Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
New dawn in Libya?
Libya’s warring factions today (23 October) signed a “permanent ceasefire” agreement, raising hopes of progress towards ending the conflict and chaos that has gripped the country since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed during a 2011 NATO-backed uprising. The internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and eastern forces led by General Khalifa Haftar had been fighting for control of Libya since April 2019 – each backed by a bevy of militias in a war that has seen international powers join the fray and an arms embargo routinely violated. While violence has subsided in the capital city of Tripoli in recent months, countrywide peace efforts have until now gone nowhere. Acting UN head of mission Stephanie Williams hailed the agreement, hammered out during talks in Geneva, as “an important turning point”, but some analysts expressed doubts that it could be implemented on the ground. Under its terms, all foreign fighters must leave within three months, and a new joint police force will aim to secure the peace. The ceasefire was due to start immediately.
Contested poll in Côte d'Ivoire
On 31 October, Côte d'Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara will stand for election to a controversial third term. It will also be a decade to the day since the first round of the disputed 2010 polls that led to a civil war and the deaths of some 3,000 people. At least six people were killed and dozens injured on 21 October in the southern town of Dabou following the latest clashes between supporters and opponents of the president. The 78-year-old Ouattara had said he wouldn’t run, but changed his mind after the sudden death from natural causes of the ruling party candidate. Opposition candidates, who consider a third term illegal, have called on their supporters to boycott the polls. Ouattara has overseen a period of strong economic growth in Côte d'Ivoire, but he has also shown an increasingly authoritarian streak in recent years. Social reconciliation following the last – albeit brief – civil war has been limited, as has justice for the thousands who lost their lives.
Two years after a scandal, a UN ‘separation’ in Uganda
The UN’s refugee agency has “separated” from its senior official, Bornwell Kantande, who was in charge of its troubled Uganda operations, but the fallout from the mass fraud and mismanagement continues. In October 2018, the UN published a tough audit of UNHCR’s work in Uganda. It found that the agency overpaid contractors, failed to control lists of refugees, and lost control of spending, wasting tens of millions of dollars. The findings alarmed donors; some even suspended funding. Two years on, a new report from UNHCR's internal auditor says two "critical" audit recommendations are still outstanding. A UNHCR spokesperson, Babar Baloch, said the follow-up to the audit had required “sustained work” by the agency, including “various investigations, inquiries and reviews”. After his Uganda posting, Kantande was initially appointed as a regional director, a more senior position. But Baloch said Kantande had now ”been separated from the organisation”, and insisted, “we have been very transparent about the mistakes made at the time, and equally transparent with donors and the public at large.”
Foreign meddling in CAR polls
French and Russian military networks are backing rival rebel groups to influence upcoming elections in Central African Republic. That’s according to a new report by The Sentry, a Washington-based NGO co-founded by Hollywood actor George Clooney. France used to call the shots in CAR, its former colony, but President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has allied himself to Russia and the Wagner Group, a shadowy mercenary organisation linked to Vladimir Putin. The Sentry claims France now supports a rebel coalition that opposes Touadéra – who is standing for a second term in December – though the French foreign ministry denies the accusation. All of this spells bad news for ordinary Central Africans, who have suffered under rebel groups for years. More than one in four are currently internally displaced or living as refugees in neighbouring countries.
‘Tortured’ into US deportation?
A group of Cameroonian asylum seekers has alleged that officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a US federal agency, tortured them into signing deportation orders. The men say they were choked, beaten, and pepper-sprayed into fingerprinting or signing removal papers in a Mississippi detention centre. Lawyers and activists told The Guardian that efforts to speed up US deportations have “accelerated” in the run-up to the 3 November presidential election, which could bring new management to ICE and a potential change of policy. Thousands of Cameroonians have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced from their homes since a separatist conflict broke out in 2016 in the country’s western anglophone regions. Witness at the Border, a rights group, said 60 Cameroonians deported from the United States on 13 October are from the country’s English-speaking minority, and most claimed they had previously been tortured by the Cameroonian military.
