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Al-Shabab attacks, swine fever, and sexual harassment at the UN: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 09:06

IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

On our radar


Al-Shabab attacks civilians in Kenya and Somalia

It has been a tragic week in East Africa, as militant group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an attack in Kenya and was accused of kidnapping 60 schoolchildren in the Bakol region of southern Somalia. The commissioner of Tiyeglow district said the children were taken on Monday in a raid on a village and most likely recruited as fighters – a common al-Shabab tactic. On Tuesday, the al-Qaeda-linked group claimed responsibility for a 19-hour siege on an upmarket Nairobi hotel, which left 21 civilians dead. Al-Shabab said the attack was in response to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It could also be retaliation for Kenyan and US military operations against al-Shabab in Somalia. The hotel attack took place on the eve of a verdict in the trial of men alleged to have been involved in the 2013 siege on Nairobi's Westgate mall, which left 67 people dead. Militancy is an ongoing threat across Africa, a trend we continue to watch in 2019.


Swine fever threatens food security

A highly contagious disease with a near-100 percent fatality rate for pigs and wild boars could have “devastating consequences” for food security over large swathes of Asia, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation warned in a report this week. The FAO says African swine fever threatens to spread from China, where the virus has hit at least 24 provinces since it was detected there in August. The disease is not transmissible to humans, but pork is a key source of animal protein in China, the Korean peninsula, and Southeast Asia, while China produces half the world’s pigs. The FAO says the risk of the virus spreading beyond China’s borders represents “an imminent threat for the pig population in this region” and could damage livelihoods and food security. There is no vaccine. This week, Chinese agriculture officials announced the culling of more than 916,000 pigs, Mongolia reported its first outbreak, and Australia said it had found traces of African swine fever in six pork products seized at its airports. Since the virus was first discovered nearly a century ago in Kenya, there have been outbreaks in parts of Europe, the Caribbean, and Brazil, including ongoing cases in parts of eastern Europe.


IS reminds US it still exists in Syria

Days after President Trump said he had begun withdrawing troops from Syria, in part because so-called Islamic State had been defeated, the group claimed a suicide bombing in the northeastern city of Manbij that killed 19 people, including four Americans (two soldiers, a contractor, and a civilian defense department employee). The pullout was already controversial, not to mention confusing – nobody seems to know how or when it is happening – and Wednesday’s attack raised further questions about the wisdom of the move. In northeastern Syria, where some 2,000 US troops plus civilian contractors offer support to Kurdish fighters taking on IS, humanitarians are concerned about the  uncertainty (A Turkish invasion? New alliances? Shifting front lines?) and how it will impact their ability to deliver aid. Read Aron Lund’s latest timely analysis for an understanding of the many possibilities, and what they mean for the estimated two million Syrians in areas under Kurdish control.


Voting on peace in the Philippines

On 21 January, parts of conflict-hit Mindanao in the Philippines will begin voting on a long-awaited peace deal that will grant more autonomy and a new homeland for the southern island’s Muslim population. The proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law is the culmination of years of negotiations between Philippine authorities and multiple iterations of Muslim armed groups on Mindanao. Last year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law a peace agreement with the largest Muslim armed group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The upcoming referendum, which continues on 6 February, is the next step to putting the law into effect. Recent polling suggests large parts of existing Muslim-majority areas on Mindanao support the law, which would create a new territory, known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, with greater control of resources and taxation. But it’s uncertain whether adjoining areas like Cotabato City, wedged in the middle of an existing region, will vote to join. If the referendum passes, Mindanao still faces a challenge building peace. Authorities must oversee the decommissioning of thousands of armed fighters. But other armed groups continue to clash, including extremist fighters that have in the past drawn from the ranks of disaffected MILF members.


Sexual harassment at the UN

One in three UN workers has been sexually harassed in the past two years, according to survey results published this week. More than 30,000 UN agency staff and contractors took part in the online survey conducted in November by business advisory firm Deloitte. UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed disappointment, not just at the results but also at the low participation – only 17 percent of those polled responded. He said it showed how far the UN has to go before it can “fully and openly” discuss sexual harassment and counter ongoing “mistrust, perceptions of inaction, and lack of accountability”. Meanwhile, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has reportedly ordered an internal investigation after a string of anonymous emails containing allegations of racism, sexism, and corruption were sent to top managers at the UN health agency last year. Both reports follow hot on the heels of the announcement last month that the head of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, will step down six months early, in June, after a panel found that he tolerated “a culture of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, and abuse of power.” A preliminary report this week into the Oxfam scandal, which precipitated the #AidToo movement, called for a stronger system of safeguarding, for empowering and creating the space for staff to challenge negative power dynamics, and for investing in ways to more generally improve the culture of such organisations.


In case you missed it:

Democratic Republic of Congo: While global attention has been focused on Congo's disputed elections and the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the eastern regions, almost 900 people were killed in inter-communal clashes in western Mai-Ndombe province last month, the UN said. The fighting between Banunu and Batende communities took place in Yumbi, one of the towns excluded from the 30 December polls due to insecurity.


The Hague: The International Criminal Court has acquitted former Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo of crimes against humanity, calling the case against him "exceptionally weak". Gbagbo spent more than seven years in custody, and was tried for allegations including involvement in election-related violence in 2010 and 2011, during which thousands of people were killed. Prosecutors said they would appeal the verdict and, initially at least, he remained behind bars.


Syria: UNICEF reports that eight children, most under four months, have died in the past month at the makeshift camp on the Jordan-Syria border where some 40,000 Syrians have taken shelter. People at the camp, Rukban, are exposed to harsh winter conditions and are short on medical supplies and care; the last humanitarian convoy was in November.


United States: Four humanitarian volunteers went on trial this week in Tucson, Arizona, facing misdemeanour charges for leaving water and other supplies in the desert for migrants crossing the US-Mexico border. Since 2017, at least 43 sets of human remains have reportedly been found in the wildlife refuge where the volunteers had left the provisions.


Yemen: Days after the UN Security Council voted to send 75 observers to monitor a faltering ceasefire in Yemen’s northern port city of Hodeidah, bullets hit an armoured car carrying the mission’s head, retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert. No one was injured, and the warring sides blamed each other for the incident.


Zimbabwe: The UN has condemned Zimbabwe's “excessive use of force” in cracking down on protests, which were sparked by a dramatic fuel price hike last weekend. Five people have been killed, hundreds detained, and the government has imposed a total internet shutdown. There is concern that a prolonged crisis could lead to mass displacement and create a new humanitarian challenge for neighbouring countries.

Weekend read


Venezuela’s new humanitarians

Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro faces mounting pressure at home and abroad as his disputed second term in office begins. Opposition politician Juan Guaidó is challenging Maduro’s rule, while some foreign governments, including the United States, are calling the Maduro regime “illegitimate”. Venezuela is mired in economic freefall and its citizens face severe food and healthcare shortages. The crisis has pushed some three million to flee the country, spilling the humanitarian emergency across the region. For our weekend read, journalist Susan Schulman has the latest from our reporting on local aid in crises. The story profiles Venezuela’s local NGOs, which have been forced to make drastic changes to respond to a humanitarian crisis the government denies. Local organisations that once focused on rights or development find themselves thrust into unfamiliar new roles: an education NGO that abandoned its training programmes because teachers were too busy queuing for food; a rights group that diverted its resources to feed hungry children. “We don’t know what a humanitarian emergency is,” says one local activist. “We didn’t know until now.”

And finally... IRIN at Davos

Look out for IRIN’s participation at next week’s annual World Economic Forum gathering of top business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland. Join us on Tuesday 22 January at 7:30am local time (0630 GMT), for a live stream of “Meet the New Humanitarians”, our headline event aimed at showcasing emerging actors in the humanitarian landscape, not to mention our new name and brand (In case you missed our big announcement).


And if you don’t mind a quick 10-second sign-in form (or are already signed on), check out the Humanitarian Action entry on Transformation Maps, the WEF’s new attempt to harness technology and collaboration to tackle complex global issues and better inform decision-makers. IRIN’s Ben Parker was the key contributor.



afp_000_1c97az_1280.jpg News Aid and Policy Conflict Health Human Rights Politics and Economics Al-Shabab attacks, swine fever, and sexual harassment at the UN IRIN Geneva Africa Zimbabwe DRC Burundi Somalia Kenya United States Venezuela Asia Philippines Switzerland Global Syria Yemen
Categories: Gender Parity

Where there’s political will, there’s a way to protect civilians

IRIN Gender - Mon, 01/14/2019 - 09:32

2018 was a disastrous year for civilians caught in conflict.


In most conflict zones around the world, the majority of those killed were civilians. Those who survived suffered myriad physical, emotional, and economic hardships.


In the Middle East, three permanent members of the UN Security Council – the body charged with maintaining global peace and security – conducted or supported military campaigns that massacred civilians.


In Syria, Russia participated in the offensive on rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, which killed more than 1,000 civilians, some through the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.


In Yemen, the US and the UK continued to support the Saudi-led coalition, despite mounting evidence that airstrikes there have hit hospitals, markets, and school buses, and that the on-off blockade it imposed has worsened an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis in which nearly 16 million Yemenis – more than half of the population – are on the brink of starvation.

We have repeatedly seen that when political will to protect civilians is mustered, tangible progress is possible.

In Afghanistan, insurgent groups increasingly targeted civilians, and the number of civilian deaths and injuries climbed steadily over 2018, reaching at least 8,050 by the end of September, according to the latest UN figures.


In Africa, UN peacekeeping missions continued to fall short of their mandates to protect civilians. In the Central African Republic, for example, at least 70 civilians were killed in an attack on a displaced persons’ camp metres away from a UN base. In South Sudan, reports emerged of at least 125 women being raped as they made the multi-day journey to a food distribution site. In the Beni area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN has failed to contain the killings of civilians, which some estimates put at 1,000 since 2014.


Despite these discouraging examples, we at CIVIC have hope for 2019. Why? Because we have repeatedly seen that when political will to protect civilians is mustered, tangible progress is possible.


In Yemen, the October murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi spurred

a renewed push to end external actors’ involvement in the war – one factor in December talks that declared a desperately needed (if not yet implemented) ceasefire for the port of Hodeidah. In Syria, it appears that a political deal has prevented – at least for the time being – a military assault on the province of Idlib, which would undoubtedly have catastrophic consequences for civilians.


The three-day Eid holiday ceasefire in Afghanistan last June offered a glimpse of what peace could look like, as Taliban fighters, Afghan military, and civilians mingled without fighting, despite two bombings in Nangarhar province, one claimed by the so-called Islamic State.


At the international level, last May the UN General Assembly dedicated an entire week to discussing tangible ways to further the protection of civilians, and Secretary-General António Guterres called for all UN member states to adopt national policy frameworks on the issue.


Just as we supported the Afghan government in its groundbreaking 2017 adoption of a civilian protection policy, we at CIVIC will continue to help governments around the world – from Iraq to Nigeria to Ukraine – looking to do the same: identifying potential improvements to their policies and laws; providing workshops to equip military and security forces to see their mission with a protection mindset; helping them to understand their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to account for civilian lives in their day-to-day operations.


In South Sudan last January, UNMISS opened a base in Yei – an area devastated by violence in 2017 – to enable the UN mission to better protect civilians in the region. UNMISS is committed to using inter-communal dialogues across the country to prevent deadly conflicts between semi-nomadic cattle farmers and agricultural groups.


In Congo’s Ituri province, the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO responded to escalating violence against civilians in the first half of the year by rapidly launching mobile troop deployments to high-threat areas and initiating peace dialogues between communities. This move was possible thanks to collaboration between officials, community leaders, and UN mission leadership – and most actors in the region agree that the peacekeepers’ quick action halted ongoing violence and likely prevented an escalation in fighting.


These two peacekeeping wins are particularly encouraging as we approach the 20th anniversary of the first specifically mandated UN mission to protect civilians: the formation of UNAMSIL in 1999 was in part a response to global outrage following the massacre of civilians in Sierra Leone.


We’re also hopeful for 2019 because even when political will wavers, the will of civilians themselves does not. We’ve seen repeatedly how meaningfully engaging communities about their own protection yields tangible advances. In Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, for example, community elders in two districts convinced the Taliban, at least temporarily, to remove and stop planting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).


In northeastern Nigeria, when community protection committees in Bama notified the military that local militia were sexually exploiting women near an informal displaced persons’ camp, the military banned all militia members who did not have family members at the site from entering. These same committees also obtained regular military escorts for civilians leaving the site, allowing 3,500 people to farm and collect firewood without fear of being attacked.


This sort of determination is encouraging, but it cannot stand alone. Ensuring the protection of civilians in conflict requires consistent, committed, and courageous support from leaders at all levels.


With strong leadership at the international level, true commitment and political will by key states involved in conflicts, and meaningful engagement of affected communities, protection is possible.


