Action for Chemical Weapons in Darfur

Over the past 13 years, the people of Darfur have suffered unimaginable violence at the hands of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his military. Officially labeled a genocide by the international community, efforts have been made to bring an end to the violence. The first-ever hybrid United Nations/African Union mission was launched, peace deals were struck, and it seemed progress was being made. But our attention span is limited, and the conflict in Sudan is complicated.

Today, Darfur has become known as the forgotten genocide. The international community has moved on—as our attention shifts to Syria and the refugee crisis—but the horrific suffering of the people of Darfur continues. Civilians are still fleeing, still dying, still trying to find peace.

The most recent violence has been in the mountain region of Jebel Marra in western Darfur. In January 2016, the Sudanese government launched a new series of attacks in the region against the Sudanese Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW). Reports of these increased hostilities have been coming out of Jebel Marra for months, detailing hundreds of thousands displaced, and violence against civilians. As Amnesty International reports—and has been the case throughout most of the conflict in Darfur—civilians have been the direct targets of many of these attacks.

As if the people of Darfur have not suffered enough, Amnesty International now has evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra. The evidence is clear, and unbearable.

According to Amnesty’s Director of Crisis Research, Tirana Hassan, “the scale and brutality of these attacks is hard to put into words. The images and videos we have seen in the course of our research are truly shocking.”

There is a reason it is a war crime to use chemical weapons. The violence they inflict on the body is unconscionable. Exposure to these chemicals (sulphur mustard, Lewisite, nitrogen mustard, etc.) leads to vomiting blood, diarrhea, blindness, blistering and darkening of skin, and eventually one’s skin falling off. This is what is happening to civilians in Jebel Marra…mostly children.

As Amnesty interviewed survivors in the region, a man named Mouhaildin spoke of his three-year-old son:

“The attack affected the children. My son was left behind when everyone ran away. The bomb landed near to him. He was not injured but since the day of the attack he started coughing and had difficulty breathing, then he started vomiting and having diarrhea. Then his skin started falling off.”

Stories just like Mouhaildin’s fill Amnesty’s report, with the organization finding there have been nearly 30 suspected chemical weapon attacks since January, with the most recent occurring on September 9. As of now, somewhere between 200-250 civilians have been killed, with many more surviving but suffering the long-term effects of such chemicals.

According to Al Jazeera, not only has the Sudanese government denied any use of chemical weapons, it has also refused requests from UNAMID to enter the region to investigate. This denial is a continuation of Bashir’s belief in his impunity. The international community has failed to hold him to account for any of his previous war crimes; why should he be worried about this one?

Amnesty International is now calling on the United Nations to:

  • Apply sufficient political pressure on the Government of Sudan to ensure that peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies are allowed to access remote populations like that in Jebel Marra;
  • Ensure the current arms embargo is strictly implemented and extended to cover the whole country.
  • Urgently investigate the use of chemical weapons and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute all those suspected of responsibility.

We join Amnesty International in calling for action.

Sign the petition to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

Share this tweet:

.@UN_Geneva @UN_Spokesperson HC Zeid set up inquiry on @AmnestyOnline report on chemical weapons in #Sudan

War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay: The Sentry publishes report on South Sudan’s system of corruption

Big mansions and swimming pools under palm trees, suited young men posing in front of big cars and private jets – these Instagram and Facebook images would not stand out in the abundance of similar ones posted every day, were it not for their context. They were published as part of a two-year investigative report by The Sentry in a press release on September 13th, illustrating the deep entanglement of top South Sudanese military and civilian officials in the large-scale corrupt and kleptocratic system that has been fueling violent conflict and suppressing civil society in the country.

The full report can be downloaded here. Read a two-page overview of the main findings here.

Although not at all unusual and infrequent, the details and recency of the report are once again a fresh reminder of the fueling power of corruption and nepotism in the context of protracted, extremely violent civil wars. Family members as young as 12 years old reportedly hold shares in companies procuring in oiling, mining, aviation, insurance, telecommunications, and several other industries. “Occupation: Son of President” can be read on the images of passport copies of two of President Kiir’s sons. Google Earth images support the documented evidence that properties were acquired inside and outside the country, such as President Kiir’s Luri ranch, which, among other uses, ostensibly provided a training ground for members of his militia.

While Sudanese law prohibits nepotism and corruption, the sheer amount of money and power circulating within these high ranks is naturally a great incentive for all involved stakeholders: lawyers signing away and thereby facilitating South Sudanese wealth acquisition; national and international banks giving way to large transactions without ensuring their duty to follow through with due diligence; international businessmen, war profiteers, defense firms, and arms dealers striking deals with presidents and generals.

