. On 20 November, fighting between members of the mostly Christian and animist Anti-balaka militia and UN peacekeeping forces left six dead and around ten injured in Cantonnier, a town near the Cameroon border. As fighting continues, faith leaders in CAR have called for an end to the sectarian violence. The Catholic archbishop of Bangui, a Muslim imam, and a Protestant minister announced an interfaith initiative ‘to foster dialogue and social cohesion’ on 10 November.

Reports emerged that the Séléka rebel alliance has taken control of a mine in the village of Ndassima, located in eastern CAR. While all legal trade in diamonds from CAR was stopped over 18 months ago by the Kimberley Process, an international agreement meant to prevent trade in conflict diamonds, trade in gold has continued largely uninhibited. As one miner put it, “Gold is always easier to sell. The control on diamonds is much stricter”. And while the Kimberley Process has stopped legal diamond trade with CAR, diamond smuggling continues.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

On Friday, November 7, a Congolese military court convicted Jerome Kakwavu, a general in the Congolese army (FARDC) and former rebel fighter, of war crimes. The court sentenced Kakwavu to 10 years in jail. The court found Kakwavu guilty of multiple counts of rape, murder, and torture, and of failing to take necessary measures to prevent human rights abuses by soldiers under his command. The court’s finding makes Kakwavu the highest-ranking Congolese military official to face a war crimes conviction since the start of the First Congo War in 1996.

Reports of an M23 comeback continue to circulate amongst the group’s military and civilian leaders in Rwanda and Uganda. In November 2013, the UN and the Congolese military defeated the March 23 movement. The rebel group occupied the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma for nearly two years prior to the defeat. Dissatisfied with the Congolese government’s refusal to provide amnesty, the M23 reportedly plans to again mount attacks in eastern Congo. The group’s weak current capacity, however, raises doubts about the validity of these claims.

On November 11, Justin Banaloki, military leader of the rebel group Front de Resistance Patriotique d’Ituri (FRPI) and known as “Cobra Mtata,” surrendered to Congolese authorities. Despite the surrender of Banaloki and former FRPI leader Colonel Adirodhu, the whereabouts of other high-ranking FRPI leaders remain speculative. The FRPI militia is based in Ituri province and remains one of the longest-standing armed groups in eastern DRC.

On Monday, November 10, UN peacekeepers opened fire on Congolese civilians in the town of Mbau, shooting and killing one man. The troops opened fire following a dispute over motorcycles blocking the passage of UN vehicles. The next day, activists staged a protest against the actions of the troops. One protester was killed and two others injured during the demonstrations. The dispute follows a period of heightened tension between the UN force in the DRC (MONUSCO) and Congolese civil society, largely resulting from MONUSCO’s inability to stop attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group.

Sudan ** trigger warning: sexual violence **

The Sudanese army has increased its presence on the South Sudan border. There have been reports of an increase in tanks, armored trucks, artillery, and other heavy weaponry. This comes a week after escalating violence along the border towns of Sudan and South Sudan where at least thirty-five people have been killed. Amid growing concerns of escalating hostilities, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir flew to Sudan earlier this month to ensure that the 2012 cooperation agreement would remain intact.

Additionally, the United Nations Security Council has urged Sudan to allow the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force to investigate the recent rapes in the Darfur region.  This comes after Sudan closed the Darfur region to further investigation despite outcries from international human rights groups. After being asked to give access on 19 November, Sudan again denied the UN access to Darfur. This leaves the victims without any due process of law or access to counseling.

South Sudan

Last week in South Sudan, the UN demanded the release of one of its staff members who was abducted. The staff member worked for the World Food Programme and was last seen being escorted from an airport check-in queue by armed gunmen. The UN stressed that attacks on humanitarian workers jeopardize aid efforts. As World Food Programme country chief Joyce Luma said, “To bring urgently needed food assistance to hungry people affected by conflict, our staff are working in difficult and dangerous conditions, but we cannot also ask them to risk their lives to do so.”

Additionally, UN agencies have begun to relocate 15,000 South Sudanese refugees within Ethiopia. The refugees have been stranded for several months at a way station in western Ethiopia due to the unexpected flooding of the refugee camp they were meant to be moved to. They are now being moved in shifts to a camp roughly 300 kilometers away from the way station. More than 190,000 South Sudanese refugees have sought safety in Ethiopia since December 2013. Ethiopia is also Africa’s largest provider to refugees, currently housing 600,000 displaced persons.