We call on leaders to muster the political will to make the possible a reality in 2019.


Civilians trapped in conflict zones don’t have another year to spare.


(TOP PHOTO: A displaced South Sudanese woman in a Protection of Civilians site adjacent to the UNMISS base in Wau, South Sudan. CREDIT: Phil Hatcher-Moore/UNICEF)

un070613_1920.jpg Opinion Conflict Human Rights Where there’s political will, there’s a way to protect civilians Federico Borello IRIN Nigeria DRC Global Syria Yemen
Categories: Gender Parity

In South Sudan, girls forced into war face gender double standards in peace

IRIN Gender - Mon, 01/07/2019 - 05:00

Women and girls bear an additional burden in any war, as the threat of sexual violence or abuse combines with the standard risks of conflict.


The conflict in South Sudan is no different. Since it began in December 2013, both sides have been accused of using rape and sexual assault as a “weapon of war”. UN envoy Pramila Patten told the Security Council last month that the practice “escalated dramatically” in 2018.


For women and girls kidnapped by armed groups, even if they survive widespread sexual violence and forced marriage, many are left unable to fully rejoin their communities, in part because the programmes intended to ease their transition back into society are traditionally designed for boys and controlled by men.


In South Sudan, more than 950 children abducted by armed groups were released in 2018, as a peace deal, signed in September, tenuously holds. Around 28 percent of those officially released were girls. Many more have reportedly been leaving or escaping captivity unofficially.


To join a reintegration programme, former militia members often have to be included on lists that their male commanders give to those negotiating their release.


Although many women and girls have voluntarily joined armed groups in South Sudan, many others have been forcibly recruited, becoming ‘wives’ to militia members, who then won’t let them leave (it is hard to know how many, as the commanders are in control of the lists).


While some girls kidnapped by armed groups are forced to fight, or to kill civilians while looting villages, most are taken to cook and clean.


When Poni*, 17, was taken from her home in 2015 by an armed opposition group fighting the government, she says she didn’t struggle. “I was thinking... I am just a girl. I don’t have any power to resist and fight with those men,” she told IRIN.


Poni decided her best chance of survival was to obey orders: to cook, clean, fetch water, even to loot. “If you refused to do it, they would immediately kill you,” she said. “I decided to do these bad things because I saw others shot dead, because they refused to obey orders.”


In preliminary findings from a research trip in South Sudan, NGO Child Soldiers International noted in October: “Girls’ involvement in armed conflict is seen as less direct than boys.”


Girls and women who find their way back to their communities on their own aren’t always seen as “soldiers” and consequently those with power don’t put them forward for programmes that could support them.


“As a result, girls have often been excluded from demobilisation and reintegration initiatives,” Child Soldiers International said.


Assistance for women and girls


The UN says it has learned lessons around the support of girls. Since 2006, it has included gender in the guidelines it uses to plan demobilisation, demilitarisation, and reintegration (DDR) programmes in countries including South Sudan.


One key change was the removal of a requirement that fighters hand in weapons or ammunition before they enter a reintegration programme; such a requirement excluded girls involved in armed groups in non-combat roles. Before this change, women and girls involved in the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia were largely shut out of those DDR processes in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“There’s always a priority on economic reintegration... social reintegration is under-resourced and forgotten about.”

Within South Sudan’s process, which was agreed as part of the September peace deal, the UN and its partners provide psychological and financial assistance to children like Poni, most of whom are reunited with their families. This includes three month’s worth of food rations and other necessities. The DDR programme also assists with education and skills development.


Some NGOs say that still isn’t enough for the released girls. Such programmes, they argue, have historically been tailored towards boys, so female-specific needs – including access to post-rape counselling and care, or better social reintegration – aren’t being met effectively.


“There’s always a priority on economic reintegration, meaning vocational training [and school],” Lyndsay Hockin, a child protection specialist with World Vision in South Sudan, told IRIN. Meanwhile, “social reintegration is under-resourced and forgotten about.”


“Social reintegration” is shorthand for the intangible but ultimately crucial process of being accepted by families and communities again. It may not cost as much as training and counselling, but it requires more time, commitment, and relationship-building, said Hockin, who works in Yambio and the surrounding region of southwest South Sudan.


Stigma and distrust


South Sudan is a difficult place to be female in the first place: 80 percent of refugees and displaced people are women and children; around 75 percent of girls are not enrolled in primary school; more than 50 percent are married before the age of 18; and 58 percent of households are reportedly female-headed.


Since the civil war started, more than 19,000 children are estimated to have been recruited into armed groups, according to UNICEF. Aid workers told IRIN that 20-40 percent of them are girls, but it’s impossible to know exactly.


While some boys are kidnapped to become child soldiers, others join armed groups voluntarily – sometimes out of need, because they feel it is the only way they can feed themselves, said Timothy Irwin, UNICEF spokesman in South Sudan. The same is true of some girls and women in Pibor, in the east of the country, according to Child Soldiers International.


In the region around Yambio, however, experts told IRIN that girls involved with armed groups tend to be abducted, many on their way to school.


“In terms of our caseload, they were all taken against their will,” said Hockin. “They were wanting to be back with their families, and they were not wanting to be still married.”


“Life was so bad, especially for the girls,” 16-year-old Maria* told IRIN. “They would rape us and take us to the commander.”


Maria was abducted from her home by a pro-government militia in 2015. She was formally released in a ceremony arranged by the government’s National DDR Commission in February in Yambio. A total of 348 children were freed that day, 100 of them girls.


The releases were negotiated by local religious leaders, who were escorted by UN peacekeeping troops to meet armed groups in remote areas. A group of women who had self-identified as survivors of sexual violence, many also single mothers, were linked up with the released girls as mentors. Meanwhile, daycare was introduced for young mothers who were going back to school.


Children like Maria who have suffered sexual violence, who may have children themselves, can find it even harder to reintegrate due to the stigma of sex before marriage.


The marriages themselves can carry repercussions too, given that they are often to men who have committed violence against the communities the girls are returning to. In Yambio, the local Zande ethnic group already has a “culture of rumour and suspicion”, said Hockin. Captured children are often used by armed groups to scout out areas ahead of attacks, meaning some are suspected of being spies on their return.


“For the girls that are married… [people ask] was that marriage a conduit for intelligence-gathering?” Hockin explained. “It would be quite natural for the girl to be sharing information with her husband.”


Read more → South Sudan: The humanitarian toll of half a decade of war

Many returning girls were bullied by their peers in school, but keeping them apart wasn’t a good idea either, she said. “That was actually reinforcing a lot of stigma.”


‘Women live with violence’


While the releases of child soldiers across the country have been from opposition forces and pro-government militias, the UN and the US State Department have reported that all sides in the conflict – including the national army, the South Sudan People's Defense Force (SSPDF) – use child soldiers.


The government and the army usually deny abusing women and girls, but reports from the ground often contradict those denials.


“You are supposed to leave children in peace.”

The SSPDF, formerly know as the SPLA, was accused of mass rapes of women and girls as part of indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Unity State in April-May 2018. After a mass rape of at least 125 women in Bentiu in Unity State in November, the victims said armed men, many in military uniform, had attacked them. Almost two in three women and girls in South Sudan report having experienced sexual violence at least once in their lives.


“Rape has long been condoned, normalised, and used to terrorise women and girls across South Sudan,” said Nyagoah Tut Pur, a South Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch, adding that authorities should show they are serious about addressing the culture of impunity for such crimes.


“It is not normal and it is not acceptable that women live with violence and that they are sexually abused,” UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in October during a visit to South Sudan, where a joint UN-AU delegation said the participation of women was key to the successful implementation of the new peace deal.


There seems to be some willingness to make women more visible in decision-making: the September deal has stipulated a new quota for 35 percent of women in government positions, raised from 25 percent when South Sudan gained independence in 2011.

Even as many observers remain sceptical that peace will hold, with violence still continuing in parts of the country, Poni and Maria hope to move on with their lives. Both want to go to school, using skills they are currently honing on vocational training courses run by UNICEF in Yambio to earn money to pay their fees.


“I was helpless, and now I am thankful,” Maria said.


But it is hard for girls in South Sudan to move on from the trauma they have experienced.


Poni didn’t want to talk about her family, but she did want to say that children like her should be free, that they should never have to go through what she did.


“You are supposed to leave children in peace,” she said.


*Names have been changed



Additional reporting by Silvano Yokwe and Nancy Acayo

The reporting for this piece was supported by the International Women's Media Foundation

un0202131.jpg News feature Conflict Human Rights Child soldiers In South Sudan, girls forced into war face gender double standards in peace Rachel Savage Maura Ajak IRIN JUBA Africa East Africa South Sudan
Categories: Gender Parity

Congo data, South Sudan attacks, and UNAIDS in crisis: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 12/07/2018 - 12:12

IRIN editors give their weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.


On our radar


"Brutal attacks" against women and girls in South Sudan


Despite some cautious optimism around a new peace agreement, civilians are still far from safe in South Sudan. Aid groups say more than 150 women and girls were raped, beaten, and brutalised over a 10-day period at the end of November. Armed men, many in uniform, carried out the “abhorrent” attacks near the city of Bentiu, the UN said. Médecins Sans Frontières, which provided emergency medical care to survivors, expressed deep concerns. “Some are girls under 10 years old and others are women older than 65. Even pregnant women have not been spared from these brutal attacks,” said MSF midwife Ruth Okello. Since the war began in 2013, South Sudan has seen horrific levels of sexual violence. In the first half of 2018, 2,300 cases were reported; more than 20 percent of victims were children, the UN said. For more on the conflict and what it’s like to live in Juba and report on it, watch this frank Q&A interview with IRIN contributor Stefanie Glinski. And look out for our special package next week as the war marks its five-year milestone.


UN accused of manipulating data in Congo


Aid groups working in the Democratic Republic of Congo have accused the UN of "manipulating" data and bowing to government pressure ahead of elections later this month. In a statement in November, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, put the overall number of people needing assistance in Congo in 2019 at 12.8 million, a slight decrease on last year, despite the fact that according to the authoritative IPC scale 13.1 million Congolese are facing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity next year (up from 7.7 million in 2018). The OCHA overall needs figure appears to only count the displaced as 1.37 million people newly displaced between January and August 2018. Aid groups say that overlooking three million people who had already been displaced prior to that will dramatically impact their ability to respond to needs, and may encourage forced closures of IDP camps. A letter obtained by IRIN – addressed to UN aid chief Mark Lowcock and Kim Bolduc, the UN’s most senior humanitarian official in Congo – from a forum of 45 international NGOs working in the country, blames the decision on "increased politicisation of humanitarian data", which they say sends a misleading message that the situation is improving "despite clear evidence to the contrary". OCHA has denied manipulating data. Read our report from April on how relations were already strained between aid groups and the Congolese government, after it failed to attend its own donor conference in March.

UNAIDS: "A broken organisational culture"


An independent report on harassment and management culture at the UN's specialised HIV/AIDS body, UNAIDS, is out today and it's damning. The executive director, Michel Sidibé, is found to have set up a "patriarchal culture", and the organisation to be in crisis. The four-month review followed reports that a senior UNAIDS official's sexual misconduct was not properly handled. The report plants the blame at the feet of Sidibé. He has been "tolerating harassment and abuse of authority" and "accepted no responsibility for actions and effects of decisions and practices creating the conditions that led to this review,” it said. In an email to staff, Sidibé wrote: "I have taken on board the criticisms."


Disputed Papua killings raise tensions in Indonesia


Violence this week in the Papua region put the spotlight back on a decades-long pro-independence movement along Indonesia’s eastern edge. Indonesian authorities say pro-independence fighters killed up to 31 people working on a controversial infrastructure project in Papua province this week, though an armed group that reportedly claimed responsibility said those killed were not civilians. A separate pro-independence leader called for restraint and warned of retaliatory attacks by Indonesia’s military. For decades, Indonesia has quashed Papuan nationalism, which includes both armed elements and a peaceful movement by activists who have called for a referendum on independence. Over that time, the heavily militarised region has been mired in poverty and under-development, letting treatable health problems fester. Earlier this year, a measles outbreak killed dozens of children.


One year after victory, is Iraq IS-free?


One year ago (on 9 December, to be exact) Iraq declared victory against so-called Islamic State. The country’s recovery has come in fits and starts. There were elections and a new prime minister, but he’s not yet managed to form a government. November saw the lowest number of civilian deaths and injuries in violence, terrorism, and armed conflict in six years, but a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies says IS is regrouping, operating in a cell structure, and targeting the Iraqi government, especially local village heads. And while 4.1 million Iraqis who fled their homes during the IS years have returned home, 1.9 remain displaced, half of them for more than three years. The UN says it’s increasingly clear many of these people don’t want to (or can’t) go home, many still rely on aid, and it’s not clear what their future holds.


