Trouble in CAR, trapped in Raqqa, and Trump at the UNGA: The Cheat Sheet

Our weekly round-up of hot humanitarian topics

IRIN editors have scanned the humanitarian horizon to get you up to speed with this forward-looking weekly digest:

 

CAR risks return to civil war

 

Central African Republic is on the brink and without a safety net. Amnesty International says (in a report detailing terrible cruelty) that civilians are the direct targets of a wave of violence by sectarian militia, forcing those that can to flee. More than 1.1 million people have been displaced, the “highest level ever”, notes UNHCR. The violence has been particularly acute in the centre, northwest, east, and southeast. The insecurity is blocking humanitarian access to those in need, with Médecins Sans Frontières announcing this week it had been forced to pull out of the town of Zemio as a result of recent attacks. Behind the violence is the largely Muslim UPC (see earlier IRIN coverage) and rival primarily Christian anti-balaka and assorted armed “self-defence” groups. Their victims are civilians on either side of the religious divide. Amnesty is scathing (as are most people in the country) over the ineffectiveness of the UN peacekeeping force. “MINUSCA has failed to prevent these abuses,” the rights group says. “Amnesty International is calling for a review of MINUSCA’s capacity to carry out its mandate, covering factors such as training, equipment, coordination and the number of uniformed and civilian personnel.”

 

Do they ever learn?

 

MINUSCA was part of a sex abuse scandal (see IRIN’s exclusive interview with Anders Kompass) in 2014, and now there are fresh allegations over the mishandling of additional cases. The US-based Code Blue Campaign says it has received 14 internal UN reports that demonstrate how investigations were a botched and “manifestly sham process”. According to the accountability NGO, the leaked files reveal the hidden scope of sex abuse by UN peacekeepers. A new report by the NGO Redress, ahead of a high-level-meeting on Monday at UN headquarters, says the world body must do much more to enable victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers to “access reparation, support and assistance”. Something’s got to give.

 

Trump at the UNGA

 

Next week’s UN General Assembly is the first of President Donald Trump’s presidency. After hosting world leaders to discuss UN reform on Monday, he’ll be one of the first debate speakers on Tuesday and, given his past UN negativity and penchant for sharp cuts in US funding, diplomats are wary about what he might say. There’s also a lot to get on with. Catastrophic flooding in South Asia and record-setting Atlantic hurricanes will lend urgency to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ climate change roundtable on Monday and a high-level meeting later in the week. NGOs hope that attention will rub off on the sustainable development goals more broadly, with warnings that countries are falling behind.

 

It will also be the first UNGA for the World Food Programme’s David Beasley and new OCHA chief Mark Lowcock. With more than 20 million people in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and Nigeria at risk of famine, perennial funding issues will once again be to the fore. Last year, huge migration into Europe was a hot topic; next week it’ll be the exodus from Myanmar. Guterres has said the Rohingya Muslims are experiencing “ethnic cleansing” and Aung San Suu Kyi has cancelled her inaugural trip to the forum in the midst of a growing international storm. After years of warnings about the situation, the UN is facing mounting pressure to take action.

 

When will aid return to Rakhine State?

 

While aid groups struggle with a massive influx of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh, there’s also rising concern for vulnerable people back in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Humanitarian agencies have been shut out of northern Rakhine for the past three weeks, after attacks on border posts triggered a military crackdown that has pushed 400,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. The violence has forced aid groups to suspend their services in northern Rakhine, the flashpoint of the conflict, and curtail it elsewhere. Restrictions on the WFP previously left 250,000 without regular food aid, though some food deliveries resumed this week. The International Rescue Committee says 120,000 previously displaced people have been cut off from assistance, further exposing them to risks of deadly disease outbreaks or sexual violence. An IRC spokeswoman told IRIN the conflict has confined some 140 IRC staff, including doctors and nurses, to their homes. There was already a deep distrust of international aid groups among ethnic Rakhine populations. These tensions continue to impact aid workers, with reports of intimidation against NGO and UN staff and pressure among locals to stop doing business with international organisations. The European Commission’s humanitarian aid arm reported that an angry mob attacked the office of a Rakhine civil society group working in Muslim camps in coastal Kyaukphyu. MSF this week said it was alarmed by reports that its clinics in Rakhine have been burned to the ground. “Wild accusations levelled against aid agencies and restrictive measures imposed on them by Myanmar’s authorities are leaving the most vulnerable without access to any assistance,” MSF’s Karline Kleijer said in a statement. The government has asked Red Cross organisations to step in with aid, which it says will be delivered to “all displaced inhabitants without discrimination.” But the ACT Alliance, a coalition of church-related groups, notes that the Red Cross may have “limited capacity”, considering the extensive needs that existed even before the current conflict.

 

Trapped in Raqqa

 

The race to finish off so-called Islamic State in Raqqa is proving to be ugly. More than 301,000 people have been displaced from the province in the past year, and the pace appears to be increasing as the battle intensifies. As of the end of last month, the UN estimated that as many as 25,000 people remained inside the city, in the midst of intense urban warfare and airstrikes. Civilian deaths are mounting, with casualty monitor Airwars estimating that a minimum of 860 civilians, including 150 children, have been killed in US-led air and artillery strikes since the start of June. The real numbers are likely much higher. The beginning of the end of this fight is hell, with reports (once again) of IS using civilians as human shields, UN pleas for a “humanitarian pause” ignored, and an American fighting for IS now captured. This week, we asked how Syria’s Kurds might govern the province if it falls to them – they have been a major force on the ground. It’s true that many may have eyes on the Raqqa prize, but it’s also clear the violence is far from over.

 

Did you miss it?

 

Who killed the UN experts in Congo?

 

The UN’s investigation into the murder in Congo’s increasingly restive Kasai region of two of its expert contractors appears to have left significant stones unturned? Michael Sharp, a US citizen, and Zaida Catalan, a Swede, were shot dead in a video-taped assassination on 12 March. The pair had been investigating the dynamics of the conflict in the region as part of a group mandated by the Security Council. Well before the trial of some of the suspects began on 5 June, the Kinshasa government blamed the killings on the Kamuina Nsapu insurgency and, without explaining its provenance, played the grisly videotape at a press conference in Kinshasa. A confidential August report by a UN Board of Enquiry also leans towards this conclusion, according to an extensive investigation into the killings and the insurgency published this week by Radio France Internationale. But RFI’s investigation, which includes a shot-by-shot analysis of the video, as well as an extremely detailed analysis of a meeting the experts had with Kamuina Nsapu members the day before their deaths, disputes the findings. It suggests the UN’s report failed to fully consider key links and language details that leave open the possibility that state agents had a hand in the murders.

 

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