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Israel genocide hearings, Ecuador gangs, and a ceasefire in Myanmar: The Cheat Sheet

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Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.

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Gaza: Landmark genocide hearings, and a regional escalation

Hearings began on 11 January in a landmark case at the International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. In opening arguments, lawyers representing South Africa laid out a list of alleged genocidal acts by the Israeli military and highlighted rhetoric they say points to genocidal intent. On 12 January, lawyers representing Israel strongly rejected the accusations, saying it was acting to defend itself following the deadly 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas, the political and militant group that governs Gaza. The case is unlikely to stop the war in Gaza, which has now entered its fourth month, but it could have a significant impact on global public opinion. More than 23,300 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza – including nearly 10,000 children – since 7 October, according to health officials in the enclave. Oxfam International said the Israeli military is killing an average of 250 Palestinians a day, by far the highest number in any recent conflict. The number of people at risk of starvation in Gaza – which has been under a near-total Israeli siege since 7 October – is the largest share of a population facing famine anywhere in the world since a UN-affiliated panel began keeping track 20 years ago, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, the regional spillover from the war intensified on 11 January with the US and British militaries bombing more than a dozen sites used by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebel group in Yemen, which has been attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea – a key global trade route – to put pressure on Israel to stop its military campaign. For more from the ground in Gaza, watch this video from journalist Maha Hussaini:

‘More atrocities’ loom in Sudan’s worsening war

Sudan’s civil war is set to take an even uglier turn as the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) push into the army-held east, triggering “more atrocities and mass displacement”, the International Crisis Group has warned. More fighting will disrupt the current harvest season, worsening Sudan’s already acute food insecurity. The nine-month conflict has so far killed up to 12,000 people and forced eight million from their homes. In Western Darfur, pogroms by RSF-allied Arab militia against rival communities have depopulated the vast region, with 500,000 people fleeing into Chad. As the RSF advances east, communities are arming themselves, potentially replicating the kind of state collapse seen in Somalia three decades ago. With peace talks stalled, and the army on the backfoot, there are growing concerns of intervention by rival regional neighbours, including the arming of proxy forces, that will deepen the chaos.

Ecuador’s gang violence goes live on TV

Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa declared an “internal armed conflict” and mobilised the military after a wave of violence rocked the country, bursting onto the world stage when a gang took over a TV news show live on air on 9 January. There was also a spate of bombings and shootings, police officers kidnapped, and 178 prison officers taken hostage by inmates across seven prisons. “This is an exceptional situation” in Latin America, and how the government responds will have regional implications, said Ioan Grillo, a journalist specialising in Latin American crime. He wrote on X: “Latin American governments like Mexico use the army to fight cartels. But they are largely very wary of calling it an armed conflict. They see this as both bad for their image and legal status.” Ecuador was once one of Latin America’s safest countries but has been suffering an uptick of drug-related violence in recent years, with criminals employing tactics devised by cartels elsewhere in the region. Check out our story from August 2023, warning of more trouble ahead.

UN calls for urgent Ethiopia aid funding

The UN is urging donors to immediately scale up funding to enable a rapid rollout of life-saving food aid to four million people. “Donors must frontload funding to scale up the response this January; money received from March-April 2024 will be too late for many,” the UN warned. Destitute communities in Afar, Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, and across southern Ethiopia, are struggling with the impact of drought. There have already been hundreds of starvation deaths in northern Tigray, where roughly 1.4 million people have been affected by poor rains. A further one million people are displaced and dependent on relief. Drought and ongoing conflict in neighbouring Amhara have also deepened the region’s food crisis, while in southern pastoral areas, extreme flooding has limited household recovery after an historic three-year drought. The federal government has played down the crisis, despite calls for the declaration of a national emergency.

Myanmar: China brokers ceasefire between rebels and junta

The military junta in Myanmar has agreed to a Chinese-brokered ceasefire with an alliance of armed groups it has been battling since late October, particularly in northern regions bordering China. The move follows peace talks between representatives of the junta and the “Three Brotherhood Alliance” on 10-11 January in the Chinese city of Kunming, where, according to the Chinese foreign ministry, “the two sides agreed to immediately cease fire and stop the war". Months of battles across the country represented the biggest challenge to the junta since it assumed total power after a February 2021 coup. The UN estimates that more than 660,000 people have been newly displaced since October due to the uptick in fighting, raising the total number to more than 2.6 million. A UN envoy said in October that the junta had killed 4,000 civilians since the coup. It was accused of killing at least 17 civilians, including nine children, in an airstrike on 7 January in Khanan, a village near the Indian border. The junta denies the charges, dismissing them as false propaganda from armed groups.

