Every week, IRIN’s team of editors looks ahead at what’s on our humanitarian radar and curates a selection of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:
London calling - examining the Somalia conference
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described this week’s London Somalia conference as an “unmitigated success”. The final communique reiterated international support for a coordinated humanitarian response and commitment to building resilience to future droughts. Guterres also called for an additional $900 million in a revised aid appeal, taking the total to $1.5 billion for this year. It was left to the International Crisis Group to point out that al-Shabab continues to block aid to areas it controls, favouring its own relief effort. The success of this hearts-and-minds approach is “hard to gauge”, said ICG.
Security sector reform, as a means to defeat al-Shabab, generated a good deal of excitement in London. The new architecture integrates regional and federal forces, a significant step forward. An internationally-supported Security Pact promises more effective support, including standardised military training, and envisages the future lifting of a partial UN arms embargo. The need for better funding of the African Union’s AMISOM intervention was also acknowledged, along with a planned “conditions-based” withdrawal for AMISOM, scheduled to start at the end of 2018 (See IRIN’s earlier story).
Human Rights Watch has, however, criticised the failure to properly link human rights concerns to humanitarian and security goals. “The human rights part was at the bottom of the communique, almost as a standalone,” researcher Laetitia Bader told IRIN. “But it can’t be disconnected from the core problems.” HRW was looking for serious commitments on accountability, better oversight of the security forces, controls on child soldier recruitment, and stronger language on reducing the vulnerability of people affected by the drought.
Libya migrant crimes under the ICC spotlight
News of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean – most having set off from Libya in flimsy smugglers’ dinghies – has become numbingly routine. At least 245 people have died or gone missing attempting the crossing in the last week alone, bringing the total who have succumbed to the route so far in 2017 above 1,300. That people are still attempting such dangerous journeys is a sign not only of how bad things are in their home countries but also in Libya, where IRIN and others have reported human trafficking, extortion, and forced prostitution (among other horrors). This week, International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the Security Council that the court was exploring the possibility of an investigation into migrant-related crimes. If you’re curious what that might look like in a court that doesn’t appear to get much done, stay tuned – we’re looking into it. Meanwhile, despite violent disputes over oil – Libya’s main source of income – the country is now pumping more of the stuff than it has since 2014. That’s a good sign, as is a recent meeting between two rival leaders. Just returned from the country, having visited migrant detention centres and lunched in Tripoli, UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson writes in the Spectator that Libya “can have a great future. All it takes is political will and the courage to compromise.” Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
IDP or refugee? Spot the difference
For the millions forced to flee their homes every year because of conflict, natural disasters, or other kinds of crisis, crossing a border changes everything. One’s status is immediately elevated from that of an internally displaced person, or IDP, to that of a refugee. The former, despite being twice as numerous, enjoy few if any binding rights under global humanitarian law, even if recommended assistance is spelled out in great detail under the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. In 2012, Africa signed up to a continent-wide instrument for IDPs known as the Kampala Convention, but it has yet to gain proper traction on the ground, as our recent article on Ethiopia illustrates. Refugees, on the other hand, receive a range of international protections outlined in a landmark piece of international law adopted in 1951. Almost 20 years ago, in an effort to redress the balance, the Norwegian Refugee Council set up the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre as a source of detailed data and analysis on IDPs across the world. The distinction between IDPs and refugees is often spurious and generally inequitable. The links between the two categories, and what drives internally displaced people to cross borders, are the focus of the IDMC’s 2017 annual report, to be released on 22 May. It will also examine the issue of refugees being forced to return to their home countries, sometimes against their will and often into a state of internal displacement. If we told you now how regularly someone somewhere in the world is forced to flee a home, IDMC would be very cross with our embargo-busting thunder theft, but the time frame is shocking.
Venezuelans have taken to the streets in their tens of thousands over the past six weeks in anti-government protests that have left at least 39 demonstrators dead and hundreds injured and show no signs of abating. The trigger was an attempt by the pro-government Supreme Court to seize power from the opposition-controlled National Assembly. The court backed down under pressure, but the protests have continued as Venezuelans vent their anger against President Nicolas Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian socialist government, which they blame for chronic shortages of food and medicines, soaring crime, and triple-digit inflation. If you want to really understand how a country with one of the largest oil reserves in the world went from being so rich to so poor, listen to the latest edition of The Inquiry by the BBC World Service. Expert witnesses tell a story that begins with Venezuela’s oil-rich hay day and moves on to the dramatic rise to power of Hugo Chavez, who served as president from 1999 until his death in 2013. His policies, which included subsidising basic foods and imposing foreign exchange controls, temporarily improved the lot of the poor and reduced inequality but were dependent on a high oil price. The experts all agree: The seeds of Venezuela’s downfall have been sown by successive governments’ failure to recognise the dangers of an over-dependence on oil. The latest news is that the health minister has been sacked for revealing massive spikes in infant and maternal mortality. The alarming situation in Venezuela represents a deepening humanitarian emergency not just a political meltdown.
Will Trump try (another) troop surge in Afghanistan?
US President Donald Trump is reportedly considering a proposal to send about 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and is expected to make a decision before a NATO summit on 25 May. US troops have now been fighting in Afghanistan for more than 15 years. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, tried to wind down the mission, pulling all but around 9,000 soldiers out at the beginning of 2015. Since then, security has deteriorated further. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported recently that, as of November, the government held control or influence over only 57 percent of the country’s 407 districts. The proposed “mini-surge” is reportedly aimed at pressuring the Taliban to the negotiating table. However, it’s unclear how effective such a strategy would be. After all, the Taliban refused to negotiate when the United States had 100,000 troops in the country.
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Central America’s gang-violence refugees
Last September, IRIN highlighted the epidemic of gang-related violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. This week, Médecins Sans Frontières released a report that lays bare its humanitarian impacts. They are similar to those in a war zone, including pushing hundreds of thousands of people to flee the region in search of safety. Based on data gathered over two years of providing medical care to 33,593 migrants and refugees from the Northern Triangle at clinics and migrants centres throughout Mexico, MSF’s findings are startling. Thirty-nine percent of those interviewed reported fleeing attacks or threats to themselves or their families, while 44 percent had lost a relative due to violence in the past two years. Nearly 70 percent had been victims of violence during their journeys north towards the United States. The perpetrators of the violence were members of gangs and criminal organisations, but also members of Mexico’s security forces. Nearly one third of women reported having been sexually abused during their journey. MSF notes that few of those fleeing the violence are recognised as refugees in either Mexico or the United States. Instead, they are usually treated as economic migrants and deported. MSF calls on the governments of both countries to rapidly scale up legal protections, cease deportations and expand access to medical and mental health services.
(TOP PHOTO: Afghan security services travel in convoy. Catherine James/IRIN)