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.”

How Much More Will It Take?

Women gather at a dried-up water-point in Jamam, South Sudan (AFP/Hannah Mcneish)

Women gather at a dried-up water-point in Jamam, South Sudan (AFP/Hannah Mcneish)

SUDAN & SOUTH SUDAN

“They attacked us for three days, from Tuesday until Thursday evening. They burned down five villages, looted more than 20 and destroyed water wells and pumps” displaced witness from North Darfur said to Radio Dabanga.

More than 7,000 people have fled their homes in North Darfur after government forces and militants reportedly burned down their villages last week. In an area in the center of the Darfur region, Jebel Marra, the Sudanese army has continuously been bombing the villages of Nari, Jerri, Sinjo, Amra Rashid, Kaya, Fatah and Amar Jadid. This has forced more than 30,000 to flee to nearby areas, trying to find shelter in the harsh mountainous terrain where there is no water.

In addition, fighting along the border between the two nations, and aerial bombardment by the Sudanese Armed Forces into the territory of South Sudan have intensified. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pleaded with Sudan and South Sudan on Wednesday to withdraw troops from the disputed Abyei region amid. Sudanese fleeing from Abyei, are now nearly destitute after missing harvests and exhausting the scant resources of local communities in the newly-independent, impoverished south.

There is some hopeful news. President Obama on Tuesday provided $26 million to tackle the urgent and developing refugee crisis brought on by violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

“We continue to call upon the government of Sudan to allow full and unfettered access for international humanitarian agencies to South Kordofan and Blue Nile to provide emergency assistance to those in need.” President Obama

The situation is ongoing though and extremely dire, there are 30,000 refugees stranded just in the dusty border town of Yida, between Sudan and South Sudan. How many more lives on the line, how many more pictures of wounded, starving children need to be viewed, how many more devastating and heartbreaking stories are going to be published before there is an end to the humanitarian crisis?

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

“We are very concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in South Kivu, especially in the northern part of the province, in Shabunda, Walungu and Kalehe territories,” Laetitia Courtois, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sub-delegation in Bukavu.

The fighting is intensifying in the DRC and the civilian population is suffering and paying the highest price. The ICRC has evacuated 53 civilian field casualties, including 18 children, from areas in which fighting was taking place and arranged for them to be treated in hospitals in Bukavu. Tens of thousands of people recently fled their homes in North Kivu Province, following attacks by armed groups and ensuing military operations by the national army. At the end of March, a large proportion of the population in the outskirts of Beni, North Kivu, fled their homes following the killing, raping and looting of villagers by armed men. UNHCR reported 33 attacks in north-eastern DRC.

Regrettably, the unstable security environment is just the beginning.  If civilians aren’t killed by armed groups, they die from limited access to health care.

“For the wounded, the ability to obtain care quickly often makes the difference between life and death.” – Courtois.

How do we stop so many gruesome civilian casualities? One man living in Congo, is taking matters into his own hands. Freddy Mwenengabo has gone on a hunger strike since March 4 to urge the Canadian government to address the human rights issues in Congo. He said he is willing to die for the cause because it will be one more death added to the millions who have already died. This is a drastic plea for change but the media and government have taken notice. It makes me wonder, do we have starve ourselves, see celebrities get arrested, and go to great lengths just to grab enough attention to push for change?

BURMA

Aung San Suu Kyi wins the elections (BBC News)

Aung San Suu Kyi wins the elections (BBC News)

Sunday wasn’t just April Fool’s Day but a historic day for Burma’s democracy as it held elections after decades. Although official results have yet to be released, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to victory in a milestone by-election.

The US has declared that it is ready to relax sanctions on Burma, easing a ban on American companies investing in or offering financial services to the country.

“This election is an important step in Burma’s democratic transformation, and we hope it is an indication that the government of Burma intends to continue along the path of greater openness, transparency and reform,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said the US was ready to allow private US aid groups to pursue non-profit activities on projects such as democracy building, health and education, and to give select Burmese officials and politicians permission to visit the US. Washington wants Burma to free all political prisoners, lift restrictions on those who have already been released, seek national reconciliation, and to end military ties to North Korea. I cannot help to think that the ease of sanctions is either a blessing or curse. Just because Burma is on the road to democracy, doesn’t mean the West can push for its demands on how the country should be run.  It is not easy to build a new country after half a century of authoritarian rule, and we should monitor Burma’s developments and embrace progress without overstepping our ‘big brother’ role.

