The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

What you Need to Know: Week of 6/29/15


Responses have begun to the last week’s Parliamentary defeat of legislation that would remove what is effectively a military veto.  Ethnic armed groups said the decision further damaged trust with the military and showed the military’s true colors.  Students also protested the decision in Rangoon.  However, other student activists, arrested after the protests in March, are in poor condition and several were placed in solitary confinement.

In Hpakant Township in Kachin State, there have been a number of clashes between the Burma Army and Kachin Independence Army forces.  Earlier this week the Burma Army sent more troops.  The clashes have injured civilians and forced many to evacuate.  In Rangoon, the Burma Army chief has raised concerns about ethnic rebels, saying they should lay down their arms and make “logical demands.”

The government has started to tighten freedom of the press ahead of the elections, warning television and radio stations that they could have their licenses revoked if the government deems their coverage of the election biased.  Ma Ba Tha may also be kept off the airwaves, however, with the Ministry of Information rejecting the Buddhist nationalist organization’s hopes of creating a radio station, but Ma Ba Tha has reaffirmed their intention to create one.


Central African Republic (CAR)

CAR has begun enrolling voters for the elections scheduled this October.  However, armed groups have said they will block the process in areas under their control.  Other logistical problems, such as a lack of sufficient funding, also threaten the process.  The UN expert on human rights in CAR, Marie-Therese Keita Bocoum, has urged the international community to increase their support to CAR during the transition process.  The transition process was given a small boost this week, when 200 anti-Balaka north of Bangui agreed to lay down their arms.

CAR resumed diamond exports this week.  They had been stalled since 2013 due to an embargo in response to the conflict, but diamonds that comply with the Kimberley Process can now be exported.

Refugees International released a new report on CAR.  The report found that while the security situation is improving, especially in and around Bangui, many problems remain in the country.  They have called on the international community to increase funding for humanitarian aid and help support IDPs and refugees.

DR Congo (DRC)

President Kabila issued corruption complaints against a dozen current and past government officials.  While the names have not yet been released, it is believed that Katanga Governor Moise Katumbi is on the list.  Katumbi is a former ally of Kabila turned critic, and is expected to challenge Kabila in the 2016 elections.  Government spokesperson Lambert Mende has rejected claims that the charges may be politically motivated, saying the government is committed to reducing corruption.

Suspected ADF militants attacked a Congolese military base near Beni in North Kivu.  It took Congolese soldiers several hours to fight off the heavily armed rebels, who managed to set a FARDC vehicle on fire.  Three FARDC soldiers and four militants were killed.  Civilians in the areas around the base also suffered, with five dying and over 20 houses set on fire.

There has also been insecurity in Nyabibwe in North Kivu, where bandits have killed three people and wounded six in the last month.  The bandits have been looting households for money and goods, but civilians have received little protection.  Civil society has called on the authorities to intensify their efforts to protect civilians and locate the bandits.


South Sudan

Rebels won the strategically important city of Malakal from the South Sudanese army.  The state capital of oil-rich Upper Nile state has been heavily fought over throughout the war.  The militia that played a key role in the victory, led by Johnson Olony, has now officially merged with the SPLM-IO.  Rebels aligned with Riek Machar also won the town of Leer in Unity state from government forces.  However, in Western Bahr el Ghazal state, the South Sudanese army fought off rebel forces.  The government also received a boost after General Gai Yoach defected from Riek Machar’s forces and rejoined the government.

Riek Machar met with the AU High Representative for South Sudan to discuss the peace process.  He also met with Salva Kiir in a consultative meeting in Nairobi mediated by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.  Kiir and Machar failed to come to an agreement.  In a separate statement, the South Sudanese government noted the effect of the conflict on the economy and warned that oil production will be damaged unless the conflict ends.

The UN has imposed sanctions on six generals, three from each side of the conflict.  The generals have global travel bans and asset freezes.  The UN also documented atrocities committed by government forces in Unity State.  In Malakal, the UN said rebels opened fire on a peacekeeping base where thousands of civilians were sheltered.  One person was killed and six were wounded.



The UN Security Council unanimously voted to extend UNAMID’s mandate.  The vote means that peacekeepers will remain in Darfur until at least 2016.  Contrary to Sudan’s demands, the exit strategy does not have a fixed date and will be tied to the security situation in Darfur.  Sudan argued that the decision was an obstacle to peace.  Sudan was also unhappy with UNAMID over the DDR (disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration) process, arguing that UNAMID was delaying it.  UNAMID denied the allegations.  Also, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has reiterated her intent to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services have suspended the weekly newspaper Elaph.  The editor-in-chief of the paper said they were not given a reason for the suspension.  This is not an isolated incident, as newly released figures showed that 256 charges were filed against journalists and newspapers in 2014.



A new video shows Jaysh al-Islam soldiers executing 18 ISIS fighters.  The executions are in response to ISIS executions of Jaysh al-Islam soldiers.  The two forces have been engaged in fighting around Damascus.  There also continues to be heavy fighting between ISIS and Kurdish forces in Hassakeh, and the fighting has displaced approximately 30,000 people.  If these civilians become refugees, their suffering could be further compounded by the lack of funding provided by the international community.  Food aid is once again being cut to refugees, and the UN warned that unless the World Food Program receives an additional $139 million, food aid to Syrian refugees will have to be suspended entirely in September.

Britain looks likely to expand their airstrikes against ISIS from just Iraq to Syria as well.  The US is already carrying out airstrikes in both countries, as well as conducting their “train and equip” program.  Despite the extremely small number of Syrian troops involved in the program, the Pentagon says it remains committed to the program.  Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has completed a rare action on the conflict, condemning fighting between the Syrian army and rebels in Golan Heights.


