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Six major humanitarian challenges confronting the UN General Assembly

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 09:15:00 +0000

Hype over what President Donald Trump may or may not say dominated the media build-up to this week’s UN General Assembly. However, US funding cuts and the apparent absence of American authority on key global issues weigh more heavily over world leaders beset by a host of daunting humanitarian challenges.   It’s the first UNGA since Trump was elected president. He’ll make his debut on Monday in hosting a meeting on UN reform, ahead of his maiden speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday. It’s also the first year at the helm for UN Secretary-General António Guterres. His speech opening high-level week on Tuesday will be closely watched, as will his handling of Trump’s US administration.   The US decision on the eve of the General Assembly to halve its diplomatic presence in New York doesn’t augur well for those concerned that US cuts and retreats from international agreements are creating a dangerous vacuum at a time when the General Assembly has so many global crises to address.   Here’s our guide to the major humanitarian issues:   Climate Change   The UNGA is always a vital forum for the world’s developing countries, particularly those facing down climate change. The new General Assembly president, Miroslav Lajcak of Slovenia, identified grappling with it a priority for the UN’s 72nd session. Catastrophic flooding in South Asia and two record-setting hurricanes that recently hit the Caribbean and the southern United States will lend added gravity to sessions this week.   A high-level meeting convened by Lajcak and Guterres on Monday will focus on Hurricane Irma, which ploughed through the Caribbean and into Florida earlier this month. The UN’s regional response plan for the Caribbean calls for $27 million to help up to 265,000 people affected. For the first time in 300 years, no one is left living on Barbuda, according to Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the US.   Notably absent from the expected speakers list are any Americans. Trump this year announced he would pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement, angering world leaders and giving an opening to countries like China to take more of a lead on the issue. After word leaked that the US might be changing its position once more, the White House confirmed on the eve of the UNGA that it still plans to renege unless drastic changes are made. On Tuesday, heads of state will meet for a roundtable on climate change. By then, a new hurricane, Maria, will be running over some of the same Caribbean islands hit by Irma, possibly reaching Hispaniola by the end of the week. NGOs hope that attention will rub off on the sustainable development goals more broadly, with warnings that countries are falling behind.   Famine   More than 20 million people in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and northeastern Nigeria are still at risk of famine, and their lot will be the focus of aid agencies and diplomats. The UN’s just-released State of Food Security report warns that “the long-term declining trend in undernourishment seems to have come to a halt and may have reversed.”   Shortfalls in funding persist across the board, and the aid community will be applying further pressure on donors to follow through on their promises. The week’s main event on famine response and prevention is on Thursday. It will provide an opportunity for some new faces – recently appointed World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley and Mark Lowcock, the new top UN relief official – to set out their stall.   Yemen’s long humanitarian crisis, deepened by years of war, is now considered the world’s most dire: more than 20 million people are in need of assistance; seven million are severely food insecure; two million children are acutely malnourished; the worst cholera outbreak in memory has infected more than 660,000 people and claimed 2,100 lives. There’s no sign the warring parties are any closer to ending the civil war. On Monday, UN, EU and Gulf Cooperation Council representatives will host a closed-door donor coordination meeting; Friday will see[...]



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

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 15:48:02 +0000

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 fl[...]



The "New Way of Working": Bridging aid's funding divide

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 12:21:51 +0000

A new UN-led reform policy aims to bridge the gap between humanitarian and development actors. Heard this tune before? Perhaps. But the so-called New Way of Working (NWOW) has, according to its champions, the potential to radically improve how emergency relief programmes are designed and delivered.   Proponents see it as a way to unlock new sources of funding for humanitarian response from multilateral sources who have previously stayed out of crisis settings, for example the World Bank. It is also being tied to new ways of supporting Syrian refugees and host countries, such as the “compacts” designed for Lebanon and Jordan.   Early pilots are underway or planned in several countries, including Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. But even as the policy is being rolled out, many questions remain. There are concerns a shotgun marriage between emergency and development aid could lead to the blurring of institutional mandates, misplaced priorities, and the violation of humanitarian principles. Others question whether risk-averse donors will be prepared to change how and with whom they fund aid.   What is the New Way of Working?   In his “One Humanity, Shared Responsibility” report, published in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit last year, then-UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon urged the international aid system “to commit to working in a new paradigm”.    Building on the holistic “Leave no-one behind” approach of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ban called for the setting aside of artificial institutional labels such as “development” and “humanitarian”, and urged agencies to “move beyond the comfort of traditional silos, mandates and institutional boundaries.”   The heads of the leading UN agencies responded by signing the “Commitment to Action”, in which they undertook to “implement a new way of working that meets people’s immediate humanitarian needs while at the same time reducing risk and vulnerability”.   Signatories of the Grand Bargain, the landmark agreement to reform emergency aid, likewise committed to “enhanced engagement between humanitarian and development actors”. Izumi Nakamitsu, then head of the Crisis Response Unit at the United Nations Development Programme, told IRIN in an interview in March: “We are trying to have a paradigm shift in looking at the phenomenon of crises, both humanitarian but also protracted crises, which therefore become a development challenge as well.”   “It’s not just about tweaking or changing here and there a little bit, with business as usual. It is going to be a huge change, both for humanitarians and development people and also the donor governments.”   Erm, sounds great, but what is the New Way of Working?   Policy chiefs have been keen to avoid fixed definitions because they say it has to be “context-specific”.   According to Nakamitsu, “there is no one-size-fits-all [approach]… It’s all very contextualised and we are learning as we go,” she said, while stressing an emphasis on field-led initiatives rather than top-down policy directives.   Essentially though, the NWOW is about closer collaboration between humanitarian and development response through the pillars of: “collective outcomes”, “comparative advantage”, and “multi-year timeframes”.   In March, more than 100 delegates from a range of UN agencies, NGOs, donor countries, and multilateral institutions gathered in Copenhagen for a high-level workshop to discuss the policy. They agreed:   -- Instead of just delivering aid to meet need, set collective targets around reducing that need, such as cutting food insecurity rates or cholera infections in a specific geography over a set period of time   -- Decide who is best placed to respond to the crisis, in terms of skills, funding, and capacity, rather than who applies to help out first or who did it last time   -- Secure funding and capacity to support res[...]