Finally, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir is currently engaged in bilateral talks with Egypt. These talks are said to mostly focus on trade and investment in agriculture, health, power, electricity, and education. While South Sudan’s defence minister recently struck a military cooperation agreement with Egypt, it remains unclear whether or not the country will seek military assistance from Egypt.


The Syrian regime has this past week continued its escalation of airstrikes on rebel held areas. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Syrian air force in the last month launched about 1,592 strikes across Syria, killing at least 396. The observatory writes that the attacks, coming in the form of air raids and barrel bombs, have injured at least 1500 civilians, and “struck areas in the Hama, Deraa, Idlib, Aleppo and Quneitra provinces as well as the Damascus countryside.”

Aleppo also suffered further aerial bombardment earlier this week, with the AP reporting that Syrian aircraft launched crude explosives on the Qabr al-Inglizi neighbourhood that resulted in the deaths of 14 people. Children were among the dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on on-the-ground activists for key information, said the death toll could still rise, as people still buried under rubble remained unaccounted for. The bombs reportedly struck an ambulance and several microbuses. Despite condemnation from human rights groups and the U.N. Security Council resolution banning their indiscriminate use, the Syrian government has continuously used barrel bombs in densely populated civilian areas throughout the course of the civil war. This tactic is condemned as the bombs are wildly inaccurate, and have left thousands of civilians dead.

Syrian Kurds have made new gains in the fight against ISIS in Kobane, according to the AFP. Hours after a series of airstrikes by the US-led coalition on ISIS positions in central Kobane, Syrian Kurds in the form of The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) staged a “special operation” in which they captured six buildings used by ISIS. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Kurds “captured a large amount of weapons and ammunition, including RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) rounds, light weapons, sniper guns and thousands of heavy machinegun rounds.” Kobane has become a symbol of resistance to ISIS, who have instituted radical interpretations of Islamic law in the areas they have captured. However, Syrian Kurdish troops have been fighting alongside Iraqi Peshmerga forces and Syrian rebels that have defensively bolstered the town’s defences, backed by US-led strikes on ISIS positions. It is estimated that ISIS now controls 20 percent of the town, down from the high of 50.

Emerging Conflicts: Israel-Palestine

Tensions are rising quickly in Jerusalem after attacks and deaths on both sides.  While anger remained from this summer’s violence, controversy has erupted over al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.  The sites are holy to both Jews and Muslims and have traditionally been controlled by the Palestinians.  Jews have been allowed to visit the sites but not to pray there, and about a month ago the Israeli government shut the sites to all visitors.  After suggestions that conservative Jews be allowed to pray at the sites, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of igniting a “religious war”.

There have been a number of incidents in the last month.  About 12 Palestinians have been killed, including a protester shot by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank.  Five Israelis and a foreign visitor have been killed in several attacks, including a knife attack and attacks from Palestinians driving cars. The attacks seem to be directed by individuals, rather than a coordinated by any specific group. On Monday, 17 November, Palestinian bus driver Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni was found hanged.  Israeli authorities deemed his death a suicide but many Palestinians, including his family, believe he was attacked by Israelis, citing the bruises found on his body.

On Tuesday, 18 November two Palestinian men entered a Jerusalem synagogue and killed five people with guns and a meat cleaver before being shot and killed by police. The Palestinians are believed to have been motivated by the controversy over Jerusalem’s religious sites. Four of the killed were rabbis while one was a police officer. Mahmoud Abbas condemned the killings while Hamas praised them. Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu promised a strong response. After the attack, Israel approved the construction of 78 new settlement homes, which are widely considered illegal under international law.  Israel also fired tear gas at protesters in East Jerusalem and demolished the family homes of the two attackers.   Still, this violence does not rival that of this summer.  2,104 Gazans were killed, including 1,462 civilians according to the UN.  66 Israeli soldiers and 7 civilians were killed.


What You Need To Know: Week of 11/16

What you need to know from the past week in Burma, DRC, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Nigeria.