Emerging Conflicts: Egypt

Egypt has been wracked by violence in recent days.  In the Sinai Peninsula, clashes with the ISIS affiliate that goes by the name “Sinai Province” have escalated.  The group coordinated almost simultaneous attacks against five military checkpoints and a police station.  Sinai Province also occupied the town Sheikh Zuweid for several hours before being fought off.  The military reported that 17 Egyptian soldiers and 100 militants had been killed, but some sources said over 100 Egyptian soldiers had been killed.  The next day, Egypt responded with airstrikes that killed 23 militants and made a statement reiterating their intent to defeat Sinai Province.  The Sinai Peninsula is a poor and sparsely populated region that many armed groups have operated in.  However, the scale of the most recent attacks are well beyond past operations.  The series of attacks this week was preceded by a car bomb explosion in Cairo on June 29th.  State Prosecutor Zakaria Abd El-Aziz Osman was targeted and killed.  The perpetrator has not been confirmed, but ISIS-affiliated forces are suspected.

Conflict has also escalated between the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Egypt’s last President Mohamed Morsi was part of the Muslim Brotherhood and was deposed by current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a coup two years ago.  The ruling government has since outlawed and cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood.  Police raided a Cairo apartment on July 1st, killing 13 Muslim Brotherhood members, including a former member of Parliament.  Egyptian authorities said that the men were plotting attacks, while the victim’s families said they were unarmed and innocent.  The Muslim Brotherhood has called on supporters to “rise in revolt” against the Sisi government.

What You Need to Know: Week of 6/22/15


Burma deported 37 Rohingya to Bangladesh.  The people were found by the Burmese navy on a boat in the Bay of Bengal in May in an attempt to migrate.  Those who the Burmese authorities identified as Bangladeshi have been deported, while the others remain in makeshift camps.  In a separate incident, when Aung San Suu Kyi was asked this week whether Rohingya should be given citizenship, she did not give a clear answer, instead saying that the matter should be addressed “very, very carefully.”  At her 70th birthday celebration, she called on her National League of Democracy (NLD) supporters to prepare for a landslide victory in this year’s election.  However, their chances could be hampered by irregular voting lists, which the NLD claimed were frequently erroneous and contained errors in 30 to 80% of names in Rangoon Division.  The NLD will likely not get much support from Ma Ba Tha, and a prominent monk told the Buddhist nationalist organization to vote for the incumbent government rather than the opposition NLD.  At the same conference, Ma Ba Tha called for Muslim girls to be banned from wearing headscarves in schools.

Eight representatives of Burma’s ethnic minorities met with Chinese officials, following in the footsteps of Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to China last week.  In Shan State, ethnic armed group The Restoration Council of Shan State was caught in controversy, where a prominent member of the Ta’ang National Party accused the armed group of abducting his party’s president and secretary.

A senior military MP has made clear his opposition to a change to constitutional Article 436.  The NLD has been trying to change the provision that requires a 75% vote to pass legislation.  As unelected military MPs are given 25% of seats, it essentially gives the military a veto.  Brigadier General Tin San Niang said Burma did not have enough experience with democracy to remove the provision.

Amnesty International has released a report on the harassment and limitations Burmese journalists face.  Although Burma removed many long-standing restrictions on journalists in 2012, journalist still operate in a climate of fear.  Burma’s government has dismissed the claims.

Central African Republic (CAR)

The controversy over Anders’ Kompass decision to send French authorities a report on French peacekeeper sex abuse in CAR continues.  It has created an internal split in the UN, with High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein seeing the disclosure as a leak while many see Kompass as a whistleblower.  The UN has hired an external panel to investigate the allegations.  There was also a new case of peacekeeper sex abuse that emerged this week.

CAR has scheduled the electoral calendar for this year.  A census will take place between June 27th and July 27th, a referendum on the new constitution will take place on October 4th, Presidential and Parliamentary elections will occur on October 18th, and if a second round of elections is needed it will take place on November 22nd.  The elections will require a budget of $34.6 million, but only about half of that has already been funded.  Additionally, the National Elections Observatory has called for reform in the electoral code to improve the elections.

DR Congo (DRC)

Clashes took place in North Kivu with Congolese soldiers facing off against Mai Mai and FDLR combatants.  There do not appear to have been heavy casualties.  There was also fighting in Garamba National Park, where poachers killed two soldiers and one ranger in an ambush.  The poachers are believed to be from South Sudan, which borders the park.  In Western DRC, there was a riot at a camp for ex-militants.  The camp houses over 800 surrendered militants from multiple groups.  After a rumor started that a guard had stolen $30,000 intended for rations at the camp, a riot broke out and the militants demanded to be set free and allowed to return home.

The preparations for the upcoming elections have been disrupted by duplicates on a number of electoral lists for provincial elections.  Candidates have asked for ten days to correct the problems.

The McCain Institute has released rare polling data from North Kivu.  The poll found people had little trust in the electoral commission and 77% of people opposed changing the constitution to allow a third term for Joseph Kabila.  The Congolese military and police were given 69% and 57% approval ratings, respectively, while UN peacekeepers only got a 21% approval rating.  Large majorities approved of measures to increase female representatives in government.

South Sudan

The SPLM-IO has said it remains committed to the Arusha process but said the talks should not be in Juba.  Meanwhile, Riek Machar met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi.  Also, Pagan Amul has been reinstated as SPLM Secretary-General.  The SPLM convened a special meeting after the appointment.

