Obama’s upsetting decision to lift sanctions on Sudan

In a surprising move, President Obama, with only a week left in his presidency, has made the decision to lift sanctions and open up trade with Sudan; a regime that has and continues to commit genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity against its own people. The announcement is due to be made public today.

Since 1997, the United States has imposed economic, trade, and financial sanctions against Sudan due to its support of terrorism, and since 2003 due to the gross human rights violations in Darfur. Sudan’s President, Omar al-Bashir—an indicted war criminal and génocidaire—has led Sudan’s armed forces and militias to rape, pillage, and kill the non-Arab populations of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile. Never wavering from his steadfast extermination strategy, Bashir has been able to consistently evade justice and strong international pressure to end the assault on civilian populations.

Warming relations and lifting sanctions with a genocidal regime in the final days of President Obama’s term in office is not only deeply upsetting to rights advocates, it is a slap in the face to all those who suffer under Bashir’s reign of terror, the hundreds of thousands who have been killed, and the millions who have been displaced.

Read more at The Hill

Listen to the Alarm Bells

© UNHCR/Amelia Shepherd-Smith

“Still, at its heart, the Rwandan story is the story of the failure of humanity to heed a call for help from an endangered people.” – Lt. General Roméo Dallaire

Listen to the alarm bells. Do you hear them? They rang for Rwanda, and we did not listen. They’ve rung for Syria for some time now, leaving the people of Aleppo wondering where we are. They now ring for South Sudan. Will we respond?


As the world is focused on Aleppo—with good reason—South Sudan is on the brink of genocide and no one is watching. The world’s youngest country falls into the trap of forgotten conflicts, overshadowed and set aside to be dealt with later. The problem is, later is never really an option. Later is when something becomes too big to deal with, too complicated to fix.

According to the UN Commission on South Sudan, there is a “steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages.” Ban Ki Moon, departing UN Secretary General, accused South Sudanese leaders, including former Vice President Riek Machar, of “manipulating ethnicity for political gain.”

This week, Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, addressed a special session of the UN Human Rights Council. She was there to discuss the dangerous situation in the country, and to explain to the council the crucial moment we are in as an international community. There is still time for us to stop the violence before it escalates any further. Before it becomes a full-on genocide.

In her address, Sooka detailed the horrific extent to which rape is being used as a weapon of war, describing “the levels of gang rape in this conflict as epic” (70% of the women in the Civilian Protection Camps have reported being raped; 78% had been forced to watch violent sexual attacks). She underscored that the violence is ethnically motivated, that civilians are being slaughtered, and that children are being forced into the role of child soldiers.

This is not a case ofoh, things might get bad in South Sudan.” Things are bad, and they are about to get a whole lot worse. As Sooka explained, “to be frank, we’re running out of adjectives to describe the horror.”

As it stands, The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) puts the current number of refugees who have fled the violence at 1,263,681. In October alone, people were fleeing at a rate of 3,500 per day. Per day. The death toll is rising, and the worry is that once the rainy season ends it will only get worse.

Still awaiting the Regional Protection Force (RPF) approved in August by the Security Council, and seeing the expulsion of international aid workers, as well as the silencing of independent media, the warning signs are clear for the people of South Sudan. It is only a matter of time.

We stand now at a defining moment. Will we as an international community live up to our responsibility and stop a looming genocide? Or, will we continue to wait and see as the people of South Sudan pay the price?





Listen to the alarm bells. #SouthSudan is on the brink of genocide. Will you act? cc: @POTUS @AmbassadorPower @UN http://bit.ly/2hnLgIT


Never Again, Yet Again

© Ameer Alhalbi/AFP/Getty Images

War is horrifically, painfully, and unconscionably nothing new. So why does Aleppo seem different?

“We have never before received such a deluge of images from any front,” writes Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times, “never gotten such an intimate, minute-by-minute, look at what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday most likely constituted war crimes.”

According to The Independent, six different sources confirmed that as Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad took control of Aleppo after a four-year battle with rebels, they shot 82 civilians, including 11 women and 13 children. In one of the most haunting visuals to emerge amidst footage of Syrian activists and citizens bidding farewell to the world, Bana al-Abed, a 7-year-old Syrian girl, announced into a camera, “Please, save us, thank you.” Her mother, Fatemah, who helps her run a Twitter account, wrote on Monday, “I am very surprised I am tweeting right now & still alive.

Following reports of ceasefires, renewed violence, and civilian evacuations stalled and undertaken has been dizzying these last several days. It has been reality for Syrians throughout the more than five-year civil war that has raged through the country, killing an estimated 400,000 people as of April 2016.

While what is happening in Syria might not fit the strict definition of genocide, it is, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, “nothing short of a massacre.”

As we contend with this human tragedy, the words “Never again” are ringing out yet again…like they did after the beginning of the Darfur genocide that continues today. Or after the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Stop Genocide Now’s mission is to stand with people in grave danger of violence, death, and displacement, people like those who are suffering in Syria. We do this in the hope that the global community will finally say “Never again” and mean it. Until that day, we hope you will stand with us and with the people of Syria.



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

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.@UN_Geneva @UN_Spokesperson HC Zeid set up inquiry on @AmnestyOnline report on chemical weapons in #Sudan bit.ly/2dbYkQw

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