Central African Republic rebels turn on each other as violence flares

Thu, 18 May 2017 16:20:10 +0000

On both sides of the rutted, 200-kilometre dirt road that runs from Bria to Bambari in Central African Republic, villages lie empty and desolate. Cramped mud huts with thatched roofs have been reduced to ashes and rubble. Everything of value has been looted. In Goumba – a small, Christian village to the west of Bria – Ludovic Valongere sat by the side of the road scooping cooked insects out of a large plastic bowl. He had returned two days earlier to bury his brother, killed when rebels from a group called the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC) swept into the village a few months before. “We were hiding from the rebels in the bush with no food,” Valongere, 38, explained. “One day my brother decided to return to Goumba for supplies but the rebels were still there. When they found him, they shot him in the head.” To Valongere’s right a large pot of alcohol bubbled over an open fire in preparation for the funeral. Save the militiamen that sat languidly beside nearby checkpoints, it wasn’t clear anybody from the deserted village would be brave enough to attend. Central African Republic has been wracked by periodic bouts of conflict since a largely Muslim rebel alliance called the Séléka overthrew the government of Francois Bozizé in 2013, triggering reprisals from a Christian militia called anti-balaka. Now it is descending into levels of violence some say have not been seen since the peak of the conflict in 2014. Recent clashes between armed groups have left hundreds dead, villages like Goumba destroyed, and more than 100,000 displaced.                                         Days of fighting this week in the southeastern town of Bangassou killed 115, according to the Red Cross, while fighting in Bria left five dead and 15,000 displaced according to the UN. The week prior also saw five UN peacekeepers killed around Bangassou after their convoy was attacked by anti-balaka. A fight between factions Much of the current upsurge in violence is being caused by two factions of the now disbanded Séléka fighting one other. On one side is the Fulani-dominated UPC; on the other an ad hoc coalition of rebel groups lead by the Popular Front for the Renaissance of the Central African Republic (FPRC). The new coalition includes elements of the anti-balaka, the FPRC’s sworn enemies just a few months ago. A rift between the FPRC and UPC first emerged in 2014 when the former called for an independent state in northern CAR, a proposal rejected by the latter. Preferring to operate independently, UPC leader Ali Darassa has since rebuffed multiple FPRC calls to reunify the Séléka, threatening the FPRC’s hegemony over CAR’s rebel movement and resource-rich territory. Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN Valongere's brother was killed by rebels while looking for food Clashes between the groups erupted around a gold mine in Ndassima in late 2016 and have since morphed into a full-blown bush war. At the beginning of the year, fighting was clustered around Bambari, a UPC stronghold wanted by the FPRC. Desperate to prevent a battle in the city, which hosts tens of thousands of internally displaced people – the UN’s peacekeeping force, MINUSCA, deployed attack helicopters to stop FPRC rebels from advancing, while simultaneously negotiating the removal of Darassa. Bolder blue helmets The operation was considered a success for a mission that has often failed its mandate to protect civilians. “There was a willingness by MINUSCA to use much more robust force to deter attacks,” said Evan Cinq-Mars, who works at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, a New York-based nonprofit, as United Nations advocate and policy advisor.  But while preventing a bloodbath in Bambari – CAR’s second largest town – the operation failed to prevent violence from spreading to other parts of the country. Dislodged from its stronghold, the U[...]