The South Sudanese government has announced that it plans to resume oil production in Unity state.  Oil production has been stopped for over a year because of instability resulting from the war.  The UN had criticism for the South Sudanese government, saying the SPLM has consistently failed to cooperate with the UN and not given proper access to UN workers in the country.  In Western Bahr el Ghazal state, the government arrested a journalist without explanation before releasing him the next day.

Four women and one man were injured in a shooting at an IDP camp in Juba.  While the perpetrators are not confirmed, residents of the camp accused government soldiers.  The SPLM-IO also had accusations for the SPLM, claiming they had restarted fighting in Jonglei state in violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement.


The continuation of UNAMID remains in question.  Its mandate has been extended for a year by the African Union, although an exit strategy remains in place.  However, the UN Security Council still must approve the measure for it to take effect, but that vote has been postponed until next week.  The Sudanese government had called for the mandate not to be renewed while the United States insisted that it should be.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called for the renewal of the mandate.

President Omar al-Bashir announced Sudan would conduct a census in 2018, the country’s first since the succession of South Sudan.  In another announcement, he said that the army had obtained weapons that made it a “large and sophisticated deterrent force.”  The Sudanese government also criticized the United States for its failure to remove Sudan from the state sponsors of terrorism list, citing “double standards.”

The leader of the Reform Now Movement, Ghazi Salah al-Din Attabani, has criticized the government’s conduct during peace negotiations.  He warned that if dialogue did not succeed Sudan would have a major security problem.


Multiple armed groups have engaged in heavy fighting over the last week.  Supported by US airstrikes, the Kurdish YPG made large advances into ISIS territory, capturing a military base and the town Ain Issa.  The advance placed themselves within 50 km of ISIS’s capital, Raqqa, but Kurdish forces have said they do not intend to march on Raqqa.  Turkey, an opponent of the YPG, was concerned with their advance and accused the YPG of ethnic cleansing.  However, ISIS responded by attacking the important Kurdish-held city Kobani as well as Assad-held areas in Hasakah.  In Deraa, an alliance of rebels fought government forces in an attempt to take the city.

ISIS has moved to stop oil flows to areas controlled by other forces.  As ISIS controls almost all of Syria’s oil, civilians are fearful that hospitals may not be able to function and that there will be massive food shortages.  The think tank Chatham House released a report detailing the extent of Syria’s economic collapse as a result of the war, and said that it could weaken the Assad regime.  The war has also led to increased class divisions, with middle and upper classes tending to support Assad while lower classes support the rebels.  The Assad regime also still has support from Russia, and President Putin reaffirmed his position that Assad should stay in power.

The UN released a report documenting attacks on civilians from the Assad government and rebels, noting that the Assad government has bombed Aleppo daily for the last year.  The Assad government has also struck ten medical facilities with barrel bombs since May.  Over 70 countries condemned the Assad government for their human rights abuses.

Emerging Conflicts: Iraq

Conflict continues to rage in Iraq as ISIS conducted a number of attacks in the last week.  Northeast of Fallujah ISIS attacked Iraqi army forces and then lured them into an ambush, killing 14.  In western Anbar province, rockets killed nine after hitting a number of civilian installations, while six were killed after a car bomb exploded in Baghdad.  In Diyala province, 14 people were killed when an ISIS suicide bomber attacked a meeting of Sunni tribal leaders.

Four years after exiting Iraq, NATO plans to renew their involvement in the conflict.  Details are not completely determined yet, but it seems likely that NATO will train Iraqi troops.  The WHO, however, may be forced to shut down their network of 77 clinics in the country due to poor funding and a lack of security.  Meanwhile, US airstrikes continue, one of which killed ISIS commander and suspect in the Benghazi attack, Ali Awni al-Harzi.  Another airstrike may have caused a number of civilian casualties, and the Pentagon has launched an investigation into the strike.

STAND Summer Reading List

Looking for good mass atrocity books to read this summer?  STAND’s got you covered.  We reached out to current and past members to get their recommendations.  This blog post doesn’t have every relevant book or every conflict zone (more comprehensive lists with every recommendation and all our conflict zones are on their way), but this has what past and present STAND students had to say about books that really stood out to them. Similar blog posts on more books,  films, blogs, and twitter accounts will be out soon.

A Problem from Hell by Samantha Power-

STAND members really like A Problem from Hell.  Recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill Danielle Allyn, a former STAND Education Task Force member, says “given our audience, many have probably already read this.  But if you haven’t, this is a must-read.  Ambassador Power’s book examines a century of mass atrocities and U.S. foreign policy complicity or neglect in response.”  Current STAND Campaigns Coordinator Jake Ramirez says “of course,” while last year’s West Regional Organizer Heather Klain accompanied her recommendation with “need I say more?” Last year’s student director Natasha Kieval also recommended the book.

Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Moses Kor and Lisa Rojany-Buccieri-

Rising junior at Purdue University and STAND chapter leader Hannah Long says “Surviving the Angel of Death tells the story of Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor, who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau when she was 9 years old. Her parents and older sisters were taken to be killed upon arrival, and she and her twin sister were only spared because they were twins and Nazi doctor Josef Mengele was very interested in performing his sadistic experiments on twin subjects. This book tells the story of their time in the camp and beautifully showcases the power of the human spirit because to endure such hardship and emerge with as much grace as she did is nothing short of an absolute inspiration.”

Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing by James Waller-

STAND’s former Education Coordinator Sean Langberg says “James Waller provides my favorite analysis of the perpetrators of the Holocaust by examining a theory about motivation: why did people participate in the Nazi-led killing? His conclusions made me see perpetrators radically differently and transformed the way I perceive my relationship with violence.”