US President Barack Obama made his second official visit to Burma last week to attend the 25th annual Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional summit help for the first time in Burma’s capital, Naypyidaw. There, Obama praised Burma’s President Thein Sein’s “real” efforts to democratize the country. However, many people, including opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, have expressed concern over the United States’ positive perception of very limited reforms in the former military dictatorship. According to the White House, the United States has provided over $375 million to Burma since relieving economic sanctions in 2012 in targeting five key areas: national reconciliation, democratic institutions, economic development, health, resilient communities, and regional cooperation.

While in the country, both Obama and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon criticized the Burmese government’s treatment of the Rohingya. The Burmese government refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Rohingya and instead refers to them as illegal Bengali migrants. Moreover, the Burmese government has also proposed sending Rohingya to detention camps if they refuse to officially identify themselves as Bengali. To read more about the Rohingya and the significance of official US and UN recognition, click here.

Finally, Burma and China signed a bilateral trade agreement on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit which aimed to increase rice exports from northeastern Burma to southwestern China.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

The links between the conflict-minerals trade and profits for militia groups in eastern DRC are well-documented. However, in the face of reduced profits due in part to conflict-free mineral certification mechanisms, rebel militias in the Congo are increasingly turning to wildlife trafficking as a source of revenue. The Okapi Forest Reserve reports a 40% reduction in its elephant population from 2009-2014. In late October, the UN released an urgent appeal for resources to combat elephant poaching by militia groups in Garamba national park. During the past 3 years, rebel militias murdered 30 park rangers in Virunga national park alone. Rebel militias also reportedly attempt to undercut the local eco-tourism industry by offering wildlife tours at reduced rates, using revenue to continue the purchase of weapons.

In late October, military leaders ousted Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso, from power. Coming after several years of democratic upheaval in many parts of North Africa and the Middle East, the coup raises questions about the durability of autocratic rule in sub-Saharan Africa. In an interview with Voice of America, Congolese information minister Lambert Mende rejects the idea that Congolese President Joseph Kabila will be subject to the same fate if he chooses to run for a third term in 2016. Mende said, “Nobody has heard President Kabila saying that he’s going to change the constitution. As a democratic country, we are having an intellectual and political debate about the changing or not changing the constitution…Burkina is Burkina and Congo is Congo.”

Members of the Congolese police force (PNC) arrested twenty protesters on 1 November. The protesters took to the streets outside the UN headquarters in Kinshasa to demand a national dialogue aimed at ending two decades of violence in eastern Congo. Activists also expressed frustration at the prospect of a proposed amendment to the Congolese constitution that would permit President Kabila to run for a third term. All detainees have since been released.

In the wake of a series of Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) attacks on civilian communities in the city of Beni, located in the Congo’s eastern North Kivu province, the UN Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) announced last week that the mission had arrested 200 individuals suspected of participation in the assaults. The mission also reported seizures of bombs, radios, weapons, and other military equipment from the ADF. Between 2 October and 17 October, ADF forces murdered nearly 120 civilians in North Kivu. Congolese Defense Minister Alexandre Luba Ntambo spoke to civilians in the province on 5 November, urging community members not to form self-defense militias against the ADF. Ntambo said that reactionary defense militias would only “further complicate the already fragile situation” in Beni.

Two teams of Congolese military (FARDC) personnel received a 10-day training from the UN on detecting and disposing of arms caches. FARDC plans to launch an operation entitled “Weapons Free Masisi” this month to collect weapons from illegal armed groups operating in Masisi territory, including the M-23, Alliance of Patriots of Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) and local Mayi-Mayi militia groups.


After much delay, peace talks between government forces and rebel groups have resumed in Sudan. The chief of the African Union stated that he was hopeful that negotiations would be finalized between rebels and the government very soon. Fighting has broken out many times in the southern part of the country near the South Sudanese border. Negotiations on the issues in Darfur have been scheduled for later this month. The conflicts in the southern part of the country have already displaced tens of thousands of Sudanese.

Reports emerged on Wednesday of a Sudanese attack on South Sudan’s Upper Nile State. The strike follows a similar one two weeks earlier in which at least 35 people were killed. The newest raid killed seven and displaced many more. The South Sudanese army believes that the Sudanese government is behind the latest attack because they used warplanes, which the South Sudanese rebels do not have access to.

Finally, 1.2 million Sudanese have been registered to vote for Sudan’s 2015 elections. Sudan’s National Election Commission (NEC) has reported that 1.2 million new voters have been registered for the 2015 Sudanese election cycle. However, opposition parties are refusing to participate in the elections, calling instead for a transitional government and a national conference to resolve the long-standing conflicts in the South Kordofan and Darfur regions. The NEC, however, has rejected any postponement of the electoral process, claiming that delaying elections would cause a “constitutional vacuum”.