The report also proposes a combination of measures to counter this system most effectively, taking into consideration past actions. It details the ways in which smarter sanctions should include “anchor targets”; members of an illicit network whose sanctioning would make the network increasingly vulnerable and less strong. It outlines the most effective ways for the U.S. government to get involved in the prevention of money laundering and encourage South Sudanese and international banks to comply. With the knowledge of corruption being a major contributor to prolonged violence, anti-corruption narratives should be at the forefront of any international initiatives in South Sudan, from private business ventures to humanitarian assistance. And, although probably one of the toughest measures to implement, it is also likely one of the most important ones: The strengthening and protection of civil society to ensure sustainable transparency and prevention of nepotism, kleptocracy, corruption, and ultimately, the financing of violence and conflict.

How fruitful the policy suggestions from The Sentry’s report remains to be seen, in particular in light of issues such as dealing with sovereignty. As the report underlines, however, such concessions have to be demanded.


Photo credit: The Sentry


Photo credit: The Sentry


Photo credit: The Sentry

Tell Congress: #RefugeesWelcome

Credit: STAND Managing Committee Member

Credit: STAND Managing Committee Member

Today, 65 million people are displaced globally due to violent conflicts – the highest number in recorded human history. Last year, President Obama increased the number of refugees that the U.S. will resettle.

Unfortunately, the U.S. refugee resettlement program is at risk due to insufficient funding and vocal opposition to the program. Though the number of refugees has increased, Congress has not increased funding for resettlement programs, meaning those being resettled may struggle to rebuild their lives due to inadequate services. Additionally, as you read this email anti-refugee groups are on the Hill making their stances loud and clear to our elected officials. With such strong and constant anti-refugee voices, we must join together to ensure that refugees are welcomed and warmly embraced in the U.S.

TAKE ACTION: Call the following numbers to be connected to your Senator(s) and/or Representative. If you can, we suggest you call your Representative as well as both of your Senators!

1-866-940-2439 – House of Representatives
1-866-961-4293 – Senate

Once connected, you can use or adapt this script:

Hello, my name is _______ and I’m calling from [town name, state name]. Please tell the [Senator/Rep] that I support refugee resettlement and want to see the U.S. resettle more refugees. [Senator/Rep X] should support increased funding for both international refugee assistance and for refugee resettlement in the U.S. Thank you for your time!

Last year, we worked together to save the U.S. refugee resettlement program as we know it. Thank you for continuing to take action to support and protect refugees. Your sustained action makes a tremendous impact!

This action was originally created by:
Savannah Wooten
STAND Student Director
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ‘17

What can be done to save the Rohingya?

Leaders of ASEAN at the 2015 summit in Kuala LumpurDuring the 2015 ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Kuala Lumpur, the regional bloc briefly and fruitlessly deliberated on the plight of the persecuted Rohingya ethnic group within Burma. The Burmese delegation refused to participate and absolved themselves of responsibility in the matter, declaring the Rohingya were no more than migrant Bangladeshis and unworthy of the attention given to other citizens. Neighboring Thailand, known to capitalize on migrant Rohingya for cheap labor, insisted that it could not serve as a permanent home for these refugees. Bangladesh, not an ASEAN member but purported by many to be the original Rohingya homeland, had already begun to address the situation two years ago with a strategy that has since flatlined. Malaysia and Indonesia, despite their religious connection to the victims, deferred any concrete action back to the Burmese government, emphasizing a domestic solution to this growing problem. Solving Burma’s ethnic violence has proven too demanding an undertaking for an uninterested ASEAN.

The conflict, and resulting refugee crisis, is multifaceted and should be approached in stages. Of greatest importance is alleviating the Rohingya’s immediate suffering. The reluctance of ASEAN is unacceptable in this regard. With or without the compliance of Burma, the other member states must take a lead in accommodating the refugees. They ought to orchestrate a system of shouldering proportional burdens, with particular emphasis on Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. An effective initial action would be to initiate military escorts to aid Rohingya boats attempting the precarious journey from the Burmese coast to safer shores. The route they embark upon is typically threatened by storms, pirates, or predatory elements of the Thai navy. The latter frequently intercept these boats to capture their occupants, so they may be used as slaves or low-wage labor. If military escorts are to do more help than harm, the member states involved must hammer out a policy of strict oversight from the highest military offices and cross-supervision during missions. One might envision Singaporean vessels ferrying Rohingya to Bangkok or Malaysian admirals leading a convoy to Jakarta.

The United States, China, India, and others with an interes in Burma’s stability can ensure these policies come to fruition, through finance. By lending monetary aid to the ASEAN nations that are in a position to shelter refugees, these larger powers can cajole them out of their recalcitrance. The wealthy Gulf states, who have religious ties to the Rohingya community, also have a role to play in jumpstarting this effort. On a larger scale, even the dithering Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) may find this crisis to be a cause around which to unify. Pakistan, although removed from the immediate region, has already housed numerous Rohingya and could position itself as the de facto leader in an OIC endeavor.