The hottest year on record

The numbers confirm what soaring thermometers have been screaming for months: 2023 was the hottest year ever recorded, with data going back to 1850. This is according to multiple climate and weather-monitoring agencies, including the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. Ominous records have been piling up: unprecedented sea surface temperatures, monthly heat records broken from June to December, and nearly half the days with temperatures above the 1.5°C threshold. This heating is accelerating humanitarian needs across the globe, from countries facing overlapping emergencies in the Global South, to their former colonisers in the Global North. The COP28 climate summit in late 2023 may have seen progress on a hard-fought loss and damage fund – money to help with climate-fuelled destruction that has already struck. But climate change, combined with El Niño, will continue to ramp up the humanitarian risks in the coming months.

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In case you missed it

BRAZIL/DENGUE: Health officials in Brazil are warning of a potential record 5 million dengue cases this year, a threefold increase compared to 2023. They attribute the surge to climate change and El Niño, which have increased the transmission of mosquito-borne diseases. The World Health Organization described dengue last month as a significant public health challenge, with cases worldwide increasing tenfold between 2000 and 2019.

CIVILIAN DEATHS: A significant increase in civilian deaths by explosive weapon use was recorded in 2023, with a 122% rise in global civilian fatalities. According to a report, explosive violence impacted 64 countries, with the highest number of civilian deaths in Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar, and Syria. There was a 69% increase in the use of explosive weapons, and airstrikes were responsible for 67% of civilian fatalities.

ETHIOPIA: Addis Ababa has held talks on military cooperation with Somaliland, a week after announcing a deal with the breakaway Somali region on sea access that has stoked regional tensions. The talks began the same day Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud visited neighbouring Eritrea seeking support for his virulent opposition to the deal.

ICRC: Pierre Krähenbühl will be the next director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the organisation said in a quiet pre-Christmas announcement. The Inklings newsletter explains why it’s a divisive choice: Amid a misconduct probe in 2019, Krähenbühl resigned as head of the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA.

IRAN: The so-called Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for a bombing in the city of Kerman on 3 January that killed 89 people, including 30 children. The victims were commemorating the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by a US drone strike in 2020. The United States has rejected Iran’s accusations of American and Israeli involvement in the bombing, which struck about a week after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in Syria.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: The PNG government has declared a state of emergency after at least 16 people were killed in riots and looting. The discord erupted on 10 January after police staged a walkout due to a pay cut that the government later blamed on a technical glitch. By the following day, the capital, Port Moresby, had descended into violent protests. The government sought help from China and has placed 1,000 troops “on standby” should more trouble arise.

RIGHTS COUNCIL: The Human Rights Council has picked Omar Zniber of Morocco to be its president for 2024. The decision came in a rare secret ballot that unearthed divisions among African countries represented at the UN body, Geneva Solutions reported.

ROHINGYA REFUGEES: A fire in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh has displaced more than 7,000 people and destroyed at least 800 homes. The 7 January blaze comes just days after a New Year’s Eve fire destroyed more than 20 shelters, and has added to concerns over neglect and a lack of support amid growing insecurity in the world’s largest refugee camp.

SOMALIA: Security forces are searching for the passengers of a UN helicopter that was forced to make an emergency landing in al-Shabab-controlled territory. At least six of the nine passengers – which includes some military personnel – were seized by the insurgent group.

SPAIN: Last year, more than 6,600 asylum seekers and migrants likely died on the treacherous maritime migration route from West Africa to the Spanish Canary Islands, according to the Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras. That is the highest number since the group began tracking deaths along the route – considered the deadliest in the world – in 2007.

Weekend read

‘Nobody sees me’: Photographing displacement in Burkina Faso’s capital

‘Since I have been here, nobody from the government has ever come to help.’

For this rare feature, Burkinabé photographer Warren Saré worked alongside Italian reporter Giulia Tringali to document the lives of some of the tens of thousands of Burkinabés displaced by Burkina Faso’s jihadist conflict and trying to make ends meet in the capital, Ouagadougou. Saré, who grew up homeless, said he undertook the assignment because he wanted those displaced to become more visible, and because he wanted to share with them his own journey from the streets to working as an international photographer. 

And finally…

Gaza’s toll on journalists, and journalism

Journalists and journalism continue to pay a steep price from Israel’s brutal response to the deadly 7 October attacks by the Palestinian political and militant group Hamas. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as of 12 January, at least 72 Palestinian, 4 Israeli, and 3 Lebanese journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza, southern Lebanon, and Israel since 7 October. The Gaza media office puts the number of journalists killed by Israel at 117, among the latest being Fuad Abu Khamash, a volunteer photographer with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. The PRCS accused Israeli forces of deliberately targeting the ambulance he was travelling in. The Israeli military denied striking the area. Alongside the carnage, several reports released in recent weeks have highlighted bias in Western media coverage of casualties. An analysis of reporting in Canadian mainstream newspapers found that language that humanised victims, including emotionally evocative terms like “massacre” or “slaughter”, was used to describe Israeli but not Palestinian deaths. Similar analysis of US outlets and of the BBC produced identical results. For more from the ground in Gaza, watch Snapshots by Palestinian photojournalist Mohammed Zaanoun.

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