The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

What You Need To Know: Week of 11/3

Everything you need to know from the week ending with 11/3


In Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, thousands marched in support of a controversial so-called interfaith bill that puts restrictions on interfaith marriage and religious conversions in an effort to strengthen the relative majority position of Buddhism. Many critics believe this bill, which is currently in legal limbo within the Burmese parliament, is specifically designed to target the Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim group in Burma’s west. The Rohingya are denied citizenship, used as force labor, made to live in camps, and denied other basic rights by the Burmese government because of a 1982 citizenship law. Some report that over 100,000 Rohingya have now fled Burma.

Last week, the death of a journalist while in police custody has sparked criticism from the American and British Embassies in Yangon. The journalist, Aung Kyaw Naing, was a reporter and human rights activist covering recent clashes between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the Burmese military in the east of Burma. The Burmese military claimed in a letter that it detained Aung Kyaw Naing because he was a member of an armed rebel group and was subsequently shot when he reached for the gun of a soldier. Journalists and those close to Aung Kyaw Naing are suspicious of the official accounts of his death.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the United States government each expressed concern over the Congolese government’s expulsion of Scott Campbell earlier this month. Campbell was the highest-ranking UN human rights officer in the DRC. His expulsion follows a UN report condemning 9 summary executions and 32 disappearances, for which the Congolese police force (PNC) allegedly bears responsibility. Congolese information minister Lambert Mende responded to international criticism by defending the DRC’s right to expel Campbell for what he describes as “spreading lies” and attempting to discredit the Congolese government.

Dr. Denis Mukwege of the DRC’s Bukavu province received the 2014 Shakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the highest human rights award from the European Parliament. The Parliament recognized Mukwege for his relentless activism to end the use of rape as a weapon of war and his tireless physical, social, and economic support of sexual violence survivors in eastern Congo. Mukwege said, “It’s not a women question; it’s a humanity question, and men have to take responsibility to end it. It’s not an Africa problem. In Bosnia, Syria, Liberia, Colombia, you have the same thing.”

Three months away from the UN’s repatriation deadline for Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel fighters, analysts believe that regional tensions between the DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania, and South Africa may complicate the disarmament process. While the UN and Rwandan authorities are eager to pursue military action against the FDLR, South Africa and Tanzania advocate political dialogue as the most viable solution. FDLR fighters, for their part, refuse to take part in the UN disarmament process in the absence of political negotiations with Rwandan authorities.

MONUSCO bases in North Kivu are stepping up security in response to a recent string of attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF-NALU) in Beni, North Kivu, DRC. The attacks come after the UN and the Congolese military (FARDC) effectively neutralized the ADF rebels earlier this year. “If you want to stay in peace, you must not send us your soldiers,” one ADF fighter told a Beni resident in the midst of the attacks.


Last week in Sudan, President al-Bashir said that his army is going to launch a decisive attack against rebels in the region. After calling attention to recent military victories against rebel groups, Bashir ordered the army to prepare for a battle to end rebellion in Sudan this coming summer. The president claimed that many of the political issues in Sudan have stemmed from the rebellions throughout the country and the only way to protect Sudan is to quell these rebellions by force.

At the same time, President Al Bashir urged constitutional reforms to “streamline the process of government decentralization.” While Bashir has called on MPs to amend the national charter so that “the Sudanese people to have a say in managing their own affairs”, critics say that Bashir is seeking constitutional authority to appoint Sudan’s governors who have been chosen by elections since Sudan’s transitional constitution was adopted in 2005.

South Sudan

This week in South Sudan, rebel forces have continued to advance despite international pressures to negotiate peace. The rebels have captured a critical oil hub in Bentiu, raising concern about the potential progress of peace talks, which have been ongoing since the beginning of the conflict. The United Nations and the United States have both called for an immediate cease of violence and for the government to show restraint so that peace can have a chance to thrive. The two sides are facing a United Nations ultimatum that the two sides must form a power-sharing agreement or the country will face harsh sanctions that will continue to affect the already weary population. Both the United Nations and the United States have condemned these new acts of violence calling the conflict, “senseless” and “appalling”.

With this new offensive, there is also fear that the population surrounding Bentiu will be displaced and unable to access resources. The international community continues to express concern about the ramifications of the renewed violence on the population at large. International NGOs fear that as the violence continues, so will the risk of famine and the displacement of the population to refugee camps, where they face poor living conditions. International Crisis Group stated that greater coordination between regional and international actors is desperately needed in order to create high level peace talks with the potential to ensure a sustainable peace agreement.

Additionally, there have been reports that South Sudanese refugees are choosing floods over war. In a report in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, refugee Martha Nyakuk claimed that she preferred her flooded refugee camp to returning to South Sudan, showing that the situation for South Sudanese civilians is rapidly declining.


The Assad regime dropped barrel bombs on a displaced persons camp in a northern province of Idlib on Wednesday, killing dozens. Certainty regarding numbers of dead varied, with camp residents claiming that up to 75 people had died as a result of the attack. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, however, claimed ten civilians had died, while the Syrian State media neglected any mention of the attack. The US condemned the attack, noting that although that they could not be certain of the attack’s perpetrators, the overwhelming evidence was against the Assad government. Human rights groups claimed that the Assad regime has repeatedly dropped barrel bombs, “containers filled with nails, metal shrapnel and explosive material that are dropped from helicopters”, on densely populated neighbourhoods.

Lebanon has closed its borders to all Syrian refugees, with the exception of “extreme humanitarian cases”. According to Syria Deeply, Lebanon is currently home to more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees, meaning that more than a quarter of the country’s 4 million residents are now Syrians. The burden has posed tremendous strain on the Lebanese government, but the decision to begin rejecting refugees has great implications for Syrians, currently seeking refuge in Lebanon at the rate of 10,000 a week. Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh warned that Syria’s neighbours are beginning to suffer what he termed “host-country fatigue”, putting it down to the “huge demand from refugees for housing, schools, jobs, and healthcare and scant resources like water.”

After being allowed passage by the Turkish government, 150 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga reached Turkey on Wednesday, en route to join Kurds fighting off the Islamic State (ISIS) in Kobani. The Turkish government’s allowance for the passage of Iraqi Peshmerga is unprecedented, especially considering the political sensitivities of the region. The Turkish government considers the Syrian Kurds fighting in Kobani – the very same the Peshmerga sent by the Iraqi Kurdish government are going to help – to be an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The Turkish government designates the PKK as a terrorist group, and the PKK and have been locked in conflict with the group for the past thirty years.

Emerging Conflicts: Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is seeing massive protests as the future of its government is decided.  The President of the West African country of 10 million, Blaise Compaoré, had held that title for over 27 years. Terms limits were supposed to prevent him from running for re-election in 2015. However, his party, Congress for Democracy and Progress, controlled two-thirds of the legislature, and MPs were set to vote on changing the constitution to allow Compaoré to stay in power.  However, the protests that began on 21 October escalated on 30 October, the proposed day of the vote. Around 1,500 protesters broke a security cordon and stormed parliament despite tear gas and live bullets fired by soldiers. Protestors set fire to Parliament and the ruling party headquarters, took over the state television station, and marched towards the Presidential Palace.

The vote to extend Compaoré’s rule was cancelled, yet his future remained uncertain.  Earlier in the day Compaoré announced a state of emergency and said that the head of the armed forces, General Honoré Traoré, would preside over it. Traoré then announced that Parliament was dissolved, a curfew was being implemented, and there would be a transitional government lasting a maximum of twelve months. Later that night Compaoré announced that he was still President and would hand over power at the end of the transitional government.  Zéphirin Diabré, the main opposition leader, called the state of emergency unacceptable and called for the resignation of Compaoré. Opposition leaders also held talks with retired general Kouamé Lougué. He later marched to the Presidential Palace with supporters and was allowed in, raising fears of a military coup. A number of soldiers have also defected and joined the protests. This is not the first time Compaoré has had his rule challenged. He has extended term limits multiple times and withstood popular protests and mutinies in 2011.

On Friday, in reversal of his announcement the night before, Compaoré announced that he would be stepping down.  He then fled in an armed convoy for the Ivory Coast, where he is now. General Honoré Traoré initially said he would lead the government after Compaoré, but it quickly became clear that the army preferred Lieutenant Colonel Issac Zida and he would hold power during the transition period. It appears that Traoré was seen as too close to Compaoré and Zida was more popular with the younger generation. After Zida’s appointment Burkina Faso largely returned to calm. The organizers of the protests called for protesters to help clean up the capital Ouagadougou. However, there were still some protests from those who saw Zida’s ascent to power as a military coup. On Sunday there were shots fired at the state TV station after opposition leader Saran Sereme and Kwamé Lougué showed up.  It appears that they were warning shots and no one was killed.

The events have large implications beyond Burkina Faso.  Compaoré was a major ally of the US and France and has allowed Burkina Faso to serve as a base for counterterrorism operations. Additionally, his fate may set a precedent for other African leaders. José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, Paul Kagame in Rwanda, and Joseph Kabila in the DR Congo are all facing term limits and have not confirmed that they will stand down. Compaoré’s loss of power may help determine their decisions on whether or not to try to hold onto office.

The Debate on Conflict Minerals

STAND students present two opposing views on conflict minerals and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Please note that each author’s views are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of STAND as an organization.

Focus on the Conflict, Not the Minerals

When one asks what can be done to help stop the conflict in the DR Congo, the deadliest conflict since World War II, a common answer is to stop the purchase of conflict minerals. Advocacy groups such as The Enough Project and Global Witness have rallied around this potential solution, and it is not hard to see why. Despite its massive human costs, the DRC struggled for media attention for years. The DRC has massive reserves of gold, cobalt, tin, tungsten, and tantalum– a key component of consumer electronics- and both rebel groups and the Congolese army have profited from these resources.