Urgent Time to Act

A child in a North Darfur refugee camp (radiodabanga)

SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN

“Our concerns are heightened by clashes reported yesterday between the national armies of Sudan and South Sudan in Lake Jau and other border areas,” Melissa Fleming, Spokesperson, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Over the past three days, new bomb attacks paralyze strategic areas of Sudan. Antonov planes dropped more than 40 bombs on the villages of Dika, Bain, Keda, Jok and Senagarai in North Darfur. Meanwhile, ground troops in six tanks and 150 vehicles moved in to the villages beating male residents, looting and burning houses. The soldiers also reportedly raped more than 30 women and girls and arrested ten of the men.

In addition, Unity State Minister of Information Gideon Gatpan said Sudan dropped at least three bombs near oil fields in the town of Bentiu. The bombings come one day after Sudan and South Sudan clashed in the disputed border town of Jau, prompting Sudan to cancel President Omar al-Bashir’s trip to meet with South Sudan President Salva Kiir next week.

Making the humanitarian crisis more pressing and horrific is the refugee situation as thousands of displaced Sudanese face mass starvation and chronic water shortages.

“It took 17 days to walk here. We were facing hunger on the way, and that’s how other people starved to death, and with the rains, a lot of people lost their lives from pneumonia. The water here is not enough… People end up fighting at the water point.” Hamid Yussef Bashir, one of around 37,000 refugees in Jamam camp in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State.

There is an urgent need to relocate fleeing refugees in order to avoid civilian casualties “among a population that has already endured a great deal of trauma,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In total, more than 105,000 Sudanese refugees forced to flee from attacks in the states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile have ended up in South Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia.

When will signed peace treaties equate to zero civilian deaths and human rights abuses?

Children wash copper on at an open-air mine in Kamatanda in the rich mining province of Katanga. Forced by poverty;hundreds of children leave school to work at the mine. (Gwenn Dubourthoumieu , AFP/Getty Images)

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Is corporate accountability possible? Human-rights groups, led by the Canadian Association Against Impunity (CAAI) and survivors of a massacre in the Katanga province of Democratic Republic of Congo have turned to the Supreme Court of Canada to sue a Canadian mining company on behalf of the victims of a massacre in Congo. Congolese families are seeking to appeal the Quebec Court of Appeal’s decision to dismiss a human rights case against the Canadian corporation Anvil Mining Limited. The company is alleged with providing logistical support including planes, trucks and drivers to Congolese troops who massacred over 100 unarmed civilians in Katanga province in 2004. The port was key to the operation of a copper mine, the exit point for $500,000 worth of copper and silver every day.

“My father has not lived to see justice delivered,” said Dickay Kunda (whose father, a policeman, was badly beaten and tortured while in military custody). His 22-year-old sister Dorcas also died after being raped by soldiers. “But after more than seven years, we now look to the Supreme Court of Canada for justice,” he added.

If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, advocates say the ruling could set a precedent for whether corporations can be held accountable for their involvement in human rights violations committed abroad. However a 2010 UN report says that “the Kilwa case demonstrates the difficulty in proving the legal responsibility of private companies in the perpetration of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.”

We, as responsible consumers have the voice and power to urge corporate accountability. We can do this by putting pressure and seeking justice on corporations who greedily make profit from exploiting populations and committing human rights abuses and also we can commit to buying conflict-free products.

BURMA

As we await Burma’s elections on April 1, the Burmese government has allowed the United Nations to ship a second round of humanitarian aid to rebel-controlled areas in northern Kachin state. It is only the second time the government has let international aid to enter areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization.

But unfortunately, the aid doesn’t come close to addressing the needs of tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Kachin. Aye Win, a U.N. spokesman in Rangoon, says the aid is not enough. He says there are at least 50,000 people displaced and in need of sustained help.

The UN has grown slightly more verbose over the matter, requesting that aid deliveries be continued well into the future (OCHA says food insecurity could last until the end of 2013). I urge that there needs to be a sustained commitment to humanitarian assistance to the 60,000 people in Kachin.

