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How to Promote Reconciliation and Recovery in South Sudan

Ed note. This is a guest post by Toby Lanzer, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for South Sudan

(Juba, South Sudan) — As the conflict in South Sudan reached its 100th day, images of death, destruction and displacement in the world’s newest nation continued to dominate the image of the country.

The fighting between government and opposition forces has driven a million people from their homes, including about 70,000 who are sheltering in UN peacekeeping bases. We know the situation will worsen with the onset of the rainy season; seven million people are facing the risk of hunger.

On April 12,  in Washington, DC, USAID, UN humanitarian partners and the European Union will once again focus attention on the crisis, calling for an end to the fighting and urging the international community to continue to fund urgent needs there.

But we must remember the conflict will also have long-lasting consequences, rolling back years of development achievements and a hard won peace, increasing poverty, as well as long-term insecurity and vulnerability to future shocks.

While the needs of people in South Sudan require urgent attention, and continued funding, we must keep in mind that emergency operations can only assist them in the short-term. Because humanitarian action is a palliative, not a long-term solution, it is never too early to promote reconciliation and recovery.

First, there needs to be a redoubling of efforts to support a peace agreement in Addis Ababa that reflects the perspective of the people of South Sudan as a whole – not just the elite groups that sign on the dotted line at the negotiating table.

The views of women, young people, former combatants, ethnic minorities and the very poor, along with civil society groups from all ten states must be taken into account.

Second, when the situation allows for it, displaced populations must be given a chance to return to their homes without fear. This will require a genuine effort on the behalf of the international community to help communities achieving security and dialogue, as well as creating mechanisms for justice, truth and reconciliation.

We cannot address the deep-rooted and underlying causes of the present conflict without promoting a culture, at the community or the State level, in which disputes are settled peacefully.

Third, to prevent the conflict from exacerbating existing poverty and suffering, recovery activities must focus on creating emergency employment, helping small businesses get back on their feet and restoring livelihoods, for example, through the provision of seeds and farming equipment, credit and vocational training. This will help to revive the economy.

Ultimately, building an inclusive, cohesive and responsive State in South Sudan will require establishing stronger democratic mechanisms for citizen participation and political dialogue. In parallel, devolution of power and improving the delivery of essential services, such as healthcare and schools will be critical to achieving that objective.

The United Nations Development Programme in South Sudan has continued to operate in spite of the current crisis. We continue to build the capacity of key institutions of the State and communities to deliver development and to find common solutions to end poverty and insecurity.

We’ve focused on building up national peace institutions,  the civil service, and managed a multi-million fund that backs the work of aid agencies meeting  the most critical humanitarian needs.

In addition, UNDP continues to manage a vast portfolio of the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, providing life-saving treatment in seven of the country’s ten states, including for those displaced by fighting.

By focusing on long term development, we hope to minimize the impact of the current crisis. At the same time, the country will be in a much stronger position to overcome its differences and become a safe, peaceful and prosperous nation in the heart of Africa where crises are a thing of the past.

Development | | Leave a comment
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UN Rapporteur Takes Hard Line on Aid Agencies Expulsion from Burma

Burma’s Muslim Rohingya minority are faced with an increasingly desperate situation after aid organizations were ejected from the country in March, charged by the government with exhibiting “favoritism” towards the minority group and away from the Buddhist majority.

Now, the Burmese government has said it will protect and work with the recently ejected aid workers, after strong language from the United Nations and other foreign officials, condemning the expulsion. “Recent developments in Rakhine state are the latest in a long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya community which could amount to crimes against humanity,” said Burma U.N. Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana in a statement, according to the Voice of America.

Quintana, who has monitored the human rights situation in Burma for six years under the auspices of the UN, called the aid workers efforts “life saving” and demanded that they be allowed to return immediately.

The Special Rapporteur’s strong language appears to have worked: on April 9th, according to Voice of America, the Burmese government issued a statement reaffirming it’s commitment to working with and protecting foreign aid. Officials also vowed to catch the “ringleaders” of the March riots that drove out aid workers in the first place, ostensibly after an aid worker allegedly mishandled a Buddhist flag.

Indisputably, outside assistance is sorely needed in Rakhine state. Around 140,000 Rohingya have been pushed into refugee camps in the city of Sittwe, while around 700,000 more are estimated to reside in the countryside, far from human rights assistance. 

