STAND UK’s Weekly News Briefs are compiled weekly by members of the STAND UK Education Task Force.
This week’s update focuses on Syria, South Sudan, and Burma. UN peace talks regarding the Syrian civil war began in Geneva this week. However, a foreboding tone has been instated with an attack in Homs suspected to have been in response to the peace talks. In South Sudan, the humanitarian situation has worsened with 4.9 million people (over 40% of the population) in urgent need of food. The European Commission has committed €82 million to tackle the ‘man-made’ famine. In Burma, following last week’s declaration by the government that the military crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims had been ended, there have been concerns of recurring abuses.
One of the major events of this week was the Syrian civil war peace talks beginning in Geneva. The peace talks have been sponsored by the UN, however the UN envoy has warned a breakthrough is not expected. The UN Syria envoy Steffan de Mistura held his first meeting with the Syrian government delegation 3 days ago, later meeting the head of the opposition delegation. De Mistura asked the Syrian regime to stop air strikes while these discussions take place. The opposition groups said they hoped to achieve “at least something at the human dimension: lifting the siege in certain areas, getting aid to those who are besieged”. They also believe they will play a greater role in this round of talks, reflecting the changing dynamics inside Syria.
In Homs, more than 40 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing targeting government forces. The attack was made by militants linked to al-Qaeda. The UN has said this attack was a deliberate attempt to ruin the peace talks in Syria.
More than 60 people were killed in an ISIS suicide bombing near the Syrian city of al-Bab just a day after militants were driven from the area. Most of the victims were believed to be people seeking permits to return to their homes in al-Bab and the surrounding area which, for the last 3 years, has been gradually freed from ISIS control.
Accusations of human rights abuses have reached the spotlight once again as two top officials overseeing South Sudan’s military courts resigned. Brigadier General Henry Oyay Nyago and Colonel Khalid Ono Loki have cited trouble in disciplining government soldiers accused of rape and murder amid the nation’s civil war. Nyago wrote that “Your regime committed sundry war crimes…genocidal acts and ethnic cleansing” further alluding to the fact that Kiir had been targeting non-Dinka groups whilst overlooking crimes committed by Dinka soldiers. These recent accusations followed the resignation of a general and the Minister of Labour earlier in the week and have compounded the accusations of the endorsement of atrocities by Kiir’s regime.
Economically, the situation in South Sudan has gone from bad to worse. UN agencies have predicted that, at present, 100,000 people face immediate starvation in Unity State in the north of the country with millions more on the brink of famine. Last Monday, an IPC (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) report predicted that 4.9 million people – more than 40% of South Sudan’s population – are in dire need of urgent food and agricultural support. The report assessed 23 of South Sudan’s 86 counties and found that 14 had global acute malnutrition (GAM), a measurement of the nutritional status of the population, at or above the emergency threshold of 15%, though in some areas it was recorded to be as high as 42%.
Western response to this crisis has included an emergency package of €82 million from the European Commission to tackle what the UN has subsequently described as a ‘man-made’ famine. Britain has not contributed more funds in response to the declaration of famine; however, the Department for International Development has guaranteed that some of the £100 million in aid funds directed to South Sudan each year will be made available for famine relief efforts. However, to date the United States continues to be the largest single donor to the South Sudan crisis having contributed nearly $2.1 billion since 2014.
Following last week’s declaration by the government that the military crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims had been ended, there have been some attempts to rectify past abuses, with the first report of its kind detailing that the army-controlled home ministry in Burma would investigate the deaths of two Rohingya Muslims who died whilst in custody. The Home Ministry denied that there was an investigation, however the Border Guard Police in the area did answer that the document was authentic when questioned.
Such steps though are tentative, with the Burmese government wishing to remain apart from any implications made about treatment of the Rohingya, meaning that any attempt to reconcile is made increasingly difficult. Indeed, it is also not yet known the full extent to which the military has ended their killings of the Rohingya Muslims. The UK government response was criticised in a Human Rights Watch report, with the report noting that despite decades of discrimination against this minority population, there has been little done in response to the plight of the Rohingya population. Claims made by foreign secretary Boris Johnson that he would support domestic accountability tribunals have resulted in only a limited outcome: the true pressure for change came from the UN Report released a few weeks, highlighting cases of rape and treatment of the community.
Next week the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva will convene, where it has been stated that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will propose an international independent investigation into the treatment of the Rohingya Muslims. Hopefully Britain will back this call and show support for the persecuted Muslims of the Rakhine state, in order to further already seemingly changing attitudes.
Leo Laurence is part of the STAND UK’s Policy Taskforce and his area of expertise is Syria. He is an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge studying Politics, International Relations and Sociology.
James Dane is part of the STAND UK’s Policy Taskforce and his area of expertise is South Sudan. He is an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge where he studies Human, Social and Political Sciences with a focus on the fields of Politics and International Relations.
Sophie Burke is part of the STAND UK’s Education Taskforce and her area of expertise is Burma. She is an undergraduate studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Cambridge and loves to travel.