Peace talks have begun between the government and many of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups in Naypyitaw, the nation’s capital. Representatives of the military, members of parliament, and members of guerrilla groups have convened for the next stage of the peace talks after the outgoing military government signed a ‘nationwide ceasefire’ agreement in October. At the time, only eight of fifteen groups invited to the previous talks signed the agreement. Since then fighting has erupted between the military and groups that did not sign the agreement as well as between the various groups themselves, further complicating the current negotiations.
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party which swept the election in November, called for participation by all ethnic armed groups in Myanmar. Some groups that did not sign the October ceasefire agreement were also invited, but only eight groups have agreed, with others refusing or being barred entrance by the military. Regardless, Suu Kyi has claimed that the peace process will be the new government’s first priority with a mandate to secure peace from the voters of Myanmar.
The crisis in Burundi continues to escalate, with the majority of the nation’s population becoming internally displaced and an additional 230,000 seeking refuge in neighboring countries. The alleged ethnic tone of much of the violence and rhetoric is sparking fears of the risk of widespread atrocities in a country with its own history of “ethnically-fuelled civil war”. Although the Hutu controlled government denies attempting to exploit historical ethnic rifts, opposition figures have claimed that authorities are disproportionately targeting Tutsis. Thus far, on top of the many that have fled the country, at least 400 Burundians have been killed in the violence.
The U.S. Special Envoy for the Great Lakes of Africa is visiting Burundi with the goal of supporting regional organizations in the resolution of the crisis. Tanzania became the first member of the East African Community to openly support the deployment of African Union peacekeeping troops and urged Burundi’s government to cooperate.
Unfortunately, amidst this escalating violence, a confidential UN memo to the Security Council was leaked warning that violence on a large scale would exceed the capability of the current peacekeeping forces sent to Burundi by the UN to protect civilians. This even includes “violence amounting to genocide”.
Central African Republic:
No clear winner has emerged from the 30 candidates running in the first round of presidential elections in CAR and the two former prime ministers, Faustin-Archange Touadera and Anicet Georges Dologuele will head to a runoff election on 31 January. In the meantime, another former prime minister and presidential candidate who came in fourth in the first round of voting, Martin Ziguele, has called for a manual recount. He claims the National Authority for Elections (ANE) mishandled results, thus making it unable to verify that all the votes in each constituency were accounted for.
A delegation made up of government and civil society officials, religious leaders, academics, and media personnel from the country has embarked on a “benchmarking” visit to Rwanda with the goal of gaining insights into the latter’s post-genocide recovery process.
Concerns over armed groups that still abound in the countryside have further complicated things. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), still active in CAR, killed one person and kidnapped dozens in two weekend raids in a diamond mining region.
Latest investigations into the subject have shown that at least four UN peacekeeping troops reportedlypaid $0.50-3.00 in exchange for sex with girls as young as 13. Although the UN has not officially released the nationalities of the troops accused, unofficial reports suggest that the perpetrators were from Burundi, France, Gabon, and Morocco. The Democratic Republic of Congo battalion in CAR is already set to be withdrawn from MINUSCA and will not be replaced.
Democratic Republic of the Congo:
A UN helicopter was attacked by rebels in North Kivu, resulting in no injuries. The Allied Defense Forces (ADF) rebel group, which is responsible for over 500 civilian deaths since October 2014, is suspected of perpetrating the attack.
According to a new UN report, 7.5 million people, or nine percent of the population are in need of humanitarian aid. The report, released from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) states that only 22 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water, while at least 5 million people do not have access to adequate food. These issues are could be further exacerbated as political tensions rise and if the security situation in the country deteriorates in the lead-up to the elections later this year.
Tensions have been rising in Kinshasa as many question the intentions of President Kabila’s calls for political talks so near to the elections in November. He is constitutionally unable to run, but has thus far refused to guarantee that he will leave power when the time comes. With little public support for a constitutional change to allow his run for a third-term, some believe he will try to push back the election date to extend his power. With rallies already planned by opposition groups for next week, some fear that this could easily lead to violence if such political talks are refused.
Three Palestinians, including one that allegedly attempted to stab an Israeli soldier, were shot and killed on 12 January in the West Bank.
On 13 January, the Israeli Air Force conducted a rare airstrike along its northern border with Gaza. According to Palestinian media, the strike killed one Palestinian man and wounded three others. The Israeli military claims the group it hit was composed of Palestinian militants who had been planning an attack on their forces in the area.
Airstrikes conducted by the US-led coalition have destroyed a cash storehouse and distribution center near Mosul where ISIL had kept millions of dollars. The coalition has recently targeted the group’s oil production and distribution centers in an effort to reduce its daily oil revenue.
ISIL claimed responsibility for recent attacks against civilians, including the killing of nine people at a mall in the capital city and 20 people in bombings in a cafe in Muqdadiya. In response to the violence, Shia militiamen led reprisal attacks, targeting and killing Sunni Muslims.
This week the trial of William Ruto, the Deputy President of Kenya, and Joshua Arap Sang, a radio journalist, for charges of crimes against humanity resumed at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Libyan guards were able to repel a maritime assault by ISIL fighters at the Zueitina oil terminal this week. ISIL has been attempting to seize export terminals in northern Libya, which resulted in the deaths of 56 people in suicide bombings last week.