Plus ça change


MSF employs more people than any other relief organisation, and there are 570,000 people working in humanitarian aid overall. Just two new data points from an ambitious report, the State of the Humanitarian System 2018, released this week. The study finds that the global political climate is causing a "decline in performance in the areas of coverage (the ability to reach everyone in need) and coherence (the ability to conduct operations in line with international humanitarian and refugee law)". The report, from the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance, or ALNAP, also gives a lukewarm appraisal of the humanitarian system: “incremental improvement in some areas, and a lack of movement in others”. While UN agencies dominate the funding picture, six large NGOs command 23 percent of the spending in 2017, the report finds. The 331 page report came hard on the heels of the UN-led omnibus humanitarian appeal for 2019, which signalled the need for $25 billion in aid for more than 90 million people.


In case you missed it


Afghanistan: Two bodies managing October parliamentary elections are clashing over poll results in the capital, Kabul. The elections complaints commission declared fraud and invalidated all votes cast in Kabul, but the agency overseeing the vote said it would ignore the ruling.


China: More than 7,400 women and girls could be victims of forced marriage in just a few remote districts along the northern Myanmar-China border, according to a new study. Nearly 40 percent of women interviewed for the research said they’d been forced to marry.


Ebola: Eighteen new Ebola cases and five more deaths have been recorded in just two days in Congo. The health ministry expressed particular concern about the spread in Butembo, a major trading city in North Kivu province. With 471 cases, including 273 deaths, the outbreak is now the second-largest ever.


Libya: Locals say a US strike in Libya killed as many as 11 civilians at the end of November, the casualty monitor Airwars reports. The US says the strike targeted a local faction of al-Qaeda.


Mediterranean: MSF and SOS Méditerranée say they have been “forced” to stop operating their Aquarius migrant rescue vessel. The ship, which has saved countless lives in the Mediterranean since 2015, has been docked in Marseilles since Panama revoked its registration in September after sustained legal pressure, in particular from Italy.


Yemen: Two sides in the war kicked off talks in Sweden on Thursday, as a new report said that 20 million people back in Yemen are hungry, including nearly a quarter of a million who could soon be on the “brink of death”, but the threshold for famine has not been met.


Our weekend read


“Yes, the babies die”: Tales of despair and dismay from Venezuela


To get a sense of how fast and how far Venezuela has fallen, look no further than the University Hospital of Maracaibo. Once a shining beacon of the South American nation’s oil-rich economy, this modernist building that once pioneered liver transplants now peels into disrepair and lacks electricity, water, even basic medicines. Inside, the shelves lie empty, coated with flies. Outside, a large mound of blue rubbish bags grows, rotting, by the day. “Hospitals have become like extermination camps,” says surgeon and professor Dr. Dora Colomenares. Our weekend read is the latest instalment of Susan Schulman’s special report on the humanitarian impacts of Venezuela’s economic collapse. Through the graphic accounts of patients and doctors, it lays bare the collapse of a healthcare system that has lost most of its capability to treat the sick. As more and more medical personnel join the mass exodus from the country, malnutrition is weakening immune systems and long-dormant diseases are returning. “We feel very helpless because there is nothing we can do,” Colomenares says. “Yes,” she nods, “yes, the babies die.”


And finally…


The muppets are coming to the Rohingya refugee camps. The Lego Foundation this week announced a $100 million grant to the Sesame Workshop – the non-profit behind the long-running US children’s TV show. The money will be used to bring “play-based early childhood development” targeted to Rohingya and Syrian refugee children, including a curriculum featuring Sesame Street’s fuzzy muppet puppets (yes, they are muppets). In Bangladesh, this will include partnering with the Bangladeshi NGO BRAC, whose work in the camps includes running “learning centres” for children – Bangladesh’s government does not allow formal schooling for Rohingya refugees. In case you’re wondering, there is indeed a Bangladeshi version of Sesame Street, and the proponents of this initiative say it will be a part of the programming.

(TOP PHOTO: South Sudanese students at an event for the International Day for eliminating Sexual Violence in Conflict. CREDIT: UNMISS)


27816528955_d7c4b198d7_o.jpg News Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Health Human Rights Congo data, South Sudan attacks, and UNAIDS in crisis IRIN Geneva Africa DRC South Sudan Venezuela Afghanistan China Indonesia Europe European Union Global Libya Iraq Yemen
Categories: Gender Parity

In Central African Republic, war crime survivors dare to hope for justice

IRIN Gender - Wed, 11/28/2018 - 09:38

It was two nights before Christmas in 2013 in a suburb of Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic. All Claire’s grandchildren were gathered in her house, playing, seemingly safe from the horrors outside.

On the streets, brutal fighting between Muslim Séléka rebels and Christian anti-balaka vigilante groups had been raging since the rebellion began a year earlier.

Suddenly there was a knock on Claire’s door; anti-balaka militiamen were looking for her Muslim son-in-law, who had joined the Séléka. Claire, herself a Christian, told them he wasn’t home. They forced their way in, locking all 12 children away, before brutally raping both Claire and her daughter in the living room. The assault left her daughter infected with HIV and impregnated with a child who still suffers from the disease today.  

“I can try to move on with my life, but my daughter is left by herself, sick with no assistance. She is not working, and she cannot take care of her daughter,” said Claire, now 57, whose full name IRIN can’t reveal for security reasons.

Claire’s story is not unique in CAR. Countless war crimes have been committed during an ongoing civil war since 2012 that has forced a quarter of the population to flee their homes. The country’s pervasive culture of impunity means perpetrators continue evading both arrest and investigation, very often living side-by-side with those they have victimised.

When he was elected to office in 2016, CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra said “reconciliation cannot be achieved at the cost of impunity”. But with few results delivered since then, victims have become deeply sceptical about the prospect of any real justice.

This may be about to change.

Last week, former anti-balaka militia commander Alfred “Rambo” Yekatom, was extradited by CAR authorities to The Hague, where he is set to become the first Central African combatant to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

The news came two weeks after the long-awaited Special Criminal Court held its opening ceremony in the capital Bangui. The local court, which is assisted by the ICC, will investigate and prosecute other war crimes and genocide committed before and during the civil war.

Human Rights Watch said the new hybrid national/international court presented “a significant opportunity to end the widespread impunity that victims of the cycles of violence in the Central African Republic have faced”. A report by Amnesty International said it has the potential to “help build public confidence in the CAR justice system and bring an end to the pervasive culture of impunity”.

Florian Elabdi/IRIN Fréderic Nakombo, secretary general of the Justice and Peace Commission, sits in his office. Encouraging victims to come forward

CAR’s civil war began in 2012 when Muslim rebel groups from the country’s north called Séléka (i.e. alliance) moved towards Bangui and overthrew president François Bozizé. To counter the Séléka’s growing repression, Christian vigilante groups called anti-balaka (i.e. anti-machete) started bloody reprisal attacks against Muslim civilians.     

As a result of the anarchy, the Séléka disbanded and gave back power to an internationally recognised government that today controls around a fifth of the country. In the rest of the former French colony, ex-Séléka and anti-balaka militias are still battling for control of territory and natural resources.


Read more →

Central African Republic: Little peace to keep, but 4.7 million lives to live

The armed conflict has been characterised by widespread war crimes committed against civilians on both sides. A 2015 UN commission of inquiry determined that the scale of attacks against the Muslim minority constituted ethnic cleansing, but without genocidal intent.  

The latest developments, however, are a boost for local efforts to convince victims to bring cases before the SCC tribunal.

The Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission launched an initiative in 2013, with support from Advocates Sans Frontières, to establish so-called “Listening Centres” throughout the country.

“There were many people who didn’t want to file their cases at the police because of bad experiences with the authorities,” explained Fréderic Nakombo, secretary general of the commission. “When they heard about the Listening Centre, they were willing to tell us what happened to them.”

IRIN met Claire at a Listening Centre in Bangui when she arrived to seek legal advice. Her case caught the attention of a local human rights group because of its brutal nature and is one of five the tribunal has so far decided to investigate and prosecute.

However, it is close to impossible to find the perpetrators in cases like Claire’s where no suspects have been identified. Even in cases where there are clear suspects, victims have seen several examples of notorious warlords getting away with their crimes with impunity, so they are doubtful their low-ranked offenders will ever face justice.


☰ Read more: CAR’s culture of impunity


Earlier this year, former anti-balaka leader Patrice Edouard Ngaïssona was elected to the executive committee of the Confederation of African Football, or CAF, the largest of FIFA’s six continental confederations.


Elsewhere, in parts of the country outside of the government’s reach, ex-Séléka rebel commanders like Abdoulaye Hissène and Noureddine Adam, both under UN sanctions, continue to lead groups that have committed atrocities.

At the same time, former president Bozizé, who was ousted in the 2013 coup, is also under UN sanctions for war crimes, but still lives safely in exile in Uganda.

Elected as an MP in 2016, Yekatom himself is another example of the extent of non-liability for alleged war criminals.

Yekatom, who commanded around 3,000 militiamen, is allegedly responsible for crimes such as murder, torture, recruiting child soldiers and more, all committed in the period between December 2013 and August 2014.

He was only arrested last month after firing a gun during a parliament debate. It was this unrelated arrest that triggered his extradition to the ICC, which could potentially have an accelerating effect on the presently stagnant hunt for other warlords in the fragile state.  

“Predicting the future is a risky business, but now that an anti-balaka commander is in The Hague, it would not be unreasonable to anticipate a Séléka arrest very soon,” Patryk Labuda, Global Fellow at New York University, argued in a recent analysis for OpinioJuris.


Jurists running the project argue that in a country plagued by years of intercommunal violence, seeking justice for victims is a precondition for reconciliation and future peacebuilding.

“We cannot begin a real process of reconciliation in this country before the perpetrators of atrocities have been brought to justice or the victims have received compensation,” said Sosthène Mbelesso, legal coordinator at Bangui’s Listening Centre.

“It is massively important that justice prevails and there is no impunity. There have been so many atrocities committed that we cannot just forget.”

Florian Elabdi/IRIN Sosthène Mbelesso, legal coordinator at Bangui's Listening Centre, looks at the cases piling up in the office's wooden cabinet. ‘There is justice on Earth’


Regina Nicole Yamalet was also at the Listening Centre in Bangui. She had come to talk about her 24-year old brother who was killed by Chadian peacekeepers in a shooting rampage in the city that also killed two other teenage boys. He died the day before his twin sons turned three months old.


“Every time I glance at the children, I immediately think of my brother,” she said. “As a woman, you’re often harassed in our neighbourhood. Everytime it happens I come to think of my brother because he was so courageous and strong and he would always be there to protect me.“

Yamalet explained how the killing of her brother has left her in deep sorrow. Yet she remains one of the few Central Africans who are optimistic that justice will be served.

“As a Christian, I was taught to trust in God and leave things in the hands of God. But the priests in the local church and awareness campaigns in the radio taught us that we should not just leave these cases. There is justice on Earth, before justice in heaven,” she said.

Yamalet’s optimism is the outcome of the Listening Centre’s efforts to change people’s attitudes towards the SCC tribunal. Through radio programmes, billboards and sermons, the Listening Centre has tried to convince people to take their cases to the court despite preconceptions stemming from religion or general mistrust in the legal system.

Through the Listening Centres initiative, the commission has received thousands of testimonies and compiled some 6,250 potential cases. The centres across the country assist all victims regardless of religion.

‘Grounds for optimism’

The overriding question remains whether the SCC, made up of 13 local judges and 12 international judges, can be the beginning of the end of CAR’s widespread impunity.

The recent inauguration of the SCC after almost four years of preparatory work and last week’s extradition of Yekatom does show “grounds for optimism”, said Patryk Labuda from NYU School of Law, adding: “There is a real opportunity to break the cycle of impunity in CAR.”

“The SCC has taken a long time to be established, but the international community and Central Africans have used this time wisely.” he said.

“There is a real opportunity to break the cycle of impunity in CAR.”

“The government of Touadéra remains committed to the fight against impunity, despite pressure from various states and regional actors to seek compromise. The SCC ultimately depends on the goodwill of the host state, so it is critical that the right people remain in power in CAR.”

But there are challenges. The main ones being security and outreach in a country where 80 percent of the territory is controlled by rebels.

“It will be important for the SCC to be more than a Bangui court – it has to find a way to communicate its work to people outside the capital, and this is likely to be a huge challenge given the prevailing security dynamics,” Labuda said.

Back in the Listening Centre in Bangui, Yamalet still had hope that her brother’s killers would be found.

“I have a real trust that justice will be served in this country,” she said. “We should trust that once the local judicial procedure starts to work, the international court will assist and I’m sure if they all work together, there will be justice.”

Claire was not nearly that confident.

“I cannot identify the men who did this to us and I don’t believe they will be brought to justice, but the least I hope for is some kind of economic compensation. I’m living under immense stress and anger because of our situation,” she said, with tears in her eyes.   

