Time is Running Out

The race to help refugees in South Sudan – video

The race to help refugees in South Sudan – video

“Women wait in the heat for up to four hours twice a day, next to their long queues of buckets and jerry cans. Men with sticks and whips police the lines. Fights break out all the time. No one has to ask why. There is simply not enough water and we are running out of options and we are running out of time.” –Oxfam’s Pauline Ballman works in the Jamam Refugee Camp in South Sudan

Unity state has borne the brunt of aerial bombings by Sudan even after South Sudan had said it would withdraw from Heglig. On Monday, Sudanese warplanes bombed a market and an oil field in South Sudan, killing at least two people, after Sudanese ground forces reportedly crossed into South Sudan with tanks and artillery. There are numerous bombings taking place, just Wednesday, Sudan also bombed the village of Chotchara.

Since fighting broke out in Blue Nile state in Sudan between government forces and rebels from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, about 85,000 people have fled into South Sudan’s Upper Nile state. The states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, where violence began last year, lie north of the border with South Sudan, and have populations who were aligned with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) during Sudan’s long civil war. Antonovs planes that bombed the refugees’ villages in Blue Nile have flown over Jamam camp, about 75km west of the border with Sudan, three times in the past week. Already the camp is barely coping with lack of water supplies with so many new people and now there are fears that more may arrive as conflict spreads. There is also the prospect of cholera breaking out as people drink dirty water to survive the dead heat. Time is running out!

The United States, spearheaded by Susan Rice said on Thursday it has drafted a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at making legally binding an African Union demand that Sudan and South Sudan stop border clashes, resume talks and resolve their many disputes.

This comes after President Obama’s announcement of a new executive-branch initiative, the Atrocities Prevention Board to strengthen the United States’ ability to prevent mass atrocities. Watch Elie Wiesel’s Introduction and President Obama’s full remarks:

Fulfilling the Pledge of ‘Never Again’

Fulfilling the Pledge of ‘Never Again’

As much as proposals and resolutions create sound progress and policies, the change must be implemented on the ground because time is running out. Sudan needs to immediately halt aerial bombings of innocent people and we need to provide assistance to those who are suffering and on the brink of death.

The Worst We Feared: Sudan and South Sudan at War


On Friday Sudan launched a counterattack on South Sudan over the disputed territory of Heglig. Sudanese military spokesman Al Sawarmi Khaled Saad told reporters in Khartoum the army was close to Heglig, and is aiming not just to take over the area but also to destroy South Sudan’s forces in the area. A Unity State government spokesperson in the state capital Bentiu, confirmed the aerial bombings near the border:

“The areas in the north of Unity State are still subject to Antonovs (planes). We don’t have the updates yet between Heglig and Kelet, but all those areas they are subjected to bombing.” – South Sudan Spokesperson, Gideon Gatfan. South Sudan’s military spokesman Philip Aguer told Radio Dabanga that the Sudanese army is still around 30 km from Heglig and said South Sudan is still completely in control of the area.

Calls from Khartoum to mobilize for war in Heglig have reportedly failed amongst the Misseriya in two towns in South Kordofan, El Muglad and Dibab. Witnesses said the Misseriya of the western sector in South Kordofan are not willing to die for the government in a conflict they do not support.

The UN and African Union have unsuccessfully demanded immediate ceasefire, since President Bashir has refused to negotiate with Juba unless they withdraw their forces from Heglig. On the other hand, South Sudan’s lead negotiator, Pagan Amum, said his country was ready to withdraw under a UN-mediated plan.

“On the ground, we are ready to withdraw from Heglig as a contested area … provided that the United Nations deploy a UN force in these contested areas and the UN also establish a monitoring mechanism to monitor the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement,” he told reporters.

Sudan has taken it a brutal step further by targeting ethnically Southern Sudanese living in Sudan. Over 5,000 South Sudanese citizens living in a camp in the Sharef area of East Darfur were forced out, looted, and had their homes burned down and destroyed on Monday by a group of Sudanese militia. There have also been a series of rape crimes carried out by militias loyal to the Sudanese government throughout Darfur, targeting displaced girls and women in camps. It is as if there is no end to abuse and violence.