Quintana’s request that the UN and other aid organizations be permitted to return to the area is the latest in a series of humanitarian-minded requests – some of which have gone notably unanswered by the Burmese government. UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay called for a “full investigation” into January attacks on Rohingya in Rakhine state in January, thought to have resulted in the deaths of around 40 Muslims.  Quintana echoed Pillay’s request, criticizing the slow government response to the allegations of killings.

But nothing has been done to confirm or deny the massacre, while the Burmese government continues to deny that anything of the sort took place.

The riots directed at the international aid workers, and Quintanas’ response exemplify the tense relationship between the swiftly normalizing Burmese government and the country’s new influx of foreign aid and business people.

Although Burma may be making its way out of the stasis of its modern history, its leadership must figure out how reconcile the nation’s increasingly tense interethnic relations with international humans rights standards. Much work remains to be done.

Rights | | Leave a comment
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A Big Vote for Tiny Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau holds the unfortunate distinction of never having a president complete a full five year term. That can change starting this weekend as the country holds its first election since a military coup in 2012. After a fair amount of domestic turmoil and delay, the elections offer the small West African country a chance at much needed political stability.

As the International Crisis Group points out elections are not occurring now due to a change in institutional strength or strong political will, but because Guinea-Bissau’s turbulent political climate led to most traditional donors and the IMF withdrawing from the country. While new donors and investors from China, Brazil and Angola have attempted to fill the void, the government is still on the verge of bankruptcy. A successful election is needed not only to transition back to democracy, but to also regain donor confidence for an essential cash injection. However even if the election is peaceful and all the candidates accept the results, inauguration of a new president represents only the first step towards putting the country on the right path.

One key element of Guinea-Bissau’s problems is the deep involvement of security forces in national politics. No president complete their five year constitutional term since the first multi-party elections were held in 1994. Limited periods of stability have come mainly through military dictatorship where the top leadership profited from turning the country into a hub in the South Atlantic drug and arms trafficking trade while ordinary citizens suffered from widespread human rights abuses and economic deprivation.

Following the 2012 coup, Guinea-Bissau became Africa’s first narco-state as the entire drug trafficking infrastructure passed to the military as a means to consolidate their control over the political structure of the nation. Along the way, the military developed ties with numerous extremist groups in the region, including Al Qaeda affiliates, which threaten security not just in Guinea-Bissau but throughout West and Central Africa. Disentangling the military from the political scene as well as from the drug and arms trade is necessary for an actual democratic transition but it will not be easy to establish the rule of law and effective governance when it has been lacking for so long.

Yet despite the apparent obstacles, there are reasons to be optimistic. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which will be one of the international organizations to monitor the polls, has already highlighted the successful preparation for the election where an estimated 95% of eligible voters have registered to participate despite limited funding and infrastructure. So far there has been no indications of election-related violence in the lead up to the vote. Acting interim President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo is not standing in the election and has already said he would accept the results regardless of who is elected.

These are positive developments, but merely represent the first of many needed steps. And that is where the country is likely to run into trouble. Even as several international organizations and Western countries prepare to monitor the elections, there is little international interest in one of Africa’s smallest and poorest states. On a continent undergoing a major resource and land rush, the foundation of Guinea-Bissau’s legitimate economy – cashew and ground nuts – don’t have much international appeal. Even if Sunday’s election and the likely second-round presidential election occur without incident, Bissau-Guineans need strong support if they are to fully transition to an effective civilian government. As we have seen elsewhere, there is plenty of attention when elections come around but such attention usually wanes as soon as the results are declared. If Guinea-Bissau has any chance of breaking the cycle of instability that has seen two coups, an attempted coup, a civil war and a presidential assassination all in the last 20 years, sustained attention and assistance from the international community will be essential.

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Top of the Morning: Is Ethiopia the Next Country to Go Anti-Gay?

Top stories from DAWNS Digest.