Advocacy groups began publicizing the link between normal products such as laptops and cell phones to the devastating violence in the DRC and this narrative was able to bring far more attention than the conflict had previously received. This pressure culminated in the 2010 passage of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which mandated that companies track their supply chains from the DRC and surrounding countries and report whether they contain minerals that profit armed groups. Advocacy groups continue to push for compliance with Dodd-Frank and further efforts to restrict conflict minerals. While the conflict minerals approach has brought attention and legislative action on the DRC, this would only constitute progress if it had lead to increased peace and stability in the DRC, and it has not. The logic underlying conflict minerals advocacy does not reflect the realities of the conflict, and stopping the purchase of conflict minerals from the DRC will be at best ineffective and at worst cause significant damage.

Tracking whether conflict minerals enter a company’s supply chain, the central premise of Dodd-Frank 1502, is extremely difficult. In the eastern DRC, where the conflict is concentrated, roads are extremely poor and it is therefore very difficult to visit mines for the tracking process. Smuggling is very common and it is easy to bribe civil servants who receive small salaries, making it difficult to know where minerals really came from. The implementation of Dodd-Frank 1502 in one stage also made it difficult to develop more effective processes. In September, the US Commerce Department confirmed that conflict minerals were nearly impossible to track. Companies therefore find it extremely difficult to know whether or not they are buying conflict minerals. Rather than trying to determine whether they are buying clean Congolese minerals or Congolese conflict minerals, the safest method for companies has been to not buy Congolese minerals altogether. For example, in April 2011, the month of the deadline for implementing Dodd-Frank 1502, sales of tin in North Kivu fell 90%. Mining is one of the largest industries in the DRC, and eight to ten million people rely on mining for a living. Dodd-Frank 1502 has forced as many as two million miners out of work as companies pulled out of an already extremely poor economy. It is important to note that miners forced out of work often have no savings or safety net to fall back on, and starvation and easily preventable diseases can become very real threats.

The massive blow to the Congolese economy could be justified as a necessary step towards ending the conflict, but this is not the case. Undoubtedly armed groups control some mines and profit from minerals, but minerals did not cause the conflict and stopping their purchase will not end it. Local conflicts over land, conflicts of identity and citizenship, and an extremely weak state make up the root causes of the conflict. Recently defeated M23, which was the largest rebel group in the DRC at the time, did not try to control mines and many leaders even left mining areas to join the group. According to Christoph Vogel, the only report to find that Dodd-Frank 1502 contributed to the defeat of M23 was commissioned by the Enough Project, one of the main advocates of the legislation. Conflict minerals are only one of the ways that rebel groups derive profits; they also operate taxation schemes, sell palm oil and cannabis, and are funded by outside patrons. In any case, without funds rebel groups would still have widespread access to weapons in a region that has seen conflict for decades.

The evidence since the implementation of Dodd-Frank 1502 suggests that conflict mineral efforts have not stemmed the violence. With reduced employment in the mining sector armed groups are one of the only ways to gain a living, and some recent recruits to rebel groups cite the loss of mining jobs as reasons for joining. Also, there is little evidence to suggest that a loss of mineral profits have caused any armed groups to disband. In fact, since the 2010 passage of Dodd-Frank 1502 fatalities from conflict have increased slightly and conflict has increased in mining areas. While this does not prove that the legislation caused the increased violence, it does show that efforts of conflict mineral advocates have not had the intended effects.

In a best case scenario of conflict minerals legislation, armed groups would lose some funding but still continue to fight. That perfect legislation has not been written, and instead there have been huge negative effects on the Congolese economy while doing little to stop the conflict. Opposition to conflict minerals advocacy does not mean that we should not hold companies responsible for their actions or that we should pay any less attention to the DRC. It only means that our priority is the well-being of the Congolese people, and conflict minerals advocacy has not helped it.

Timmy Hirschel-Burns is a sophomore at Swarthmore College.  Follow him on Twitter at @TimmyH_B

Room for Debate: Conflict Minerals

When I first introduce the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative (CFCI) to interested students or bring up the issue in a meeting with local administrators or political officials, a common response I receive is “Oh, so it’s like Blood Diamond?”

“Sort of,” I usually reply, before launching into my CFCI pitch. I must admit that, as shameful as it may be for a human rights activist, or for any young person concerned with staying “relevant” in the pop-culture sense of the term, I have never seen Blood Diamond (I will suggest Blood in the Mobile, however). While many are quick to reference Leo DeCaprio’s blockbuster hit, very few liken the conflict minerals movement to 20th century divestment campaigns against South Africa and apartheid. As it turns out, this lack of comparison is warranted. Within the activist community at CFCI, our mantra is “Conflict-Free, Not Congo-Free.” The Conflict-Free campaign advocates positive investment in the DRC for the benefit of artisanal mining communities, rather than divestment. The reality holds that any “flight” of investment on the part of industry puts Congolese mining communities at an economic disadvantage. Here, I argue that conflict-free sourcing and investment in Congolese livelihoods are not, in fact, mutually exclusive goals.

In order to achieve “conflict-free” certification, mines in eastern Congo must ensure that certain populations are not permitted to work in the mines. The primary targets of these policies are minors, pregnant women, and others vulnerable to exploitation by militia groups and the Congolese military (FARDC). Over the summer, I spent two months in South Kivu, a province in the eastern part of the Congo. While in Congo, I had the privilege of speaking with Amani Mtabaro, Congolese community activist, former Enough Project field researcher, and feature in the “I Am Congo” video series. Amani’s current project involves identifying sustainable income-generating projects for the benefit of those forcibly removed from the mines. Congolese community researcher Janvier Murairi points to agriculture and formal artisanal mining zones as avenues for securing the livelihoods of artisanal miners in Congo. Murairi references the positive impact of Dodd-Frank Section 1502 on the lives of civilians in eastern DRC:

Opponents of the [Dodd-Frank] law say the economy of the province and the country has suffered greatly from this legislation. I do not share that opinion. I know Walikale, North Kivu, before the law. No school infrastructure, road, or hospital was built during Bisie’s boom era. It is unacceptable to me to see that the exploitation of minerals in Bisie happened alongside crushing poverty in the country. To conclude, I would say that the law is the work of humans, so it is perfectible. But we must recognize its merits, especially in terms of human rights.

In June 2014, the Enough Project released a report on the impact of the Dodd-Frank law on mining communities in eastern DRC. While findings are preliminary (the filing deadline for U.S. corporations to disclose conflict-minerals in their supply chains was May 31, 2014), they suggest marked reduction in violence and exploitation in Congolese mining communities. Additionally, the report cites anecdotal evidence suggesting that former miners unable to work in the mines due to the law – chiefly minors and pregnant women – have to date been successful in securing alternative income-generating mechanisms. A few highlights from the report include:

·       Armed groups and the Congolese army are no longer present at two-thirds (67 percent) of tin, tantalum, and tungsten mines surveyed in eastern Congo.

·       The Dodd-Frank law and electronics industry audits have created a two-tier market for tin, tantalum, and tungsten (3Ts) from Congo and the region. Minerals that do not go through conflict-free programs now sell for 30 to 60 percent less.

·       Bisie, one of the world’s largest tin mines that generated hundreds of millions of dollars for a number of armed groups and criminal units of the army, is now largely demilitarized.

·       Twenty-one electronics and other companies now source from 16 conflict-free mines in Congo.

·       There is now a validation process to evaluate mines as conflict-free or not, and 112 out of 155 mines surveyed have passed as clean.

In the corporate sector, U.S. industry giants Intel and Apple undertook efforts to invest positively in the DRC, largely as a result of Dodd-Frank and conflict minerals activism. These corporations continue to use Section 1502 requirements as an opportunity not only to stem trade in conflict minerals but also to invest positively in Congolese communities. This shift in corporate attitudes toward sourcing from Congo is in large part attributable to consumer activism.

There is still much to be done to support peace and economic prosperity for mining communities in eastern DRC. As Congolese researcher Janvier Murairi states, Dodd-Frank Section 1502 is a human law and as such is perfectible. The Congolese government, corporations, and the international community must each do their part to support livelihood opportunities for artisanal mining communities in the DRC. Dodd-Frank 1502 continues to reduce the profitability of trade in illicit minerals, limiting the ability of armed groups to benefit from the mining sector. “Conflict-free” certification has resulted in a marked reduction in human rights abuses against artisanal miners, the shift away from conflict mining also mean that many miners have had to move to other areas to try to earn a livelihood while the responsible minerals trade slowly develops. An Open Letter from Congolese civil society leaders, calling for reforms in conflict-minerals legislation and its implementation on the ground, addresses this need for livelihood support programs. Recommendations include:

  • Increasing capacity-building and micro-finance programs for artisanal mining cooperatives in eastern Congo

  • Finalizing reforms to the minerals sector

  • Respecting the rights of artisanal miners and ensuring they are given access to a legal, profitable market for their minerals

  • Significantly enhancing programs to develop alternative sources of income, such as high-value agriculture

Some donors have set up programs, like USAID’s $20 million community recovery project, its $5.8 million Capacity Building for a Responsible Minerals Trade project, and the World Bank’s $79 million “Eastern Recovery Project.” This signifies progress, but communities in eastern DRC deserve more. If Dodd-Frank is to truly contribute to peace and economic opportunity in Congo, legal reforms must take into consideration local perspectives and realities on the ground.

Danielle Allyn is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill. Follow her on Twitter at @DNAllyn

What You Need To Know: Week of 10/24


The Burmese Army has agreed to withdraw troops from part of Burma’s northern Shan State in which sporadic fighting has reportedly left seven people dead and hundreds displaced. Despite a ceasefire agreement, the Burmese Army was fighting members of the Shan State Army, the armed wing of the Shan State Progress Party, which advocates for greater regional autonomy.

Additionally, the Burmese government announced that it would hold general elections in late October or early November of next year. This will be Burma’s second general election, with the first being held in 2011. As mandated by the Burmese constitution, the parliament, which will be 75% civilian and 25% military, will select the country’s next president in 2016. Democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi has indicated her desire to run for president, but she appears to be unable to do so due to oddly specific elections rules that many believe was passed to explicitly exclude her from running.