Fighting for Darfur by Rebecca Hamilton-

STAND Policy Intern and chapter leader Timmy Hirschel-Burns says “What I find so interesting about Fighting for Darfur is that it is in many ways about STAND.  The book chronicles the Save Darfur Movement, focusing on American anti-genocide activists with a particular focus on college students.  STAND itself even gets a few mentions.  By looking at the movement that STAND evolved out of, we can learn about our strengths, challenges, and how to be more effective in the future.”

King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild-

Former STAND Student Director Hannah Finnie says “This is a great book for someone just entering the genprev/maprev field. It provides a great understanding of the complexity of colonialism’s impact, and though the story is specific to the DRC, its lessons are broad.”  Danielle Allyn calls it “a merciless portrait of the horrors of colonialism in King Leopold II’s Congo.  A must-read for anyone looking to understand the history and contemporary landscape of central Africa.”

Final Solutions by Benjamin Valentino-

Former STAND Policy Coordinator Danny Hirschel-Burns says “hands down, it’s the most comprehensive book on why atrocities happen and how they work.”

A Long Way Gone by Ismael Beah-

Rising senior at Emory Julia Zukin says “In A Long Way Gone Beah recounts the horrors of his childhood during the child fought civil war in Sierra Leone. As a child soldier, Beah brings an unusual insight into the atrocious and vastly under documented world of child soldiers.”  Heather Klain also recommended A Long Way Gone.

Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco-

Jake Ramirez says “it’s a fascinating graphic novel written by a journalist who traveled to Gorazde after the war in Bosnia ended. He talks to people who experienced the war and recounts their stories. The writing is top notch, and the imagery adds another layer to the story.”

Maus I by Art Spiegleman-

Julia Zukin also recommends a graphic novel, saying “through the seemingly lighthearted use of cartoon strips, Spiegleman tells the harrowing story of his father’s experience as a Jew during World War II while simultaneously trying to grasp the atrocities of history himself by jumping between the past and present.”

Can Intervention Work? by Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus-

Danny Hirschel-Burns says “Why do international interventions fail? Is there a way out? This short book elegantly answers these questions in a very readable fashion.”

The Enough Moment by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle-

Recent graduate of Boston University and founder of Boston for Congo Garrett Moore says “I committed my career to atrocity prevention after reading The Enough Moment by John Prendergast and Don Cheadle. I recommend it to all from policymakers to casual activists.”  Jessica Goldstein, STAND’s summer intern, also included the book in her list.

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns-

Danielle Allyn says “Stearns goes a long way in distilling what is often presented as a complex and unfathomable conflict by Western media. I highly recommend this for any student of the Congo and the Great Lakes Region of Africa.”  Jessica Goldstein and Danny Hirschel-Burns are also fans of this one.

The Terrorist’s Son by Zak Ebrahim-

Rising senior at Brandeis University Mijal Tenenbaum says “It’s a book written by a man whose dad was (is) a terrorist. He has chosen to be a spokesperson for peace and change instead. I’m a former participant and current staff member at project common bond, a program for those who have lost a family member to terrorism. Zak visited us a few years ago, and donates a portion of this book’s profits to our organization.”

Look out for more comprehensive lists, as well as lists of movies, blogs, and twitter accounts, coming in the next few weeks!  Thanks to everyone for their recommendations! We are so excited to start reading.  We will have a selection of these books that the STAND Managing Committee will read throughout the summer.  We will blog about these books, hold google hangout discussions, and whatever else you would like to see us do! Contact Francesca Freeman at for more information or with any ideas.  Special shout outs to Heather Klain, Jessica Goldstein, and Danielle Allyn for not being able to stop at 1, 2, or even 10 recommendations!

A Critical Moment for Burundi

Burundi is currently in the midst of crisis, and while the most dangerous moments could be over, there also remains potential for devastating conflict.  The instability in the tiny Central African country centers around President Pierre Nkurunziza of the CNDD-FDD party.  Nkurunziza took power in 2005 as part of Burundi’s post-civil war transition.  He has since served two terms as President, but intends to run for- and likely win- a third.  Opposition to his plan has sparked large protests and even a coup attempt.  With the Presidential election scheduled for July 15th, great uncertainty remains as to what direction Burundi’s future will take.

Nkurunziza had been hinting at a third term for many months.  His party maintained that he was eligible as he had been elected by Parliament, rather than voters, for his first term, thus eliminating his first term from consideration in the two-term limit.  Opposition parties strongly rejected these claims, and when the CNDD-FDD announced on April 25th that Nkurunziza would run again, protests broke out.  Large-scale protests continued for weeks, with the Nkurunziza government cracking down heavily on protesters, the media, and the opposition.

On May 13th, Nkurunziza was in Tanzania attending a regional summit on the crisis.  General Godefroid Niyombare, Nkurunziza’s former Intelligence Chief who was fired for his opposition to the third term, announced that Nkurunziza’s government had been dismissed.  Nkurunziza attempted to return to the country but his plane was turned away.  After returning to Tanzania he maintained his intention to return to the country, and over the next day many conflicting reports of his location emerged.  In Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, Nkurunziza loyalists fought off the attempted coup.  On May 15th, Nkurunziza returned to the country and the coup leaders admitted their failure.  Prior to the coup, the military had been seen as a relatively successful organization.  During the past few weeks of protest, while the police had reacted heavily to protesters, the military had been a relatively stabilizing force.  The military factionalized, however, and sections of the military supported the coup while others opposed it.