Hopefully Not too Little too Late

Gen Gun Maw addresses the standing committee in Laiza, Kachin State (PHOTO: The Irrawaddy)

SUDAN/SOUTH SUDAN

With Sudan and South Sudan presidents meeting eminent, it’s evermore pertinent to draw attention to the growing human catastrophe in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. United to End Genocide is advocating March 16 as the national day of action for Sudan in response to the escalating crisis.

Furthermore, on March 7 a new piece of legislation, the Sudan Peace, Security and Accountability Act was introduced in the House of Representatives to propel immediate action. Implementing the legislation includes holding Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his forces fully accountable with strengthened and increased sanctions, and immediately working to ensure the delivery of food to prevent mass starvation as a result of genocide by attrition.  Take action here.

“We welcome the introduction of strong bipartisan legislation to address the blockade of food and humanitarian aid and the ongoing bombing of civilians that has put the lives of 500,000 people at risk in Sudan.” – Tom Andrews, United to End Genocide President

George Clooney and John Prendergast, who together co-founded the Satellite Sentinel Project, just returned from Sudan’s troubled Nuba Mountains region in the hopes of bringing attention to and potentially heading off hostilities. They spoke and gave their report to Washington and the Council on Foreign Relations March 14. Watch their video clip here:

http://www2.americanprogress.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=205

“There’s a difference between two armies fighting and what the Geneva Convention calls war crimes.We saw that very specifically happening on two occasions: rape, starvation, lack of humanitarian aid. They’re scaring the hell out of these people and they’re killing, hoping and trying to get them just to leave.” – George Clooney, Activist for Sudan.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

A top commander of the Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group, Lt. Colonel Bizimana, has surrendered to the UN mission in South Kivu. A joint military offensive between the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Congolese army pressured Lt. Colonel Bizimana, also known as Idrissa Muradadi, to turn himself in along with three of his bodyguards. He is being processed through the Demobilization Disarmament Rehabilitation, Repatriation and Reintegration (DDRRR) and awaiting extradition to Rwanda.

The FDLR, operating in Eastern Congo, is known for their destructive attacks and brutality against civilians. They are comprised of primarily former Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and interahamwe, responsible for killing 800,000 people in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

“It’s very good news for us because the surrender of Idrissa will also have a demoralizing effect on his troops and we are expecting to see a lot of the FDLR [rebels] surrender in the coming days.”  – MONUSCO spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai

I am surprised by the surrender but wonder how the outcome will turn out. The integration process has become extremely messy because of the convolution and mixed loyalties created by the number of armed factions. To add to the calamity, just because Bizimana surrendered to MONUSCO doesn’t necessarily mean any problems are solved because both UN officials and Congolese army officials have been reported to have killed, raped, and endangered innocent civilians. Thus, we must continue to seek sustainable and ingenious ways to solve this dreadfully complex conflict and the rampant impunity that plagues the DRC.

In light of this surrender, the ICC’s first verdict on March 14 has found Thomas Lubanga guilty of recruiting child soldiers during the DRC conflict. While the case may help set a precedent for other cases involving the recruitment of child soldiers, the ICC has much work to do with the trying, process, and sentencing of war criminals.

BURMA

The government has signed provisional ceasefires with several armed ethnic groups in recent months as part of political reform in the country, but has resulted without agreement and an end to fighting with the Kachin ethnic group. Most recently, daily clashes have prompted the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Burmese government to hold peace talks.

“Negotiations have not yet yielded any agreement. There needs to be more discussions about the withdrawal of Burmese army bases from the region. We will continue to talk until we reach an agreement.” – Gen Gun Maw, the deputy military chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The KIO says it wants government troops to withdraw from their bases in Kachin strongholds before it signs any ceasefire with the government. The government delegation, though, has maintained that such issues can only be discussed after a ceasefire is in place. President Thein Sein ordered an end to fighting with Kachin rebels December 10 of last year, but the hostilities between the two continue.

We follow UN envoy to Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana’s call on the Burmese government to develop a plan to “officially engage with ethnic minority groups in serious dialogue and to resolve long-standing and deep-rooted concerns.”