A tool to rank aid needs
Most people would probably agree that limited emergency aid cash should go to the places that need it most. But aid decision-makers have a recurrent problem deciding where to spend their money. How, for example, do you choose between giving for floods in Bangladesh, economic collapse in Lebanon, or helping civilians caught up in conflict in Mali? A new tool aims to take some of the guesswork out of how emergency aid is spent. The open-source INFORM severity index, officially launched this week, uses a mix of indicators from multiple sources and the insight of human analysts to rank over 120 crisis situations. Lars Peter Nissen, director of NGO ACAPS, which maintains the data, is careful not to over-sell the concept. “The Index does not tell the whole story,” he said. “It is a conversation-starter that helps decision-makers ask the right questions.”
In case you missed it
AFGHANISTAN: Civilian casualties are rising as clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces continue in Helmand Province. More than 300 civilians have been wounded since violence erupted near the provincial capital, Lashkargah, around 11 October, the WHO said. A dozen health facilities have also been attacked. Authorities estimate some 40,000 are now displaced, though aid groups have only verified about 6,300.
HAITI: Haitian protesters have been renewing calls for President Jovenel Moïse to resign over corruption charges. The Caribbean nation is currently being ruled under a presidential decree and is without a sitting parliament. Students have also been holding demonstrations over the recent death of 29-year-old Gregory Saint-Hilaire, allegedly killed by police.
INDIA: India is using stringent laws on foreign funding to “deter or punish” NGO work on human rights, the UN’s senior rights official, Michelle Bachelet, warned this week. Bachelet said the laws controlling international donor funding often target rights groups seen as critical of the government, such as Amnesty International, which shut its India operations after its bank accounts were frozen last month. But the laws also make it harder for local humanitarian groups to receive and transfer money.
LEBANON: On 22 October – a year after resigning from the same post amid anti-government protests and a financial crisis that has become even more acute since a deadly August explosion at the Beirut port – Saad Hariri was named prime minister of Lebanon and tasked with forming a government.
NIGERIA: At least 12 civilians protesting police violence were shot dead by soldiers this week in the commercial capital, Lagos. The killings have sent shockwaves through the country, heightening demands for political reform. There has been rapid international condemnation of the shooting, including by the African Union. Addressing the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari called for calm, but did not mention the dead or any steps to hold the security forces to account.
THE SAHEL: International doctors pledged $1.7 billion in aid money on Tuesday for Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger – three Sahelian countries affected by an upsurge in extremist violence. The UN had appealed for $2.4 billion to support the region through 2020 and 2021. Read our latest for more.
THE UNITED STATES: The US Supreme Court is to review one of the Trump administration's central policies restricting access to asylum at the US southern border. Under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), or ‘Remain in Mexico’, more than 60,000 people, mostly from Central America, have been made to wait – often in difficult or dangerous conditions – in northern Mexico for the duration of their asylum processes. The case likely won’t be heard until February.
Treacherous migrant crossings across the Mediterranean Sea and the Turkey-Greece border are, generally speaking, fairly well documented, even if certain aspects remain shrouded in ambiguity. But not too far away lies another border, and another ‘sea’ – one that’s much smaller but, seemingly, just as perilous. Lake Van – in a mountainous region of southeast Turkey 50 kilometres from the Iranian border – has long been a hub for smuggling sugar, tea, and petrol, but in recent years more and more people have been making the dangerous journey across it. The number of Afghans apprehended entering from Iran has risen from 45,000 in 2017 to more than 200,000 in 2019. Lake Van is a good way to avoid being caught and deported. But the cemetery on top of a hill overlooking the city of Van keeps growing. Many of the gravestones have simply a date scribbled on them, or the word “Afghan”.
And the award goes to…
We’re delighted to announce that The New Humanitarian has won the Coronavirus Reporting Award from One World Media for “How coronavirus hit Aden: A Yemeni doctor’s diary”. A labour of love and passion, it was an honour to work with Dr Ammar Derwish and illustrator Adly Mirza to bring to life the daily realities of people in Aden as coronavirus struck their city. Do read Ammar’s diary – if you haven’t already – or for more on why the judges felt it edged out the BBC and Al Jazeera entries that also made the shortlist, click here.
We uncovered the sex abuse scandal that rocked the WHO, but there’s more to do
We just covered a report that says the World Health Organization failed to prevent and tackle widespread sexual abuse during the Ebola response in Congo.
Our investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation triggered this probe, demonstrating the impact our journalism can have.
But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking.
We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone.
The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and do more of this.