Protests continued after the coup and the opposition maintained their stance opposing a third term.  On May 23rd, the leader of the Union for Peace and Development, Zedi Feruzi, was assassinated.  Although the perpetrator has not been confirmed, it is suspected to be someone affiliated with Nkurunziza, and many opposition parties responded by announcing a boycott of the election.  Due to the unrest, elections were postponed and the government eventually decided to schedule Parliamentary elections for June 26th and Presidential elections for July 15th.  In response to the actions of the Nkurunziza government, the influential Catholic Church withdrew its support for the elections.  Agathon Rwasa, leader of the main opposition party, the FNL, altered his position on boycotting the elections repeatedly,and although he opposes the actions of Nkrunziza’s government, he no longer intends to boycott.

Most media sources continues to be shut down, as are all the universities.  Around 80 people have been killed since April and over 100,000 people fled to neighboring countries during the peak of the conflict.  Grenade attacks, usually against police, have increased in frequency and opposition supporters are suspected.  There are also threats of violence from the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD.  It seems likely that Nkurunziza will win the upcoming elections, as the the opposition’s chances of victory will be hindered by their fragmented nature, Nkurunziza’s repression, and their limited campaigning as a result of their threats to boycott.  Nkurunziza also holds great popularity in rural areas.  On the diplomatic front, the US has stated its opposition to Nkurunziza’s third term, and the UN has repeatedly expressed their concern at the situation and appointed a special envoy to aid peace efforts.

The conflict has demonstrated some positives.  For one, if crisis is averted, it could very well go down as a model of atrocity prevention.  Burundi has long been marked as a country at risk of conflict, and the atrocity prevention community has been able to quickly implement a fairly coordinated response.  Also, conflicts provoked by this crisis have remained political and not ethnic, unlike the 1972 genocide and the Civil War from 1993 to 2005.  Still, there remain many dangers.  As conflict progresses politicians may attempt to mobilize along ethnic lines.  Also, the opposition may turn to more violent methods due to their failure to create change in the political arena.  Finally, it is unclear how the country will react to an expected Nkurunziza victory in July’s election.  It is possible that this crisis is eventually seen as a hiccup on the path to a more prosperous Burundi, but there could just as easily be far worse to come.

Timmy Hirschel-Burns is a rising junior at Swarthmore College and STAND’s Policy Intern.  You can follow him on Twitter at TimH_B

What You Need to Know: Week of 6/15/15


The flow of Rohingya refugees has slowed since its peak a few weeks ago, but the problems still remain.  Large numbers of Rohingya refugees, often transported in boats by traffickers demanding large sums, attempted to leave repression in Burma and refugee camps in Bangladesh.  Their primary destinations were Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, but these countries mostly turned away refugees who were then left stranded.  At this point, many smugglers left the refugees at sea, and there are even mass graves where smugglers are believed to have left refugees.  The Burmese government has responded to the crisis by increasing efforts to prevent the flow of refugees.  However, they maintain that the Rohingya are Bengali, not Burmese, and refuse to improve their conditions.  Many Burmese share this view, and 500 people marched in Sittwe to protest the return of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State.  Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who recently visited China, has maintained her silence on the situation of the Rohingya, likely because of a fear of losing popularity as she runs for President.  Bangladesh’s response to the crisis has been to propose moving its 32,000 registered Rohingya refugees to a frequently flooded island.

500 Rohingya were recently granted Burmese citizenship, reportedly after officially accepting the government’s label as Bengali.  However, the government has restricted their movement, arguing that this is necessary for protecting their safety.

In Shan State, the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) unilaterally declared a ceasefire with the Burmese government.  The Khokane rebels cited a desire for elections to go forward peacefully, and the decision also closely followed a summit of ethnic armed organizations that they attended.

Central African Republic (CAR)

The Central African Republic is preparing for parliamentary elections next month.  The UN Peacebuliding commission has called on all stakeholders to support a successful atmosphere for the upcoming elections.  However, they have acknowledged that the budget for the elections is $21 million short, and they called for additional support from international partners.

A new study by Save the Children has found that over 60% of school-aged children in the Central African Republic suffer from PTSD.  They found 91% of children have experience fear of death or serious injury, and large portions of children have witnessed serious acts of violence.  The Enough Project also released a new report which found that armed groups in the country have extensive profit-generating operations.

Pope Francis has announced that he is planning a visit to the Central African Republic in November, and he hopes the trip comes before the presidential transition.

DR Congo (DRC)

The DRC military (FARDC) has launched operations with UN forces against the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front (FRPI).  The operation marks a return to military cooperation between the UN and FARDC, who have not worked together since the UN rejected cooperation with FARDC in an operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) after the Congolese government appointed generals with records of human rights abuses for the operation.  The operation against the FRPI, a local militia of several hundred fighters, has led to the death of 34 FRPI fighters and four members of FARDC, while the civil death toll is unclear.  In Walikale, clashes between factions of the Raia Mutomboki have led to civilian insecurity.

The Executive Secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes region says the repatriation of M23 fighters should finish in August.  Meanwhile, the founder of M23, Bosco Ntaganda, is set to undergo trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.  Due to concerns about the safety and emotional wellbeing of victims, the ICC somewhat controversially decided not to hold the hearing in the northeastern DRC city of Bunia.  Ntaganda is charged with 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  He is the first suspect to voluntarily surrender themselves to the ICC.

In other news, 220 Congolese NGOs and 14 international NGOs have demanded the release of two activists arrested in a raid on a pro-democracy meeting in Kinshasa in March.  They are charged with plotting against President Joseph Kabila.  Verisk Maplecroft also published their corruption index this week, and the DRC topped the list.