Last week, a controversial bill limiting press freedom was passed by Burma’s upper house of parliament. The measure would establish a council of government officials that could regulate and oversee all television and radio broadcasting services. It also limits foreign ownership of private TV broadcasting. Since Burma’s transition from military dictatorship to quasi civilian led government, press freedoms have been greatly improved. However, some worry that measures like this could limit the country’s progress in this area.

Central African Republic (CAR)

Recent weeks have seen a surge in violence in the Central African Republic.  On Thursday, gunmen from the Fulani militia and the predominantly Muslim Seleka militia attacked the town of Yamalé, leaving at least thirty people dead. The attack follows an outbreak of violence in the capital of Bangui that killed at least six the previous week. Violence broke out Tuesday and Wednesday saw clashes between UN peacekeeping forces and the predominantly animist and Christian anti-balaka forces.

International organizations have continued their work as the violence continues. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has struggled to maintain its humanitarian work despite serious security concerns as the violence continues. The United Nations and the World Health Organization both condemned attacks by various militias on hospitals and doctors, and urged all armed groups to “respect medical facilities and allow patients and medical staff unhindered and safe access to hospitals”. The UN estimates that the latest violence has displaced at least 6,500 people.

Meanwhile, CAR’s government announced that it plans to reform its army by creating a rapid intervention unit in an effort to quell the interethnic violence that has plagued the country since December 2013. The government’s armed forces, FACA, were routed by the Seleka militia in 2013, and many members have either ceased to report to duty due to lack of pay or joined various militia groups.

Democratic Republic of Congo

On Monday, October 20, the governor of North Kivu province, DRC affirmed that civilians in North Kivu support ongoing Congolese military (FARDC) operations against the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces-National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) militant groups. The ADF-NALU bears responsibility for over 80 civilian deaths in Beni, North Kivu over the past month. The UN force in the DRC, MONUSCO, will execute a joint offensive strategy to combat the ADF-NALU, in collaboration with the FARDC.

Congolese Minister of Information Lambert Mende referred to last Friday’s attacks on civilians in North Kivu as the consequences of “ADF-NALU terrorist operations”. Mende assured journalists that Congolese officials continue to work closely with their Ugandan counterparts to gather intelligence on ADF-NALU operations. The most recent attack left nearly thirty Congolese civilians dead, the latest in a string of guerilla assaults on unarmed civilians. The Ugandan military chased ADF-NALU rebels into eastern Congo in the 1990s, and today the group continues to terrorize civilians in the region.

In August 2014, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) gave FDLR militants a six-month extension to voluntarily disarm and return to Rwanda. The ultimatum stipulates that FDLR militants must surrender before December 31, 2014 or face military action by MONUSCO and the FARDC. On October 19, in a joint meeting of the ICGLR and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes called upon the leaders of ICGLR and SADC countries to reach a consensus concerning an international response should FDLR militants fail to disarm before the December deadline.


Last week in Sudan, Sudanese security forces arrested a journalist in Khartoum. When questioned, the journalist’s family could think of no reason for his arrest and have been unable to reach him by telephone. The journalist worked for the London based newspaper Al-Hayat that publishes in Arabic. In the past, Sudan has been accused of arresting journalists without cause and disrespecting freedom of the press and speech. Sudan is currently ranked 172 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index.

Additionally, reports have emerged claiming that Sudan may be arming South Sudanese rebels. This indicates that Sudan’s government plans to increase military assistance to rebels in South Sudan, which could escalate and prolong the conflict on South Sudanese soil. The news comes from leaked minutes from a high-level security meeting in Khartoum. The South Sudanese rebels have denied Sudan’s involvement in the conflict on many occassions, and have continued to deny it since the release of these minutes. Many experts have warned that should Sudan support the South Sudanese rebels with arms and aid, it will protract and intensify the conflict, and could exacerbate the humanitarian crises on the ground.

 Finally, this week Sudan’s defense minister made a surprise trip to China to continue talks with the Chinese defense minister. The Sudanese defense minister claims that the visit was fruitful and that there is a strong bond between China and Sudan’s defense forces. China is the main investor in Sudanese oil production and the Sudanese rely on Chinese arms. Chinese shipments to Sudan include ammunition, helicopters, aircraft, and tanks. Such continued military support from China could contribute to the continuation of armed conflict in both Sudan and South Sudan.

South Sudan

This week in South Sudan, The UN mission in South Sudan has set up provisions for internally displaced persons. These sites will help 28,000 internally displaced persons near three cities in South Sudan. The mission stated that this is a temporary situation for these IDPs and that once stability in the region is restored, they hope that the IDPs can return home. As the mission has been building thee sites outside of Juba, Bor, and Bentiu the mission has seen the continued decline of living conditions as the conflict continues. The situation in all of these places is dire, especially outside of Bor and Bentiu, where the rainy season has destroyed crops and flooding has spread disease, exacerbated by the area’s lack of health care professionals.

Additionally, a report has emerged that South Sudan’s crisis is threatening its development. According to South Sudan’s finance chief, the conflict has caused the country to have to re-direct its focus to security and emergency relief instead of development programs. The finance minister said that South Sudan must focus on achieving peace before the country can create sustainable economic growth or improve the humanitarian situation of its citizens. The report also commented on humanitarian aid to South Sudan. USAID increased its aid to 180,000 US dollars in August to attempt to quell the drastically deteriorating humanitarian situation.

In a meeting last week between three members of the South Sudanese ruling parties in Arusha, Tanzania, each party accepted responsibility for starting and continuing the conflict that has devastated South Sudan these last ten months. The admission of guilt from all three parties suggests the possibility that a peace deal may soon be reached. The meeting in Tanzania showcased the effect of intense international pressure for the South Sudanese to create a successful peace deal between the three factions.


Reuters is reporting that the Syrian air force has stepped up attacks on rebel held areas, reportedly striking up to 200 times in recent days. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the government has launched up to 210 raids in recent days – including with the use of barrel bombs – focused on provinces in the east, north and west of the country. Areas affected by the raids included Hama, Daraa, Idlib, Aleppo and Quneitra provinces as well as the Damascus countryside. Before this increase in strikes, the Syrian military only launched aerial raids at a rate of 10-20 strikes a day. The increase of government attacks heightens fears that the Assad regime is using the United States coalition’s bombardment of ISIS held area to attack opposition forces, including more moderate and western-backed factions.

The heightening of air strikes could also signal the Syrian government’s desire to weaken moderate opposition forces before the United States trains and arms them. Despite the US and Syrian government’s mutual opposition to the Islamic State (IS), the United States does not want to help the Assad regime. This stems from the understanding that the Assad regime is in large part responsible for the creation of IS and other terror organizations, who have flourished in the vacuum of power created by divisions formed after Assad’s brutal crackdown on dissent, civil liberties, and peaceful protest.

Lawmakers in Iraq’s Kurdistan region have moved to authorise Kurdish Peshmerga’s mobilisation to Kobane, the Syrian-Turkish border town with a primarily Kurdish population, currently under siege by IS. Youssef Mohammed, the speaker of parliament  said, “This is a big turning point in Kurdish history. Troops used to be sent to occupy Kurdish lands, but now we are sending soldiers to protect our Kurdish brothers abroad”.

Emerging Conflicts: Pakistan

At least 13 people were killed in the southwestern city of Quetta on 23 October in a series of attacks. Eight members of the Hazara minority were killed when gunmen opened fire on a bus. Soon after, a bomb on a motorcycle exploded targeting a car used by security forces. Two people were killed and 12 were wounded in the attack. There was also an attack which killed two and wounded 30. The cleric Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, the head of a Sunni religious party and supporter of the Taliban, was targeted but he was not severely hurt. He has been targeted in the past for his willingness to work inside the democratic system.

No group has taken responsibility for the attacks yet, but Taliban-linked Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is the main suspect. However, Quetta is the provincial capital of Baluchistan and Baluch separatists are also suspected. The majority of victims were Hazaras, a Shi’ite ethnic group that has been repeatedly targeted. Hundreds of Hazara protested the killings later in the day. About one-fifth of Pakistan is Shia and over 800 have been killed attacks since 2012.

The recent attacks in Quetta follow an attack on a bus in early October in Peshawar which killed seven. Tensions have escalated since the Pakistani military launched an offensive against militants in North Waziristan in June. Over 800,000 people have been displaced in the operation, and the Pakistani military says that over 1,000 militants and 86 Pakistani soldiers have been killed.


What You Need To Know: Week of 10/18


The Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIS or ISIL, has reportedly been halted and forced to retreat in their attack on Kobane, the strategically important town on the Syria-Turkey border that has been the focus of IS attacks for the past month. According to the BBC, IS has lost more than 20 percent of the town in recent days. Idris Nassan, deputy head of Kobane’s foreign relations committee, said “Maybe in the few past days [Islamic State] was controlling about 40% of the city of Kobane, but now… less than 20% of the city is under control of [IS].”

This gradual forced retreat comes after intensified air strikes by the US led coalition as well as heightened attacks by Kurdish fighters. The US and their allies have dramatically increased air strikes, in what the coalition has now called “Operation Inherent Resolve.”  Reuters reports that the US and its allied have almost tripled the rate of air strikes, hitting 40 targets in the last two days, reportedly killing hundreds of Islamic State fighters. Kurdish Fighters, represented in Kobane largely by the Kurdish the Popular Protection Units (YPG), have also retaken large parts of the south and southeast of Kobane. However, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby warned that Kobane could still fall to the Islamic State, as increasing numbers of jihadists were constantly joining the siege. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that 662 people have died since IS launched its attack on Kobane a month ago. This figure includes 374 jihadists, 268 fighting on the Kurdish side, and 20 civilians.

 A prominent Syrian lawmaker, Waris Al Younis, was reportedly gunned down Tuesday night in the Syrian city of Hama. Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that Younes was a commander in the National Defence Force, a pro-regime militia. Hama, in Syria’s west, represents a key strategic battleground battleground between regime forces and Islamic groups like Jabhat Al Nusra.

Reports are indicating that IS may now have access to chemical weapons. The New York Times gives credence to the idea, reporting that the Muthanna State Establishment, the facility at the centre of Iraq’s chemical agent production in the 1980s, is now in IS hands. This makes the situation against IS yet more urgent for the US led coalition.