“Two groups in Ethiopia said Thursday that they will hold an anti-gay demonstration later this month, a move that puts Ethiopia in line to become the next African country to increase the public demonization of gays. Although gay sex is already outlawed in Ethiopia, the rally set for April 26 comes as the parliament considers making homosexual acts ineligible for presidential pardons. New legislation in Uganda and Nigeria this year has increased penalties for homosexual acts in those two countries, sending many gays underground or out of the country.” (AP

Police in Uganda have accused a US-funded AIDS project that they raided last week of paying young men to become homosexuals. (AFP

A new UN report shows limited progress in fighting sexual violence in the DR Congo, where too few attackers have been brought to justice. (VOA

Cameroon has announced a special polio vaccination campaign for all children after half a dozen cases were identified. (VOA

Indians voted in the crucial third phase of national elections Thursday, with millions going to the polls in the heartland states that are essential to the main opposition Hindu nationalist party. (AP

As Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar face acute shortages of water, food and medical care, a US State Department official urged the government to facilitate the return of aid groups. (AP

Myanmar’s central “dry zone”, home to a quarter of its 58 million people, is falling short on food production, pushing local people into hunger, malnutrition and debt. (IRIN


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Can UN Peacekeepers Stop Ethnic Cleansing in the Central African Republic?

The Security Council today approved a new 12,000 strong UN Peacekeeping mission for the Central African Republic. The resolution calls for this mission, known as the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), to be fully operational by September 15.  It also calls for strengthening the existing African Union mission over the next several months as the UN force prepares to deploy.

This is a key moment in the international community’s response to the crisis. Whether or not member states fully back this mission with the financial resources and political support required to mount a successful peacekeeping operation will be a key measure of how committed they are to stopping ethnic cleansing in the 21st century.

UN officials first sounded the alarm last November about a potential genocide and mass atrocity in CAR. The international community heeded these warnings, but never to a sufficient degree. About a quarter of the population has been displaced by violence and another 2.5 million are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. About 80,000 Muslims have fled out of fear of brutal Christian vigilante groups that are hunting down vulnerable Muslim populations. Today, tens of thousands of Muslims are stranded in enclaves across the country under the protection of African Union and French peacekeepers. In some cases, the Catholic Church is courageously sheltering their Muslim neighbors, even as Christian vigilantes threaten their lives. The conditions in these enclaves are dire. Food and medicine are in short supply, but people are too fearful to leave their relative safety.

UN Ambassador Samantha Power visited CAR in January, making her the highest-ranking American official to ever set foot in the country. She returned again this week as part of a regional tour that included the twentieth anniversary commemoration of the Rwanda genocide. French President Francois Hollande also paid a visit, and initially dispatched troops to protect the airport, which has since become the site of a massive internally displaced camp of over 100,000 people. In December, the USA, France and the African Union agreed to a stop gap measure: A 6,000 troop African Union peacekeeping force backed by about 2,000 French troops.

Despite these high profile demonstrations of support, traditional donor countries have been relatively stingy when it comes to helping pay for these operations. A pledging conference for the African Union peacekeeping mission, known as MISCA, fell about $100 million short of its $420 million goal. The European Union promised in January to send a battalion of peacekeepers, but that force is only now starting to materialize.  The funding gaps are even starker on the humanitarian side. A $550 million appeal for food, medicine and other forms of humanitarian relief has only been filled to a pitiful 23%.

One month ago, Ban Ki Moon recommended deploying 12,000 blue helmets to CAR. He argued that additional troops under a UN command are desperately needed to protect civilians, establish security so that humanitarian organizations can operate freely, and create the conditions under which Muslim populations can feel safe enough to return home. Eventually, the mission would help rebuild state institutions and set CAR on a path to self-reliance.

These are ambitious goals, but fairly standard for modern UN Peacekeeping operations. The Security Council agreed with this assessment when they passed today’s resolution.

The key question is how fast these troops can be deployed to halt the bloodshed? There is no standing UN Peacekeeping force. Rather, blue helmets must be mustered from UN member states who contribute forces to a mission. This process typically takes several months — but it doesn’t need to. If key UN member states make this mission a priority, it will get off the ground quickly. If they do not, it will languish.

One complication is funding. The mission would likely cost between $800 million to $1 billion. The United States is the largest funder to peacekeeping and would be required to contribute 28% of the cost, which is the rate of its assessed contributions to UN peacekeeping missions. But the USA is facing arrears because the omnibus budget passed by Congress in January cuts US contributions to UN Peacekeeping by about 12% and did not fund at all the most recent UN Peacekeeping mission in Mali. To its credit the White House included a line-item for a potential peacekeeping mission in CAR in its most recent budget request. But it is far from certain that this will survive congress. Without reliable funding, the UN cannot deploy at the pace and scale required to halt the ongoing ethnic cleansing.