South Sudan

Last week in South Sudan, several polio cases were confirmed by the World Health Organization. The WHO stated that these cases are most likely because of the lack of vaccination programs in South Sudan. The organization stated that it is difficult to maintain high rates of vaccinations in conflict zones, and that it is extremely dangerous to have a few cases because they can spread very quickly.

Additionally, there have been reports that the conflict has now hit three different states in South Sudan. Both the rebels and the government have blamed each other for the continued fighting as it continues to spread to more and more regions. As the fighting escalates, the amount of killed and displaced Sudanese continues to rise.

The Guardian reports that the upcoming generation of South Sudanese boys are eager to fight in the civil war. Many young men have expressed their hope that they would soon be old enough to fight alongside the rebels or the government.


The Free Syrian Army (FSA) has rejected the possibility of a UN-mandated Aleppo truce with the Assad regime. According to Al Jazeera, the FSA’s rejection of the plan to suspend fighting in Syria’s second largest city, and its most populous prior to the civil war, stems from concerns that such a plan will only help the Assad regime. Zaher al-Saket, FSA military commander in Aleppo, explained their logic: “We [the Free Syrian Army] learned not to trust the Assad regime because they are cunning and only want to buy time. We saw what happened in Homs and we will never accept the same scenario in Aleppo.” The Syrian government had allegedly responded differently towards overtures regarding an Aleppo truce, with Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy to Syria, saying on Tuesday the government had responded with “constructive interest” to the UN proposal. However, activists claimed that Assad’s forces resumed launching barrel bombs on Aleppo’s al-Marjeh neighbourhood just a day later.

Syrian authorities have reportedly detained Louday Hussein, leader of Building the Syrian State party and longtime opposition activist, who has been detained twice before, and this time faces a number of what his party calls a number of “ready made charges”, including “weakening national sentiment and weakening the morale of the nation.” The Syrian Network for Human Rights estimates that up to 85,000 people are currently being held by the Syrian regime without any just cause. In captivity, prisoners face numerous human rights abuses, including torture and the continual threat of death. The Assad regime’s use of arbitrary and inhumane imprisonment tactics is well noted, and a UN panel last year accused the Assad regime of committing a crime against humanity by making people “systematically vanish.”

Emerging Conflicts: Nigeria

Violence has continued to wrack Nigeria, with radical Islamist group Boko Haram the main instigator. On 10 November, a suicide attack outside a school killed at least 48 people and wounded at least 79. Students were gathered for an assembly at a government boarding school in Potiskum when an attacker, disguised as a student, launched a suicide bombing. How many of the dead were students has not yet been determined. Although Boko Haram is widely suspected, they have not claimed responsibility for the attack. This follows an attack on 3 November in Potiskum when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Shi’ite Muslims at a religious ceremony. The bombing killed 15 people and afterwards Nigerian soldiers killed six people in their response to the attack.

On 12 November, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a college in Kontagora. At least three people were killed. Although Kontagora is far from the northeastern part of the country where Boko Haram usually operates, it is still suspected to be the perpetrator.

The government has suffered a number of embarrassing defeats in its fight against Boko Haram.  It announced a ceasefire with Boko Haram on 17 October. This would have ended fighting and led to the release of over 200 girls kidnapped earlier this year. However, there were a number of Boko Haram attacks in the days following the announcement. Nigerian officials continued to maintain that there was a ceasefire, but two weeks after the announcement of the ceasefire Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced that there had been no ceasefire and the girls would not be released. Then, on 14 November, Boko Haram took control of the town of Chibok, where they kidnapped the girls in April. The US has, however, refused to sell arms to the Nigerian military because of its history of human rights abuses.  Still, there was some good news for the military as they re-took the town of Mubi from Boko Haram.

Perspectives on Syria: SOS & STAND Partnership


Over the past couple months, attention has turned to Syria, Iraq, and Turkey as the United States carried out bombing campaigns against the infamous extremist group, the Islamic State (IS), in an effort to confront the global threat. In Syria, where bombings and destruction have become commonplace at the hands of the Syrian regime, the intervention marks a shift in the international community from inconsistent inaction to a sort of action.