Democratic Republic of Congo

 For a decade, rebel militias and elements of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) controlled the Bisie mine in North Kivu, DRC. Today, Canadian mining giant Alphamin retains sole ownership of the mine. Locals continue to protest the investment of Alphamin, fearing the eviction of artisanal mining communities, resulting in unemployment and delayed delivery of development promises. Artisanal miners in eastern Congo continue to advocate for the formalization of artisanal mining and the promotion of alternative sources of livelihood.

On Friday, October 17, a ceremony in Beni, North Kivu province mourned the deaths of nearly thirty Congolese civilians. These individuals lost their lives last week when Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels attacked populations living near Beni.  Civil society in North Kivu continues to protest the lack of stability in the region. Martin Kobler, head of the UN in the DRC Congo (MONUSCO), reaffirmed the force’s commitment to neutralize armed groups in eastern DRC.

The territorial administrator for DRC’s Orientale province and the UN Office for Human Rights confirmed attacks in Ituri, Orientale province this Friday. The Mai Mai Simba rebel group executed four men, raped four women, and looted numerous homes in the surrounding community. The Congolese military (FARDC) reportedly maintains a strong presence near the area of the attacks.

On Thursday, the Congolese government requested the removal of Scott Campbell, the UN’s highest human rights officer in the DRC. The request follows the release of an October 15 report condemning human rights abuses by the Congolese police force (PNC) in the midst of Operation Likofi, a crackdown on gang violence in Kinshasa. The report attributes 9 summary executions and 32 disappearances to the operation. The Congolese government, for its part, calls the report “partisan” and an attempt to discredit the PNC.


This week Sudan expressed fears over Ebola as the government refused to host the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, the continent-wide football tournament. The Sudanese minister of health said that Sudan has refused to host the cup as the most participating nations in the tournament finals come from West African nations in which the disease is rampant.

Additionally, dozens of Sudanese journalists protested in Khartoum last week against the indefinite suspension of the al-Saiha daily newspaper, one of the country’s most prominent newspapers. The journalists stated that the government promised press freedom and they have clearly not received it and demanded the immediate reinstatement of their daily paper. There has been no definite resolution of the protest.

Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Xu Qiliang met with Sudanese Defense Minister Abdel Rahim Mohamed Hussein in Beijing last week. The two leaders expressed a desire to continue growing the friendship and positive relationship between China and Sudan. They renewed sentiments of continued bilateral cooperation and exchange as well as cooperation with the Sudanese armed forces.

South Sudan

This week in South Sudan, President Salva Kiir has the opportunity to veto an extremely concerning National Security Service (NSS) bill. This bill would give the National Security Service the power to arrest and detain suspects without supervision, monitor communication throughout the country, and conduct searches and seizures on personal property without having to go through legal channels. The bill has been read three times in the National Legislative Assembly, but most of the legislators are still unsure if it has passed. If this bill passes and the President does not veto it as he has been urged to do by many members of international human rights agencies, it will give the NSS unprecedented power and could make them a threat to South Sudanese citizens’ rights. The NSS has also been responsible for some of the worst violations of freedom in South Sudan since the country’s independence.

Numerous reports of civilian frustration emerged last week as scheduled peace talks between the two warring sides were postponed again due to continued violence. There is growing concern over the humanitarian situation in the country as the two sides continue to fight despite international intervention and multiple attempted peace talks. There is also a fear that the fighting may worsen as the dry season approaches, as it will be easier to transport persons and materials, which makes fighting easier. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer stated the only way to avoid further declines in the humanitarian situation is “a peace agreement or . . . a sustained, massive aid operation”. Mr. Lanzer emphasized that “if those things aren’t there, you are going to see a massive increase in mortality in South Sudan.”


There has been mix of positive and negative news concerning the Burmese government’s relations with various ethnic groups. On the positive side, the Burmese government will provide stipends to school teachers who teach ethnic languages. When a military junta ruled Burma, a major source of conflict was the use of ethnic languages in schools. The junta insisted that Burmese be taught, while various ethnic nationalities felt this was an attack on their culture. On the negative side, the Burmese Army has ordered 1,000 villagers to leave their homes as clashes continue in Kachin State between the Burmese Army and Kachin Independence Army. After a 17-year-old ceasefire ended in 2011, fighting continued between the two groups despite multiple ceasefire talks. In addition, more fighting has occurred in Shan State between the Burmese Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Kachin Independence Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.

Burma will hold its first ever LGBT film festival in November. Same-sex relations and sodomy are still illegal in Burma, with accompanying prison sentences of up to 10 years. However, organizers of the “& Proud Yangon LGBT Film Festival” hope to take advantage of the country’s growing freedom of expression to bring about great awareness and combat negative stereotypes of LGBT people.

Last week, Burma’s former Religious Affairs Minister Hsan Hsint was sentenced to 13 years in prison for corruption and seditious comments against the government. Hsint was arrested following a raid on a Buddhist Monastery in Yangon (also known as Rangoon) in June. The raid caused a public outcry over the disrespect shown toward the detained monks.

In other news, Burma will get its first KFC next year in Yangon as the country continues to reestablish relations with foreign governments and businesses.


Nearly 100 people have been killed in the last week as Libya descends towards state failure.  Over fifty of those have come since Wednesday in fighting between the Libyan National Army and Islamist militias in Benghazi. The Libyan National Army forces, who have called themselves Operation Dignity, are led by General Khalifa Hifter and are allied with the House of Representatives. The Islamist militias, including al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Sharia among many less radical groups, make up Operation Dawn and typically support the General National Congress. The United States, United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, and France have all called for an immediate end to the fighting.

Libya does not currently have a functioning government, with power contested between the House of Representatives and the General National Congress.  The House of Representatives is Libya’s national elected government, but they were forced to leave the capital Tripoli for the eastern city of Tobruk. The United Nations and most countries recognize the House of Representatives as the country’s legitimate government, but they have little internal legitimacy.  It does not control any of Libya’s three largest cities: Tripoli, Benghazi, and Misrata.  In September it voted to remove Sadiq al-Kabir from his position as governor of the Central Bank, but he still appears to be in power.  The General National Congress currently sits in Tripoli and also controls Benghazi and Misrata.  It includes a number of Islamist groups and some defected members of the House of Representatives.  Their challenge for power began after Islamists lost the election in June, although less than half of registered Libyans turned out.


World Food Day

Today marks the 35th anniversary of World Food Day. World Food Day commemorates the establishing of the Food and Agricultural Administration of the United Nations. Every year, North American activists come together to declare our commitment to eradicate hunger in our lifetime. Here at STAND, we hope to use today to raise awareness of the significant and brutal effect that hunger and food insecurity can have within conflict. From the impending famine in South Sudan, to drastic funding shortfalls for the World Food Programme’s work in Syria and with Syrian refugees, food insecurity is all too often an unfortunate reality of conflicts and mass atrocities. To learn more about how food insecurity affects each of our conflict areas, check out the list of further learning for Burma, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria.


Central African Republic

Democratic Republic of the Congo


South Sudan



Education Team


What You Need To Know: Week of 10/10


ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, has this week seized up to one third of the strategically important Syrian border town of Kobani. Reuters reports that although the United States has launched air strikes against ISIS in an effort to help the remaining beleaguered inhabitants of the largely Kurdish town, the airstrikes have failed to repel them, who continue their invasion of the town apace.

The Turkish government has been non-committal in respects to engaging with ISIS in Kobani, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying, “It is not realistic to expect Turkey to conduct a ground operation on its own.” Turkish Kurds have been outraged by Turkey’s reluctance to come to the aid of the Kurdish town of Kobani, with resentment turning into violence in southwest Turkey. At least 25 have died as a result of clashes between security forces and incensed Kurds who feel that the government is intentionally letting Kobani suffer. Such reasoning does little to quell the tension between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the two of whom have been in armed struggle for thirty years.

Turkey has increasingly pushed for the creation of a buffer zone along its border with Syria, a position that has divided opinion in Washington. Although Turkey has said that the buffer zone would largely be used to protect Turkey’s borders as well as incoming refugees, The New York Times reports that the area would largely be used to train and arm rebels to fight the Assad regime. Frederic C. Hof, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former American envoy to the Syrian opposition, said, “It would mainly be a place where an alternate government structure would take root and for the training of rebels.” The creation of a buffer zone would require American help to create a no-fly zone and repel air attacks by the Syrian government. It would also bring the United States and its coalition into direct confrontation with the Assad regime. The Turkish government has made it clear that they feel Assad is a greater threat than ISIS, and Turkish participation in the fight against the terror organization is contingent on the creation of a buffer zone.

Twenty five people, including four children, were killed Thursday in multiple Syrian government air strikes on a town outside Damascus. The Syrian Human Rights Observatory said the strikes were on Irbin, a town just east Damascus. It is the latest incident of governmental aggression as Assad’s regime has increasingly tried to retake the area around Damascus.

Central African Republic (CAR)

A new wave of heavy clashes broke out in the capital of the Central African Republic, Bengui, last Wednesday. Machine gun and heaven weapons fire began Wednesday night and continued through Thursday morning, though it was not immediately clear who was involved. The heavy weapons fire followed days of escalating violence in the capital. Earlier that day, a Muslim man was decapitated and his body burned in an apparent revenge attack for injuring several people in a grenade attack. Further violence ensued when an unidentified group of Muslims killed a taxi driver and torched several homes. A group of Muslims then tried to march on the capital’s northern districts but were stopped and arrested by European peacekeepers. It is not clear when exactly the heavy gunfire erupted. At least nine have been killed in the clashes so far, including a UN peacekeeper from Pakistan.

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that direct threats against its volunteers and emergency service were preventing the organization from carrying out its relief efforts in the capital. The organization called for all armed parties to respect the “impartial and humanitarian work of its personnel” and emphasized that the ICRC would have to cease its relief activities if the threats continue.

Last Monday, the mostly Christian anti-balaka rebel coalition called on the president and the prime minister to step down, citing the “chaotic situation in CAR”. Some members of the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition also called for the president’s departure.