Stopping ethnic cleansing in CAR is possible. And from a UN perspective this mission should not be as difficult as others in the region, like the Darfur and DRC missions. Unlike those places, CAR is not awash in weapons and its diverse population has a history of living relatively peacefully with each other. Also, the fledgling government in Bangui is fully supportive of this mission, which is a key determinant of a mission’s success.

A robust UN peacekeeping mission could do the job, but without proper funding and political support, the mission will not be able to deploy before most Muslims have left the country. This is ethnic cleansing in the 21st century. UN Peacekeepers can stop it and help create the conditions in which displaced populations can return home — but only if they are given tools to do so.



Security | | Leave a comment
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Will Investors Stop Burma’s Backslide?

Burma, the recent reformation minded darling of Southeast Asia, has been recently hit with ever-increasing ethnic tensions and a spate of threats to international aid workers, coupled with growing uncertainty over the 2015 elections. Will this uptick in conflict influence the Western rush to normalize relations with — and invest in – Burma?

International aid and UN workers were targeted last week in Burma’s northern Rakhine state, after angry mobs accused a worker of mishandling a Buddhist flag. Burmese officials announced that the nation’s first census in 30 years would not permit muslim citizens there to register as “Rohingya” but instead as the “Bengali.”

Medicines Sans Frontieres was kicked out of Burma over its operations in Rakhine state in February, after the government claimed it showed undue bias towards the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Fervent Buddhist nationalism is behind much of this violence and uncertainty, shepherded along by firebrand priest Ashin Wirathu. Unfortunately, fear of the Muslim minority is much more than a fringe view to Burma’s ruling parties, who have supported a potential ban on interfaith marriage — and, as shown by the census decision, continue to refer to Rohingya as “Bengalis” (as in, from Bangladesh and not Burma) in official documents.

Even Nobel Laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi has not come out in full throated support of the Rohingya, who continue to suffer from displacement and occasional deadly attacks. (Nor does Bangladesh, where they supposedly belong, wish to take them in either).

What does this recent uptick in violence and uncertainty mean for Burma’s much-heralded entrance into international affairs? Likely nothing good, although the deep-pocketed investors casting curious eyes towards Burma’s natural resources may just choose to overlook it.

Many Burma observers are growing increasingly uneasy, a stance neatly summarized by Min Zin in Irwaddy.  Zin points to ethnic tensions and political bickering between Suu Kyi’s  National League for Democracy and the still military-dominated government as the culprits — while meanwhile, the average Burmese citizen continues to deal with poverty, corruption, and other more pedestrian concerns.

Perhaps, as other observers have noted, Burma is slouching towards the Cambodian model of democratic reform: paying enough lip-service to popular politics to secure deep-pocketed aid money and foreign direct investment, but retaining corruption and stiff control over free speech and power.

Foreign direct investment in Burma also continues to grow with impressive speed: it’s set to double last year’s figure to $3.5 billion for the fiscal year 2014, and is anticipated to grow even more, with the telecommunications sector projected to defeat manufacturing as the main driver of growth. Some potential investors into Burma are watching the political situation carefully, hesitant to make a move before they’re sure the current, rather pacific political situation won’t deteriorate.

Aid continues to pour into Burma as well, although government officials have begun to issue not-so-subtle warnings to outside organizations to avoid overstepping their bounds.

A recent statement by presidential spokesman Ye Htut on last week’s attack on  aid workers condemned the violence, but also warned international workers should “should have a good understanding and be aware of local culture, customs and sensitive issues of the places where they are working.”

British MPs in March suggested a 40 percent increase in aid money to the Burmese state, convinced it would help usher in further humanitarian reform. In January, Japan announced it would spend $96 million to assist Myanmar’s ethnic areas, while the World Bank announced a $2 billion aid package the same month.

Last year, the Brookings Institute identified some potential pitfalls in increasing aid to Burma, including distracting government officials from sound policy making  and donor’s desire to “make a difference quick.” The Institute advised that international aid slow down — advice that should be taken a look at again, as Burma’s sectarian violence grows increasingly worse. Further, Burmese leaders eager to secure foreign investment should also consider that sectarian violence isn’t just a moral ill: it’s bad for business.

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