(TOP PHOTO: Anonymous man, 44, gives testimony. His house was burned down in the sectarian violence in 2014. His five children fled the country and are still living in a refugee camp in Cameroon. He hopes that the tribunal will give him financial compensation so he can rebuild his house and bring back his children. CREDIT: Florian Elabdi/IRIN)


“There is a real opportunity to break the cycle of impunity in CAR” In Central African Republic, war crime survivors dare to hope for justice dsc04742_edit.jpg Florian Elabdi News feature Conflict Human Rights BANGUI/Central African Republic IRIN Africa Central African Republic
Categories: Gender Parity

Fear and mistrust surround latest plan to return Rohingya

IRIN Gender - Wed, 11/07/2018 - 10:24

Rights groups say a plan to return Rohingya to Myanmar from Bangladesh as early as next week is dangerously premature, while the refugees have been kept in the dark about their own immediate future.

Roughly 730,000 Rohingya surged into Bangladesh starting in August 2017, fleeing a military purge that a UN rights investigation says amounts to genocide.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have agreed to restart stalled repatriation for Rohingya refugees on 15 November. The plan, announced after high-level meetings between the two countries last week, would see an initial 2,260 Rohingya sent back to Myanmar. But it’s unclear who will be sent home, or what the authorities in Bangladesh will do if Rohingya refugees refuse to go. An original January start date came and went with no movement, but it raised fear and confusion in Bangladesh’s packed refugee settlements.

Rights groups are calling on Bangladesh to shelve the latest plan, saying returns now are “dangerous” and still “highly premature”. Generations of Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar, and apartheid-like restrictions and hostility toward Rohingya have not dissipated in the last year.

Rohingya refugees themselves say they haven’t been consulted on returns; many say they won’t go back until their safety and rights can be guaranteed.

Here’s what we know:

Who will return?

Bangladesh and Myanmar say their plan calls for Rohingya refugees to be returned in groups of 150. Both countries have repeatedly said that returns will be “safe and voluntary”. They have compiled lists of several thousand refugees currently living in Bangladesh, but Human Rights Watch says authorities in Bangladesh “culled the names at random”.

"Bangladesh does not have any policy of local integration and the Rohingya must return to their own country to secure their own future"

"The names on the list we prepared were not chosen because they particularly wanted to go back,” Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, told the rights group in May.

The UN’s special rapporteur for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said on Tuesday that Rohingya in Bangladesh’s camps are “in deep fear” that their names could be on the list.

Where will they return to?

Myanmar authorities say refugees will be transferred to a “transit camp” built in a village tract called Hla Poe Kaung, north of the town of Maungdaw in northern Rakhine State.

An analysis of satellite images for IRIN earlier this year suggests the camp has been built over the bulldozed remnants of at least four former Rohingya villages, including land that was torched and razed during last year’s military purge. More than 100 new buildings and two helicopter pads were under construction over a 240-hectare swathe of cleared land.

(Swipe the image to compare: The image on the left shows a view of the repatriation camp near Hla Poe Kaung village on 9 January. The image on the right shows construction at the same site on 27 February. Image credits: ©2018 DigitalGlobe, Inc. Satellite imagery analysis by UNITAR-UNOSAT)

Myanmar authorities continue to place heavy restrictions on humanitarian groups and media in northern Rakhine. Following an assessment of 23 villages in the area in September, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, said Rohingya who remain in northern Rakhine aren’t allowed to move freely and have difficulty accessing health and schools. UNHCR said all groups in the area, including Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities, live with a prevailing “fear and mistrust” of each other.

What are Rohingya saying?

Rohingya say they have not been consulted about return plans – or much of what affects them in day-to-day life in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.

The Free Rohingya Coalition, led by activists based outside the country, said it was “extremely disturbed” by the latest plan, noting that previous repatriations following refugee influxes in the late 1970s and early 1990s only resulted in further violence when refugees returned to Myanmar.

Rohingya have “widespread and well-founded fear that their lives, families, and communities will once again face further attacks once they are back in their homeland,” the group said in a statement.

Ongoing research in Bangladesh’s camps shows confusion and fear among Rohingya refugees. A March survey by Internews, BBC Media Action, and Translators Without Borders found some Rohingya were keen to return to Myanmar but were worried about their legal status, further violence, and how they would survive with their former homes and villages demolished. Others were too afraid to even consider going back. Many said they lacked clear information about how the return process would work, or if they would be forced to return.

“The key finding from the data is that the Rohingya community, while not united in their opinions… appear to agree on one thing: a great desire for more information,” the research concluded.

What is the international community saying?

Rights groups have largely condemned the latest return plan, labelling it premature and dangerous. The UN’s Lee and Human Rights Watch called on Bangladesh to abort its repatriation scheme.

Many have warned that returning Rohingya will be at grave risk of further violence.

Rohingya “have been slaughtered, persecuted, and driven out”, Susannah Sirkin of the New York-based Physicians for Human Rights said in a statement. “One cannot bring survivors back to Rakhine State without having guarantees for their safety.”

UNHCR, which had previously signed a controversial agreement with Myanmar laying the groundwork for a future repatriation, said it is not involved with the latest return plan and that it is not yet safe for Rohingya to return.

What are Bangladesh and Myanmar saying?

Bangladesh has been ambivalent to incoming Rohingya over successive governments and multiple refugee influxes. The current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has been more receptive to the refugees and allowed humanitarian groups to work in the expanding camps. But she and other officials have repeatedly said that the Rohingya must one day return home.

"Public sympathy for the Rohingya will not last forever, and the current situation is likely to evolve in unpredictable ways"

“Bangladesh does not have any policy of local integration and the Rohingya must return to their own country to secure their own future,” the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in a September press release.

Myanmar authorities have denied almost all allegations of violence against the Rohingya, instead saying the country’s military was justified in responding to attacks on border areas by a small group of Rohingya fighters. Médecins Sans Frontières says at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed. Civilian leaders have barred rights investigators from entering the country, and pushed back against attempts to probe or prosecute alleged crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

Might political considerations come into play?

During previous returns in the late 1970s and early 1990s, rights groups accused Bangladesh of forcing Rohingya out, and UNHCR was criticised for participating in and effectively encouraging returns when it couldn’t ensure the safety of Rohingya in Rakhine State.

Circumstances are different today, but some have warned that the situation is volatile. Bangladesh is heading towards parliamentary elections slated for December and Human Rights Watch says the government appears “anxious” to begin repatriations by then.

In a June analysis, Liam Mahony, a former consultant for UN agencies in Myanmar, warned that political pressures or a destructive natural disaster could suddenly change how Rohingya are viewed in Bangladesh.

“Public sympathy for the Rohingya will not last forever, and the current situation is likely to evolve in unpredictable ways,” he said.

(TOP PHOTO: Rohingya refugees collect water at Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. Officials from Myanmar and Bangladesh announced that Rohingya refugees could begin returning to Myanmar in mid-November. Chandan Khanna/AFP)


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Categories: Gender Parity

Refugees post-Pittsburgh, Rohingya trauma, and Pacific island storms: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 11/02/2018 - 10:43

Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

*/ On our radar:


Peace overtures on Yemen


Yemen’s peace process, which has been going nowhere fast for quite some time, may have received a jump-start this week. First, US defence secretary James Mattis told an audience in Washington, DC that the warring sides were ready to come to the UN table and that he expected a ceasefire and talks to begin within 30 days. Then, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo followed suit with a statement on ending the war and starting talks (with wording that has been parsed again and again). UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed support; the UN’s envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he’s committed to getting negotiations going within a month. Then, seemingly every aid agency issued a statement of its own. Why now? Might it have something to do with talk of famine in Yemen, or perhaps the scandal enveloping Saudi Arabia around the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Check back with us for more.


Humanitarian makeover


"Traditional humanitarian response remains plagued by deep power imbalances, needless rivalries between organisations, and perverse institutional incentives" – not a big revelation to regular IRIN readers, perhaps, but a blunt report card anyway. It comes from think tank Centre for Global Development (CGD), which is starting a new research project, running until 2020, analysing why reforms to the international humanitarian system have fallen short and what might work better. Initial lines of enquiry, according to a posting by Jeremy Konyndyk, a former US donor official and now a senior fellow at CGD, include: more clarity on how donors make decisions, delinking the UN's role in policy-setting from operational response, and looking again at a way to better define needs and response based more on local perspectives. The project is looking at three broad areas: business models, governance, and field practice. Earlier this year, we heard from another research project along similar lines, this time from the UK-based think tank Overseas Development Institute. The lead researcher wrote at the time that they had identified strong opportunities for a better system, but: "Change is elusive. It’s not fully within our power; it’s political, and we have little influence..."


The starting point fits with the message of this year's World Disasters Report, from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It cautions that the "system" that claims to be the international humanitarian apparatus, is selective, partial. The report, "Leaving No One Behind" argues that too many situations and people are falling through the cracks. For more, check out the IFRC secretary general’s commentary for IRIN.


Rohingya mental health: culture and context


Nearly one million Rohingya refugees swell the refugee camps of southern Bangladesh, and more than 100 aid groups are trying to help them. But there’s little information on how the refugees conceive of and process trauma, which makes it challenging for NGOs and Bangladesh’s government to offer effective mental health and psychosocial support. A new report by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, compiles existing research on Rohingya culture and concepts of mental health conditions. The guidelines caution that Rohingya interpretations of trauma are not always equivalent to the psychological concepts of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety. Understanding these “sociocultural aspects” of mental health, the guidelines advise, is crucial to “providing effective culturally informed services to the Rohingya”. We explored this issue in a recent story looking at what mental health professionals might learn from the network of traditional and religious healers in the Rohingya camps.


US synagogue shooter also hated refugees


The man accused of killing 11 people during services at a Pittsburgh synagogue last Saturday appears to have had a fixation with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (better known as HIAS), posting rants on social media like: “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” Founded in 1881 to help Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, these days HIAS helps resettle refugees of all religions, in partnership with the US government. Donations to the aid agency have reportedly poured in since the shooting, and HIAS says it is determined to continue its work. But staff in Philadelphia, who have helped 100 refugees start new lives in the US this year from places like Myanmar, Syria, and Iraq, say many new arrivals are shaken, both by the attack and the rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the country. As HIAS’s executive director in Pennsylvania, Cathryn Miller-Wilson, put it: “Our clients are hysterical, nervous, scared, and upset.”


The gulf between Somalia and Côte d’Ivoire


This week Somalia found its way to the bottom of the 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, an annual report ranking the best and worst functioning countries on the continent. It was preceded by South Sudan, then Libya. These three "worst-governed countries”, plagued by high levels of insecurity, civil strife, and lack of rule of law, are also humanitarian hot spots on the continent with, between them, more than 13 million people in need of humanitarian aid. On the flipside, Côte d’Ivoire, recovering from two civil wars in the last 15 years, showed the “greatest improvement” and was the only country to improve in all categories, placing it third behind only Mauritius and the Seychelles. Overall, however, the report noted that the number of internally displaced people across Africa rose from 10.2 million in 2009 to 14 million in 2017, while the number of refugees rose from 2.7 million in 2008 to 7.3 million in 2017. "The lost opportunity of the past decade is deeply concerning,” said the foundation’s chairman, Mo Ibrahim. "Africa has a huge challenge ahead.”

Attack highlights acute unemployment in Tunisia


A suicide bomber injured nine people in Tunis on Monday, and the attacker – a 30-year-old female college graduate who had been jobless for three years – was not known to have extremist ties. The attack was a reminder that despite several years of relative peace, politically polarised Tunisia still faces security threats, but it has also put the spotlight on the country’s flagging economy – a third of graduates are unemployed. While many migrants and asylum seekers pass through Tunisia on their way to Europe or stay to look for work, an increasing number of Tunisian nationals are also chancing it on the Mediterranean: Tunisians are now the number one nationality arriving on Italy’s shores; 22 percent of the total. They are also dying at sea: a 23-year-old Tunisian man drowned in a shipwreck on 7 October, one of 1,783 people documented to have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.

In case you missed it:


CAMEROON: Security forces and separatist fighters have each blamed the other for the death of Charles Wesco, a US missionary killed in crossfire in the restive anglophone region this week. Hundreds of unarmed civilians have died and tens of thousands more have been forced from their homes since the conflict erupted in 2016. Read our two-part special report from inside the separatist ranks.


MARIANA ISLANDS: The damage is still being tallied from Typhoon Yutu, which destroyed hundreds of homes in the Northern Mariana Islands last week and caused at least 15 deaths when it barged across the northern Philippines this week.


SOUTH SUDAN: Two years after fleeing South Sudan, rebel leader Riek Machar returned to the capital Juba on Wednesday to celebrate a peace deal with President Salva Kiir. But some have questioned whether last month’s agreement is holding, with the World Food Programme saying that violence in some areas is blocking food aid.