South Sudan

South Sudanese rebels in Northern Bahr el Ghazal have claimed that as many as 200 government troops defected to join their ranks.  The rebels are under the command of Riek Machar, who recently met with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to discuss the Arusha SPLM Intraparty dialogue.  The UN also told the African Union that it would support its efforts to resolve the conflict.  The peace process is not going entirely smoothly, however, and President Salva Kiir has rejected the most recent IGAD peace proposal.  As the conflict continues, civilian casualties grow and UNICEF documented the deaths of 129 children in May in Unity State.  There could also be another layer to the conflict, as the South Sudanese government accused the Sudanese government of carrying out an air attack in Upper Nile state.

The conflict has led to a humanitarian crisis, and 4.6 million people are in need of food assistance, according to the UN office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  The US has announced it will contribute another $133 million to assist displaced South Sudanese civilians.  Aid agencies took a hit in Jonglei state, however, where bandits broke into the office of the Jonglei Food Security Program and stole $147,000.

In an effort to stop the conflict, Humanity United, Human Rights Watch, the Enough Project, United to End Genocide, the American Jewish World Service, and the National Association of Evangelicals called on the US to impose targeted sanctions against individuals in South Sudan who have committed serious human rights violations.  The South Sudanese government did not agree, calling the NGOs’ actions a “disincentive” for peace.  The NGOs are not the only ones examining targeted sanctions.  The African Union proposed sanctions on parties that do not comply with the peace process, and the UN also has a team of investigators in the country to determine if some individuals and parties should be the targets of sanctions.


The biggest story in Sudan this week was the escape of President Omar al-Bashir from South Africa.  Al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, travelled to Rome Statute signatory South Africa for an African Union Summit.  He has travelled to other countries obliged to arrest him before, and South Africa’s government was prepared to allow him to visit without arresting him.  However, after al-Bashir arrived, a court issued an order barring him from leaving the country in the next day, as the determined whether South Africa had an obligation to arrest al-Bashir and send him to stand trial at the Hague.  While they were making their decision, al-Bashir managed to leave the country.

Sudanese forces were attacked by rebels in West Darfur this week.  Negotiations took place between the Sudanese government, the African Union, and the United Nations to create an exit strategy for the peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  However, the UN has refused to sign an agreement.  Meanwhile, Darfur’s National Liberation and Justice Party has suspended their partnership with the ruling National Congress Party and withdrawn from the Sudanese government.


The Assad regime has suffered a number of losses to extremists and the moderate opposition and is in its weakest position for quite some time.  The Southern Front, an affiliate of the Free Syrian Army, seized a military base in Deraa.  In Palmyra, ISIS forced Syrian government forces to flee, and they are now close to gas plants that supply 50% of Syria’s electricity.  Rebel forces led by Jabhat al-Nusra let the last area held by the regime in Idlib province.  In the US, the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs.  In a separate statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said he is “absolutely certain” the Assad regime used chlorine gas.  President Assad has recently agreed with UN Peace Envoy Staffan de Mistura to continue talks towards a political solution to the conflict.

Kurdish militia group YPG, with some support from Free Syrian Army forces, advanced on ISIS stronghold Tal Abyad and engaged in heavy fighting.  Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is not impressed with Kurdish rebels, however, and has accused the West of backing terrorist Kurdish rebels.

In Idlib province, Jabhat al-Nusra forces massacred 20 Druze villagers.  Although al-Nusra considers Druze heretics, they had pledged not to attack religious minorities that did not oppose them.  However, after one Druze man was suspected of supporting the Syrian regime, a clash broke out and al-Nusra forces began massacring Druze villagers.

Emerging Conflicts: Yemen

Yemen’s conflict rages on and shows few signs of abating.  The Islamic State has stepped up their involvement in the conflict, detonating four car bombs in Sanaa.  The bombs targeted four Houthi buildings: two mosques, a house, and an office.  Dozens of people were killed.  In Southern Yemen, 31 people were killed when a Saudi airstrike hit a convoy of civilians fleeing violence.  A US airstrike struck and killed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, al-Qaeda’s second in command and the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  The US was originally unaware of al-Wuhayshi’s whereabouts, and the airstrike was not aimed at him.

Peace talks in Geneva between Houthis and the exiled government have led to little progress.  The Houthis seem to favor a truce but are unwilling to accept the conditions proposed by the other party.  The parties refuse to sit in the same room and rely on UN intermediaries to convey messages, and there was even a fistfight between members of the different parties.

The conflict has created a humanitarian crisis in the country.  The UN has said 6 million people are in urgent need of food assistance, with 10 of Yemen’s 22 governorates facing an “emergency level” of food insecurity.  Saudi Arabia promised $274 million in emergency aid to assist Yemeni civilians, but two months later it still has not arrived.  Matters have been made even worse as an outbreak of Dengue fever has infected thousands in Southern Yemen.

Arresting al-Bashir

Briefly, it seemed Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who oversaw an estimated 300,000 deaths in Darfur, would finally face justice. Although it had initially looked as though al-Bashir would travel to the African Union summit in South Africa without problems, this was changed by a South African court’s decision to forbid him from leaving the country until it decided whether he should be arrested and sent to be tried at the International Criminal Court. However, al-Bashir managed to leave the country before the ruling was made, ending chances of his arrest.
Al-Bashir first took power in Sudan after a coup in 1989, and has been re-elected President three times since. Until 2005, his government was engaged in civil war against the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Army, and this ultimately led to the formation of the new country South Sudan in 2011. Al-Bashir also faced rebellion in other parts of the country. The most notable case is Darfur, where the Sudanese army and allied militias organized a genocidal counterinsurgency beginning in 2003.