Since 2011, the world has watched silently as Syrian regime forces broke international law, using snipers, chemical weapons, barrel bombs, tanks, and other conventional weapons against civilians. And so, to some, this intervention is coming years late with the violence and injustice already permeating at a level that is nearly irreversible. To others, the involvement is unwarranted despite the overwhelming casualties, terror and chaos that envelopes the communities in Syria and Iraq. Some see the actions as selfish and defensive, provoked only by violence against American journalists and threats against American interests. Still others celebrate the involvement and look forward to the potential that international involvement could change the outcome of the current situation in Syria.

As a community of students, we hope to emphasize the conversation that is happening around the various issues our generation is forced to confront. Horrors and injustices beyond what most of us can imagine are occurring right now, in our world. How we perceive these horrors and injustices and how we react to them is vitally important for how we will engage with them in hindsight, in the present, and in the future.

As we focus on the ongoing conflict in Syria, we hope to highlight the varying perspectives both on the ongoing conflict and the international involvement that we are now watching develop. Over the next few months, we will be inviting guest posts on our blog to share their perspective. Voices will include Syrian Americans, diaspora, refugees, and student activists. As we share perspectives, we hope to create a dialogue that will give us a better understanding of the conflict, but also of how we confront horror and injustice as a generation, and how we can move forward as a community committed to peace and conflict prevention.

This blog series is a joint project between STAND and Students Organize for Syria (SOS). SOS is the national student organization for Syria, committed to engaging students across the US that have been organizing for solutions in Syria since the outbreak of violence in 2011. This is the first project of many to come between our organizations as this generation of students becomes more acutely aware of both the injustices being perpetrated in Syria and of our obligation to rectify those injustices to the utmost of our ability as global citizens.

If you would like to add your voice to our “Perspectives on Syria” blog series, please write to Luke at with your idea and we will add you to the schedule. We are looking for blog posts between 300-500 words. The first blog is scheduled for November 19th.

This post was written by SOS’s Zana Alattar and STAND’s Luke Kubacki.


Read the whole Perspectives on Syria series here!

Counting the Dead

Exploring the Historical Trend of Artist Oppression

Refugee Crisis

No One Can Thrive On #Just825


What You Need To Know: Week of 11/9

What you need to know from the past week in Burma, CAR, DRC, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine.


Two years after his first visit, US president Barack Obama is due to arrive in Burma for two days next to attend Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional summit being hosted in the capital of Burma, Naypyidaw. Burma is hosting the ASEAN summit for the first time as part of the country’s growing effort to engage with its neighbors and region. Leaders from all Southeast Asian countries are expected to be in attendance. Critics say that Burma has remain stagnant, or even regressed, in its respect of human rights since Obama’s last visit. Obama has cited his renewed diplomatic engagement with Burma as one of his administration’s greatest achievements.

Prior to the ASEAN meeting, two new reports have been published accusing the Burmese government of thwarting refugee repatriation efforts and three of Burma’s important government officials of war crimes. The Border Consortium, a coalition of aid and human rights organizations situated near the Thai-Burma border, has claimed that increased militarization in that region has greatly hampered refugee repatriation. The other report published by Harvard University’s International Human Rights Clinic has accused three current Burmese government officials, including the current Minister of Home Affairs Maj-Gen Ko Ko, of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

One of Burma’s oldest and most significant rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU) has been showing signs of splintering since it signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government in 2012. The KNU is an organization claiming to represent the Karen people in a state in eastern Burma of the same name. The Karen are among the most oppressed ethnic groups by the current government (and under the former military dictatorship). Since signing the ceasefire with the government, numerous splinter factions and sub-organizations have emerged from the KNU.

Central African Republic (CAR)

As violence continues to accelerate in the Central African Republic (CAR), many are questioning the credibility of the UN peacekeeping force, known as MINUSCA, deployed to the country in September. Despite the efforts of MINUSCA, dozens of civilians have been killed and thousands have been displaced by interethnic violence in recent weeks. While much media attention has focused on the recent flare up of violence in the capital of Bangui, violence has also been severe in central areas of the country where CAR’s armed ethnic and religious groups are still vying for control. Towns in these contested areas, such as Dekoa and Bambari, have seen brutal attacks and counter-attacks by the majority Muslim Seleka group, Christian and animist anti-balaka rebel coalition, and a splinter-off group of the Seleka comprised of armed members of the Peulh ethnic group. Civilians have often bared the brunt of these attacks, in part due to the challenges of providing adequate civilian protection without a fully funded and staffed mission. MINUSCA has yet to see the deployment of a third of its mandated peacekeepers, and other divisions face even more severe shortages. Following a request from CAR’s transitional government, the European Union announced that it will extend its military mission in CAR, known as EUFOR RCA, until March 2015.