SYRIA: Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen has been officially named as the UN’s next envoy for Syria. Check out Aron Lund’s rundown of what Pedersen will be up against when he starts the job early next month.


TONGA: Still recovering from February’s Cyclone Gita, the Pacific Island nation of Tonga is warning residents to expect at least one severe cyclone during the peak November-to-April storm season, due to “climate variability brought about by global warming”.


Weekend read:


US policy ‘wall’ for Latin American asylum seekers


Central Americans and Mexicans are continuing to flee gang violence, repression, and poverty by heading north, but many are finding they can’t cross the border into the United States to claim asylum. Read Eric Reidy’s first instalment from the US-Mexico border, where he outlines “legally dubious practices” by US border officials. The US asylum system is being stretched to a “crisis point”, as the registration process is slowing down even as large numbers continue to arrive. The result is heavy build-up on the Mexican side, where hundreds of asylum seekers need basic services. US President Donald Trump has promised to greet thousands of northern-bound Central American migrants and asylum seekers with twice as many troops on the border. And while Trump’s move garners headlines around the globe, some 300,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo forced out of Angola back to their conflict-riven home region of Kasai receive a fraction of the coverage. They too fled violence at home and find themselves in a similar predicament. UNICEF expressed its concern for the children caught up in both crises, some 80,000 in DRC and an estimated 2,300 now making their way to the US border on foot.


And finally:


All Puerto Rico wants for Christmas ...


Tropical storms unleash destruction in moments, but recovery takes months and years. Last September, Hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through the Caribbean, causing dozens of deaths and extensive damage. More than a year later, places like Dominica are still rebuilding “from zero”. In Puerto Rico (where the death toll from Maria is widely disputed), residents of the US territory spent nearly a year in the dark – that’s how long it took for the shattered electricity system to be reconnected everywhere on the island. This week, the design podcast 99% Invisible dives into the story of a Puerto Rican utility worker, Jorge Bracero, who used social media to feed info to residents starving for news amid the blackout, and became something of a local folk hero in the process. Listen to the 33-minute episode to learn more about a one-man news outlet, why Puerto Rico may not be building back better, and a catchy Mariah Carey cover tune.



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Categories: Gender Parity

Reporter’s Diary: Heal Somalia’s former child soldiers, heal a nation

IRIN Gender - Mon, 10/22/2018 - 08:10

Even by Mogadishu standards, late September was particularly violent.


Amino Hussein Hassan, a female law student, was shot dead on her university campus. Yahye Amir, a prominent economics professor and political analyst, escaped an assassination attempt when a bomb strapped to his car exploded, killing his brother. And Ahmed Mukhtar Salah from the minority Bantu ethnic group was beaten and burnt to death by a mob after his nephew married a woman from an “inferior” clan.


Violence has been a way of life in Somalia since the outbreak of the civil war in 1991, seeping deep into the nation’s marrow as clan conflict gradually morphed into an all-out war against the al-Qaeda affiliated Islamist group al-Shabab. “The layers of violence that people have had to digest is one of the key problems for building a peaceful and healthier society,” Laetitia Bader, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told me recently.


Most often, those who bear the life-long consequences are the poor, the politically marginalised, and young people. In particular, the thousands of children who must deal with the trauma of years on the front lines.


In May, I travelled to the capital, Mogadishu – as I have done regularly since 2012 – to report on a crisis that, save for some international NGOs and human rights organisations, few seem to talk about: child soldiers.


There, I met Abdi, 16, a former child soldier. Intelligent and eloquent, he had been a star pupil at the Koranic school in his home town, about 55 miles from the capital. In 2009, at the age of seven, his teacher took him and seven other boys to join al-Shabab.


For two years, Abdi lived in a camp with about three dozen other young recruits. By the time he was eight, he had learned how to drive a car and shoot a gun. By nine, he took part in his first raid in the village of Darussalam Mubarak, where he witnessed an assassination: a man killed by three bullets to the back.


As horrific as that experience was, the image that has most haunted Abdi for years is that of the severed head of a young man his al-Shabab camp commander brandished before the recruits as a warning: this is what happens to informants.


“Even now after all these years, I have nightmares,” Abdi told me. “Sometimes I wake up screaming in the middle of the night.”


A disposable front line


While al-Shabab’s use of children as soldiers is nothing new, in the last several years the number of child soldiers has increased markedly.  

In al-Shabab’s heyday around 2010, when it controlled vast swaths of the country, including a sizable chunk of the capital, persuasion and indoctrination were enough to ensure a steady supply of young fighters. Since 2016, increased attacks by the Somali national army and US and African Union troops have resulted in a loss of territory for the group. Most recently, on October 16, the US military announced that it had carried out one of the deadliest airstrikes against al-Shabab, killing 60 militants in the Mudug region.

So, desperate for more foot soldiers, al-Shabab has turned to the abduction and forced recruitment of minors. Accurate numbers are difficult to come by. Child Soldiers International calculates that there has been a 269 percent increase in the number of children within the ranks of armed groups in Somalia between 2015, when there were 903 documented cases, to 2017, with 3,335 cases. Meanwhile, according to a May report on children and armed conflict presented by the UN secretary-general to the General Assembly, 1,770 children were recruited as soldiers in 2017 alone, with al-Shabab doing the vast majority of the recruitment. The overall number is likely even higher: UNICEF Somalia estimates that as many as 6,000 children and youths are part of armed groups in the country.


In a single military operation carried out by the Somali National Army and US troops in January on a base near the town of Baledogle, 70 miles northwest of Mogadishu, for instance, 36 child soldiers between the ages of eight and 13 were rescued.


Often untrained and ill-equipped, these child soldiers make for a disposable front line on the battlefield, protecting older, more experienced fighters. This makes them more likely to suffer physical wounds and psychological trauma.

Young defectors


I first met Abdi and other boys through a man I’ll call Hussein. I am not using his real name, or identifying his location, since in addition to running an orphanage he manages a centre that works with young al-Shabab defectors. About 120 boys now live there, two hours’ drive from the capital, but at one point it housed as many 520.

“We believe that all human beings can change, can improve, so we don’t give up on them … I believe in forgiveness.”

Discretion is essential when speaking with Hussein: if details of Hussein’s work were made public, his facility would be vulnerable to attack by serving al-Shabab operatives.


All former al-Shabab members are supposed to be processed by the National Intelligence Security Agency (NISA), which hands those deemed to be of higher risk over to the Ministry of Justice for possible prosecution. The government has several rehabilitation centres for lower-risk adults, but none for minors like Abdi. Instead, children are placed in approved centres run by various NGOs, which provide education and vocational training.


But for the children, the lure of such benefits is offset by the fear of arrest. That’s why some former al-Shabab child soldiers choose to go to Hussein’s unapproved centre. That’s what Abdi did.


I asked Hussein how he felt about helping those who may have committed very serious crimes.


“Our mandate is to change minds, to take all the bad things they learned and replace it with something good,” he replied. “We believe that all human beings can change, can improve, so we don’t give up on them … I believe in forgiveness.”


Given the dearth of trained psychologists and mental health facilities in the country, I wondered what help, if any, is available for the former child soldiers. They often suffer from severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What could be done for Abdi and the other boys?


‘Focus on the future’


Over the years, Hussein said, he had seen first-hand the emotional and psychological trauma that violence has inflicted on the lives of Somalis. Recalling the period he referred to as the “rabshada” (the Somali word for “violence”, but better translated in this case as “the troubles”) he shared one experience that has stayed with him: Towards the end of 1992 – at the height of the civil war that had begun in the late 1980s and which simmers on to this day –  while living in the town of Marka, Hussein saw a dead man whose hands and legs had been tied together. The man was wrapped in banana leaves and plastic bags and his body was set ablaze. Later, Hussein learned that the man had been accused of stealing from a nearby farm.

There was a particular cruelty to the violence during the war, Hussein told me. But he quickly added: “I don’t want us to dwell on the horrors of the past … We must focus on the future and how we should help each other."

This is a priority for Hussein, who tries to confront the trauma suffered by the stream of young men coming to his centre without the help of trained psychologists and psychiatrists. While he is a highly educated man, he knows that what the boys need most is something he cannot give them: medical diagnoses and professional treatment.


According to the Word Health Organization, as of 2017 there were only five mental health centres in the whole of Somalia, with just three psychiatrists working at those facilities. In the absence of genuine mental health assistance, all Hussein can offer the boys is conversation.  

He uses a book titled “Trauma Healing and Reconciliation” to guide discussions with the boys on understanding what trauma is and how to deal with it. Most boys stay at his centre for six to eight months. That’s time enough for countless discussions, both one-on-one and in groups.


He also holds small, informal seminars on conflict management as well as a “gudi”, a traditional Somali practice of conflict reconciliation. “Because we have so many young men who have seen violence and trauma, they also use violence,” he said. “But we teach them how to solve their issues peacefully.”


Human rights violations


In many ways, what Hussein does at his centre is what Somalia needs to do on a national scale. Since the end of the civil war, there has not been a sustained national conversation about trauma. Medical conditions such as PTSD are often not even acknowledged, much less treated.

Because we have so many young men who have seen violence and trauma, they also use violence.

Bader, from HRW, said it’s not only extremist groups such as al-Shabab that expose children to violence and exploitation. Most former child soldiers live in limbo, sometimes for years. Distrusted by society at large because of their former affiliation with al-Shabab and other extremist groups, they live in constant fear of being recaptured and of the threat of potential prosecution by the state. This makes them susceptible to further exploitation, sometimes by the very government that is supposed to help them.


A HRW report published earlier this year and based on interviews with former NISA detainees detailed a range of human rights violations against minors, including lack of due process, forced confessions, secret military trials, long periods of detention without charge, and, in a few cases, torture.


Bader added that “while torture or physical mistreatment in intelligence facilities is not systematic, it does happen”. She noted that many boys she spoke with in Mogadishu “had pretty bad physical marks from the torture they faced in NISA [facilities] in recent years”.


Although exact numbers of former al-Shabab child soldiers are difficult to obtain, the National Programme for the Treatment and Handling of Disengaged Combatants claims that since it was established in 2010, the programme, through its local and international NGO partners, has rehabilitated and relocated 2,000 former al-Shabab child soldiers back to their communities. As for Hussein, he said his centre had relocated almost 300 young men back to their towns and villages in the past year.

There are, however, countless other former child soldiers who have not gone through any formal or informal rehabilitation centres; untold numbers who have witnessed gruesome deaths, violence, and trauma. That many emotionally traumatised young men create a security and economic time bomb in any country. But for a country like Somalia, one of the poorest nations in the world struggling to recover from decades of civil strife, the consequences when that ticking time bomb goes off may be disastrous.


*Reporting for this story was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.



“Sometimes I wake up screaming” Reporter’s Diary: Heal Somalia’s former child soldiers, heal a nation tobin_jones_un_photo_edit.jpg Hassan Ghedi Santur Opinion Human Rights Child soldiers MOGADISHU IRIN Africa East Africa Somalia HORN OF AFRICA
Categories: Gender Parity

Aid under attack

IRIN Gender - Fri, 10/19/2018 - 06:10

Few aid agencies operate in Nigeria’s volatile Borno State, where a faction of extremist group Boko Haram executed Hauwa Liman, 24, this week. A midwife with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), her killing underscores the dangers faced by humanitarian groups serving civilians in the region.

Liman was one of three local aid workers kidnapped in the town of Rann in March by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a splinter group of Boko Haram. Another ICRC employee, Saifura Hussaini Khorsa, was killed last month. The third woman, Alice Loksha, a nurse with Unicef, is still being held. During the March raid, at least four other humanitarian workers were killed, causing the UN and Médecins Sans Frontières to withdraw staff.

Hauwa was only 24 when she was murdered. Saifura was killed on her 25th birthday.

Both were midwives in northern Nigeria, an area of great need. They were courageous, compassionate and dedicated to helping others.

This is a glimpse of what their families loved about them.

— ICRC (@ICRC) October 17, 2018

The ICRC is known for its caution when deploying workers in conflict areas. But the Aid Worker Security Database listed Nigeria as the fifth most dangerous country for humanitarians last year.  

Boko Haram has been launching attacks in the area since 2009, ranging from suicide bombs to raids to kidnapping women and children. The group says its goal is to overthrow a corrupt state and swap Western education for Islamic law. Clashes with the military, whose tactics have drawn criticism, have killed more than 20,000 people and displaced 2.5 million.

The region is under tight government control, and aid workers struggle to serve the 7.7 million people in need of assistance in the worst-affected areas. That number continues to grow as the conflict spreads into parts of Cameroon and Niger. Meanwhile, humanitarian access to Boko Haram-controlled areas is still limited as these are largely inaccessible to outsiders.

Across Borno State, local and international organisations are investing in projects for deradicalisation, peace building, and reconciliation - both to help Nigerians heal and to prevent the situation from getting worse.