This week, Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir denied Sudan’s strategic relationship with Iran. Bashir stated that Sudan’s ties with Iran have been exaggerated at the expense of Sudan’s relationship with the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in particular.

Sudan’s government has authorized two NGOs to operate in east Darfur, an area that has been sealed off from humanitarian assistance since 2010. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that Sudan has authorized a health assessment of East Darfur to be conducted by NGOs who have not been allowed in the region for four years. The two regions, East Jebel Marra and Beli, are home to 15,000 of the estimated 100,000 people that humanitarian aid has been unable to reach because of Bashir’s ban on humanitarian aid in Darfur. The NGOs now have an opportunity to assist those in need and report on the current situation in the region.

South Sudan ** trigger warning: sexual violence **

This week, the United States urged UN sanctions on South Sudan. The United States envoy to South Sudan’s leader Donald Booth stated that individuals who are responsible for blocking peace in the region should be sanctioned. Although the UN Security Council has the ultimate say in which sanctions are eventually imposed, Booth said the US was not opposed to an arms embargo which could ensure less access to weapons on both sides of the conflict.

Additionally, a report was published this week by a special UN envoy tasked with assessing the levels of rape and sexual violence in South Sudan. The envoy found that levels of rape in South Sudan are the worst the envoy has ever seen. The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, stated that in all of her 30 years of service she has never seen a situation as dire as it is currently in South Sudan. She said that South Sudan is not a place where women can live because they constantly fear for their safety and their children’s safety. She added that the conditions are worse than her observations in many other countries including Bosnia, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Somalia.

Finally, fighting has resumed south of the state capital, Juba, despite peace talks last week. Both sides blame each other for the attacks. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM in Opposition), South Sudan’s main armed opposition group, states that it was responding to the government’s continuous attacks and heavy shelling, while the government claims that it was responding to raids by the SPLM in Opposition.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

On October 1, the UN began a specialized training program for female MONUSCO peacekeepers and female soldiers in the Congolese armed forces (FARDC). The training aims to educate female peacekeepers and service members on the importance of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 1325, which recognizes the unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls and emphasizes the contributions of women to peace keeping and peace building processes.

On Monday, Ugandan rebel fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia attacked several communities in the city of Beni, North Kivu, DRC. The attacks left eight civilians dead and several homes looted. Civil society in North Kivu responded by staging a public demonstration condemning the attacks. In late spring 2014, the Congolese army (FARDC) succeeded in driving ADF forces out of Congo. Civilian leaders in Beni expressed frustration at the reemergence of instability in the region.

Early this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) spoke out against conditions at Kotakoli camp, a center intended to temporarily house nearly 1,000 former combatants from various rebel groups in eastern DRC awaiting their reintegration into civilian or military life. HRW staff and Congolese residents living near Kotakoli describe conditions as reminiscent of those experienced by Somali famine victims. The Congolese government attributes the neglect of Kotakoli residents to a lack of capacity rather than a lack of will.

In a press statement released last week, the UN Security Council (UNSC) again called upon the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to assist the Congolese government in the demobilization of Rwandan FDLR rebels in eastern Congo. Noting that October marks the halfway point of the six-month window given to FDLR militants to disarm, the UNSC expressed concern over the slow rate of repatriation and called upon the Congolese state to pursue military action against rebels who fail to surrender before the deadline.


Tensions between the Rohingya and Rakhine are mounting following reports of increasing marginalization and discrimination by local authorities in Burma’s western Rakhine (Arakan) State. Reuters reports that it has obtained a draft plan written by the Burmese government that would present an ultimatum to Rohingya living in the country: accept reclassification as illegal migrants and potentially be granted citizenship or be arrested. The plan suggests the creation of more “temporary camps” to house those detained. This news seems bleak after small signs of progress earlier in September when 209 Rohingya were granted some form of citizenship.

The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group and are denied citizenship and other rights by a controversial and widely condemned law from 1982. The Burmese and neighboring Bengali governments do not officially acknowledge the almost 1.5 million Rohingya in their countries but instead identify them as either illegal Burmese or Bengali migrants. Because of this stance, the Rohingya are denied access to education, healthcare, and freedom to travel. This makes the Rohingya stateless and, according to the United Nations, one of the world’s most persecuted. Fighting, which has been labelled ethnic cleansing by Human Rights Watch, regularly occurs between the Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine in Burma. To date, fighting has killed 192 people and displaced around 140,000 Rohingya to internally displaced persons and refugee camps. Click here to see photos of Rohingya in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, following clashes in August.

More news of fighting between the Burma Army and Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) in Burma’s eastern Karen State has displaced local villagers and halted access to roads. The two groups have been fighting since September, despite a growing effort to establish a national ceasefire agreement between the Burmese government and ethnic militia organizations, including the DKBA. Talks ended last week but are due to resume again in the near future.

Emerging Conflicts: Mali

Peacekeepers in northern Mali were attacked twice in the course of a week.  Nine peacekeepers from Niger were killed on 3 October when gunmen riding motorbike ambushed a UN convoy.  The gunmen were targeting a fuel truck, which would have caused even more damage had it been hit.  A Senegalese UN peacekeeper was killed on October 7th when rocket fire struck a camp of peacekeepers in Kidal.  These attacks follow an attack on Chadian peacekeepers in Kidal in September when a roadside bomb killed five.  According to UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, 31 peacekeepers have been killed and 91 injured since the mission began in July 2013.

The attacks were widely condemned. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was “shocked and outraged” following the 3 October attack. Mali’s foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop said that he fears that Mali could become a destination for “hoards of terrorists.”

The conflict in Mali began in 2012 when Tuareg separatists and al-Qaeda linked militants in the north of the country rebelled.  France took an active role in the conflict and the UN established a peacekeeping force in 2013.  Prior to the recent attacks fighting had slowed and Tuareg rebels had commenced peace talks with the Malian government.  The most recent attacks come after France had begun withdrawing troops from Mali in preparation for a regional security force.



What You Need To Know: Week of 10/3


Turkish Members of Parliament this morning voted to take action against the Islamic State (ISIS) as the Islamist terror organization progresses towards the Kurdish town of Kobani, which rests just within the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border. The vote to authorise military action against ISIS in neighbouring countries passed 298-98. However, Turkish defence minister Ismet Yilmaz asserted that this does not necessarily mean assistance the citizens of Kobani is forthcoming. Although ISIS has not approached within sight of the city, no US-led coalition strikes occurred on Thursday, and Syrian human rights activists have warned “without intervention to protect the Kurds, the city could fall within hours.” TheNew York Times reports that ISIS forces have already taken the Kurdish village of Kazan, a town with extreme proximity to Kobani.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan outlined his intentions to attack ISIS, committing not just to aerial strikes but to ground troops as well. Erdogan also made clear his ambitions to bring about the end of incumbent Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, an ambition out of step with the central goals of the US-led coalition. Thursday’s vote will also allow for the creation of a Syrian-Turkish “security zone” which would cater to the 1.5 million Syrian refugees flooding into Turkey, including those from the largely abandoned Kobani.

This week, car bombs have killed dozens in the central Syrian city of Homs. The twin explosions reportedly killed 45 people, including 41 children. No responsibility has been claimed for the explosions thus far, though the Islamic State have recently increased their presence in Homs. The Syrian Network for Human Rights, an organization dedicated to documenting human rights abuses in the Syrian conflict, reports that 2,375 people had died in the conflict in September alone. Of those, more than 1,700 were killed by government forces, among them 294 children.


The United States has voiced concerns over Sudan’s continued arrests of political and human rights activists as the anniversary of the September 2013 demonstrations nears. The State Department also condemned Sudan’s continued negligence of human rights issues, using the case of Darfur as an example.

A report published this week addressed the “morality laws” of Sudan and their effect on women. Out of 60 civil society activists that gave testimony for the report, only five have not been arrested because of their work. Many blame the president for these unfair laws stating that President Omar al-Bashir has actively pursued a “singularly Arab, Islamic, and male-dominated country”, which has led to “government [that] has institutionalized discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, political opinion, gender and sexual orientation”.

In other news, the worldwide premiere of the film, The Good Lie that follows the story of a group of refugees from Sudan’s transition to life in America, has brought Sudan back into the American media. Many hope that this will be a way to bring Sudan back into the forefront of international news.

South Sudan

This week, South Sudanese rebels denied accepting support from Sudan. According to one of the upper level officials in the South Sudanese rebel group, their trip to Khartoum was not in fact a trip to receive arms and funds but was “part of a peace mission initiative by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is mediating negotiations between the two warring parties”.

Additionally, the South Sudanese government stated that they are optimistic about a potential peace agreement with the rebels. Peace talks throughout this week, led by mediators from the East African regional bloc IGAD, have opened the door for the warring factions to sit together and discuss the conflict openly. Discussions have turned now to ending the conflict, stressing the importance of strong transitional governments to ensure good governance and to prevent further conflict from emerging.

Meanwhile, the international community continues to voice its concern over the worsening food crisis in South Sudan. According to UNICEF, some 50,000 South Sudanese children may die of starvation, and 2.5 million people are predicted to be at crisis food shortage levels from January to March 2015. The risk is even higher for internally displaced persons and those fleeing violence, which is still a major issue as the fighting has not stopped despite positive peace talks this week.


Following last week’s unsuccessful peace talks to establish a nationwide ceasefire between the Burma government and various ethnic organizations, Burma’s president Thein Seinclaimed in a weekly radio address that reaching a ceasefire agreement would be vital to national elections in 2015 and subsequent political transition. President Thein Sein’s comments tail news of the death of 17 soldiers from the Tatmadaw (Burma’s army) resulting from clashes in Burma’s northern Shan State with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). The KIA and TNLA are both ethnic militias and are the two largest such groups that have yet to sign ceasefire agreements with the Burma government. Fighting also broke out in Burma’s eastern Mon State between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) after rebels detained eight government officials.