In light of Ambassador Derek Mitchell’s current presence in Burma this week, a petition has been launched to increase civilian protection. We hope you will make time for this action: Support Ethnic People of Burma: Tell Ambassador Mitchell to Protect Ethnic Civilians.

The Power Behind Awareness and the Effects of Our Concern

ivilians running to caves for shelter from aerial attacks.

South Kordofan civilians running to caves for shelter from aerial attacks. (AFP/BBC News)

SUDAN & SOUTH SUDAN

“It is a sad day for freedom fighters everywhere. For the Sudanese people, we have lost a champion and an ally, a person who fought along side us for liberty, human rights, and the right to live with dignity. Congressman Payne will be greatly missed.”
– Omer Ismail, a Sudanese activist on Darfur and a senior advisor to the Enough Project.

As we mourn our loss of U.S. Rep Donald Payne this week we also commemorate his unwavering commitment to public service at home and abroad. As the highest ranked Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, Rep. Payne worked tirelessly to protect human rights and provide humanitarian aid to developing countries, particularly in Africa.

But as we say goodbye to Payne’s life, we carry hope that his legacy lives on. Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA), a longtime advocate for Sudan and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, just returned from a trip to South Sudan to continue their shared efforts. On his sixth visit to Sudan, Wolf urges international action to curb the ongoing abuses and ethnic cleansing in Sudan/South Sudan.

“I felt it was critical to see with my own eyes what was happening and then shine a bright light on this unfolding humanitarian crisis,” Wolf said.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Fresh attacks on civilians by the Lord’s Resitance Army (LRA) have been reported this week in the territories of Dungu, Faradje, Watsa, Niangara, Bondo and Ango in the DRC.  The fresh attacks have caused 3,000 people to flee and live in harsh makeshift settlements with lack of clean drinking water and basic sanitation facilities. There have been 20 new attacks since the beginning of this year.

“The attacks by LRA in DR Congo are almost on a daily basis and have increased after UPDF withdrew from DR Congo in November last year, leaving a security vacuum.” -UPDF operations commander in Central African Republic and South Sudan, Col. Joseph Balikudembe

Displaced Congolese are constantly threatened, tortured, and killed by various groups and militiamen, who accuse them of collaborating with one armed party or another. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voiced its concern and recently distributed basic emergency items to some 200 newly-displaced people and increase the presence of security forces in areas.

With these new attacks by the LRA in Congo, its almost a smack of much needed truth that discredits Invisible Children’s recent Kony 2012 campaign. The documentary fails to mention that the LRA, although emerged from northern Uganda has not been there for the last six years and is currently terrorizing and attacking civilians across Central Africa, including DRC, Sudan, South Sudan, and Central African Republic.

Instead of raising awareness and knowledge about LRA’s long history in the region and the larger conflict context, the campaign narrowly targets the arrest of Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, and Western military intervention in northern Uganda, providing a naive and simple blanket solution to an exceedingly complex situation in the Central Africa. I commend the campaign’s ability to gain tremendous online momentum, but I disapprove and deplore their inability to portray accurate information and apply locally pertinent and culturally sensitive solutions that serve the needs of the people they are pinpointing. For example, I think the $1,144,174.87 they have raised just this year could be better spent on rehabilitation and post-conflict recovery initiatives for the 320,000 innocent people the LRA has affected and displaced since 2008…Or helping tackle the ever-growing culture of impunity enjoyed by rebels groups and government officials.

“What that video says is totally wrong, and it can cause us more problems than help us.”
– Dr Beatrice Mpora, director of Kairos, a community health organisation in Gulu, Uganda.

As awareness over Joseph Kony is spread online , I hope we realize the effects and power of our concern and question the truth behind these issues.

BURMA

“We are outraged and deeply saddened to hear about this attempted rape and brutal attack.  We hope for peace every day, but this despicable attack reminds us how far we have to go to have the rights, peace and safety our community deserves.”
– Dah Eh Kler, secretary of Karen Women Organization (KWO)

A young Karen woman was beaten, drugged and sexually assaulted by two army men while working in her vegetable garden. The incident follows other reports of human rights abuses in Karen state, including attacks on displacement camps, forced labor and looting of supplies by the Burmese army.