End of Joseph Kony hunt breeds frustration and fear

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 17:44:30 +0000

Uganda and the United States have ended a six-year hunt for elusive warlord Joseph Kony and his notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.   But calling off the mission, focused on Central African Republic, has left the commander of Ugandan forces in the country frustrated and advocacy groups concerned that the failure to “kill or capture” Kony could see the insurgency rebound.   Uganda began withdrawing its officially 2,500 troops from their base in eastern CAR last week. The pull out of 100 US special forces, who worked alongside the Ugandan soldiers, began today.   The mission, known as the African Union Regional Taskforce (AU-RT), was almost from the start a wholly Ugandan affair.   Frustration   It was supposed to have been 5,000-strong, drawing troops from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the CAR. But the neighbouring countries, with security problems of their own, either never deployed or quickly withdrew their contingents.   The task force failed to win donor funding, and Uganda ended up footing the bill. Since 2011, armed US special forces advisors have provided intelligence and logistics support.   Colonel Richard Otto is the commander of Uganda’s contingent in the CAR. At his divisional headquarters in Uganda’s northern city of Gulu, the amiable, decorated, former senior military intelligence officer, explained the difficulty of his three-year posting.   “In CAR, the area we are operating in is almost the size of Uganda. You can imagine [the vastness], and I don’t have enough troops,” he told IRIN.   The task force was drawn from all units of the Ugandan army, but may not have exceeded 1,500 men, according to media reports.   Hiding out   CAR has been the perfect hideaway for the LRA. It has been convulsed by violence since 2013, when a predominantly Muslim coalition of rebels known as the Séléka overthrew the government. The UN mission, MINUSCA, has been unable to end ongoing violence between Christian militia and the former Séléka.           “The armed forces of CAR are yet to be organised,” said Otto, who before his deployment in CAR served as chief operations planner with African Union forces in Somalia.   “Some of them are undergoing training by [the] UN [and the] European Union Training Mission, and they are not yet deployed in the eastern part of the country.” The lawlessness of the CAR has attracted not only “Séléka” from neighbouring Chad, but also the “Janjaweed” militia from Sudan’s Darfur region coming in to poach elephants, among other armed men.   “We have quite a number of armed groups,” said Otto. “So, when you encounter them in the jungle, sometimes it’s difficult to know whether you are fighting LRA or other [forces].”   But the Ugandan troops have recorded significant successes. Four key LRA commanders have been captured, and an insurgency of 2,000 fighters that terrorised a huge swathe of territory across central Africa has been sharply degraded.   On the run   The LRA, now believed to be down to less than 120 armed men, has splintered into small units operating in the remotest regions of eastern CAR, northeastern Congo, and Darfur.   “The enemy is permanently on the run,” said Otto, claiming that there had been a steady trickle of defections and that “over 1,000 civilians” that were abducted by the LRA had been rescued.   Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, has a $5 million bounty on his head. He is believed to be hiding in the Kafia-Kingi enclave, a disputed border area between Sudan and South Sudan.    Khartoum is not a member of the regional task force and, as a historical supporter of the LRA, appears to have given Kony safe haven.   But, crucially, he no longer leads his men. “He has lost command, control, and communication,” said Otto. “For the first time, the LRA has factions. There is a group… who has deci[...]