Boko Haram had previously targeted aid workers before the raid in March and bombed camps for internally displaced people (IDP), which typically have a heavy military presence. But this appears to be the first time ISWAP has executed aid workers after demands for ransom failed to be met.

Speaking after Khorsa’s death last month, Edward Kallon, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, said: “This incident demonstrates the severe challenges that Nigeria continues to face, but will not deter the international community from providing aid to millions of Nigerians caught up in the conflict in the northeast.”

The UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) has about 3,000 aid workers on the ground, most of them Nigerian nationals, common practice in high-risk zones. Local employees like Liman and Khorsa often face compounded dangers; globally, local staff comprise about 80 percent of aid workers killed, kidnapped, and seriously wounded. In a statement released after the killings, ISWAP said they had targeted the women because they considered them “apostates” for working with non-Muslim aid agencies.

Rann, a remote town near Borno’s state capital Maiduguri, is the site of an accidental airstrike by the Nigerian military, which last year mistook an IDP camp there for a Boko Haram base. Dozens of people were killed.

Read more IRIN coverage on Boko Haram, ISWAP, and the aid industry in northeastern Nigeria:

Softly, softly: the humanitarian schemes aimed at countering Boko Haram

Meet “Baba IDP”: the local hero making sure Boko Haram victims get healthcare

Fighting violent extremism – humanitarians beware

Attacks curb aid work in northern Cameroon

Humanitarian response gap grows in northern Nigeria

The danger of a better-behaved Boko Haram

Boko Haram: Nigeria winning the battle but losing the war?

Taking the fight against Boko Haram to the airwaves

Aid workers at risk on World Humanitarian Day


serrano_redondo_jesus_andres_icrc.jpg News Aid and Policy Human Rights Aid under attack Naomi Cohen Briefing: Boko Haram and humanitarian access IRIN Africa West Africa Nigeria
Categories: Gender Parity

“Do no digital harm”

IRIN Gender - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 10:15

Refugees can pay for groceries with the blink of an eye in Jordan, interactive maps track thousands of people on the move in Syria, a plastic ration card can hold a whole Rohingya family’s details. More digital innovations for humanitarian work are on the horizon, too. But at what risk?


Plenty, according to a panel on handling sensitive data in humanitarian contexts, the first time the topic was discussed as part of the Humanitarian Congress Berlin. As aid delivery and end-user registration are increasingly digitised, sensitive data on millions of the world’s most vulnerable populations could be hacked, sold, or shared with abusive governments. The humanitarian sector must start asking itself how, as one panellist put it, to “do no digital harm”.

IRIN senior editor Ben Parker moderated the four-member panel that brought together representatives from the humanitarian and private sectors. Nora Dettmer, a member of the event’s steering committee, noted that “though data collection and analysis offer exciting opportunities… it also comes with serious risk.”  

Yet digitalisation and data don’t just spell risk, as the panelists pointed out; they also mean that recipients of humanitarian aid have more tools to find information, make decisions and stay in touch with loved ones. “It's no longer only food, shelter, or water when they reach a humanitarian organization,” ICRC data protection officer and panelist Maria-Elena Ciccolini said. “They will ask for connectivity.”

Karl Steinacker said that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), where he heads the Global Service Centre, is heavily invested in the use of biometrics (for example, fingerprints and iris scans) for identifying refugees. Steinacker said his agency tries to limit risk with strategies like minimising the amount of data recorded. With less information, held for shorter periods of time, any data breach would cause less damage.

It’s right to consider new technologies, but innovations, including blockchain and biometrics, should not be brought in just for their novelty value or future promises of efficiency, Zara Rahman, a researcher at consultancy The Engine Room, noted. Humanitarian workers are used to making fast decisions, but “being slow, and thoughtful, and intentional is a key part of doing it right,” she said.

Paul Currion, COO of Disberse, suggested that a digital “apocalypse” in society has already begun in terms of privacy and personal control over data. He cautioned that the humanitarian sector may only wake up to the risks if there is a catastrophic data breach, putting vulnerable people at even more risk.

Those risks may sometimes lurk in plain sight, as a few people at the discussion – including a panelist – found out. Parker had set up a fake WiFi network, a tempting alternative to often slow internet access at the event. About 12 people had logged on to it by the time the panel started – an unwise move in network security. Why? “I made it and it's not secure and it's not what the organisers gave you,” Parker chided.

Highlights of the conversation, edited for clarity and length, are excerpted below.

Video of the full conversation is online here.



Maria-Elena Ciccolini, Deputy Data Protection Officer for Europe and Central Asia, International Committee of the Red Cross

Paul Currion, Chief Operating Officer, Disberse

Zara Rahman, Research and Engagement Team Lead, The Engine Room

Karl Steinacker, Head Global Service Center, Copenhagen, UNHCR

On privacy and consent to use aid recipients’ data

Maria-Elena Coccolini: “You can't just analyze or reprocess the data for a purpose that is not reasonably expected by the data subject… You do not have a blanket authorization just because people consented to provide you the data for a specific purpose.”

Zara Rahman: “Would we be okay with this kind of disclosure or this kind of data collection if it were for ourselves?”

Karl Steinacker: “It is true that we have not designed our systems [with] ‘privacy by design’ or ‘privacy by default’… we have to do a retrofit. The High Commissioner does indeed want refugees to have agency over their data. But in order to have agency over your data, in order to manage your data, that data has to be credible.”

Maria-Elena Coccolini: “Consent is the preferred legal basis to collect and process data, but we realize it cannot be used in many instances, and we would prefer, for example, public interest or vital interest, which gives us the same duty of informing the people from whom we collect data.”

On power imbalances in the humanitarian sector

Currion: “By giving them [affected people] connectivity, you give them access to information, potentially you give them more power, and this is something that the humanitarian community has obviously struggled with greatly over the years.”

Rahman: “The humanitarian space is probably home to what must be the biggest power asymmetry between the people who are gathering the data versus the people from whom the data is being gathered… I think the way in which we see the power asymmetry playing out is in ownership of the data.”

Currion: “This is not about data; this is about power. And we should always remember that. Don't get distracted by the technology. Don't get distracted by the hype.”

Coccolini: “We deal with people that sometimes have a very low level of education or data literacy. How can we pass all these messages about new technology or even more basic messages? And from a data protection point of view, it is, how can we say that consent is informed and valid?”


On the risks of collecting and storing data

Currion: “We need to test. We need to experiment. Now, it's not good to experiment on vulnerable communities. It's good to experiment on ourselves as organisations and humanitarians first.”

Rahman: “Biometric data is one that I worry specifically about, just because it's immutable, it's permanent. It can't be changed by the individual. It really takes away a lot of the kind of potential agency that people could have.”

Steinacker: “If you deal with hundreds of thousands, with millions of people walking in, how much time [do] you spend on the assessment before you start the action — the humanitarian action, that is?”

Rahman: “I would love for everyone to see data as more of a toxic asset, rather than a thing that they should be collecting more and more of.”


On commercial interests and weighing the benefits of big data

Currion: “Historically, the humanitarian sector is insanely bad at connecting information that it gathers to decisions that it makes. We're not good at evidence-based decision-making. … Should we be collecting this data, should we be doing this analysis? I'd say maybe, but I'd like to see that actually there was some evidence that we were using that to make better decisions.”

Steinacker: UNHCR would be “irrelevant” and “risk the welfare and the protection of refugees if we would not try to go this way and do it right. So the question is not whether or not we do it. The question is whether we do it right.”

Coccolini: “It's not just about risk for our beneficiaries. It also has an impact on our reputation. So I don't think that just a very nice deal or a very good price would make us let go on our principles.”

Steinacker: “I think it's not only technology which will define the future. It's exactly that relationship between the private sector, the commercial sector and the aid industry – which has been so far, to a certain extent at least, non-commercialised – which will define how this thing is going forward.”

Graphics: Event cartoonist Claudia Meier of GPPi


A conversation on handling sensitive data “Do no digital harm” rf2102318_dscf5077_edit.jpg Naomi Cohen Feature Solutions and Innovations Aid and Policy Human Rights BERLIN IRIN Global
Categories: Gender Parity

Abuses and disappearances mar Nigerian counter-insurgency campaign

IRIN Gender - Thu, 10/11/2018 - 09:03

Hajja Gana last saw her son six years ago when soldiers took him away in an early morning raid in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, accusing him of being a Boko Haram terrorist. She has no idea whether he is alive or dead.


Gana denies that her son, Mustapha Say’ina, then aged 25, was ever a member of the jihadist group. She insists this was a case of mistaken identity, and says the soldiers addressed Say’ina by another name when they questioned him in her home and that his phone number was not on the list they had.

The soldiers nevertheless beat his six-month-pregnant wife as she protested his innocence and then took him away, she said.


“They said they just wanted to ask him some questions and would bring him back,” recalls Gana.


 “I never saw him again.”

Obi Anyadike/IRIN Soldiers took Hajja Gana's son away six years ago, accusing him of being a terrorist. She doesn't know whether he is alive or dead.

The way men like Say’ina disappear violates international law, but also harms the government’s chances in the decade-long war against Boko Haram. According to the UN Development Programme, over 70 percent of African jihadists interviewed for a 2017 report said they had picked up a gun in response to “government action” – including the killing or arrest of family members and friends.


Abas Yerima* is walking evidence. He was arrested at a funeral of a neighbour shot by the army for allegedly being a Boko Haram member. Yerima was among 120 young men picked up that day in 2012, seemingly on the grounds of guilt by association, and taken to the notorious Giwa Barracks detention facility in Maiduguri.


Conditions in the overcrowded, unventilated cells are appalling, say former detainees and international rights groups. According to Amnesty International, at least 149 detainees died from hunger or mistreatment from January to April 2016 alone – an allegation the Nigerian government has denied.




Yerima remembers there was never enough food or water, hundreds of inmates shared a single overflowing bucket as a toilet, there were beatings and people died daily. Only 25 of the 120 men arrested with him survived, he said.


The facility was then under the control of military intelligence (it’s now run by the military police), yet Yerima said he was never interrogated in the two years he was there. He added that the army appeared to assume the men’s guilt, then ignored whatever information the supposed Boko Haram detainees could provide.


“They just expected us to die,” Yerima said of the cell guards. Some enjoyed taunting the prisoners: “They used to say, ‘You haven’t died yet?’”


Despite repeated interview requests from IRIN, neither the army command in Maiduguri or Abuja agreed to discuss these allegations.


Yerima escaped in 2014, when Boko Haram fighters attacked Giwa, triggering a mass breakout. Yerima made it into the surrounding bush, where Boko Haram members gathered the survivors, piled them into vehicles, and took them to their base in Sambisa Forest.


A few days later, Boko Haram made an offer: those that didn’t want to join would be given the equivalent of $50 each and could leave unharmed.

Very few took the money, some possibly distrusting that the Boko Haram fighters would keep their word, said Yerima. But he was clear why he chose to stay: “I thought about how I had suffered, how I had been maltreated [by the army],” he explained.


Yerima quickly grew disillusioned, unable to square the indiscriminate killing of civilians by Boko Haram with his understanding of Islam. He escaped seven months later. But he knows men from his prison cell, not originally Boko Haram, who chose to stay and fight on with the Islamist insurgency.


Hearts and minds


A key challenge for government soldiers in a counter-insurgency conflict is how to identify the enemy. It’s at the core of winning hearts and minds, but the Nigerian army is regularly accused by human rights groups of failing the test, killing and detaining civilians it then claims are terrorists.


Boko Haram exerts strict control over the villages in the remote rural areas of Borno State in which it operates. The villagers – known as “awam” – are there to serve the “rijal” – the fighting men – by providing free labour, and in the case of women who are forbidden to leave the house to farm, “wives”. Boko Haram does not arm the awam and continually suspects them of trying to escape, for which the punishment for men is automatic execution, according to internally displaced persons (IDPs) interviewed by IRIN.


In late 2015 and early 2016, an army advance in the Boboshe area of the northeast created an opportunity for villagers to flee to government-controlled towns, where they were “screened”. What that meant in practice was the men of fighting age were separated from the women, detained, and then sent to the Giwa Barracks, IDPs from the area told IRIN.


The women meanwhile were kept in dire conditions at the Bama Hospital Camp, with little food or water, several people who were detained there told IRIN. They said they also faced sexual abuse by the army and local vigilante.


“We were treated like animals,” one woman, who said she was visibly pregnant yet raped twice and punched in the stomach, told IRIN. “The radio told us to come out [from Boko Haram control]. We thought we were coming to safety.”

The last time she saw her husband was outside Bama prison, he was so badly beaten he couldn’t tie the drawstring of his trousers. She doesn’t know if he has survived Giwa or if he’s in another detention facility. She insists he was a farmer who didn’t deserve to be arrested. Her children still ask why the army took him.


 “What can I say – do you think they will ever trust this government again?”