The Karen Women Organization (KWO) is concerned that women’s voices are being ignored in the ceasefire process, despite being specifically affected by the conflict. Last month it created a women’s peace committee, in accordance with UN Security Council recommendations, but they have not been formally invited to join the ceasefire negotiations.

The KWO is determined to gather more international support for a fact-finding mission to document incidents of violence against women. Unfortunately however, last month, the head of Burma’s human rights commission ruled out the possibility of a probe into abuses against ethnic minorities. The international community has also backed away from earlier pressure, ostensibly with a view to encouraging further democratic reforms in Burma.

This begs the question: should we tread lightly around this issue for fear of “scaring away” democratic progress in Burma or does this mean we should we pressure the government more in their quest for change?

Hearing the Cries, Heeding the Cries

Nakivale refugee camp has been home to thousands of Congolese during and since DR Congo's civil war

Nakivale refugee camp has been home to thousands of Congolese during and since DR Congo's civil war

SUDAN and SOUTH SUDAN

This week’s news offers a small glimpse of hope as the thousands of lives that are being jeopardized in the Nuba region is finally grasping the attention of the international community, government officials, and the media with recent visits by Anne Curry and Nick Kristof.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday accused the Khartoum government of actively trying to undermine the government of South Sudan and suggested that the US is prepared to take measures against Bashir. Her comments came in response to Representative Ed Royce’s (R OC, CA) introduction of a new piece of legislation last week to expand the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program to include those wanted for the most serious human rights abuses, which includes Bashir’s indictment by the ICC.

The UN Security Council also called on the Sudanese government and the SPLM-N to cooperate fully and ensure that humanitarian assistance is delivered to those suffering from the rising levels of malnutrition and food insecurity. However, as attention is finally turned to these atrocities, attention is not enough, genocide by attrition still continues.

“We are still expecting them, they are still around us and now we don’t sleep in the houses, we are sleeping in the bush. That means the war is still there, no change.” Meluth Kur Jok, an elder who has sought sanctuary in Jonglei’s Akobo town since five close relatives were killed and 80 children abducted in an attack on his home village of Woulang a few weeks ago, told IRIN of his fears of more violence.

An unlikely actor, an American man married to a Nuba woman, Ryan Boyette, is risking his life to collect video of atrocities and has set up a network of local citizen journalists to document the atrocities and starvation in hopes of making the world care enough to intervene. So far the Associated Press, CNN, Fox News and Al-Jazeera have used his videos or photographs, and he plans to post more on a website, EyesAndEarsNuba.org and he was the one that helped Nick Kristof enter the Nuba Mountains.

Now more than ever we can feel the value of Ubuntu and realize that if one person is suffering, we are all suffering and must heed the cries for help and humanitarian assistance to the starving and afflicted people of South Kordofon/Nuba Mountains.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

All is not as it appears in the DRC as little is done to provide safety and security to the endangered and constantly antagonized Congolese civilian population. It is in the works to open up a third refugee camp in Uganda to cope with a influx of at least 100 people a day crossing the border to escape an upsurge in violence in eastern region of DRC. However, the population continues to be at risk from killings, abductions, and rape by armed men in the Eastern Kivu provinces, during transit, and in refugee camps. It is a situation replicated in thousands of registered and unregistered displaced persons settlements throughout the Great Lakes region. So what is being done?

The first case brought to the International Criminal Court filed in 2004 charging Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga with war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under age 15 as soldiers during the conflict in 2002, has come to a verdict to be heard on March 14. This will be the ICC’s first judgment since its conception a decade ago. As an avid follower of DRC’s long entrenched conflict watching  heinous human rights abuses and brutal rapes committed, it’s extremely disappointing that this narrowly focused case is the only one being heard after nine years and does not even come close to address the extent of crimes endured by the thousands of civilians everyday. It is also important to mention that Lubanga’s co-accused, Bosco Ntaganda charged by the ICC at the same time with war crimes relating to the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Ituri is currently untouched and a Congoloses general.

“There has never been a systematic attempt to address the issue of impunity within the Congolese justice system,” said Aaron Hall, Enough Project Congo policy analyst and report co-author. “The lack of accountability for war crimes including the murder of civilians, rape, plunder, and extortion is one of the key obstacles to creating an environment for peace and development in eastern Congo.”