In addition, the US Embassy in Rangoon (Yangon) has issued a travel warning for the eastern part of the country after a grenade attack on a bus and the discovery of two bombsin Karen State last week.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Congo’s president Joseph Kabila recently promoted General Gabriel Amisi, appointing the FARDC officer as commander of one of Congo’s three newly created “zones of defense.” The move came as part of Kabila’s reorganization of top military commanders, which critics view as an attempt to consolidate the President’s power. The UN group of experts has accused Amisi of selling weapons to armed groups, and Kabila himself deposed the officer from power in 2012 on the grounds of this accusation.

Congolese civil society expressed outrage this month at delays in the repatriation process for Rwandan FDLR combatants in North Kivu province. The UN recently granted a two-month extension during which time FDLR rebels might voluntarily surrender and return to Rwanda. Civil society leaders in North Kivu view the continued presence of FDLR rebels as punishment to civilian survivors of FDLR war crimes. Congolese leaders called on the Rwandan government to do its part to ensure a smooth repatriation of the militants.

In late September, the Congolese national police force (PNC) commissioned a class of nearly 200 new officers in South Kivu province. This class of officers, the third of its kind, received UN-facilitated, UK-funded training on human rights. The contingent of officers will deploy to rural areas throughout South Kivu to work in collaboration with civilian populations to prevent human rights abuses.

Central African Republic (CAR)

The top UN official in the Central African Republic expressed concern on Sunday over possible delays for elections in CAR, saying that pushing back elections could worsen the crisis. Some have suggested that the elections, scheduled for February, could be delayed until after next year’s rainy season which ends in September.

The country continues to suffer from interethnic violence. Last Thursday, French forces killed at least five people in clashes with both Muslim and Christian forces in Bambari, northeast of CAR’s capital. In the southern city of Ngaboko, attacks and reprisal attacks by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition and majority Christian anti-balaka rebel coalitionleft over 20 dead in late September, including the city’s mayor. The recent decision of several high-level rebel leaders of the Seleka group to quit has caused further concern. The rebel leaders stated that they disagreed with the group’s secessionist plans for its northern enclave and opposed the group’s purported plans to march on the capital of Bengui despite the presence of UN and French peacekeepers. Central African Republic interim president Samba Panza recently asked the UN to consider tweaking an arms embargo in order to allow the government’s troops to be properly equipped in order to work alongside UN forces in the country.

Meanwhile, the country’s continued insecurity combined with the rainy season has caused the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to face a double challenge for the organization in carrying out aid distribution. In a more positive development, the International Criminal Court (ICC) recently announced that it is opening an investigation into a “nearly endless” list of atrocities in the Central African Republic. The announcement comes following calls for the ICC to send investigators to the country.

Emerging Conflicts: Yemen

Yemen is in an uneasy peace after Houthi rebels took most of the capitol. Located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, the country of 23 million saw Houthi forces take the capitol of Sana’a on 21 September. The Houthi forces had moved through the country from their base in the northwest of the country over the course of about a month before taking most of Sana’a, including many important government buildings, with little opposition. The same day, Prime Minister Mohammed Basindwa resigned and a peace deal was signed in which the rebels agreed to leave the capitol after a new Prime Minister was named. The peace deal also lessened power for President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and gave an increased role in the government to the Houthis. Whether the Houthis will eventually leave the capitol is unclear, as they continue to station a number of troops in the city and have made orders regarding state spending. At least 200 people have died so far, although it seems that violence has slowed.

Religion plays a role in the conflict, as the Houthis are part of the Zaydi branch of Shi’ite Islam and the ruling government is primarily Sunni. However, the Houthis also represent many popular grievances with the government and have allied with Sunni groups and participated in many nonviolent actions in opposition to the government. After large scale protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, current President Hadi stepped in, and many of the protesters’ grievances were never addressed. Widespread corruption and the poor economy have been major focuses of the Houthi’s movement. Still, many Sunni groups do not trust the Houthis as they have at times been very aggressive towards their enemies.

The conflict has significant geopolitical implications. While the Houthis deny they are backed by Iran, they certainly have close ties, and opponents of Iran are worried of growing Iranian influence. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council have both expressed concern over the Houthi uprising. The US has made clear its “strong support” for Yemen’s ruling government, although its main concern is Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The US has launched a number of drone strikes against AQAP targets in Yemen and in September President Obama called Yemen one of his models for counterterrorism. AQAP opposes Yemen’s ruling government, but it opposes the Houthis even more strongly.

What You Need To Know: Week of 9/28


Negotiators from the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) met with representatives of the the Myanmar government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) for the sixth round of talks to discuss the creation of a nationwide ceasefire agreement in Yangon, Burma’s largest city. The NCCT, formed in late 2013, represents 16 different ethnic organizations and militias. Its vice-chairman, Nai Hongsa, claimed that only one of the five proposed points of the ceasefire agreement was agreed upon, which include military issues and participation in a “political dialogue.” The Myanmar government, represented by the UPWC, has wanted to bring about a ceasefire with all ethnic organizations since 2012 but has yet to achieve such a goal with sporadic violence occurring as recently as last week.

Additionally, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri recently announced the expansion of his group’s jihad to several Asian nations, including Burma. Some fear that Zawahiri’s statement may incite further tension between the predominantly Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist people of Rakhine State. To date, the sectarian conflict has resulted in the death of 192 people and displacing 140,000 Rohingya to internally displaced persons and refugee camps in Bangladesh and India. By law, the Rohingya are denied Burmese citizenship and other rights by the Myanmar government, but on Monday, September 22, 209 Rohingya were granted a form of citizenship. The 1982 citizenship law, which has been used to deny the right of citizenship to Rohingya, creates three types of citizenship: full, associate, and naturalized. Of the 209 people, 40 were granted full citizenship while the other 169 were awarded naturalized citizenship, which can be revoked. To read more about this story.

In other news, the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar Army, released 108 child soldiers in a discharge ceremony on Thursday in Yangon. Over the past two years, 472 children have been officially discharged from the Tatmadaw.


A coalition of ten non-governmental organizations (NGOs) released a report expressing discontent at the Congolese government’s failure to live up to the Peace, Security, and Cooperation (PSC) Framework, a regional peace deal signed in February 2013. The coalition, led by leading Congolese human rights group Voice of the Voiceless, criticized the state’s failure to implement security-sector and electoral reform. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon echoed the concerns of Congolese civil society in a statement on September 22, calling on DR Congo and its regional partners to work together to disarm combatants.

Civilians fled the towns of Bukumbirwa, Kishongya, Rusamambo, and Kanune last week as clashes between the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the local Congolese militia Nduma Defense of Congo Cheka. Administrators in surrounding villages in North Kivu continue to call on humanitarian organizations to intervene, as host towns for the new refugees appear unable to absorb the influx of new residents.

Fighting between the Congolese national army (FARDC) and the Kisenga Mai Mai militia erupted last weekend in Katanga province, leaving several rebel fighters dead and others injured. The FARDC reportedly suffered no casualties. By Monday, September 22, the fighting subsided. The FARDC regained control of the territory and displaced civilians returned to their homes.

The United Nations peace keeping force in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) reports signs ofprogress on a peace deal in Ituri province, DRC, where Front de la Resistance Patriotique en Ituri (FRPI) armed rebels control territory near Lake Albert. In the past, FRPI combatants often targeted members of the Hema ethnic community living in this region. The FRPI allegedly retains ties to the M-23, the militia group responsible for the armed occupation of Goma in 2012 and 2013.


The United Nations Human Rights Council renewed its mandate on Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Sudan for another year, which means that the human rights situation in Sudan will be monitored closely for another year. The Council stated that it is concerned about the use of excessive force by the government and also feels that the government is responsible for media restrictions within the country. Additionally, the Council said that the Sudanese government has not done enough to address the humanitarian needs of their country and in many cases has hindered the work of organizations working within its borders.

The Sudanese Justice Minister stated that Sudan objects to this appointment because it was not consulted first. The Minister stated that the government wished to keep its current independent expert. The Minister also denied the media restrictions and other violations the government was accused of. Despite the objection from Sudan, the UN stands by the mandate and urges Sudan to address its many human rights violations.

South Sudan

On Saturday, September 17, 2014, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir announced at a United Nations conference that the government of South Sudan will do everything in its power to end the nine-month conflict and begin to build a stronger nation. In his speech, the president stated that the rebels have time and time again violated peace agreements and continued to use violence against other citizens. He blamed the lack of progress in conflict resolution on his former deputy Riek Machar who continues to arm the opposition rebels. Additionally, President Kiir has been working with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to bring together community leaders, civil society groups, and faith based organizations to begin to build relationships of trust among internally displaced persons (IDPs) within South Sudan. Later on in his speech he stated that the re-ignited conflict in South sudan is purely a power struggle between the rebels and the government, and not an ethnic conflict as it has been called many times.

Reports have emerged that the food crisis in South Sudan is easing. Although at least 1.5 million people are still in need of immediate food assistance, there has been a highly successful “green harvest” that has international organizations hopeful that South Sudan will not fall into famine. There are still many issues that can negatively impact the food supply in the region including “early depletion of household food stocks, dysfunctional markets, loss of livelihoods and displacement – all resulting from protracted conflict.”


The US and its allies have this past week launched wide ranging air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria. American President Barack Obama used his weekly address to say that American leadership was “the one constant in an uncertain world,” and to justify his intentions going forward. The US has created a coalition of nations united in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), that includes various Arab countries. These Arab nations include Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The coalition has continued to gain momentum with the inclusion of western nations as well, as Britain committed to join the airstrikes on ISIS. The US-led coalition has this past week been involved in airstrikes in provinces across the northeast of Syria. Targets of the airstrikes include ISIS training camps, bases and checkpoints. The US has also used the airstrikes to pursue the destruction of an obscure terror group known as Khorasan, thought to be an offshoot of Al-Qaeda. Despite little mention of the group in public discourse beforehand, United States officials quoted by the New York Times speaking on Tuesday characterized the domestic and international threat posed by Khorasan as an “imminent” one.