This violence led the UN Security Council to refer al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court in 2005, and in 2009 the ICC issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The ICC is not able to arrest individuals themselves, but instead relies on its 123 member states to carry out arrests. Fear of arrest has restricted al-Bashir’s travel, yet he travelled to a number of non-member states as well as Rome Statute signatories Kenya, Nigeria, and Chad, which all did not carry out their legal obligation to arrest al-Bashir.
South Africa, an ICC member, looked likely to follow in the footsteps of these three countries as al-Bashir travelled to the country for an African Union summit. Al-Bashir’s decision to visit the country suggests he was given reassurances that he would not be arrested. However, after he arrived in South Africa on Sunday, a court ordered al-Bashir to remain in the country until they decided on Monday whether South Africa had a duty to arrest al-Bashir under their commitment to the ICC. The decision came as a surprise, including seemingly to South Africa’s government, which argued that since al-Bashir was visiting an African Union summit in a diplomatic capacity, South Africa was exempt from its ICC obligations.

On Monday, the court heard arguments on South Africa’s obligation to arrest al-Bashir. Somehow, officials lost track of al-Bashir’s whereabouts, and as the court heard arguments al-Bashir boarded his jet at Waterkloof air base and departed for Sudan. There was initially confusion on al-Bashir’s whereabouts, as the Sudanese government claimed he had left the country while South Africa’s government said his name had not been on the list of passengers on the plane. The court eventually ruled that South Africa did have an obligation to arrest al-Bashir, but by that time he had left from South Africa. On al-Bashir’s return to Sudan he was greeted by over 1,000 supporters at the airport.

Questions remain about how al-Bashir was able to leave South Africa. The South African government may have exploited a legal loophole by allowing him to leave from a military air base. The South African High Court has ruled that South Africa violated its own Constitution by failing to arrest al-Bashir, and it is still unclear whether the South African government really knew whether al-Bashir was on the plane as it left the country. South Africa’s reluctance to arrest al-Bashir is consistent with the shift in the foreign policy towards prioritizing African allies, many of which see the ICC as selectively targeting Africans. After the risks al-Bashir ended up facing on this trip, it seems unlikely he will travel to signatories of the Rome Statute again. As violence continues on a large scale in Darfur, chances of al-Bashir’s arrest look slimmer than ever.

An Eventful Start to 2015 for Nigeria

An Eventful Start to 2015 for Nigeria

In my role as Emerging Conflicts Coordinator, my focus is to find countries at risk of mass atrocities. All too often, this risk becomes a reality. While Nigeria’s position is still far from ideal, recent events have been a welcome point of optimism. Nigeria is now much closer to stopping a mass atrocity than it was just a few months ago. To explain how Nigeria got to this moment, I will rewind the clock to the beginning of 2015.

Boko Haram terrorizes northern Nigeria

The radical Islamist group Boko Haram has caused chaos in northern Nigeria for years. It enforces a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the areas it controls and has little hesitation to use brutal force on anyone considered an opponent to their goals. The Nigerian government, on the other hand, is based in the primarily Christian south, while the north is largely Muslim, poor, and has largely been neglected by the government. In its early years, Boko Haram gained some traction by feeding on common grievances in the north. However, despite common discontent with the Nigerian government, Boko Haram’s extensive violence against civilians has also ruined almost all possible political support it could have acquired there. Further, Boko Haram sees itself not as a resistance movement representing northern Nigeria but as part of a struggle for global jihad.

Over the course of 2014, Boko Haram gained unprecedented strength. April marked the infamous kidnapping of 276 girls from a school in Chibok, the subject of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. In the wake of the kidnapping, many said the Nigerian government took far too long to respond to the kidnapping, as it has to most Boko Haram attacks. The government further angered Nigerians when it announced it had successfully negotiated the release of the girls, only to backtrack when it became clear no such deal had been made. Ultimately, while some girls managed to escape, 219 were never returned. Boko Haram made further progress as it captured a number of towns in Borno state, bombed locations across Nigeria, and even began launching frequent attacks into Cameroon. By the end of 2014, Boko Haram had killed over 6,000 civilians. Nigeria’s army was poorly organized, underpaid, and under-equipped, and suffered frequent defeats to Boko Haram forces. It has also committed extensive human rights abuses against Nigerian civilians.

The situation at the start of 2015 already looked bad, but on January 3, things took a turn for the worse when Boko Haram seized a military base and attacked the nearby town of Baga. Death tolls were initially placed upwards of 2,000 people. The Nigerian government claimed only 150 people were killed, while it was likely somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people. Ongoing conflict makes it extremely difficult to get accurate information out of northeastern Nigeria, although there was undoubtedly extensive destruction to Baga.

Election Delayed

Nigeria’s presidential election was originally scheduled for February 14. The election placed the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, against former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, who lost the previous election. Jonathan, a southern Christian, took massive hits to his popularity as a result of corruption scandals, the falling price of oil, and his failure to deal with Boko Haram. Many even speculated that he saw the success of Boko Haram as an electoral opportunity, as Boko Haram’s advance made it more difficult to vote in overwhelmingly Buhari-supporting parts of the North.  Buhari’s chances suffered from his past as a military dictator–although he now claims to be a reformed democrat–and the fact that Nigeria had never had a challenger defeat an incumbent president in a democratic election. Buhari did, however, have stronger credentials to fight Boko Haram and benefited from Jonathan’s large unpopularity.

On February 8, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) announced that the election would be delayed until March 28th, citing disruption caused by Boko Haram and difficulties in registering voters. However, it was not clear that the situation with Boko Haram would improve in six weeks, and some speculated that the move was designed to give Jonathan time to gain popularity.

