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Gaza’s historic toll, DR Congo elections, and a city falls in Sudan: The Cheat Sheet

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

On our radar

US blocks ceasefire (again), as historic Gaza toll continues to grow

Israel’s 11-week military campaign in Gaza is one of the most destructive and deadly in modern history, according to an AP report comparing it to Russia’s assault on Mariupol, Ukraine, the US-led coalition’s fight against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq, the Syrian government’s bombardment of Aleppo, and the Allied bombing of German cities during World War II. At least 20,000 people have been killed in Gaza – around 70% of them women and children – according to health officials in the enclave; more than half a million people (one in four residents) are starving; and around 85% of the 2.3 million people who live in Gaza have been displaced from their homes, according to the UN. The Israeli military has been bombarding and laying near-total siege to Gaza since 7 October, when Hamas – the Palestinian political and militant group that governs the enclave – launched an unprecedented attack into Israel, killing around 1,140 people, the majority civilians, according to Israeli officials. A ground invasion launched on 27 October is pushing into the south of the enclave amid growing evidence that the Israeli military is operating indiscriminately and potentially committing war crimes. Meanwhile, on 22 December, the United States – which has provided Israel with diplomatic cover and weapons throughout the war – abstained from a UN Security Council vote on a resolution calling for a major increase in humanitarian aid and for “urgent steps” to be taken to create “conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities”, allowing it to pass after objecting to an early version that had called for an “urgent suspension of hostilities”. 

What to make of the Red Sea attacks?

The spark for a regional escalation of the Israel-Gaza war and a grave threat to international maritime trade, or an opportunist move by emboldened Houthi rebels as they seek greater leverage in Yemen’s peace process, or all of the above? Takes on the Houthis' attacking of Red Sea ships diverge. The emerging response from a US-led coalition – an international maritime security taskforce known as Operation Prosperity Guardian – reportedly involves more than 20 members, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and will attempt to protect commercial shipping on key strategic routes. Experts suggest this could be harder than it sounds, and the stakes couldn’t be higher as some 12% of the world’s seaborne oil and gas passes through the Bab al-Mandab strait that links the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden – not to mention large amounts of grain, palm oil, and other vital supplies. But whether there’s much appetite on either side for a drawn-out maritime conflict remains to be seen.

RSF gains suggest ambitions beyond Darfur

The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces is expanding into new parts of Sudan, gaining further momentum in a conflict with the army that has now dragged on for more than eight months. Having consolidated power in the western Darfur region and in the capital Khartoum, this week the group seized the central city of Wad Madani, an army stronghold that was also a hub for aid operations and a refuge for hundreds of thousands of people who had escaped the besieged capital. The rapid takeover has severely undermined confidence in the military and its leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and has led to the displacement of some 300,000 people. Fears that Sudan was facing a Libya-style split (between an RSF-held west and an army-held north and east) are now giving way to concerns that the RSF is seeking power across the entire country. 

Calls for DR Congo poll re-run as opposition cries foul

Elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have drawn to a close but several candidates are already calling for a re-run and complaining of fraud. Logistical problems, faulty equipment, and delays in delivering election material forced an unscheduled ballot extension, which opposition leaders said was unconstitutional. In the run-up to the polls, rights groups had accused authorities of restricting the liberty of opposition politicians, and the UN documented violence against civil society actors. Fighting in eastern parts of the country also prevented 1.5 million displaced people from registering to vote. President Félix Tshisekedi is the frontrunner in the race, with the opposition fragmented. He took office in 2019 after contested elections that evidence suggests were actually won by another candidate. Security in the east has deteriorated during Tshisekedi’s tenure and a record seven million people are now internally displaced.

UN doubles down on false climate neutrality claims

The UN claimed to be 92% climate neutral in 2022 in its latest annual emissions report, published on 21 December. But in September, an investigation by The New Humanitarian threw such claims into question, pointing to the fact that the UN doesn’t count all its greenhouse gas emissions, and revealing that the UN has purchased millions of low-quality carbon credits to back up its assertions. Despite these findings, which were published months before the UN’s deadline for compiling last year’s emissions data, the UN defended its practices in this new Greening the Blue report, stating that the quality of its carbon credits are “verified and guaranteed”. Climate experts say the UN’s false climate neutrality claims undermine its leadership on efforts to slow the pace of global warming. For more, read our full story.

A message from CEO Heba Aly

The crises in Ukraine and in Gaza have made ever more clear the need for media that see their audiences as truly universal; that treat all lives as having equal value; and that are not aligned – consciously or not – with any national or geopolitical agendas.

The New Humanitarian is one such outlet. We have worked hard this year to stay true to a universalist vision in which all suffering counts equally. Our coverage of Gaza – from the early days – was distinct in this regard, instilled with values of humanity. But we have also continued to shine a light on neglected crises around the world, from gang violence in Central America and Haiti to Nagorno-Karabakh’s already forgotten refugees; from violence in the Sahel to the languishing state of migrants, both in Europe and on South-South migration paths; from the conflicts in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Yemen and Myanmar.