In addition to an overstretched peacekeeping mission, pressures on the transitional government from traditional political parties and the partitioning of the country into ‘zones of influence’ are further complicating efforts to restore peace to the Central African Republic. Transition President Samba-Panza has been accused of misdirecting funds and failing to adequately lead peace and reconciliation efforts. This has sparked competition among CAR’s political class, intensified as elections approach in the coming year. Meanwhile, the country has grown further fragmented as Seleka and anti-balaka warlords have begun to consolidate their individual power in their respective localities. These rebel coalitions and their respective armed leaders appear to be funding much of their power-consolidation through selling gold and diamonds, often through smuggling.

In more positive news, CAR recently acceded to the International Tropical Timber Agreement, or ITTA. The agreement strives “to promote the diversification of international trade in tropical timber from sustainably managed and legally harvested forests”. Timber is one of the country’s main exports, with a forest area of nearly 22.7 million hectares.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Investigations into the murder of Congolese Colonel Mamadou Ndala in January 2014 are still ongoing in the DRC. Recently, Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels, the group allegedly responsible for Ndala’s death, brought forth evidence suggesting Congolese military (FARDC) complicity in the attacks. In the most recent allegations, ADF leaders claim that Lieutenant Colonel Nzanu Birosho of the FARDC accepted a bribe 27,000 USD to facilitate ADF attacks against Ndala.

On Friday, October 31, an African Union working group met to discuss the implementation of the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework (PSC) for the Great Lakes Region and UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2098 on the DR Congo. Both documents came into force in early 2013. The group also discussed allegations that Rwanda and Uganda continue to provide asylum for former M-23 combatants, threatening security in the DRC. The AU meeting also addressed approaches to disarmament for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). While the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) support military offensives against the ICGLR, the AU does not favor a military approach.

In late October, two young Congolese activists were shot and killed near a MONUSCO base in Beni, North Kivu. The activists were part of a group of Congolese civil society leaders protesting recent attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group operating in eastern DRC. The protesters blamed the UN for not doing more to prevent ADF attacks on civilians. In an effort to stop the protests, MONUSCO troops and FARDC soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing two youths and wounding others.

Congolese Joseph Kabila issued a statement on November 1 requesting additional UN troops to supplement existing MONUSCO forces in eastern Congo. The new troops would reinforce MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) and form the backbone of a proactive strategy to combat the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a militia group responsible for a string of attacks on civilians near Beni, North Kivu. Martin Kobler, MONUSCO director, welcomed the President’s request, highlighting the need for the UN to take action against the ADF.

Sudan ** trigger warning: sexual violence **

Reports emerged last week that the infamous warlord Joseph Kony is hiding out on the Sudanese border. The fugitive Lord’s Resistance Army commander who is facing indictments of egregious human rights violations has been seen in a border town between Sudan and South Sudan called Kafia Kingi. Many human rights groups are calling on Sudanese and South Sudanese authorities to step up efforts to capture Kony and bring him to the appropriate authorities to face the charges against him.

The UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator recently expressed concern that children in the conflict-affected areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states are at high risk of contracting polio. Conflict between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) has prevented the administration of polio vaccines to children in these states.

Last week, UN and African Union representatives have been denied entry to the scene of an alleged mass rape of 200 women and girls in western Darfur. The joint mission, known as UNAMID, expressed its concern over the reports but has been unable to investigate the incident.

South Sudan

The United States announced last Tuesday that it will circulate a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council for establishing a sanctions regime on South Sudan. An anonymous US official said that the resolution “will establish a mechanism for targeting individuals undermining South Sudan’s political stability and abusing human rights”, but did not say when the draft resolution would be circulated and put to a vote.

Additionally, there are reports that another peace deal has been forged. This is the third peace deal since the country erupted into violent conflict in December 2013. The peace deal states that the two warring parties must cease fighting and that any violation would invite trade freezes and travel bans across East Africa. The peace deal comes after threats of sanctions from countries and international agencies.