This long-lasting conflict is rooted in major disputes still not settled since South Sudan’s independence in July last year.

“They have no agreement on oil, they have no agreement on their border, they have no agreement on citizenship, they have no agreement on Abyei and indeed these were issues that were meant to be resolved before independence. Also in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, the popular consultations in the political process which was to incorporate all the people of those regions into the larger Sudan were abandoned.” US ambassador Susan Rice

It might not be as simple as both countries coming to some sort of negotiation and resolution over these pertinent issues, but it would at least be a beginning to light at the end of the vicious tunnel.

Beyond Unethical: Corporations Profit Billions from Abusing Congolese While the World Stands Idly By


Watch Video: Glencore Linked to Acid Waterfall in DR Congo

Watch Video: Glencore Linked to Acid Waterfall in DR Congo

DRC’s soil is reputed to contain every mineral listed on the periodic table in large, untapped amounts. On top of that, 80% of the minerals that fuel our technology, cell phones, electronics, cars, and computers come from Congo. Yet, DRC is the world’s poorest country and least developed in terms of life expectancy, education, standard of living and key health indicators. While multinational corporations and governments exploit and maltreat Congolese to make our phones turn on or cars run, we as consumers also have played a complicit role in the devastating fate of Congo’s plight.

The largest commodities company in the world, Glencore, has used children as young as ten to recover cobalt and copper 150 feet underground hand dug shafts with no breathing or protective equipment in Tilwezembe mine in the Congo.

“All the way down there are ghostly-looking figures digging for copper, coated in choking grey dust. There are no safety standards. No one wears a hard hat. In the midst of all this, there are some boys working with bare hands and bare feet. We saw boys standing waist deep in toxic water, washing soil away from nuggets of copper.” John Sweeney, BBC Panorama investigation

The number of accidents at Tilwezembe is extraordinarily high: Panorama was told that 60 miners died there last year, making the mine one of the most dangerous in the world. One 16-year-old said accidents were commonplace and fatal rockfalls routine.

The notoriously secretive Swiss-based company and reportedly the supplier of 50 percent of the world’s copper, Glencore PLC, is also accused of dumping raw acid and toxic waste from their Luilu refinery straight into the local river 24/7.

The Luilu river is used by local people to wash and fish, but downstream of the Glencore pipe the water is acidic, extremely dangerous, brown sludge, according to a Panorama investigation. They tested the acidity of the wastewater and found a pH value of 1.9, where 1 is pure acid and 7 neutral.

Glencore’s acid waterfall stank of toxic fumes when BBC reporter John Sweeney visited a few weeks ago. One local Congolese complained:

“Fish can’t survive the acid. Glencore lacks any respect for people. No one would do that to another human being. It’s shocking.”

While children’s lives and the environment are severely botched and damaged, Glencore said it wants to raise its total investments in the Congo to 3.3 billion dollars by the end of the year. The company is hoping to merge with Xstrata, another mining company based in Switzerland, to create a behemoth with $90 billion in assets.

Two Swiss NGOs, Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund and Bread for All published its findings on Glencore’s unethical practices April 16 as a followup to an earlier report when Glencore was listed on the stock market in 2011. Without the diligent devotion of these NGOs and activists like ourselves, we would be in the dark not only be about the horrible injustices committed by corporations but also our complicit roles in their actions.

It’s hard to even describe the horror and heart-wrenching sentiment I feel toward these corporations that kill for money. How low can we go? Not only did Glencore take in $186 billion in revenue last year, but its founder, Marc Rich who has been on FBI’s Top Ten list but was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Our actions and heavily-technology-dependent tendencies have profound impacts on populations halfway across the globe.