In 2024, we will more actively share our approach and learnings from the practice of decolonised journalism with other newsrooms, as we begin to spearhead what we think is desperately needed: A Code of Global Media Ethics. 

Read the full message from Heba here.

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In case you missed it

CHINA: An 18 December earthquake in northwestern China killed at least 130 people and displaced more than 87,000. Nearly 1,000 people were injured and 150,000 homes destroyed or damaged by the earthquake, which was followed by strong aftershocks and flooding. Record low temperatures, dipping below -11 degrees Celsius, have hampered the rescue and response effort in Gansu and Qinghai provinces.

COVID: A new form of the coronavirus declared a ‘variant of interest’ by the World Health Organization is rapidly spreading around the world, including in India, China, Britain, and the United States. Despite a broader warning over the risk of increased respiratory infections in the northern hemisphere winter, “the additional global public health risk posed by JN.1 is currently evaluated as low”, said WHO, stressing that vaccines are still effective against the new variant.

EU: After three years of wrangling, EU countries agreed on 20 December to a comprehensive overhaul of the bloc’s approach to managing migration and asylum. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum will still need to be ratified, but European policymakers are hailing the agreement as a major breakthrough. Human rights groups, however, are warning that the changes will undermine the right to seek asylum and lead to expanded suffering at the EU’s external borders. For more on this and the year’s other migration trends, read our year-ender Q&A with migration expert Bram Frouws.

HAITI: A former senator has been sentenced to life in prison in the United States for his involvement in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Since his assassination, gangs have taken control of large parts of Haiti, hindering humanitarian aid. In mid-December, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) suspended work at an emergency medical centre in the capital, Port-au-Prince, after a patient was killed.

ICRC: The International Committee of the Red Cross will cut 4,000 jobs this year and next, including previously announced layoffs, Geneva Solutions reported. A budget crisis this year forced the ICRC to shrink its global footprint and re-evaluate its priorities, amid a staff backlash.

MALAYSIA/ISRAEL: The government of Malaysia has banned all Israeli-owned operated vessels from docking at its ports, as well as any ships heading to Israel. It cited Israel’s “actions that disregard the basic humanitarian principles and violate international law through the ongoing massacre and continuous cruelty against the Palestinian people”, as the basis for the ban.

MYANMAR: Myanmar’s military junta is being accused of war crimes as it responds to offensives by armed ethnic and resistance groups in various parts of the country. Amnesty International says the junta used internationally banned cluster munitions in an airstrike in Shan state earlier this month. They also alleged that it has committed wide-scale indiscriminate attacks that have led to civilian casualties, especially in Rakhine state.

NICARAGUA: In its latest crackdown on those viewed as political opponents, President Daniel Ortega’s government has expelled the ICRC from Nicaragua, giving no reason. Last year, it expelled ICRC representative Thomas Ess. ICRC activities in Nicaragua include providing assistance to political prisoners.

PAKISTAN: Police in Islamabad arrested at least 200 protesters who had walked 1,600 kilometres from the southwestern province of Baluchistan to raise awareness over the forced disappearances of Baloch separatists and activists. It follows the alleged death last month in police custody of 24-year-old Balaach Mola Bakhsh. 

RWANDA: A Rwandan doctor has been found guilty by a French court for his role in 1994 genocide of the Tutsi. Sosthene Munyemana, 68, was accused of participating in a committee in the southern Butare region that organised round-ups of Tutsi civilians.

Weekend read

As the Gaza war dominates, Israeli actions tip the West Bank into an economic and security crisis

The scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip is well known: 20,000 killed; many more wounded, sick, or missing; and almost two million, or 85% of the population, displaced by the Israeli invasion and increasingly forced into a southern sliver of land where growing hunger and disease risks – as well as the ongoing fighting – are constant threats. But another crisis has been unfolding in parallel, in the West Bank. An array of Israeli actions – escalating violence by the military and by settlers, intensified restrictions on mobility, tens of thousands of cancelled work permits, the withholding of tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority (PA) – are combining to tip the territory into a security and economic crisis. The death toll from Israeli actions since 7 October has now passed 300, more than twice the annual figure for 2022, which was already the highest number since 2004. But beyond that, the new restrictions are squeezing the economic lifeblood out of the occupied territory and driving up humanitarian needs, even as charitable efforts, rightly perhaps, have to focus on Gaza.

And finally…

Amnesty U-turns on Guido Fawkes

Amnesty International UK has dropped controversial journalist Paul Staines as a judge from its media awards following an outcry. Staines, a staunch conservative, runs the Guido Fawkes political news website and has campaigned to reinstate capital punishment – which Amnesty “opposes… in all cases without exception”. The charity said it would be reviewing how it selects judges for the awards. Staines hit back: “Amnesty sides with prisoners of conscience: My conscience says that child-killing paedophiles deserve the death penalty. Choose your side,” he told the Evening Standard.

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