Giwa serves as a holding facility with detainees kept under “administrative custody”. From there, a determination is eventually made as to whether they are sent to Maiduguri maximum security prison, or the army’s “Safe Corridor” deradicalisation programme. While ostensibly designed for Boko Haram defectors, many of the graduates of this programme IRIN met insisted they were civilians with no association with the insurgency.


Other detainees – seen as having no case to answer – are freed and then spend time in a government-run transit centre. But it is an ad hoc process.



After detention


Mohamed Yunus,* 15, was released from Giwa in January after being locked up for 18 months. He had arrived in Maiduguri with a group of people fleeing Boko Haram-controlled Boboshe and was held for preliminary screening for two weeks at the entrance to the city.


After IDPs from Boboshe vouched for him, he was released and assigned a tent in the nearby Muna camp, and then went to the local market to look around. That’s where he and some friends were picked up by an army patrol and taken to Giwa. “Nobody tells you why you are there or what you are supposed to have done,” Yunus said.

“I’m very angry with the government, they made my life horrible. If it wasn’t for the Red Cross feeding us we would be dead.”

He was assigned to Cell 7, the children’s cell, which is less crowded and unsanitary than those holding the men. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been granted access to Giwa, and food is now distributed more regularly, drinking water is accessible, and each cell has a “long drop” latrine rather than an overflowing bucket. Deaths are still common, though, former detainees told IRIN.


Of the 270 boys in Yunus’s cell, he said none ever admitted they were Boko Haram members – just that they were village youth like him. He had left Boboshe to escape Boko Haram, fearing the group would eventually force him to join “or kill us or our parents if we refused”.


Yet instead of finding safety, he wound up in Giwa. “I’m very angry with the government, they made my life horrible,” Yunus told IRIN. “If it wasn’t for the Red Cross feeding us we would be dead.” Yet his anger over the “injustice” he’s faced does not translate into support for Boko Haram, whose violence he condemns.


Yunus, like other former Giwa detainees, spent a few months in the Bulumkutu transit centre in Maiduguri. According to UNICEF, which works with the government to provide medical and psychosocial care for children and women ex-detainees, a total of 2,166 people have been released from Giwa since June 2016. Of those, 1,521 were children. (At any one time, the facility holds an estimated 1,400 people, but official figures are unavailable.)


All are in bad shape when they first arrive, a social worker at the centre who requested anonymity told IRIN. “Some are malnourished with swollen limbs,” the worker said. “Some can’t even talk [they are so traumatized] – especially the elderly.”


For Hajja Gana, she’ll be happy to get her son back, whatever condition he is in. A civil servant two years from retirement, she has sunk what little spare money she has in searching for Say’ina, visiting jails across northern Nigeria based on tip-offs from security officials (for which she has had to pay) or ex-detainees who say they were incarcerated with him.


“I’m suffering now,” she said. If she finds him, she added, allowing herself a faint bit of hope, “my old age will disappear.”  

(TOP PHOTO: Internally displaced people line upwatched over by a civilian joint task force member at a food distribution point in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. CREDIT: Ashley Gilbertson VII Photo/UNICEF)



*  Aside from Hajja Gana and her son, all names have been changed.

*“Boko Haram” refers both to Abubaker Shekau’s Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad (JAS) faction and rival Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) led by Abu-Musab al-Barnawi

The army’s indiscriminate arrests risk bolstering the Boko Haram insurgency Abuses and disappearances mar Nigerian counter-insurgency campaign ashley_gilbertson_vii_photo_unicef2.jpg Obi Anyadike Feature Conflict Human Rights MAIDUGURI IRIN Africa West Africa Nigeria
Categories: Gender Parity

Sexual violence and war, from Congo to Iraq

IRIN Gender - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 10:35

Rape as a weapon of war - and sometimes as a tool of ethnic cleansing - is nothing new, yet it made a stark return to public consciousness last week when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two leading campaigners against rape during warfare: Dr Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist who has treated many thousands of victims of sexual violence in his country, and Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi who was raped and tortured by militants of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and went on to become an acclaimed activist.



In our reporting on conflict and post-conflict situations, sexual violence in combat has, sadly, been a recurring theme. Here’s a look at the issue from two regions highlighted by the work of Mukwege and Murad.




In 2006 IRIN featured Panzi Hospital, the medical facility Mukwege founded in Bukavu that specialises in injuries caused by sexual violence. The coverage was part of our reporting from eastern Congo’s South Kivu province.


"The objective of the rapists is not sex,” Mukegwe told IRIN. “They want to destroy a person. They don’t kill, they destroy." One of his patients featured in the article had been raped together with her four daughters by militiamen, who also killed her husband.


Read more →

Inside the Congolese army’s campaign of rape and looting in South Kivu

As we reported four years later, such rapists tend to get away with it. This is because in many areas there are no criminal courts within the vicinity of the crimes. Local campaigners said that victims have to pay police to carry out investigations, even for the pen and paper used to take down their statements.


Congo’s rapists even include government soldiers, as detailed an exclusive IRIN investigation in South Kivu last year, when victims and witnesses provided dozens of accounts of violent sexual assault.


While impunity for wartime rape is common all over the world, there are various strands of international law that outlaw the crime. But as we have explored, laws don’t often lead to prosecutions.


Even appropriate medical and psychological support for survivors of sexual violence remains elusive to this day, as those targeted in a wave of attacks earlier this year in Congo’s Ituri province found after they had fled to neighbouring Uganda.  




Brutal treatment of women, including sex slavery, was among the evidence the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria cited when it concluded in 2016 that IS was committing genocide against the Yazidis, a controversial finding we discussed in this briefing on war crimes in Syria.


Read more →

The Yazidis who never came down the mountain

Murad was abducted from the Yazidi’s historic homeland in Sinjar, northeast Iraq, in 2014. After escaping IS and Iraq in 2015, she began to tell her story and became an advocate for Yazidis and other Iraqi minorities: we highlighted her advocacy in this 2016 piece on what, if anything, humanitarians can do to stop human trafficking and sex slavery.


Those Yazidis who managed to survive the 2014 massacre and mass enslavement fled, first to the top of Sinjar mountain, then later to camps elsewhere in Iraq or to Europe. But around 10,000 people never left the safety of the heights, and in April of this year IRIN found them barely eking out an existence with little outside help.


This photo essay took readers inside the Sinjar hospital that caters to some 25,000 Yazidis who have returned home with no X-ray machine, no ventilation equipment, no lab, and only six beds.


Now that IS has finally been defeated in Iraq, the impact of longstanding shortfalls in mental healthcare is becoming painfully clear. Some NGOs are stepping up to help civilians deal with the trauma of war, displacement, and life under IS, but in Mosul we found that some women are using the salon as an unofficial group therapy session.



Sexual violence and war, from Congo to Iraq philip_gender_violence_survivor_1.jpg News feature Conflict Human Rights IRIN Africa East Africa DRC Middle East and North Africa Iraq Syria
Categories: Gender Parity

An open secret: Refugee pushbacks across the Turkey-Greece border

IRIN Gender - Mon, 10/08/2018 - 07:49

This is the third of a three-part special report on the Evros River border crossing between Turkey and Greece. Read the other instalments: “Greece’s man in the migrant morgue” and “Unprepared and overwhelmed: Greece’s resurgent river border with Turkey.”

For more migration coverage see our series Destination: Europe

Linda, a 19-year-old Syrian and registered refugee, had just crossed from Turkey into Greece at the Evros River when men carrying guns appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. She wasn’t sure if they were police officers or soldiers, but they emerged from behind trees and wore dark uniforms that helped them blend into the night.


It was mid-May, and several hours earlier Linda had boarded a mini-bus in Istanbul with around 35 other people, including children and a pregnant woman, eager to enter European Union territory. The trip had been organised by smugglers, and the passengers ended up in a remote area close to the northwestern Turkish city of Edirne. At around three in the morning they boarded small boats that ferried them across the river.


Linda’s plan was to get into Greece, then make her way to Denmark, where her fiancé lives. Her crossing was part of a sharp uptick in traffic into the EU via the Evros (known as the Meriç in Turkish) this spring; 3,600 people are known to have crossed in April alone, compared to just over 1,000 in all of 2013.


But she didn’t make it more than a few steps into EU territory before she was stopped.


The men demanded that everyone in the group hand over their mobile phones. “Then they beat the men who were with us, put us in a boat, and sent us back to the Turkish side of the border,” Linda recalled when she spoke to IRIN recently in Istanbul.


Pushbacks like the one Linda experienced have been going on for years, documented by both human rights watchdogs and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. They are also illegal under European and international law.


“The right to claim and enjoy asylum is a fundamental human right," Leo Dobbs, a UNHCR spokesman in Greece, told IRIN. Pushbacks at the Evros border, he added, are a “serious issue.”


According to a report released by the Greek Council for Refugees in February, before the spring rush, pushbacks have increased to the point of being “systematic” as the number of people crossing the Evros has grown slowly in the past two years.

The Evros River border between Turkey and Greece is one of the easternmost frontiers of the European Union. Until a fence went up on all but 12 kilometres of the Evros in 2012, it was the easiest and safest path for asylum seekers from the Middle East and elsewhere to reach Europe, and nearly 55,000 people crossed the border irregularly in 2011.


A controversial 2016 EU-Turkey deal that paved the way for asylum seekers to be returned from the Greek Islands to Turkey (which it deems safe under the terms of that agreement), does not apply to the Evros border. Instead, there is a separate, largely ineffective bilateral readmission agreement dating from 2002 that was suspended earlier this year.


Even under the terms of that agreement, pushbacks like the one Linda experienced violate European and international laws on refugee protection, which require states to allow asylum seekers to file for protection and prohibit sending them back to countries where they may face danger. While countries are allowed to protect their borders, they cannot legally return people who have already crossed without first evaluating their claims.   


Pushbacks may be illegal, but they are an open secret. “It’s something that everybody knows,” said Dimitris Koros, a lawyer with the Greek Council for Refugees. Now, when an asylum seeker enters Greece from the land border, “the first thing you encounter is the possibility of being pushed back,” he added.


The Greek Ministry for Migration Policy did not respond to IRIN’s requests for comment, but the Greek government has repeatedly denied it is engaged in systematic pushbacks.


Human rights organisations say they have raised the issue of responsibility with the Greek government multiple times without receiving a response. “It’s a difficult thing… to say that the government instructs or gives orders to the policemen to do it,” Konstantinos Tsitselikis, a human rights law professor and former director of the Hellenic League for Human Rights said, “but they have the knowledge and they tolerate it at least.”


It’s unclear just how many people have been pushed back or who is responsible, because the area around the border is a closed military zone and there aren’t many NGOs working in the region.


Meanwhile on the Turkish side of the river, security forces regularly apprehend people attempting to cross and transfer them to government-run detention centres. But amidst a pervasive atmosphere of fear and silence, the treatment of asylum seekers and migrants after they are pushed back and detained largely remains a mystery.


A longstanding practice


According to Tsitselikis, pushbacks have been happening for decades.


“I used to do my military service in 1996-97 in the Evros border area,” he told IRIN. “Even then the Greek authorities were doing pushbacks every day.”


Although the border is technically a military zone, these days border police patrol the frontier as well as personnel from the EU border control agency, Frontex.


People who have been pushed back, including Linda, describe being met by security forces wearing different types of uniforms, but it’s tough to assign responsibility.


“Since it takes place outside of the public eye, we don’t really understand who is responsible,” Koros, from the Greek Council for Refugees, said.


When asked about the practice by IRIN, Nikolaos Menexidis, police major general of Western Thrace, the Greek region that borders Turkey, said Hellenic police always follow the proper procedures when dealing with migrants.  


Menexidis said his forces have been working with Turkish police for the past six years on what he calls “technical issues.” They primarily exchange information on stopping smugglers on both sides of the border, he said.

Nikolaos Symeonidis/IRIN Most of the border between Turkey and Greece is lined with barbed wire fence and cameras. After pushback


Linda’s ordeal did not end when she was pushed back into Turkey. The smugglers who brought her group to the border were gone and so was the bus. Without phones to call for help, the group was stuck. After waiting several hours, they tried to cross again.


This time they made it further, walking for five or six hours in Greek territory before they were stopped, taken to a detention centre, and placed in a room with people from many different countries.


After being held for several more hours, they were driven back to the border, the men were beaten again, and they were all forced back to the Turkish side of the river. By that point, the group was exhausted and thirsty. “For two days we didn’t drink water. When we saw the river we drank from it,” Linda said. “There were people who got sick because the water was dirty.”

A group of Turkish soldiers found them in the woods and brought them food, water, and milk for the children and pointed them in the direction of Edirne, where they arranged for taxis to bring them back to Istanbul.


In a way, Linda was lucky. Last December, the Greek Council for Refugees documented the case of a Pakistani man who died of hypothermia after being forcibly returned to Turkey. He had fallen into the cold water on the way back.