Washing Away the Sins of the Past in Burma


Locals get sprayed with water while celebrating Thingyan, Burma's New Year water festival, in Rangoon on 14 April 2011. (Reuters)

Locals get sprayed with water while celebrating Thingyan, Burma's New Year water festival, in Rangoon on 14 April 2011. (Reuters)

April 17th marks the first day of the Burmese New Year, known as “Thingyan

With the recent political landscape, the Burmese version of the festival is also changing. Over the past few years Thingyan has grown wilder. Observers have noted that the water festival, increasingly marked by binge drinking, revealing clothing, and street fights, has been the only outlet for the people to vent their frustrations after decades of military rule.

The most notable sign is that the government has removed a 23-year-long ban on Thangyat chanting, rhymed couplets that are sung to the beat of a traditional drum on festive occasions. Thangyat chants are the heart and soul of the New Year Festival. The performance criticizes and makes fun of the foibles of society, a sort of verbal version of cleansing by water.

“It’s been over 30 years – Thingyan and Thangyat are the two things that cannot be separated because Thingyan is for the people and it should be free for all and should not be monopolised by any individual or a group. This also applies to Thangyat to an extent,” says Sue Hngat.

Also, Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to make her first trip overseas in 24 years. Officials with her National League for Democracy party say the Nobel Peace Laureate will travel to Norway in June overcoming the fear she once had of not being able to return to Burma.

Gradual Process for Burma

Burmese women walk on a platform at the train station in Myitkyina, northern Kachin state (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images)

Burmese women walk on a platform at the train station in Myitkyina, northern Kachin state (Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty Images)

There has been some encouraging progress regarding developments in the Kachin State in Burma. The government has granted unrestricted aid deliveries to most of north Kachin State, where tens of thousands have been displaced by a military offensive. This comes after months of negotiations, Ashok Nigam, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma, said the agencies have been given permission that should allow sustained access to most of Kachin.

Matthew Gray, with the French aid group Solidarites International, said his organization provides sanitation supplies and water purification tablets to about 4,000 people. But, he said, food is running out fast and rainy season is coming so shelter may be a problem.

In addition, the leaders of Burma’s most enduring ethnic rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU) have met with the president and Aung San Suu Kyi. The KNU has established its Liaison Office in Kyaukkyi, Toungoo District, Bago Region, Burma, on Tuesday. The regional level peacemaking group and the KNU peacemaking group held peace talks at the hotel Wednesday.

Aung San Suu Kyi proved a positive view on meeting with the KNU. She said, “When the NLD was running for the election we explained a national peace building process needed three things – a ‘rule of law’, ‘a national peace’ and an ‘amendment of the constitution’, all these are related to national reconciliation. Using these three main topics we will work for national reconciliation.”

Democratic Republic of Congo’s Very Fragile Peace


Bosco Ntaganda has been wanted since 2006 on an International Criminal Court arrest warrant (AFP/File, Lionel Healing)

Bosco Ntaganda has been wanted since 2006 on an International Criminal Court arrest warrant (AFP/File, Lionel Healing)

I guess only when something directly affects you, then you’ll do something about it. This is the case with President Joseph Kabila ordering the long-awaited arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda after 600 Congolese soldiers deserted their posts this week. With the recent guilty verdict of Thomas Lubanga, the ICC and human rights activists have pressured Congo to follow suit with Ntaganda. Not only does Kabila make it clear that “he will not work under foreign pressure [even though they] have more than a hundred reasons to arrest him,” but his arrest is much more complicated and holds significant implications for the country’s stability.

The defecting soldiers are a mix of former rebels, including loyal members of the former Rwandan-backed rebel group turned political party, National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), which Ntaganda led. Under the 2009 peace deal designed to end the conflict in eastern Congo and an effort to distill rebellion, former CNDP rebels were integrated into the national army and Ntaganda was made general in the Congolese army and deputy commander of a joint UN/Congolese operation. Thus, allthough Ntaganda or ‘The Terminator’ has been wanted by the ICC since 2006 for war crimes, massacring villages, raping civilians, recuriting child soldiers, and a key figure for the persistent unrest in the East, he is considered a strategic component of maintaining order among the most significant former rebel group.

“From his point of view, the message he wants to get across is that if you try to arrest me, I will react violently. So whereas Bosco may be the linchpin of this whole situation, there is a broad alliance of people who are linked to him; that means any action by Bosco or against Bosco could very quickly escalate throughout the provinces,” Jason Stearns, the director of the Usalama Project, which researches conflict in eastern Congo.

