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Uganda attack, Grand Bargain 3.0, and boat tragedy double standards: The Cheat Sheet

A weekly read to keep you in the loop on humanitarian issues.

Graphic of a television that reads 'breaking news'. Louise O'Brien/TNH

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

On our radar

The submarine, a migration shipwreck, and the question of whose lives matter 

Whose lives matter? It’s a question that has echoed time and again in recent years as people try to reckon with the ways that racism and colonial legacies continue to shape the politics of which tragedies are given attention and the value ascribed to the lives of people from different parts of the world. It’s a question that is once again being asked as media coverage of a submarine that went missing this week while carrying five people to view the wreck of the Titanic has overshadowed the story of a migration shipwreck off the coast of Greece, claiming as many as 650 lives. Many of the victims of the Mediterranean shipwreck were from Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, and Egypt. Serious doubts have been cast on Greek authorities' version of the events leading up to the shipwreck. Humanitarian organisations have accused Greece of failing to act to rescue those on board the boat and are calling for an independent investigation. But the EU has been muted in its response, suggesting the same policies – aimed at deterring migration – that likely contributed to the shipwreck will almost certainly continue with impunity as the world carries on looking elsewhere. 

Uganda reels from rare school terror attack

Militiamen belonging to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) attacked a school in western Uganda on 16 June, killing 42 people. The militants entered the dormitories of Mpondwe Lhubiriha Secondary School, setting fire to them and using machetes to kill and maim students. The private boarding school is close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the ADF settled in the 1990s having originally formed in Uganda. ADF leaders have pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, and have received funding from the group since at least 2019, according to the UN. The militants are expanding their reach in DRC, and have sought to carry out attacks in Kinshasa. Military operations are regularly launched against the group, with the Ugandan and Congolese armies leading recent efforts. Yet these campaigns often result in ADF reprisal attacks designed to punish civilians who support their opponents and pressure military actors to end offensives. Though attacks in Uganda are relatively rare, the group’s massacres in DRC have taken a devastating toll on civilians. Read our latest on the violence for more.

Women’s rights the sticking point as Taliban seeks recognition

Roza Otunbayeva, the UN’s special representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council on 21 June that the Taliban’s continued restrictions on women made it “nearly impossible” for the international community to recognise it as a legitimate government. In particular, Otunbayeva referred to an April edict banning Afghan women from working in the UN – a follow-up to an earlier ban on them working for local and international NGOs. However, the Islamic Emirate, as the Taliban prefers to be known, continues to push for international recognition, most recently at a meeting earlier this month in Oslo. Meanwhile, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob Mujahid – acting defence minister and son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar – gave a first interview to a private broadcaster, TOLO TV. “I hope that in five years, we will have progress in all areas… [including] the issue that has been raised by our countrymen now and that friends are asking about, regarding [women’s] education,” he said. Asked directly whether he realises how such restrictions are affecting the Islamic Emirate’s chances at international recognition, Mujahid skirted the issue, but his responses may have offered some rare glimpses inside the regime’s thinking. For more, watch this short take from Asia Editor Ali Latifi:

Mali junta kicks out UN peacekeepers

Mali’s ruling junta has requested the immediate withdrawal of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSMA, citing a “crisis of confidence” and a failure to deal with security challenges. The junta has held power since 2020 and has sidelined various regional and international partners while forging close ties to the Russian mercenary Wagner Group. Military officials resent MINUSMA’s human rights sleuthing, and have severely curtailed its access and mobility. The latest move comes a few weeks after the UN released a report on a massacre by Malian troops and their mercenary allies in the town of Moura. It is unclear how the Security Council will react to the ultimatum, but a disorderly exit could have serious implications. Rights abusers, both from the army and opposing jihadist groups, may feel emboldened. And, given MINUSMA’s role as guarantor, a deadlocked peace deal between Bamako and non-jihadist armed groups in the north may now collapse. Big peacekeeping operations are facing challenges in several countries, from frosty host states to dissatisfied publics. We warned that the problem was coming to a head in our 2023 analysis of trends driving humanitarian crises.

