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Mass graves, torture, and a big battle in Yemen: The cheat sheet

Four-year-old Faiz al-Olfi lies sleeping in al-Naqeeb hospital in Yemen’s southern city of Aden, his face speckled with tiny shrapnel wounds
Four-year-old Faiz al-Olfi lies sleeping in al-Naqeeb hospital in Yemen’s southern city of Aden, his face speckled with tiny shrapnel wounds (Iona Craig/IRIN)

Every week, IRIN’s team of editors reveals what’s on our humanitarian radar and curates a selection of the best reports, opinion, and journalism you may have missed:

A neglected insurgency flourishes in Congo

Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region has been building since the middle of last year as government forces use increasingly brutal tactics to contain an insurgency by the Kamuina Nsapu militia. UN investigators have documented 40 mass graves in Kasai-Central and Kasai-Oriental provinces, containing the bodies of at least 114 people reportedly killed by Congolese soldiers. Rebel fighters are accused of recruiting child soldiers as young as five, and of attacking civilians. More than one million people are now displaced within the region, while the UN’s refugee agency reports that 11,000 more have fled across the border into northeastern Angola. According to UNHCR, the refugees are arriving “in desperate conditions”, many of them malnourished and sick after having hidden in the forest for days before crossing the border. Some parents have sent their children into Angola to avoid them being forcibly recruited by the militia. All indications are that the conflict is spreading and intensifying, while the response of the national government of President Joseph Kabila has been “late and ineffective”, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group.

Can the international community save Yemen?

To avert famine in Yemen, the international community needs to close a yawning aid gap at a pledging conference in Geneva next week. Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 17 million people are currently food insecure, of whom 6.8 million require immediate food aid. But out of the $2.1 billion needed, only $314 million has so far been received from donors – an alarming 85 percent aid shortfall. But aid alone won’t cut it. NGOs warn that there also needs to be action to end the conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels. Instead, there is a looming battle for Hodeida, the entry point for an estimated 70 percent of Yemen's food imports. The Gulf states appear to be preparing a ground offensive, which will include Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces – better known as the Darfuri “Janjaweed” militia – against the port city (look out for IRIN’s upcoming story on Sudan’s military role in Yemen).

Although humanitarian aid is in short supply, the US State Department has approved resuming arms sales to Saudi Arabia previously blocked by former president Barack Obama. The $300 million package includes precision munitions, which the Saudis have used with anything but precision in attacks that have violated international humanitarian law. Amnesty International wrote to US President Donald Trump last month arguing that the weapons sale would “arm members of a military coalition that has attacked thousands of civilians in Yemen” – atrocities that could amount to war crimes.

Cameroon ends internet blackout – but protests continue

After a three-month blackout, the Cameroonian government has announced the restoration of internet services to its two restive English-speaking regions, which are protesting over their alleged marginalisation. The government pulled the plug on the southwest and northwest regions in January, claiming that social media was being used to fan a rebellious civil disobedience campaign. What had begun last year as demonstrations over the imposition of French education and legal systems in the minority English-speaking west, quickly grew into demands for a return to the federal system that had existed until 1972. That agitation is backed by school boycotts and “ghost town” protests, with the government responding with detentions and crackdowns.

There has also been a radicalisation of dissent, with demands for outright secession by an umbrella group called the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (see IRIN’s earlier story). In a statement yesterday, SCACUF said the lifting of the internet blackout was “too little, too late” and vowed that resistance would continue. Meanwhile, historical links between “Southern Cameroon” and neigbouring eastern Nigeria appear to be reviving. The resurgence of Nigeria’s own “Biafra” separatist movement is leading to a cross-border coalition of separatists: One to watch.

UN reviews six countries commitments against torture

The Committee against Torture began meeting in Geneva this week and has already reviewed Pakistan. Next week, members will discuss Afghanistan, Bahrain, Argentina, and Lebanon, with South Korea coming under scrutiny the following week. They are among the 161 states that have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and are therefore obliged to prohibit and prevent such practices. However, translating this commitment into action has proven beyond some nations, especially those wracked by conflict. As the Afghanistan Analysts Network notes: “Lack of legislation has never been the reason why torture carries on in Afghanistan. The problem is that the law is not implemented. Perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, or even sacked or demoted, and this encourages a culture of impunity.”

EVENT – Refugees: are jobs the answer?

The Overseas Development Institute will be hosting this timely debate on 11 May, from 1700 to 1830 GMT.

A number of initiatives are under way in the Middle East and Africa to create investment in local economies and jobs for refugees through the creation of Special Economic Zones. But not everyone agrees that SEZs are part of the solution to the refugee crisis. Not only are jobs likely to be limited and low-wage, critics argue that the developed countries that fund them may feel relieved of the obligation to provide protection to refugees on their own soil. The panel will include Alexander Betts, head of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, Heaven Crawley, chair of international migration at Coventry University, and Manjula Luthria, a senior economist at the World Bank. The event will be live-streamed.

Did you miss it?

Hardening European policies keep refugee children apart from their families

Refugees who make it to Europe have the legal right to apply for their immediate family to join them. But EU states are keen to restrict that right as much as possible, particularly in the wake of record arrivals of asylum seekers in 2015. Germany, which took in the lion’s share of that influx, has found a way around their legal obligations by granting increasing numbers of asylum seekers from Syria and other countries subsidiary – rather than refugee – protection. Subsidiary protection holders have no right to family reunion. Combining reporting from Germany and Jordan, this report follows the story of two 15-year-old cousins from Syria who travelled to Germany together in 2014. Three years later, they still lack refugee status and live in state-run shelters while their families remain in Jordan. While the boys have learnt to speak German and become Justin Bieber fans, their parents are still hopeful they’ll soon be able to join them in Hamburg. In reality, it’s a distant prospect and were it to happen before the boys turn 18, the parents would have to leave their other children behind in order to join them. “Family”, for unaccompanied minors in Germany, is defined as parents only, not siblings.    

Climate change and non-state armed groups

If President Trump wants to be given further pause about fulfilling his campaign pledge to “cancel” the landmark 2015 Paris climate deal, he should read this report by Berlin-based think-tank Adelphi, commissioned by the German foreign office. Climate change activists have been known to over-egg the pudding when it comes to drawing links between droughts and conflict: Syria perhaps being the best example. However, Lukas Rüttinger’s report is clear from the get-go that climate change is just one among many drivers of fragility and conflict, and it looks more directly at how climate change creates environments in which non-state armed groups (NSAGs) can thrive, providing fertile ground for them to recruit and to use water sources as weapons of war. Case studes include Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region, so-called Islamic State in Syria, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and urban violence and organised crime in Guatemala. Rüttinger warns against viewing these groups simply through the lens of the war on terrorism. “States are increasingly confronted with NSAGs that blur the lines between intra- and interstate war, between traditional and non-traditional conflict settings, between ideological, political and economic interests, and between armed conflict and crime,” he writes. But despite the complexities, his basic argument is simple: climate change is increasing fragility and damaging livelihoods. NSAGs are taking advantage: gaining legitimacy, securing trust, and offering their warped alternatives to vulnerable populations. Recommendations include strengthening governance, building sustainable livelihoods, and concentrating more on disaster risk reduction and urban resilience. All good ideas whatever role climate change plays.

(TOP PHOTO: Four-year-old Faiz al-Olfi lies sleeping in al-Naqeeb hospital in Yemen’s southern city of Aden, his face speckled with tiny shrapnel wounds. Iona Craig/IRIN)


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