Reuters reports that since airstrikes against the Islamic State were announced earlier this month, more than 200 fighters have joined IS in Aleppo. As Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, “This means these people are not scared. Even if there are air strikes, they still join.” The continuing appeal for the IS crusade remains as strong as ever for fighters coming from abroad.

In southern Turkey, IS edged steadily closer to the Syrian-Turkish border as they approached the strategically important Kurdish town of Kobani, laying siege to the town from three sides. More than 140,000 Kurds have fled the town to escape the ever widening reach of IS, many fleeing to surrounding villages or crossing into Turkey. This has prompted the UNHCR to make contingency plans for the entire population, with Reuters reporting that the possibility of a full 400,000-person exodus from Kobani has been considered.

Edu Update: Week of 9/19


Government forces in Syria have this week increased their attacks against moderate Syrian rebels in both intensity and scale, as reported by the New York Times. Hassan Abu Nouh is an anti-government activist based Talbiseh, Homs, and has close ties to the local insurgent force, the Iman bil Allah Brigade. He told the paper “They [Assad’s governmental forces] are hitting us like crazy,” “Maybe no one will be alive to tell the story next week.”

The sudden increase in government attacks comes at a pivotal moment for factions in Syria, as President Obama has in the past few days gained crucial approval and funding from the House of Representatives for his plans to arm the moderate Syrian rebels to fight against the Islamic State, although the deliberations encountered much skepticism – the vote was a surprisingly close 273 to 156. Many analysts believe that increased violence against Syrian rebels is directly linked to the United States’ decision, as the Assad regime has a strong interest in ensuring that only its own forces benefit from any potential weakening of the Islamic State.

The UN has halted a measles vaccination campaign in Idlib after up to fifteen children died after receiving being given their vaccinations. The precise reasons for the deaths are unknown, though the World Health Organization (WHO) has pledged to launch an investigation, saying that the establishment of “the precise cause of the children’s deaths is vital.” WHO and the UN hope to restart the campaign “as soon as possible”, so as to ensure protection against measles for the particularly vulnerable Syrian children.

The World Food Programme has announced that it could be forced to cut funding for over 6 million Syrian refugees unless they receive more funding. John Ging, director of operations at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Reuters: “In October, WFP will be able to deliver 60% of what they have been delivering. In November it will be down to 40%.” Ging puts this down to a simple lack of funds, saying “the money is not coming in.” This means that as winter approaches, humanitarian agencies will be forced to cut back on what little food and material aid they have, rendering yet more grim the fate of aid-dependent Syrians.

Burma (Myanmar)

Members of the Myanmar Army and Karen National Union (KNU) are due to resume on and off again peace talks next week. However, clashes broke out September 9th between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is the armed wing of the KNU, and the Myanmar Army near the Oo Thu Hta region of Papun District in Karen State. The KNU fight, both militarily and within the government, for greater autonomy for the Karen, an often-persecuted ethnic minority in Burma’s east. According to The Irrawaddy, “The KNU signed a ceasefire with the Burmese government in 2012, but clashes between the two sides have continued intermittently ever since. Critics say a failure to consolidate the ceasefire through efforts such as the implementation of a code-of-conduct to govern the armed groups has contributed to the ongoing hostilities.” Despite ongoing clashes, the Myanmar government has repeatedly indicated its desire to implement a nationwide ceasefire with all rebel militias, including the KIA, yet such an agreement has failed to materialize.

Additionally, earlier this week two bombs were found in the Karen populated Myawaddy Township near the Thai border. Karen militias, such as the KIA, have been in conflict with Thai border authorities over alleged mistreatment and extortion of Karen migrant workers by Thai border authorities.

On Thursday, 11 September, a two-year-old curfew was lifted for the town of Sittwe in Rakhine State. Sittwe has been the center of conflict between the stateless Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine. To date, the conflict has resulted in the death of 192 people and displacing 140,000 Rohingya to internally displaced persons and refugee camps in Bangladesh and India. You can read more about the challenges facing the stateless Rohingya in India here.

In other news, Burma has been undergoing a rapid economic transformation as the country has reengaged with the world economy. However, with new growth comes new challenges. The economic rise has caused concern over uneven development, with benefits reaching only a small, select group of wealthy elites. Additionally, a recent census was significantly smaller than previous estimates, causing some to worry that attracting new investors may be difficult and that profits from untapped Burmese markets may be smaller than anticipated by those who have already invested.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Congolese Minister of Information Lambert Mende denied allegations of an attempt by Congolese President Kabila and the ruling People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD) to alter the country’s constitution. Opposition activists assert that the President seeks to exploit his numerical majority in parliament to alter the nation’s presidential term limits. Under current regulations, Kabila is required to step down as head of state in 2016. Proposed alterations would permit the President to run for a third term. Political protests escalated in Kinshasa last week after Jean-Bertrand Ewanga, the General Secretary of the opposition, Union for the Congolese Nation, received a yearlong prison sentence for insulting Kabila. Tensions between the ruling party and the opposition remain high.

Didier Bitaki, leader of the Mai Mai Kifuafua rebel militia, stated this week that the group’s 2,800 combatants are ready and willing to surrender, provided that the Congolese state can guarantee security in the Walekale region of eastern Congo. Bitaki’s movement formed in Walekale in response to attacks by rival militias in the region, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The commander maintains that Mai Mai Kifuafua combatants were justified in taking up arms according to the Congolese constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to protect life and property. According to Bitaki, in the past the Congolese military (FARDC) was unable to fulfill this role. The Congolese government today seeks to integrate Mai Mai combatants into the state military or into Congolese society.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded the first case of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in late August. Between August 26 and September 9, the disease spread to over sixty people and claimed the lives of over thirty individuals. The Congolese strain of Ebola is unrelated to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and is in fact a separate strain of the virus that emerged independently in the Congo. Congo’s Ebola cases remain confined to four isolated villages in Equateur province and, with no paved roads running from any major city to the outbreak zone, WHO officials are optimistic that the outbreak may be contained. The UN force in the DRC (MONUSCO) continues to supplyresources to help combat the outbreak.

South Sudan

On September 16, South Sudan’s ministry of labor issued an edict stating that foreign nationals working in the country must leave South Sudan within one month, excluding diplomats and government aid agencies. The government stated that this move towards a foreigner-free South Sudan was due to fear that foreigners are taking jobs that could be given to South Sudanese. There have also been rumors that foreigners in the country have been supporting the rebels financially and militarily. International NGOs have voiced concern that expelling aid organizations could cause the country to fall faster into famine.

The decision has caused many foreign investors to re-think their decisions to invest in projects in South Sudan, raising concerns over the future of an already economically weak South Sudan. Foreign investors like Exxon Mobile have left the country, taking with them jobs and economic gain. This policy has also frustrated neighboring African countries as their economic advisors in the country will now have to leave, greatly impacting trade relations.

Last Friday, the United States has imposed sanctions on two military officers on opposite sides of the conflict in South Sudan to show frustration over continued ceasefire violations. The two officers are on the opposing sides of the conflict, one backed by President Kiir and the other loyal to Kiir’s fired deputy Riek Machar. The US Treasury department stated that both men are perpetuating the violence that has killed thousands and displaced over 1 million since December.

Finally, South Sudanese mediators have condemned the renewed fighting as they were beginning a new round of peace talks. Seyoum Mesfin, the chairman of the mediation process stated that this new round of violence is a “ purposeful act aimed at derailing the next phase of the peace process”.

Central African Republic (CAR)

Last Monday, the United Nations formally took over the African Union’s peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic. The transition added about 1,800 UN troops to the 6,200 AU troops already present. The switch to the UN peacekeeping force, known as MINUSCA, comes after the Associated Press said that it had determined that more than 5,000 people have been killed since the outbreak of violence last December.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch and Stichting Vluchteling, a Netherlands refugee agency,called on the new UN force to “urgently improve protection for civilians in eastern and central parts of the country” where the organizations say sectarian violence continues to increase. Meanwhile, several human rights groups have urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to send investigators to the country and for MINUSCA to help set up a special court in CAR. The human rights groups stressed the need for perpetrators of grave crimes to be brought to justice “without delay”.

Emerging Conflicts: Lesotho

Events continue to unfold in Lesotho after an attempted coup on August 30th. The tiny country of just two million people is completely surrounded by South Africa. The government is a constitutional monarchy, although the king is largely ceremonial and the head of government is the prime minister.

In June, Prime Minister Tom Thabane suspended parliament with the support of the king due to fears of an impending coup. However, critics believed this move was a power grab from Thabane aimed at avoiding a no confidence vote.

WOn August 30th, military forces surrounded government buildings, forcing the prime minister to flee to South Africa. It is believed that the coup was prompted when Thabanetried to remove Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, leading the army to attempt a coup. On September 3rd, South African troops escorted Thabane back into Lesotho, where he retook control of the government.

While the situation has calmed down, it is still unclear what will happen. Elections originally scheduled for 2017 are set to be moved forward, although a date has not yet been set. Thabane says he will not reopen parliament until Kamoli is arrested, although Kamoli denies the charges against him. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), a 15-country organization, continues to mediate the conflict, and South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is taking over from President Jacob Zuma.

Although the conflict may be resolved peacefully, it is a major setback for Lesotho and SADC. Lesotho reinstated multiparty elections in 1998, and, although they had at times been surrounded by violence, Lesotho was still considered a democratic success story. This has also not helped the reputation of SADC. It does done little to prevent human rights abuses in Zambia and Swaziland, and the appointment of Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe to chair the organization does not inspire confidence. Mozambique is preparing for contentious elections next year, and a similar situation to Lesotho would further destabilize the region.

Education Update: 9/7-9/12

Here’s all you need to know from the world of gen prev from 9/7 to 9/12.


In an address to the American public on Wednesday evening, President Obama outlined his intentions to launch airstrikes on Syria, broadening his campaign to eliminate the Islamic State (IS). Declaring that the United States would “degrade and destroy” the Islamist organization, the President for the first time committed to strikes to halt the group in Syria. The President’s decision comes after three years of shying away from any attack on Syria, reluctant to embroil America in what could be perceived as another fruitless overseas conflict.