The next task absolutely requires the support of the external international community. Those with influence in Naypyidaw need to pressure the Burmese government to resolve the conflict and create conditions peaceful enough for the Rohingya’s eventual repatriation. Enter the United Nations. Key member states should encourage the future UN Secretary General to take up this issue and give high-level support to his or her efforts. Other governments need to assert that future positive diplomatic relations are contingent on abolishment of discriminatory practices and the introduction of policies designed to protect the Rohingya. A minor, yet important, detai in this process would be for diplomats and UN officials to use the word “Rohingya” both in public and private. This will discredit the current government’s dismissal of the Rohingya’s legitimacy as an ethnic group of Burma. Their plight originates from a systematic policy of impoverishment and marginalization. Quite possibly a crime against humanity, and certainly a contributor to the ethnic cleansing, this tactic should be grounds for the establishment of an independent international investigation into possible violations of international law by the Burmese government.

These external players could certainly accomplish some short- and medium-term goals, but they cannot eliminate the underlying animosity. Burma alone can make peaceful interethnic relations a reality. One of the few key actors capable of making the required first steps, although seemingly unwilling to do so at the moment, is Aung San Suu Kyi and her party – National League for Democracy (NLD). Their capitulation through silence is rooted in fear of antagonizing critical Buddhist voters. While this position was deemed necessary for the NLD’s success in the 2015 general elections, the party has since enjoyed a resounding victory and has no further need for politicking. Ms. Suu Kyi, as a beloved and respected leader, may have the capacity to sway hearts and minds, pushing the nation on a path towards reconciliation.This begins with acknowledging the Rohingya’s rightful claim as Burmese citizens and to reside in peace and dignity within Rakhine state. She could follow through with special visits to the embattled region and subsequent calls for the national legislature, which is controlled by the NLD, to vote on measures to restore peace. There are a litany of policies at the administration’s proposal; they just need the will to act and the violence will recede.

Campaign Success!

Earlier this year, we joined the Congo advocacy community in a  to promote free and fair elections in the DR Congo by imploring Secretary of State John Kerry to impose targeted sanctions on President Joseph Kabila and his inner circle.

We are very pleased to announce that our organizing efforts were a success. As of last week, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has initiated a series of sanctions, beginning with General Celestin Kanyama. The Police Commissioner of Kinshasa, the capital city, General Kanyama has now been placed on the Specially Designated Nationals List, effectively blocking his assets and barring U.S. citizens from dealing with him. Kanyama has a record of employing excessive force on civilians, most notably during “Operation Likofi,” which resulted in the death of 51 youth and the disappearance of 33 others. In the prelude to the Congolese presidential elections this November, the police have launched a series of fatal attacks on peaceful protesters.

These protests are part of a nationwide call for President Kabila to step down after two terms in office, as he is constitutionally obligated to do. Kabila, however, is rumored to be orchestrating an extension of his rule, possibly by conspiring with legislators to amend the constitution. His presidency has become widely unpopular and many fear the country could plunge into chaos and violence if elections for a new president do not take place this year.

The action taken by the State and Treasury Departments is a vital first step in pressuring the Kabila regime, but it requires follow-through. OFAC must thoroughly identify and block the assets of Kanyama, guaranteeing his allies in power feel the impact. It is also worth noting that targeted sanctions are not the government’s only option. As Enough Project founder, John Prendergast, suggests, “The use of anti-money laundering provisions, anti-corruption investigations, and steps to condition donor assistance must also be deployed in the service of democracy and peace in Congo.”

If the Obama administration decided to target higher echelons of the Congolese regime, and even Kabila himself, it should pursue modernized sanctions that both maximize the policy’s financial leverage and minimize the collateral damage on the DRC’s citizenry. For greater efficacy, these new sanctions would: target economic sectors directly linked to armed conflict, network with foreign banks, place further restrictions on institutions that aid regime violations, introduce designations of companies owned by implicated elites, and enhance asset tracing and recovery.

Join Panzi Foundation on Wednesday, July 6 at 1:00 PM EST/10:00 AM PST for a conference call with experts and Panzi Foundation USA Board Members Anthony Gambino and Nita Evele. Mr. Gambino is the former USAID Mission Director in the Congo with over 35 years of experience in the DRC and Central Africa. Ms. Evele is the Director for Congo Global Action, and is a leader in Congolese civil society and diaspora. The call will focus on analysis of the escalating political crisis in the DRC, and what next for the international response. A moderated Q&A will follow opening remarks. This call will be off the record.

RSVP here.