Boko Haram Beat Back

At the beginning of February, Nigeria’s neighbors Chad, Cameroon, and Niger began sending in troops to combat Boko Haram. They were motivated in large part by a fear of Boko Haram’s insurgency spreading and a lack of confidence in Nigeria’s ability to defeat them. While the details of the operation are not entirely clear, Nigeria also began hiring mercenaries to combat Boko Haram. The mercenaries may have even taken a leading role in combat operations, although the Nigerian government states that they were only acting as advisors. These new operations made major progress against Boko Haram, recapturing 17 of 20 local government areas that had been controlled by the militant group.

Elections Take Place

On March 28, elections finally began. Polls placed the candidates neck-and-neck going into the election. The head of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, had led extensive preparations to ensure a fair election. For the most part, voting went smoothly, and even internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Borno state were able to vote. However, in certain locations voting was pushed back to March 29, and there were some claims of attempts to falsify vote counts. Boko Haram, which had made clear its staunch opposition to elections, killed 41 people in an attack aimed at disrupting the election.

Votes were counted over the course of a few days, and on March 31 Buhari claimed victory. There were many fears of post-election conflict similar to that following the 2011 elections, when approximately 800 people were killed. However, Jonathan quickly conceded the election to Buhari and urged his supporters not to respond with violence. Buhari ultimately won with 15.4 million votes to Jonathan’s 13.3 million. Buhari gained support well beyond the north, with many former Jonathan strongholds swinging to Buhari or suffering from low voter turnout.

Cautious Optimism

Compared to what could have happened, and what many expected, recent events have been very successful for Nigeria. After years of military defeats to Boko Haram, Nigeria achieved huge victories over the course of just six weeks. The strength of Nigeria’s democracy far exceeded expectations, leading to a calm, organized election and a peaceful turnover of power.

Still, many potential potential pitfalls remain. Buhari’s presidency is far from a sure success, and it remains to be seen whether democratic norms will be respected. Additionally, though Boko Haram was defeated in several locations, there are few indications that Nigeria’s military has improved, and it is undetermined whether or not human rights abuses were committed by Nigeria’s allies in their efforts to defeat Boko Haram. Even after recent defeats, Boko Haram’s violence against civilians remains one of the world’s gravest mass atrocities. However, recent events provide long-awaited good news for Nigeria. If they can serve as a stepping stone for further progress, the horrors Nigerians have suffered may finally be nearing their end.

Timmy Hirschel-Burns is a sophomore at Swarthmore College and STAND’s Emerging Conflicts Coordinator.  Follow him on Twitter at @TimH_B



Mass Atrocity South of the Border?

Although the rampant violence in Mexico is often ignored, the recent abduction and murder of 43 Mexican students has shed light upon its devastating consequences.  The students are just the most recent chapter in a long story of drug cartels, poor governance, and corruption.  The results have been devastating, with approximately 60,000 people killed in the last eight years.

While a large market for drugs in the United States and Europe has long fueled drug trafficking through Mexico, violence began to escalate around 2004.  The government was in a transition period at that point, with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) having lost power in 2000 after 71 years.  2004 saw the expiration of the US legislative ban on assault weapons, facilitating the flow of weapons to the cartels that control the black market for drugs.  In 2006 new president Felipe Calderon decided to step up the fight against drug cartels.  The US, which has always worked closely with Latin American countries in the War on Drugs, was heavily involved with the Mexican government through the Merida Initiative.  This agreement enabled increased cooperation and intelligence sharing between the US and Mexico as well as the provision of billions of dollars to the Mexican government.  25 of the 37 most wanted cartel members were captured or killed by Calderon’s government and they seized huge quantities of drugs.  However, the operation was in many ways counterproductive.  After cartel leaders were arrested or killed, uncertainty led cartels to increase violence in an attempt gain power.  The greater involvement of Mexican security forces also came with heavy consequences, with increased human rights abuses against civilians, disappearances with state complicity, and an increase in torture of 600% since Felipe Calderon launched his operations.

Throughout these operations there have been three main actors: the drug cartels, the Mexican government, and the US government.  The cartels are focused primarily on profiting from the drug trade, and the massive demand for drugs in the US despite their prohibition creates huge business opportunities for cartels.  Cartels participate in extensive and often gruesome violence in an attempt to intimidate local populations and the government.  Beheadings and filmed executions are common tactics.  The Mexican government has alternated between aggressive, incompetent, and corrupt.  While it has led the fight against drug cartels, many officials also support cartels and accept their bribes.  The US government has firmly backed the Mexican government and the War on Drugs despite its questionable success.  The prohibition of drugs that creates a market for Mexican drug cartels also continues.

The kidnapping and murder of 43 students in the small southern city of Iguala has highlighted Mexico’s problems.  The 43 men training to be teachers planned to hold a protest against the mayor of Iguala on September 26th but were detained earlier in the day.  While the details are still somewhat unclear, it is believed they were then handed over to the Guerreros Unidos cartel that transported them to a landfill where they were burned to death.  This seems to have been a result of the orders of the mayor and his wife, who have since been arrested along with 56 others by the Mexican authorities for their suspected involvement.  While the news of a government official orchestrating murders with cartels was damaging enough, the national government’s seeming indifference in the weeks following the murders fueled anger.  Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Mexico City to demand changes from the government, including calls for current President Enrique Peña Nieto to leave office.  The government has not yet committed to major reforms, and investigations continue into what exactly happened to the 43 students.  One body has been identified, and in the search for the 43 men an unrelated mass grave with 38 bodies was also found.

The violence in Mexico may or may not qualify as a mass atrocity, although if cartel members are considered combatants then the death toll would certainly be high enough.  As the massacre of the 43 men shows, the human costs on Mexico’s citizens have been enormous.  The recent protests may lead to change, but unless that happens rapidly the students in Iguala will not be the last victims of Mexico’s violence.