I believe the ICC and the international community should work much harder with local partners to begin to hold perpetrators accountable, tackle impunity, and bring an ounce of justice to victims and survivors in the DRC.

BURMA

Burma’s on the surface changes are twofold. On the one hand Burma has headed toward reform and cease-fires reached with ethnic insurgents, and unprecedented open discussion about human rights violations, including in Kachin State where fighting since last June has displaced 70,000 people. However, on the other hand, the Burmese army is acting no better than it has in the past six decades, with reports of sexual violence, use of forced labor and firing on civilians.

“With all the changes happening in central Burma, it’s quite alarming that the military has shown absolutely no compunction to change its behavior,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher, David Mathieson told the Wilson Center.

Mathieson also noted less-documented rights abuses by some ethnic armed groups against their own people, including use of child soldiers—rampant too in the national army—and executions of Burma prisoners of war. It goes to show that although Burma’s release of prominent political prisoners is a step towards change, Burma has a long way to go as sporadic fighting and lack of accord between Kachin rebels and Burmese government leaves thousands of civilians in makeshift camp on the Chinese border.

“When Will it Stop?”

Sudanese women carry water in the town of Kadugli in the northern state of South Kordofan in 2011 (AFP/File, Ashraf Shazly)

Sudanese women carry water in the town of Kadugli in the northern state of South Kordofan in 2011 (AFP/File, Ashraf Shazly)

SUDAN

The name Sudan comes from “bilad al sudan,” Arabic for “the land of the blacks.” Yet, we are bearing witness to a systematic strategy of ethnic cleansing employed by the Khartoum government against the people living in the Southern Kordofan/ Nuba Mountains State.

“They said that they want to finish off the black people; they said they want to kill them all,” – Elizabeth Kafi, a 22-year-old Nuban who said she was kidnapped in December by Sudanese uniformed soldiers.

The Sudanese government has denied all international relief to both Blue Nile and South Kordofan, starving more than half a million people and creating massive civilian displacement under the pretense of suppressing armed rebels in the Nuba Mountains. Ahmed Haroun, wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity in Darfur, now governor of South Kordofan, is employing the same strategies used in Darfur: starving “the enemy” into submission, preventing aid groups from reaching refugees, and bombing towns with aircraft and unleashing “soldiers” to rape, pillage, and kill.

With the deteriorating horrific conditions in these extremely tense border towns, this crisis is a pressing humanitarian emergency! Once again civilians are the ones suffering and privy to barbaric aerial attacks and accelerated death tolls. When will it stop? Pre-Independence, during conflict, post-Independence, post-peace treaties, genocide continues.

During Kristof’s coverage of the horrific situation, he saw a 4-year-old girl at a feeding center weighing only 22 pounds and deplorably this is only the beginning. Reports warn that when food runs out in the Nuba Mountains in two or three months, there will be mass starvation and mounting death tolls.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

“We voted for peace, but all we got was more war. When are they going to stop killing us?” Human Rights Watch interview with a displaced person in Minova.

Protests confronting the controversial November 28 elections won by incumbent President Joseph Kabila continue as “the brain” behind the presidency and the adviser that put him in power, Augustin Katumba Mwanke dies in a plane crash. Church leaders were at the forefront of the protests but were confronted with tear gas and arrests. The demonstration, called the “March of Christians” was also paying tribute to a protest 20 years ago in Kinshasa that killed more than 30 protesters. Now nearly two decades later, little has changed.

“The arrest of priests, nuns and a human rights activist in Kinshasa, along with the closure of three radio stations, are dangerous developments” The Carter Center said Friday.

BURMA

Potential leeway from the Burmese election commission traces the campaign trail as they lift the ban on political rallies. The ministerial order restricting campaign rallies was lifted just hours after the pro-Democracy candidate, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party complained its campaigning for upcoming parliamentary by-elections was being stifled. In addition, the Burmese government has said it will “seriously consider” accepting observers from neighboring countries to monitor elections taking place in April. I wonder if we can hope for some positive transformations this time around or if this is just a strategic attempt to appease the current situation with the elections looming close by.