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.

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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?