In Benghazi, attacks on a power plant have left citizens there without electricity for over four hours a day. The Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator of the UN in Libya expressed alarm at the attack, noting that the consequences for hospitals, community services, and households can be severe.
The UN peacekeeping chief warned that the peace process in Mali is still very fragile and that the need to overcome political, humanitarian, and security issues in the country was dire. Mali’s foreign minister, Abdoulaye Diop, released a statement on Monday calling for the UN peacekeepers to have a mandate to confront terrorist groups that are further threatening the peace process as Malian troops are unable to tackle the challenge posed by these groups. The UN Security Council has urged the signatory parties to fully implement the agreement and to take necessary measures to move forward with a joint security deployment in order to ensure the progress of the peace process.
The Nigerian military insisted again that its troops defeated Boko Haram, making the group unable to mount further offenses or claim new territory. Furthermore, President Buhari has promised to begin the return of upwards of 2.2 million people displaced by Boko Haram. Experts, however, claim that Boko Haram is not only not defeated, but is currently ‘deadlier than ever’. In fact, an attack by Boko Haram in the northeast of the country killed seven people and burnt 10 houses this week.
OCHA has allocated a further $31 million to Nigeria for humanitarian aid which will be utilized for victims of Boko Haram. UN human rights experts are scheduled to visit Nigeria next week to assess rehabilitation and reintegration measures for women and children that were liberated from Boko Haram. They will present their finished to the UN Human Rights Council later this year.
Ceasefire monitors have asked rival forces to allow food aid into conflict zones where restrictions on aid convoys have caused the situation to deteriorate to a point where thousands could be suffering from extreme hunger, malnourishment, and at risk of starvation. Although some aid has gotten through, witnesses describe the situation as dire and fighting continues. Furthermore, a new report released by UNICEF claims that over half of the population of children, the highest number of any country in the world, are no longer in school.
After months of waiting, South Sudanese parties are expected to announce the names of the transitional government ministers by 14 January. The transitional government of national unity is set to be sworn into office on 22 January.
Six people have been killed and three more wounded in protests in Darfur after displaced residents demonstrated outside of the governor’s office in El Geneina. According to the governor, the protesters had attacked his office and fired on security forces, which led to a response with force. These claims are still being investigated.
Meanwhile, the date for the referendum on whether Darfur will stay divided as five states or will reunite to form a somewhat autonomous region has been set. The referendum will take place over 11-13 April in Darfur.
UN aid convoys were finally able to enter Madaya and other besieged towns on 11 January with food and medical supplies. Reports from UN officials detailed horrific scenes, and 400 people required immediate medical evacuation. The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, called for all of the warring factions to end blockades on all besieged towns. The Commission of Inquiry, which has long denounced the use of starvation as a weapon of war by all parties to the conflict, is working to gather information from residents of the besieged towns, and has developed a confidential list of suspected war criminals.
UN officials have asked global donors for the largest appeal ever for humanitarian aid, calling for donations amounting to $9 billion to deal with the humanitarian crises occurring in Syria and its neighboring countries. The US alone donated $1.6 billion in 2015 and $4.5 billion total in the past 4 years towards humanitarian aid in Syria.
The Russian military has been accused of bombing an American humanitarian field office in Syria on 9 January. This follows reports of Russian airstrikes hitting a school in rebel-held territory, with the attack leaving 12 children dead.
The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, met with representatives of Russia, the United States and other major powers on 13 January and announced that peace talks planned for 25 January were still set. The issue of humanitarian access is a primary goal of the discussions. Syria’s opposition coordinator, Riad Hijab, had previously said that the opposition would not negotiate with the government of President Assad in part due to the aforementioned Russian attacks on Syrian civilians. Mr. Hijab has also claimed that the US has softened its position on Syria and President Assad’s future, and has backtracked in order to accommodate Russia. He added that the opposition would therefore be faced with a hard decision on whether they would even attend the talks.
On 12 January, a Syrian national acting on behalf of ISIL blew himself up in Istanbul, killing ten German nationals and wounding 15 other people. Amidst concerns over such terrorist threats, once accommodating nations such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan have begun to deny or restrict admittance of Syrian refugees, as well as forcibly repatriate those seeking refuge.
According to Human RIghts Watch reports, Houthi rebels holding the capital city of Sanaa have arbitrarily detained at least 35 people and disappeared at least 7 others. This is alleged to be based on their association to a Sunni political party opposing the Shia Houthis called Islah.
A Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in northern Yemen was bombed, however MSF was unable to confirm where the projectile originated. UNICEF has released a statement declaring the civil war in Yemen as an increasing threat to almost 10 million children in the country. It states that more than 1 million have been displaced and 9.5 million do not have easy access to water, with at least 2 million unable to access educational facilities.
Peace talks that were set to begin on 14 January have been postponed by at least a week in light of comments from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, in which he stated that he would not negotiate with President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government.
Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition has denied accusations made by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, that it has used cluster bombs in its attacks.
What else is new?
ICRtoP member, The Stanley Foundation, released a new policy analysis brief on RtoP. The document, entitled The First Response: Peaceful Means in the Third Pillar of the Responsibility to Protect, was authored by Alex Bellamy and explores the various tools available for implementing pillar three of RtoP.
The trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt, who ruled Guatemala from 1982-1983, has been newly postponed due to “procedural issues”. Montt is facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for massacres committed during his tenure as leader.