Obama will now face the challenges of organizing regional partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the fight against IS, trying to bring about the destruction of IS while at the same time not aiding the brutal and dictatorial Assad regime, and training and arming Syrian moderate factions that will be able to stand against both IS and the Assad regime. Some analysts have stated that previous American reluctance to engage in the conflict, particularly after the chemical weapons attacks last year that the American government believes to have been perpetrated by the Assad regime, has caused skepticism over American objectives in the conflict.

Some – including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – have accused Obama of doing too little too late. Indeed, in an August interview with The Atlantic, Clinton was quoted as saying, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad… left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”

While many in Congress have been critical of the President’s plan, Republican House leaders have largely argued in favor of supporting President Obama’s call for military action in Syria. House and Senate hearings are scheduled for early this week, with a vote on military action to follow after. The date for any such vote has not yet been set. The White House, however, has argued that it does not need Congressional approval to begin any such strikes. The Obama administration has stated that attacks against the Islamic State are covered under the existing authority for military action against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks, al-Qaeda. While the Islamic State has officially parted ways with Al-Qaeda, White House officials argue that they are still covered under the language of the A.U.M.F., the 2001 authorization of military force against al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

Inside Syria, a blast on Tuesday killed the leader and several other top figures of Ahrar al-Sham. Ahrar al-Sham is among the most powerful extremist insurgent groups in Syria. The Syrian government announced Tuesday that it has canceled a deal to sell 200,000 tonnes of wheat to Iraq due to the Islamic State’s rapid advance since June in the areas straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border.


**Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault**

The umbrella of opposition groups in Sudan, the National Consensus Forces (NCF)announced Thursday that it only accepts dialogue with the government that will lead to genuine change. The umbrella group emphasized that previous agreements have failed to repeal laws restricting freedoms or set forth a plan to dismantle the one-party rule of the National Congress Party (NCP). Opposition groups also called for President Omar al-Bashir of the NCP to release all political prisoners. Meanwhile, the head of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) announced that talks have been finalized between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-North), and between the government and Darfur rebel groups. The former talks are scheduled for 12 October and the latter for 15 October. While the armed opposition alliance of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) insists on negotiating a comprehensive humanitarian ceasefire for Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states, the government insists on using the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) to negotiate separately with holdout rebel groups.

South Sudan has criticized the Sudanese government for including the oil-producing Abyei region in its plans for 2015 elections, saying that the decision contravenes the status of the disputed region. South Sudan also requested that the East African regional bloc, IGAD,intervene to help it resolve its disputes with Khartoum.

The International Criminal Court announced Thursday that it has changed a Darfur rebel figure’s court summons to an arrest warrant, stating that the suspect may not arrive voluntarily for his trial scheduled for next November. Meanwhile, reports emerged earlier this week that Janjaweed militiamen have shot 5 people and kidnapped 2 in Darfur. On Thursday, a spokesman for the rebel group Liberation Movement for Justice (LMJ) announced that his forces attacked and killed 17 government troops in North Darfur in coordination with forces from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM).

The spokesman for the Darfur Displaced and Refugees Association has called on the international community to enter the camps and investigate the various diseases spreading throughout the camps. The spokesman for the North Darfur camps also called on the international community to international community to act to aid the displaced with their hunger needs as well as health care, and to protect Darfur’s displaced from the Janjaweed and Rapid Support Militia, whom he called “the cause of the instability in the insecurity in Darfur.” The Secretary for Women’s Issues of North Darfur’s Kabkabiya camps also called for the UN and the international community to protect the women of the camps from rape, noting that eight women from the camps in the past four months have been attacked and raped. Meanwhile, a hospital in Central Darfur was forced to close down on Monday as employees have not received payments in six months. In West Darfur, reports have emerged that the health situation of Murnei Camp has rapidly deteriorated over the past two months. A lack of food rations, health care, and medicines has caused the death toll in the camps to rise significantly.

South Sudan

Mixed reports surfaced over the deployment of Chinese peacekeepers in South Sudan last week. The Wall Street Journal reported the deployment of 700 Chinese soldiers to a UN peacekeeping force in Unity and Upper Nile States. The report indicated that the soldiers were being deployed to protect oil fields as well as Chinese workers and installations. China is the largest investor in South Sudan’s oil industry. However, the UN spokesman for UNMISS, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, later denied the report, saying that the soldiers are to be deployed later this year to protect civilians.

Reports emerged Tuesday that several Nuer employees of different oil companies were denied payment and subsequently fired by the government. The SPLM in Opposition, one of the main armed opposition group, is led by Riek Machar, a Nuer and South Sudan’s vice president. President Salva Kiir is of Dinka ethnicity, and the conflict has seen severe ethnic violence and civilian targeting. The government has dismissed the reports.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) requested earlier this week for donors an additional 17 million francs (approximately 19 million USD) due to alarmingly high malnutrition rates in South Sudan, prolonged displacement, and the intense pressure on health-care facilities. The ICRC aims to distribute food to 150,000 people with the additional money.

Central African Republic (CAR)

new UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic will begin next week. The mission will include 1,500 additional peacekeepers to join the 4,800 troops of the African Union-led MISCA peacekeeping mission, which includes a sizable French presence with 2,000 French troops. Together, the peacekeepers will operate under the UN as the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Meanwhile, the White House announced that 20 US Armed Forces personnel were deployed Wednesday to CAR to support the resumption of activities at the US Embassy in the capital of Bangui.

Also on Wednesday, the Special Envoy to the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the Great Lakes Region, Said Djinnit, met with Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to discuss military and political stability in the region. In the meeting, Special Envoy Djinnit stressed the desire of the UN to strengthen its work in creating peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Meanwhile, CAR’s former Prime Minister called on the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) for further support on Tuesday. The former Prime Minister asked the AfDB to assist CAR through advocacy with international bodies to obtain their support.

Earlier this week, the international medical humanitarian agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, was forced to cease its activities in the northern city of Batangafo due threats against MSF staff and the repeated raiding of the organization’s staff house. The organization states that suspension of activities will likely affect hundreds of people daily.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

In a statement issued on August 26, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) expressed concern at limited progress shown by a six-month voluntary repatriation program for the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a militant group responsible for large-scale atrocities in Congo’s eastern provinces. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo commented that the FDLR interprets this six-month window as an opportunity to postpone previously scheduled demobilizations. FDLR combatants, among the parties responsible for the large-scale massacre of Tutsis during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, remain in Congo’s eastern provinces and continue to commit war crimes against civilian populations. Given the regional and domestic threat posed by the FDLR, the UNSC has encouraged the Congolese military and UN forces in the Congo to use military force against FDLR commanders who refuse to demobilize.

UN Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) Force Commander General Dos Santos Cruz presented a cache of over 250 arms to the press. According to Dos Santos, MONUSCO recovered the weapons between the beginning of May and the end of August. The mission recovered the caches in abandoned 23 March Movement (M-23) militia strongholds in the Rutshuru territory of North Kivu. M-23 combatants occupied the city of Goma, provincial capital of North Kivu, for nearly two years before UN and Congolese forces pushed the militia out of the city. Dos Santos added that civilians played a large role in alerting MONUSCO about the existence of arms caches in abandoned camps, and the commander encouraged locals to continue to cooperate with MONUSCO to ensure the seizure and destruction of all M-23 weaponry.

Unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV or “drone”) technology will cost MONUSCO an estimated 15 million USD in 2014. UNSC Resolution 2098 (March 2013) grants MONUSCO the authority to use UAVs strictly for surveillance purposes. Proponents of the technology cite the comparative affordability of the technology relative to the mission’s annual budget (8 billion USD) as well as the deterrent effects that drones have on militia groups in the region and the ways in which drone presence helps reassure local civilians. Human rights groups reason that with this enhanced surveillance technology, the UN mission will no longer be able to “plead ignorance” in the face of attacks on civilian populations and will instead be forced to act. Officials in neighboring Rwanda expressed privacy concerns with MONUSCO’s use of drones. MONUSCO spokesman Colonel Félix Basse assured skeptics that drone cameras would not be used on Rwandan soil.

Emerging Conflicts: Nigeria

The radical Islamist group Boko Haram has made dramatic advances in northeastern Nigeria. It took the town of Madagali in Adamawa state on 23 August, and has also takenBuni Yadi and Bara in Yobe state. The bulk of its operations, however, have come in Borno State, where Gamboru NgalaBankiAshigashya, and Gwoza have all fallen under Boko Haram control. While Boko Haram captured Damboa in July, it appears to have been retaken by the Nigerian military. Boko Haram has also launched a number of attacks across the border into Cameroon. As of 11 September, Boko Haram had the main city in Borno State, Maiduguri, surrounded. Nigeria Security Network says that “if Maiduguri falls, it will be a symbolic and strategic victory unparalleled so far in the conflict.” Boko Haram has already caused extensive civilian costs, where along with the many dead the UN has estimated that 650,000 people have been displaced.

These events mark a major shift in Boko Haram’s strategy. They had previously operated as a terrorist organization, with the bombing of a World Cup viewing center and the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls serving as high-profile examples. While they continue to operate in a similar fashion outside of northeastern Nigeria, these recent events demonstrate that Boko Haram is becoming increasingly territorialReports of the appointment of an Emir in Gwoza and leader Abubakar Shekau’s declaration that the townis now ruled by Islamic law have led some to believe that Boko Haram is beginning to set up their own caliphate.

The Nigerian government has not appeared to be organized enough or taking the problem seriously enough to counter Boko Haram’s advances. There are reports of soldiers only having enough bullets to last a few minutes, and these problems led over 400 soldiers to flee and some to refuse to fight until they received better equipment. Soldiers have also blamed corruption within the army as being a major obstacle to efficient operations. President Goodluck Jonathan has been severely criticized for his response to the kidnapping of 276 girls in April that prompted the hashtag “Bring Back our Girls.” Still, supporters of Jonathan appropriated the phrase for the hashtag “Bring Back Goodluck 2015” in support of his reelection, although Jonathan asked his supporters to no longer use the hashtag after intense criticism.