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Child soldiers, Myanmar murders, and Venezuelan votes: The Cheat Sheet

Boy with gun Pierre Holtz/UNICEF
Young member of a self-defence group

Which humanitarian topics are on IRIN’s radar and should be on yours? Check out our curation of upcoming events, topical reports, opinion, and quality journalism:

The gag effect

It’s been nearly six months since President Donald Trump, like all Republican administrations before him since the Gipper, instituted the Mexico City policy. Known by opponents as the "global gag rule", this bars foreign organisations that receive US aid from providing abortions, referring patients for the procedure, or even counselling termination as an option. It will take time for the directive to play out on the ground, although some reproductive healthcare providers are already feeling the pain. This week, Sweden’s international aid agency, Sida, said it was halting funding for reproductive health programmes that go along with the US policy. A Sida spokesperson said it was not clear yet how how many groups would be impacted by the move, but mentioned Save the Children as one that receives Swedish support and has acquiesced to the Americans (we haven’t seen a comment from the major NGO). Will NGOs now have to choose who they take funding from? "The American policy is at loggerheads with the Swedish position," Sida Director-General Carin Jamtin said, announcing the change.

The next Syria flashpoint

A US- and Russia-brokered de-escalation deal for southwestern Syria came into effect Sunday, and with nearly a week down (a fair bit of time for this war and its many ceasefires), it appears to be holding. Peace talks also resumed, yet again, in Geneva this week, but even UN envoy Stephan de Mistura seems to have relatively low expectations – he told reporters he wasn’t hoping for a breakthrough, but rather “some incremental developments.” There are some military goings-on in Syria, of course, not least the assault on so-called Islamic State-held Raqqa, where US and coalition troops are actually on the ground alongside local allies, namely the Syrian Democratic Forces. But fighters from the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG), the major constituent of the SDF, are also likely turning their eyes to the northwest. YPG-controlled Afrin has seen shelling from the Turkish army and an increase of troops on the border of late. Turkey says it is responding to Kurdish attacks, while the YPG says Turkish moves are a declaration of war, and media on both sides have been stirring things up. Our recommendation? Keep an eye on Afrin.

Venezuelans vote twice

Beset by political and economic turmoil, Venezuela has a busy few weeks ahead. The opposition is pinning its hopes on Sunday’s referendum on support (or not) for government plans to set up a new assembly to overhaul the constitution, but President Nicolas Maduro seems unlikely to budge regardless. He is already looking forward to the 30 July vote that will fill this new assembly, hoping (no doubt) to stack it with the ruling party faithful. All the while the humanitarian crisis gripping the country deepens. The Washington Post recently reported that workers earning the minimum wage can only afford one quarter of the food needed to feed a family of five and have to set aside half a week’s wages just for a tube of toothpaste. Maduro raised the minimum wage by 20 percent earlier this month but inflation has devalued wages to such an extent that it still only equates to about $33 a month. Shortages of medicines and healthcare equipment are now so severe that more and more Venezuelans are turning to spiritual healers. Not for the squeamish, this fascinating report by IRIN contributor Meridith Kohut documents the alarming methods used by healers who channel various saints and spirits to “cure” everything from cancer to kidney failure. Kohut doesn’t mention their success rate, but one thing’s for sure: miracles are sorely needed right now in Venezuela.

What’s lies in store for the child soldiers of Central African Republic?

Since the current conflict started in 2012, some 13,000 minors have joined the ranks of the various groups involved in CAR, according to a UN estimate. In some cases, militia groups, among a litany of war crimes, abducted children as young as six. But not all children are forced to take up arms: Some do so to protect their communities, or to exact revenge on violence meted out to their families. Some 10,000 children are thought to have been officially demobilised under a 2015 deal brokered by UNICEF. But, in this commentary for African Arguments, Sandra Olsson, a programme manager at Child Soldiers International believes there’s now a major risk of re-recruitment and points to “alarming reports of families paying ransoms for children to be released by militias, a practice that increases the profitability of abductions.” Only half of those demobilised get reintegration support. Children who leave the ranks of armed groups tend to face discrimination at home or, especially in the case of girls, are stigmatised because of the sexual abuse they suffered. Unless child recruitment can be curtailed, peace will elude CAR, warns Olssen.

Justice denied

Will Congolese warlord Sylvestre Mudacumura ever find himself in the dock? In 2013 the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the military commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, which has been based in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for almost 20 years. Mudacumura is wanted for attacks on civilians, murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, rape, torture, destruction of property, pillage, and outrages against personal dignity in Congo’s North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. Human Rights Watch is marking the fifth anniversary of the warrant by urging Congolese authorities and the UN mission in Congo to “redouble their efforts to send Mudacumura to The Hague” as this would mark a “critical step toward ending attacks on civilians and advancing international justice in the region.”

Did you miss it?

The war in Equatoria

The South Sudanese government blocks journalists from reporting on a civil war that has created Africa’s largest refugee exodus, triggered a famine, and threatens to degenerate into all-out genocide. But for this in-depth IRIN special report, veteran South Sudan journalist Jason Patinkin and videographer Simona Foltyn gained rare access to rebel-held Kajo Keji, as well as the sprawling refugee camps in northern Uganda. Their exclusive package provides unique insights into the bitter conflict, using text, video, and photographs to deliver powerful testimony of the ongoing human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings being committed. It also chronicles the spread of the conflict into the Equatoria region, a worrying new dimension. Not one to miss.

Myanmar-Bangladesh border camp murders

A string of murders has alarmed residents of a camp in Bangladesh where Rohingya flee to from the violence and oppression in neighbouring Myanmar. Reuters reports at least three dead as well as masked men roaming the streets at night in the makeshift Kutupalong camp. "Masked men" were also the purported perpetrators of a recent slew of attacks across the border, in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, killing a villager and a local administrator. Troops also reportedly killed three in a raid on a Rohingya insurgent's camp last month. These rising tensions are being met with denial and silence (some would say complicity) from Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The government has said it will deny visas to UN officials sent to investigate the alleged killing, torture, and rape of the Rohingya Muslims. Look out for an IRIN investigation on Monday that will shed more light on failures to defend the human rights of the Rohingya.


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