While the Evros is no more than a few metres wide, its current is deceptively strong and, according to records in Greece, at least 29 people this year have died while trying to cross the water or shortly after.


Some who are forced back to Turkey face serious punishment. Since a failed military coup in 2016, the Turkish government has jailed tens of thousands of opponents, leading to an increase in the number of Turks fleeing to Greece to seek asylum – nearly 2,000 in 2017 compared to just 180 the year before. The Hellenic League for Human Rights has documented two cases of Turks being pushed back from Greece at the Evros and later being imprisoned in Turkey, including journalist Murat Çapan, who is now serving a 22.5 year sentence for “participating in a terrorist organization and attempting to overthrow the constitution”.  


Despite documentation, human rights advocates say they have struggled to bring attention to the issue of pushbacks, as EU and international policymakers focus on stemming Mediterranean crossings. There is little appetite in Europe at the moment for monitoring or changing policies that are keeping asylum seekers and migrants from entering the EU.


“Both the European Union and the Greek government... prefer not to open this discussion, especially in this political environment,” Tsitselikis said, referring to the rise of right-wing, anti-migration politics in Europe that is shaking the foundations of the EU.

Fear and silence  


In early June, about a 10-minute drive from Edirne, hundreds of people in the parking lot of what the Turkish government calls a “migrant removal centre” huddled under tin pavilions that offered shade from the afternoon sun. This is where those caught on the Turkish side of the river are brought.


IRIN visited three times over the course of a week to try to gain access, but never received a response to our requests.


The centre is surrounded by a low wall topped with a chain-link fence and spools of razor wire. Each time IRIN visited, there were hundreds of people – mostly men, but also women and small children – in the parking lot and white vans passed in and out of the metal gate depositing more people. Two large charter buses idled in the parking lot with their doors open, seemingly waiting for people to board.


In close to a week spent at the border, there was no concrete evidence of what was happening inside the centre. There were hints and rumours, but no one wanted to speak on record – including Turkish organisations that work with asylum seekers – because of the sensitivity of the issue.


It is simply not clear how long people are kept in the centre, or what happens to them when they are removed. The Turkish Directorate General of Migration Management responded to IRIN’s requests for comment with links to online statistics and Turkish law on removals.


Several Syrian and Afghan asylum seekers that IRIN spoke to shared stories of being held in such centres for a period of time before being released inside Turkey and permitted to stay. Most of the people IRIN spoke to reported good treatment while inside.


But in 2015 and 2016, Amnesty International documented cases of Syrians detained while trying to migrate to Europe and being deported to Syria, according to Anna Shea, an Amnesty researcher working on refugee and migrant rights.


Amnesty has also recently documented a case of a Syrian asylum seeker stopped in Edirne being deported to Idlib, the rebel-held province in northwestern Syria where a ceasefire is so far holding off a government offensive but humanitarians warn conditions are still dire. It is unclear if the case is part of a larger trend.


In recent months, Turkey has deported large numbers of Afghans and Syrians, stopped after crossing Turkey’s southern and eastern borders, back to their respective countries.


But it is difficult to know if this practice has been extended to people who have tried to travel to Greece, given that the organisations working on migrant and refugee rights were unwilling to speak on the record, and the government declined to comment on the issue or allow access to detained migrants.


“The total stonewalling and lack of information and complete lack of transparency is cause for concern in and of itself,” said Shea, the Amnesty researcher. “I mean, what do they have to hide?”

Nikolaos Symeonidis/IRIN A deflated boat lies on the Greek banks of the Evros. Hidden practice


At a small village outside of Edirne, a man herding goats pointed to places where people crossed the nearby river, but there was no sign of anyone during the day. Crossings happened only at night, he said. And the Turkish army prohibited people from approaching the river after 7 pm.  


The road leading from the village followed the winding course of the Evros, which was often blocked from view by thick stands of trees. The surrounding area was full of corn fields, rice paddies, and thick vegetation. Small dirt roads that shot off in the direction of the river were marked with red signs carrying a stencilled soldier – a warning that entry beyond that point was prohibited.


Not far away, in the city centre, everyone seemed shocked to learn that so many people had crossed the border this year. It was a problem that most locals assumed was already in the past, given that most of the frontier had been lined with barbed wire and cameras for the past six years.


But those who have tried and failed to cross the Evros know that the rural quiet harbours dangers the eye can’t see.


Linda has given up on seeing her fiancé anytime soon – a visa is likely to take years – and she isn’t planning on trying to cross the border again. “I started being afraid because of the things I saw,” she said.


With additional reporting by Sarah Souli



On an eastern frontier of the European Union, people are whisked back to Turkey before they can claim asylum in Greece. An open secret: Refugee pushbacks across the Turkey-Greece border evros1_edit.jpg Eric Reidy Special Report Migration Human Rights EDIRNE Turkey IRIN Europe Greece European Union Middle East and North Africa Turkey
Categories: Gender Parity

Tsunami aid, Spanish surge, and sexual violence in war: The Cheat Sheet

IRIN Gender - Fri, 10/05/2018 - 11:44

Here’s the IRIN team’s weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.



On our radar:


Sulawesi waits for clean water and unwelcome rain


Aid is trickling into areas hit hard by the 28 September earthquakes and tsunami in Indonesia – far too slowly for many survivors, as we reported on the ground in Central Sulawesi this week. While Indonesian authorities and humanitarian groups are sorting through the logistics of bringing aid to a vast island with damaged infrastructure, new problems are on the horizon. The spread of disease and other health risks are a threat in any disaster, but there’s a shortage of clean water and sanitation facilities even in Palu, the provincial capital where most of the relief efforts have been concentrated so far. Most water supply infrastructure was damaged in the earthquakes. While the Red Cross is sending in drinking water by truck, Oxfam says it won’t be enough for the tens of thousands of people needing access to clean water every day. Save the Children calls clean water shortages a “recipe for disaster”. Indonesia’s government has requested limited amounts of aid from international donors and aid groups, and water purification kits are near the top of the list. But the logistics of even delivering aid supplies is daunting. Authorities are routing all international aid to Balikpapan, on neighbouring Kalimantan island, but Palu’s air and sea ports were damaged in the earthquakes. Conditions could soon get worse: meteorologists are predicting above-average rainfall for the next two weeks, which could trigger landslides in the very places aid responders are trying to reach.


Second-class citizens


There were 11 million new internal displacements due to conflict alone in 2017, far more than new refugees. There's an international treaty about refugees, but none for the much larger number of people who flee war or persecution but stay within their own country. Laws that cover their treatment are few and far between: only 12 countries have laws specific to internal displacement. The closest thing to international law for internally displaced people (IDPs) is the "Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement". It's a body of "soft law", drawn up in 2008, that lays out rights and principles that states can use to guide their own actions and law-making. To mark the 20th anniversary, a special issue of Forced Migration magazine explores the fate of the internally displaced in several countries, including Ethiopia and Myanmar, and in fields such as data collection and legal protection.


Nobel moves sexual violence in war into the spotlight


No it wasn’t Donald Trump, and it wasn’t the North Korean or South Korean leader either. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize goes to Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad. If you’ve never heard of Mukwege, here’s a no-holds-barred IRIN profile of the doctor’s work from 12 years ago, by which time he had already dedicated himself for six years to fistula repairs for women suffering an epidemic of rape and sexual mutilation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Murad came to prominence more recently, as the public face of Yazidi victims of so-called Islamic State. She was one of approximately 7,000 women abducted from Sinjar province in northern Iraq in 2014 and endured three months as a sex slave of IS militants. We featured the 25-year-old campaigner in this September 2016 story on human trafficking and sex slavery. In today’s announcement, Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Nobel committee chair, said both Mukwege and Murad had won the award for their "efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war". Look for a collection of IRIN’s work highlighting this issue next week.


Spanish surge


At least 34 people died this week in the Mediterranean when the inflatable boat they were trying to take to Spain capsized off the Moroccan coast. The UN says there are believed to be 26 survivors, all from sub-Saharan Africa. Spain is an increasingly popular entry point to Europe: a total of 37,441 migrants and asylum seekers had arrived in the country this year by the end of September by sea, an increase of 201 percent from the same period last year (the number of deaths at sea has also doubled). Spain has sometimes allowed ships refused entry elsewhere to dock on its shores, but it’s not always a warm welcome for newcomers: migrants have clashed violently with police after storming the fence that separates Morocco from Spain at Cueta, and those who make it into Europe rarely have it easy. Stay tuned for our coverage of the crush at Europe’s only land border with Africa.


One to listen to:


Operation Fiction Writer


This week, we’re nominating an episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast for weekend listening. In only 35 minutes, you get a complicated story of asylum mills – law firms that for years helped some Chinese game the US asylum system by fabricating stories that fit the criteria of targeted persecution that the US looks for in asylum claims. One of the people who wrote those stories, and later helped the government bring the mills down as part of “Operation Fiction Writer” is Lawrence, himself an immigrant from China. These days, the government is reviewing the asylum status of 30,000 people, most of them family members of people who used these law firms and have been in the US for years. But Lawrence has refused to help in possible deportations – he says there’s a difference between what is legal and what is right – so he’s using a fake name, and is in hiding from the government. It’s a complex story with shades of grey. Make time to listen for yourself.


In case you missed it:


INDIA: This week the Indian government deported seven Rohingya men to Myanmar, drawing criticism from rights groups who say the men have been put at “grave risk of oppression and abuse” in their home country, where a violent military purge last year uprooted more than 700,000 people. The UN says 200 other Rohingya are detained in India. There are fears that this week’s deportation is a sign authorities plan to act on year-old threats to expel the estimated 40,000 Rohingya living in India.


IRAQ: After months of political jockeying, Shia politician Adel Abdul Mahdi was named prime minister of Iraq this week and has 30 days to form a government. Among the challenges the compromise candidate will face are ongoing protests against unemployment and a lack of public services in the southern city of Basra, where tens of thousands of people have sought medical treatment thanks to contaminated water.


MOZAMBIQUE: The trial of more than 180 suspected militants began this week in northern Cabo Delgado province, where more than 50 people have been killed in attacks linked to a growing insurgency. The defendants – including Mozambicans, Tanzanians, Congolese, Somalis and Burundians – are accused of deadly gun, grenade and knife assaults. Locals and authorities call the assailants “al-Shabaab”, although the group has no known links to the Somali group of the same name. They are reportedly seeking to impose Sharia law in the Muslim-majority province. The trial is the first since the attacks began a year ago.


PAKISTAN: The government has ordered several international NGOs to leave the country. ActionAid, one of the affected organisations, called it a “worrying escalation of recent attacks on civil society”. Authorities in Pakistan have slapped increasing restrictions and registration requirements on international NGOs in recent years, accusing them of overstepping their humanitarian and development mandates.


SOUTH SUDAN: Based on recent findings, three UN agencies have warned that South Sudan’s “relentless conflict” has left more than six million people — almost 60 percent of the entire population — facing crisis levels of hunger, as people are forced to flee their homes and fields, and trade routes and markets are disrupted.


YEMEN: Cholera is making a comeback, with the World Health Organisation reporting a suspected 10,000 cases per week, double the previous rate. In Hodeidah province, where a battle for the key port rattles on, Save the Children said facilities it supports have seen a 170 percent increase in suspected cases since fighting escalated in June.


Our weekend read:


A vote without a say: Cameroon's displaced anglophones wait for peace to return


It’s presidential election weekend in Cameroon, but for the thousands now displaced from home as a result of the conflict in the anglophone regions, it’s a vote, but no real say. After the francophone government’s violent clampdown on English-speaking separatist activists last year, the humanitarian situation has only worsened. The UN estimates that 246,000 people in the country’s Southwest region are now internally displaced, while another 25,000 have fled across the border to Nigeria. While the government has promised a calm election process, and the country’s main election body urges IDPs to return to their homes to vote, the conflict is casting a long shadow over the polls. Earlier this year, we featured a special report from regular IRIN contributor Emmanuel Freudenthal who became the first journalist to embed with Cameroon’s separatist forces. For our weekend read this week, Arison Tamfu travelled into the forests of the Southwest region to meet displaced anglophones now living on the run, many of whom feel like strangers in their own country.


And finally:


Germany's humanitarian spending has risen fast in recent years. The ecosystem of NGOs and aid agencies in Bonn and Berlin has grown to match. Now it has a new think tank, officially launched in July: The Centre for Humanitarian Action is housed at the Maecenata Foundation, and involves church groups Caritas Germany and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe as well as MSF Germany.



un0240802.jpg News Aid and Policy Migration Environment and Disasters Conflict Human Rights Tsunami aid, Spanish surge, and sexual violence in war IRIN Geneva Cameroon Mozambique South Sudan United States India Indonesia Pakistan Spain Global Iraq Yemen
Categories: Gender Parity