The aid sector’s latest bargain

What a difference seven years makes. Donors and aid organisations that signed on to the Grand Bargain reform pledges met in a Geneva conference room to stake out its next steps. It's a far cry from the headline-grabbing spectacle of the 2016 summit that birthed the Grand Bargain with promises of overhauling humanitarian aid by making it more efficient, accountable, and locally led. Most of the commitments have crawled forward at a snail's pace (with a few exceptions), stalled by the bureaucracy of a massive system that's resistant to change. Today's Grand Bargain, dubbed 3.0, is slimmer, leaner, and perhaps more realistic, analysts say. In 19-20 June meetings, representatives of 60-something signatories to the original pledges agreed to continue for another three years with a more svelte focus on improving how funding works, boosting power to local groups, and including affected communities in how decisions are made. The jargon may sound familiar, but there are reasons for cautious optimism even for local groups that have pushed for change for years: Major donors are at the table, calling for equitable partnerships, and tweaking their funding rules, they say. On the other hand, the absence of UN agency leaders at the meetings was discouraging, attendees said.

Ukrainian dam-burst leads to canal crisis

As the waters recede following the destruction in early June of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine, a BBC analysis of satellite images has found that four canal systems supplying drinking water to nearly 700,000 people and irrigating 600,000 hectares of farmland have become disconnected due to the falling water levels. Already, over 200,000 people are in urgent need of life-saving water according to the UN. As with other theatres of humanitarian crisis, local people and groups in the affected parts of Ukraine are leading efforts to address humanitarian needs such as building wells and small dams. However, needs are outstripping local resources, with the UN in February appealing for $3.9 billion to help primarily Ukrainian organisations reach 11.1 million people. The situation could aggravate humanitarian needs elsewhere in countries dependent on Ukraine for supply of grain and edible oil. However, appeals for aid to Ukraine tend to be relatively better-funded than comparable crises in other regions. 

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In case you missed it

GERMANY: A German citizen who joined the so-called Islamic State has been convicted of war crimes and sentenced to nine years in prison for her role in enslaving and torturing a Yazidi woman. The German woman, identified only as “Nadine K”, joined IS with her husband, moving to Syria and Iraq. She was later arrested by Kurdish forces and repatriated to Germany. The victim, known as “N” in court proceedings, travelled from Iraq to testify.

HAITI: Amnesty International is calling on states across the Americas to stop “race-based torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” of Haitians escaping their country’s political, economic, and security collapse. It says it has documented cases of assault, mass deportation, torture, arbitrary detention, and other discriminatory practices that make it harder for Haitains to seek safety in countries including the United States, Mexico, Peru, Chile, and the Dominican Republic. 

HONDURAS: At least 46 women were killed in a prison riot between two of Central America's most dangerous gangs. Women belonging to the Barrio 18 entered the precinct heavily armed and attacked members of a rival gang: the Mara Salvatrucha, or M-13. Half of the victims were shot, while others were burned to death. Seventy-three MS-13 survivors were later transferred to other installations, as the Barrio 18 is thought to remain heavily armed inside the prison.  

KENYA: The largest school meals programme in Africa is to launch in Nairobi in August at the start of the new term. The $8.6 million scheme will provide 400,000 daily lunches for children in 225 primary schools and early learning centres. According to Save The Children, 26% of children in Kenya suffer from stunting due to malnutrition.

NIGERIA: Newly-elected President Bola Tinubu has made sweeping changes to the defence forces, appointing new service chiefs in a shake-up that could signal his intent to get a grip on the country’s rampant insecurity – a key pledge of his election campaign. In the first quarter of this year, more than 2,000 security-related killings were reported in the media.

PARIS CLIMATE SUMMIT: Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley has called for reforms to the Western-dominated global financial system in order to give poorer countries access to hundreds of billions of dollars to fight the climate crisis. As co-host of the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact, alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, Mottley pointed out that poorer countries have to pay far higher interest rates to develop climate adaptation projects compared to rich countries – more than any difference in risk should require.

SRI LANKA MASS GRAVES: Sri Lankan authorities have failed to exhume and investigate mass graves where tens of thousands of disappeared people are thought to have been buried during the country’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009 with the defeat of Tamil separatists. Of the 20 mass graves that have been discovered, mostly accidentally on construction sites, hardly any have been analysed to collect evidence of crimes or to identify surviving relatives. Former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa is one of the top officials accused of obstructing investigations, especially back when he was defence minister.

