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IRIN's Top Picks: Alarm bells over Burundi, jade-fuelled conflict in Myanmar, and fear itself

President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi. For generic use
President Pierre Nkurunziza may seek another term in office (World Economic Forum/Eric Miller)

Welcome to IRIN's reading list. Every week our global network of specialist correspondents share their top picks of recent must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises. We also highlight key upcoming conferences, book releases and policy debates.


Four to read:

Burundi: Conflict Alert

In an extremely worrying report, the International Crisis Group warns that “firm and decisive diplomatic action” is necessary if Burundi is to avoid a civil war and the “inevitable” mass atrocities that would accompany it. The language being used in some quarters is “chillingly similar” to that which preceded the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and the intent of President Pierre Nkurunziza to use force to quash the opposition is clear, the report says. The ICG sees the Rwandan and Tanzanian governments as having particularly significant diplomatic roles to play. It urges the East African Community to host a meeting of the Burundian government and opposition groups as soon as possible, and calls on the African Union to otherwise step in urgently and mediate with US, UK and EU backing.

MSF's own account of the Kunduz hospital bombing

Médecins Sans Frontières has released its preliminary internal review of the 3 October bombing of its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. It is a grim read, detailing how doctors worked to save the lives of colleagues who had suffered traumatic amputations while the bombs were still falling, and the death of a patient in a wheelchair, killed by shrapnel in front of staff. But it is also a political statement. MSF reiterates that its hospital was not a Taliban base, details (with satellite images) how the main hospital building – corresponding exactly to the GPS coordinates provided to the warring parties – was hit by “multiple, precise and sustained strikes,” and publishes the phone log showing its efforts to alert UNOCHA, the ICRC, the Afghan Ministry of the Interior, and the US military to the fact the hospital was being hit. The report ups the pressure on the Afghan and US governments, who have yet to agree to an independent investigation. NB: Kudos to MSF for also publishing in Pashtu (see the website)

WHS Global Consultation: Co-chairs Summary

The first read-out of the final World Humanitarian Summit consultation held in Geneva in October, regarded as the event where recommendations to be put forward in May in Istanbul would start to come into focus. Long on jargon (scoring a high 18% on the IRIN Buzzword-Ometer), there’s nevertheless some substance in there too: hints at new ways to hold violators of International Humanitarian Law to account “through national and international mechanisms”; ideas around systematic support to refugee host communities, and for refugees to access livelihoods and education; national volunteer schemes as part of local leadership; and the much-discussed pooled fund, for and managed by Southern NGOs.

For those who were expecting a bit more detail, look out for the Final Report from the WHS Secretariat due shortly: they tell us it will contain all the outcomes of break-out sessions, where concrete proposals were discussed and sharpened.

Fear itself

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric condition that in the humanitarian world affects both those affected by disaster and those who seek to help them. From Syrian refugees to American veterans and rape survivors in the Congo, PTSD is increasingly recognised as a common and serious – but treatable – problem. This long read from the Economist not only details the latest thinking around treatment and prevention, but also explains how experiments in mice – viable since the mechanisms of fear and shock in animals are similar to humans – are casting new light on the disorder, including on how everyone living and working in conflict environments is at risk. As Matthew Friedman of America’s National Centre for PTSD puts it: “everyone has a breaking point”.

One to watch:

On board a refugee smuggler's boat 

French journalist Franck Genauzeau of France24 somehow convinced smugglers to let him make the Turkey/Lesvos crossing. This is his report: the moment the boat’s engine dies is a heart stopper.

From IRIN:

The drug war in Myanmar's mountains 

In the fourth instalment of our series looking at the world's forgotten or neglected conflicts, Asia Editor Jared Ferrie explores the lucrative trades in drugs and jade that are fuelling unrest in Myanmar. The release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in 2010 and the subsequent establishment of a quasi-civilian government, accompanied by sweeping political and economic reforms, have done little to change the status quo for ethnic minorities battling it out on the frontiers against militias backed by powerful politicians. Can elections and a newly minted ceasefire lay the foundation for peace?


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