Raped, injected with poison, entire family murdered: One woman's story in CAR

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 14:07:27 +0000

The first time the Séléka rebels captured Danielle* she was visiting the shallow grave where her husband, father, and brothers were all buried. Danielle had witnessed the rebels kill the men outside her home just a few hours earlier. When she returned to show her mother what had happened, the fighters – still lingering outside – turned on her. “They took me to the bush, where I stayed for almost two weeks with my hands tied behind my back,” she says. “Every day, they raped and brutalised us.” Eventually, Danielle managed to escape from the rebels, but they soon caught her again. Back in the bush in Bambari, a market town in Central African Republic’s Ouaka Province, the fighters filled up a syringe and injected her with poison. “Sometimes, my body smells very bad,” she says, peeling back her t-shirt to reveal a thick surgical scar snaking down her stomach. Almost three years on, the memory is still hard to bear. Sitting on a brown, flowery sofa at a legal aid clinic run by the American Bar Association in CAR’s capital, Bangui, the 31-year-old weeps in front of her lawyer, Guy Galabaja.  Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN “This is a war crime,” says Galabaja, 51. Sitting next to Danielle, three other women from different parts of the country share similarly horrific stories. They are all survivors of sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated by the Séléka – a predominantly Muslim coalition of rebel groups from the north, who overthrew former president François Bozizé in a coup in March 2013 – and the anti-balaka, a network of Christian self-defence militias that rose up in response (Since its formal dissolution in 2014 the rebel coalition is now often referred to as “ex-Seleka”). The battle for justice While a small number of victims of the ensuing conflict have since found lawyers and had their cases filed with the national prosecutor, the search for justice in CAR remains an uphill struggle. According to figures from Amnesty International, the UN’s peacekeeping force in CAR, MINUSCA, has helped arrest 384 suspects following warrants from the country’s prosecutor. But barely any have been high-ranking members of Séléka or anti-balaka. Part of the problem is a lack of resources. “The judiciary system has been destroyed, the infrastructure has been destroyed, and the personnel that worked in the justice system have fled,” explained Adrien Nifasha, a Burundian lawyer working with the NGO Avocats Sans Frontières. There is also an absence of political will. One of the few senior figures to be arrested since the conflict began was Jean-Francis Bozizé, former minister for defence and son of the deposed president.  After returning from exile, Bozizé fils (son) was arrested by MINUSCA but released just a few days later by the national authorities. Since then he has been networking among various anti-balaka groups, according to the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts. For Didier Niewiadowski, a French jurist and former advisor at the French embassy in Bangui, the Bozizé affair reveals just how deeply “the Central African authorities fear losing their lucrative positions by questioning anti-balaka and former Séléka leaders”. More explicit cases of corruption are occurring as well. One senior lawyer interviewed by IRIN says he was forced to abandon two recent cases involving perpetrators of rape and child abuse after receiving threatening phone calls from “high-level people”. “It’s clear there is corruption and not just in Bangui,” he says. “In a context where there is poverty and people are not well paid, [legal officials] will use their positions to get resources”. Philip Kleinfeld/IRIN Site of the SCC still operating as the High Court Hybrid help? To help rebuild public trust, the country’s pre-election, transiti[...]



Central African Republic: What’s gone wrong?

Tue, 27 Dec 2016 15:17:50 +0000

There was hope last year that the election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra would bring real change to the troubled Central African Republic. But 12 months on, he has been unable to extend his authority beyond the capital, Bangui, and the rest of the country is as lawless as ever. Fatimatou Issa and her family witnessed that violence first-hand last month. They’d heard rumours of trouble for days, but when the ex-Séléka rebels drove up, they had no time to react. At first, they assumed the men had come to fight other rebels. But as bullets whizzed around the ethnic Fulani village of Mbourtchou, in CAR’s Ouaka Province, it was clear who they were targeting. “They turned up in vehicles and were shooting everywhere,” said Issa, 26. “My husband fought back to protect the community, but he was shot in the head.” Sweating in the dusty heat, Issa was standing outside a flimsy straw and bamboo hut at Elevache camp for displaced persons in nearby Bambari, a market town of red-earth streets and mud-brick houses 400 kilometres from Bangui. “Many of the families here have been given nothing,” said community leader Mohammadou Saibou, who fled the same attack. “When we arrived, the Red Cross provided us with some food, but there wasn’t enough for everyone.” Getting worse A year on from democratic elections that promised a new era in CAR, the crisis is deteriorating, with armed groups in control of the vast majority of the country and civilians like Issa and Saibou the principal victims. Renewed fighting between rebel groups in the central and eastern provinces of Ouaka and Hautte-Kotto is now dangerously close to reaching Bambari, CAR’s second largest town. Together with fighting in Kaga Bandoro in the north, and Ouham-Pendé in the northwest, the number of displaced people has passed 411,000, the highest level since the crisis began. Back in 2013, the conflict pitted the Séléka, a predominantly Muslim coalition of rebel groups from the north, who overthrew former president François Bozizé in a coup, against anti-balaka – a network of Christian self-defence militias that rose up in response.         Today, that dynamic has changed. After a de facto partition between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north, hostilities between the two groups have decreased. In its place is an explosion of fratricidal fighting between different factions of the Séléka, who were disbanded in 2014 and driven out of Bangui. “Against the supposed Christian versus Muslim logic of this conflict, we now see Muslim groups fighting Muslim groups, divided on ethnic lines and fighting for territory,” said Richard Moncrieff, Central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group. In Ouaka and Hautte-Kotto, the two main groups vying for control are the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), dominated by Muslims from the Fulani ethnic group, and a coalition of rebels led by the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), dominated by Muslims from the Gula and Runga communities. The UPC and FPRC split back in 2014, after FPRC leader Noureddine Adam demanded independence for CAR’s predominantly Muslim north, a move rejected by UPC leader Ali Darassa. Tensions festered when Darassa rejected FPRC attempts to unify ex-Séléka factions last October, and turned critical a month later after clashes around a gold mine in Ndassima. Ethnic complexion Since then, violence has assumed an ethnic complexion with both groups targeting civilians associated with their opponents. The FPRC’s attack on Issa and Saibou’s village came after an even more brutal assault in Bria, 100 kilometres to the east.  Over three days, 21-23 November, the group singled out and slaughtered Fulani, a historically nomadic group who are falsely stereotyped as “foreigners” and “Chadians”. To Saibou, who worked as [...]