Although a new peace deal has been reached, violence has flared in South Sudan over the past week. The UN issued a statement condemning the recent outburst of violence and urging peace.


This past week the United States has launched renewed air strikes on the Khorasan group, an Al-Qaeda linked militant faction based in Syria. The US has said that the group intends to launch terror attacks in the United States and Europe. According to U.S. Central Command, the latest series of air strikes against the Khorasan group took place near Sarmada in Idlib province, close to the Turkish border. Reuters reports that the target of the strikes is David Drugeon, a French-born militant who is reportedly the bomb maker for ISIS. However, his death as a consequence of the strikes has not been confirmed.

The US is facing accusation of having assisted Assad in his bid to reassert power. Critics of US policy have asserted that the US attacks on the Islamic State (ISIS) have allowed Assad to capitalize on the fragmentation of his opposition. Syrian air strikes on rebel held areas have increased dramatically in the last few weeks, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that the Assad regime has killed 221 civilians in the last two weeks alone, undertaking 800 aerial strikes and dropping no less than 401 barrel bombs. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights went on to say that the Assad regime was “taking advantage” of the world focus on the fight against ISIS centred in Kobane, using it as a diversion to intensify attacks on rebel held areas.

The Turkish government has accused the Syrian government of committing massacres in and around Aleppo. According to Reuters, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has warned that Turkey could see a second massive influx of Syrian refugees if the Assad regime succeeds in taking the city. Davutoglu used the warnings to reassert the Turkish desire for a no-fly zone in Syrian territory that could be used to cater for Syrian refugees and equip and train Syrian fighters against ISIS. “If Aleppo were to fall, we in Turkey would really be confronted with a large, very serious, worrisome refugee crisis. This is why we want a safe zone.” Turkey already hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees. The US is reluctant, however, to create a no-fly zone, as such an area would require patrol by foreign jets. Aleppo, once Syria most populous city, has now been divided in two, between Assad’s regime and opposition forces. Davutloglu has accused the Assad regime of “large massacres” through their barrel bombing the northeast and western areas of the city, areas held by the Free Syrian Army.

Mortar fire on a Syrian school in Damascus has killed 13 children. The attack took place in Qaboun, a rebel held suburb of Damascus. Activists have blamed Assad for the attack, though the details remain unclear. AP writes: “Wednesday’s attack marked the most serious violence against Syrian minors since a twin suicide bombing killed at least 25 children in a government-controlled neighborhood in the central city of Homs in October.”

According to The Guardian, ISIS fighters in Syria have reportedly wrested control of a gas field in the central province of Homs from government forces, making this the second such capture in a week for ISIS.

Emerging Conflicts: Ukraine

The conflict in eastern Ukraine escalated with renewed shelling and disputes over attempted elections. The conflict reignited after pro-Russian separatists held elections which made Alexander Zacharchecko and Igor Plotnitsky leaders of the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. The two people’s republics together form New Russia. Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko decried the results and argued that it violated the Minsk agreement signed in September. He also said that in response to the elections he wanted Parliament to not pass a law that would grant special status to eastern parts of the country. This would have allowed greater autonomy for the regions and protected separatist fighters from prosecution. The rebels in returned argued that Poroshenko’s action would constitute a violation of the Minsk agreement.

Although Russia has annexed Crimea, the eastern parts of Ukraine are still in question. Russia has not formally backed the recent elections and has also denied sending troops to help the separatist forces. The United States and its allies have criticized the recent elections. While the Ukrainian government strongly opposes the separatists, it does not seem to have the strength to take back the disputed regions. The government has effectively ceded control of the regions in order to focus on securing the rest of the country. Government forces have set up passport control between separatist areas and the rest of Ukraine and the government has stopped subsidies and pensions to the regions. Many analysts believe the regions are becoming “frozen conflicts” similar to Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia, both regions where Russia has large influence but not official control.

The recent escalation in conflict has also seen renewed violence. There was heavy shelling in Donetsk despite September’s ceasefire still officially being in place. Two teenagers were killed and four were wounded by a shell while playing soccer at a school on Wednesday, 5 November. Three Ukrainian soldiers were killed on Thursday, 6 November. Over 4,000 people have been killed since the conflict began early this year.