SUDAN: The UN has appealed for $2.57 billion for emergency relief efforts in Sudan, but donors committed just half that amount at a high-level pledging conference this week. An estimated 2.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict between rival military factions since 15 April.

SYRIA AID: An aid group managed to deliver some aid to a remote Syrian camp on the border with Jordan this week, after loading supplies on US military planes bound for a base that abuts the camp. The camp, known as Rukban, was once home to around 70,000 people, but as aid from inside Syrian government-controlled territory has been cut off and then heavily limited from the Jordanian side, the numbers have dwindled to around 8,000.

SYRIA PEACE: Kazakhstan announced it will no longer hold peace talks aimed at ending Syria’s war, a surprise move that came after the 20th round of meetings between Russia, Türkiye, Iran, and representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. The Astana talks had in the past seemed to make more progress than those led by the UN, but lately appeared to be bearing less fruitRussia has said the talks can continue elsewhere, based on a “roadmap” towards normalisation of relations between Ankara and Damascus. On 21 June, after what looks to be the last Astana meeting ended, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that three civilians, including a child, were killed by government shelling in the western Aleppo countryside. Back and forth artillery fire was also reported in other towns and villages controlled by the rebel group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. For more, watch the short video below from Syrian photojournalist Moawia Atrash:

UKRAINE: During a conference in London on 21 June, allies of Ukraine pledged tens of billions of dollars to begin the process of rebuilding – even as the country is still at war. The cost of reconstruction is already estimated to be over $400 billion, and will continue to rise as fighting grinds on. The prospect for an end to the conflict anytime soon is looking unlikely as a Ukrainian counter-offensive launched earlier this month has been progressing slowly. 

UYGHUR ASYLUM SEEKERS: New research by the Uyghur Human Rights Project has found that the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has failed in its mandate to protect and assist Uyghur asylum seekers who have fled persecution in China. Hundreds face the threat of deportation due to interference from China, as well as mistreatment and neglect by UNHCR staff in countries such as Pakistan and Türkiye. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has, meanwhile, called for his office to establish a presence in China and India for the first time.

ZAMBIA: China and other creditors have reached a deal to restructure $6.3 billion in loans to Zambia. The agreement ends a rift between Beijing and Western lenders over how to resolve the Zambian debt crisis, and may provide a roadmap for how China will handle restructuring deals with other nations in debt distress.

Weekend read

USAID/WFP food aid freeze leads to suffering and deaths in Tigray

‘Our children are falling like leaves.’

The two largest food donors in Ethiopia – USAID and WFP – started cutting off aid to most of the millions of Tigrayans in need on 30 March as they uncovered theft on a vast scale, allegedly involving federal and regional officials, private traders, and the army. The freeze, since extended across Ethiopia, means many people in Tigray have now been going without the assistance that was helping them to survive for more than 80 days. For our weekend read, reporter Samuel Getachew travelled to the towns of Samre and Tembien – where many of those displaced by two years of conflict in Tigray have ended up – to find out how people are coping. The clear answer: They are not. A top regional official put the number of hunger-related deaths in just three of Tigray’s seven districts at 595 in the past three months. He didn’t know the figure in the other four because they are too insecure to access. Yes, some people died during the war and before the aid suspensions due to hunger, but more are dying now “as a direct result of no aid”, he said. WFP says it hopes to resume some aid deliveries by the end of July, once it has put in place more safeguards. But how many Tigrayans will starve to death before then, and when will full services resume?

And finally…

Celebrations but no payouts for Britain’s Windrush generation

Britain is marking the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush and its passengers 75 years ago with nation-wide events, a royal reception, and a special flag flying over the parliament. But appreciation for the contribution and sacrifices of this first generation of Caribbean migrants to the United Kingdom has long been missing in daily life. These arrivals between 1948 and 1971 came to be known as the Windrush generation. Many had served in the British armed forces during World War II. In need of labour following the war, migration was encouraged, and the Windrush generation are seen as the start of the mass-migration movement and important contributors to the diversity and progress of present-day Britain. Today’s celebrations, however, do little for the thousands who worked and settled in the UK legally but fell victim to hostile migration policies under successive Conservative governments since 2012. Despite having lived in Britain for decades, people from the Windrush generation ended up being detained and deported. Rather than festivities, many ask why the government doesn’t fix the compensation programme set up for those affected, as payouts remain elusive.

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