As if to throw another curve-ball into the already extermely complex situation, Ntaganda supported President Kabila’s re-election in a small area of the eastern Congo, which may have added to the president’s reluctance to turn him over to the ICC, but after observers widely condemned the vote as flawed, Kabila has sought to reassert his authority and prove his legitimacy to the international community.

I believe that Ntaganda’s arrest could threaten a fragile peace but the much more colossal issue in DRC is the never-ending impunity that fuels the relentless killings, unrest, and human rights abuses by all parties. The government has previously refused to arrest Ntaganda, on the grounds that peace is more important than justice. Is it better to maintain the status quo and prevent rebellion once again or should we risk uprisings and further violence in the name of justice, trying to establish accountability and rule of law in a country that needs it most?

Just to follow-up, Wednesday also saw the collapse of Frederick Mwenengabo, the Congolese-Canadian who has been on a hunger strike for 38 days to protest against human rights abuses in Congo; he is being treated in the hospital.

Sudan and South Sudan on the Brink of War

The latest clashes have brought the two former civil war foes closer to an outright war (AFP/File, Adriane Ohanesian)

The latest clashes have brought the two former civil war foes closer to an outright war (AFP/File, Adriane Ohanesian)

Why is it that the month of April encounters the most horrid events and atrocities in history? In the midst of genocide awareness and prevention month, there is not only genocide by attrition going on within Sudan (Darfur, Blue Nile, South Kordofon States) but they are also on the brink of war with South Sudan.
South Sudan’s army (SPLA) on Tuesday attacked Heglig, a disputed area containing a significant oilfield. Heglig lies along the ill-defined border between the two African nations and has been the focal point of nearly two weeks of clashes between the armies. The region is home to oil facilities that account for around half of Sudan’s oil production. Juba said it attacked Heglig in response to ground and aerial attacks conducted by SAF deep inside South Sudanese territories.
“Heglig belongs to South Sudan. We did not start this fighting, but after the Sudan Armed Forces attacked us in Tashwin, we start to fight back. Before Numeiri (President of Sudan until 1985), Heglig always belonged to South Sudan and now we took it back. The issue is, that the government of Sudan never draw a borderline, it did not agree on the borders. But they continued to attack us, including aerial bombardments. We then finally decided to defend ourselves.” – South Sudanese spokesman Philip Aguer told Radio Dabanga
Sudan Information Minister Abdulla Ali Masar said Sudan’s forces would reorganize their ranks and prepare to drive back the aggressors and not rest before it recaptures control over Heglig.
The African Union, U.N. chief Ban Ki Moon, along with the US have urged immediate cease-fire on both sides to avoid further bloodshed. The US and UK have condemned South Sudan’s military attack on Heglig but what do they expect when they are being bombarded with ongoing aerial attacks? The root of the problem was never resolved, and now not only are negotiations halted between the two countries, but a full-fledged war is highly likely. When enough is enough, the South Sudanese have turned to hitting Sudan where it’d really hurt them, their source of income -oil.
“We decided to also capture all the other oilfields. All Sudanese know that the income from the oilfields is not going to the people of Sudan, but to the army, the security and some powerful individuals. We want to stop this and we will continue to fight until the government of Al Bashir will be replaced.” – Gabriel Adam Bilal, spokesman of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and part of SRF
In an effort to consolidate peace, Rwanda is contributing 850 troops to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
“We were abandoned in 1994, during this same period of commemoration. This is a historical day, we are not going to abandon others.” – Chief of Defence Staff of Rwanda Defence Forces, Lt Gen Charles Kayonga, at the departure of the initial 150 RDF peacekeepers to South Sudan.
That is a powerful statement by Rwanda, and I hope other countries, especially the ones who have the power to put an end to the bloodshed, learn from example and actively pursue Never Again.
Al Jazeera investigates the hidden atrocities in the remote state of Southern Kordofan in Sudan. Here is the video: