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New ICJ Gaza orders, Sahel human rights violations, and nine years of Yemen’s war: The Cheat Sheet

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

On our radar 

ICJ orders Israel to allow Gaza aid access as famine spreads

Despite the UN Security Council passing a resolution on 25 March calling for an immediate ceasefire and increased humanitarian aid access in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military campaign and siege are continuing apace. The International Court of Justice (ICJ), however, has issued a new order, calling for Israel to ensure the “unhindered provision” of basic services and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza. The order by the UN’s top court is part of the case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in the enclave. A final ruling in the case will likely take years to reach, but in January, the ICJ issued an initial set of measures ordering Israel to take “immediate and effective” action to address catastrophic humanitarian conditions in the enclave. Two months later, the court judged that a new order was necessary “in view of the worsening conditions of life… in particular the spread of famine and starvation”. Around 1.1 million people – half of Gaza’s population – are facing starvation, according to US and UN-backed experts. UN agencies and aid groups say that not enough aid is getting into Gaza or being distributed because of cumbersome and opaque Israeli inspection requirements, ongoing hostilities, and Israel’s failure to provide safety guarantees to aid workers.

Moscow attack re-focuses attention on so-called Islamic State

Over 140 people were killed and more than 360 wounded in an attack on a concert venue on the outskirts of Moscow on 22 March. The so-called Islamic state (IS) claimed responsibility for the violence. Russian authorities arrested four men from Tajikistan accused of carrying out the attack, and they later appeared in a Moscow courtroom showing signs of torture. IS has grievances linked to Russia’s support for the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, where the jihadist group first emerged. Senior Russian officials, however, have tried to claim the US, UK, and Ukraine – where Russia is fighting a grinding war after attempting a full-scale invasion in 2022 – were involved in the killings. Following the attack, Russia has cracked down on Central Asian migrant workers (due to the assailant’s alleged Tajikistan roots) raiding workplaces and dormitories. The atrocity has, at least temporarily, re-focused attention on IS, and raised concerns about the possibility of further attacks in Western countries. The vast majority of violence carried out by the group, however, has – and continues to – take place in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia.

Sahel juntas accused of human rights violations

Security forces in junta-led Burkina Faso and Mali are carrying out increased abuses against civilians as they expand their operations against jihadist groups. In Mali, Human Rights Watch has reported accounts of soldiers arresting and shooting dead dozens of people in January. The killings took place following door-to-door searches in the village of Ouro Fero. The same report also accuses the army of carrying out drone strikes in February on a wedding celebration and on a burial in the same village, killing at least 14 people, including four children. Meanwhile, in Burkina Faso (also ruled by a junta), a report from AP documented the killing of dozens of civilians by security forces in the central village of Zaongo back in November. Survivors described seeing soldiers wearing military uniforms flying towards the village in a helicopter. Abuses like this have increased significantly under the juntas currently governing both countries, although they also occurred under previous regimes. Research clearly shows that rights abuses by security forces create grievances that drive people to join jihadist groups.

Nine years of war in Yemen

Yemen’s war entered its tenth year this week, and while the frontlines are mostly frozen, there is neither peace nor respite from the massive humanitarian catastrophe caused by the conflict. Yemen is still one of the worst hunger crises in the world, with 17 million people food insecure in 2023. 4.5 million people are displaced. Economic collapse and rising food prices make basics, including food, out of reach for many. Houthi rebel attacks on ships in the Red Sea, combined with retaliatory US-UK airstrikes, have only threatened to make it all even worse. If you want to learn more about what it’s like to live through all this, check out our just-released Yemen Listening Project, where around 100 Yemenis tell their own stories of how the war has impacted their lives. And check out this illustrated interactive from Al Jazeera, featuring voices from the project. 

Mass grave highlights migration abuses, deaths in Libya

The UN’s migration agency says a mass grave containing the bodies of at least 65 migrants has been discovered in southwest Libya. Libya is a major waypoint for migrants and asylum seekers trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. People smuggling networks in the country have been accused of serious abuses, and those who manage to leave Libya by boat are often returned to detention centres where they face torture, extortion, and sexual abuse. According to the Missing Migrants Project, at least 3,105 died or went missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2023, and 442 people are already dead or missing this year. Meanwhile, a new report from Lawyers for Justice in Libya documents a “troubling reality of escalating violence against civil society organisations and human rights defenders” in the country. The report says that hundreds of people have experienced harassment, arrest, indefinite detention, torture, and forced disappearance. 

Wealthy countries recruiting Global South nurses seen as ‘colonial’

African nursing leaders have described the practice of wealthy countries recruiting an increasing number of nurses from the Global South to plug labour gaps in their healthcare sectors as a “new form of colonialism”, according to a report in the Guardian. The practice worsens patient care and depletes the nursing workforce on the continent, they said. Anger over the practice came to the surface during a meeting of African nursing associations in Rwanda this month. “Those recruiting [nurses] should also give back to the country. If you recruit one nurse, you should [pay to] train two nurses,” Dr Baboucarr Cham, president of the National Association of Gambia Nurses and Midwives, told the Guardian. “Our health systems are vulnerable, they are weak, and not resilient, because we do not have enough manpower, and cannot retain the experienced ones,” Cham said. The practice was described as neo-colonial because it creates “long-term dependency that hinders the development of health systems in the source countries”, according to Howard Catton, the chief executive of the International Council of Nurses.

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In case you missed it

AFGHAN DEPORTATIONS: Pakistan is getting ready to resume the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Afghans from the country, according to media reports. The new round of returns is expected to begin after the Eid holiday, marking the end of Ramadan, around 9 April. More than 500,000 Afghans have returned or been deported to Afghanistan following an announcement last October by the Pakistani government that it planned to expel all undocumented people from the country.

ARGENTINA: Over 41% of Argentina's population of 46 million is living in poverty, according to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INDEC). The rate rose 2.5% in 2023 compared to the previous year. In February, an independent report by the Catholic University of Argentina showed even higher figures, with the poverty rate at 57.4%.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: As a hunger crisis worsens, the World Food Program (WFP) says it needs a minimum of $425 million for the next six months to keep up its “vastly expanded” operations in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. WFP supports around 1.3 million people in eastern DRC, where violence and displacement have been surging. The DRC has one of the world’s largest food insecure populations with nearly a quarter of the population – some 25.4 million people – facing acute food insecurity.

HAITI: According to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, 10 cholera cases were registered in one of the Internally Displaced Sites in the capital Port-au-Prince, leading to fears of a significant spike of the disease. More than 15,000 people have been displaced since an outburst of gang violence started on 29 February and humanitarian responses have been heavily disrupted.

MEXICO: At least four people died in wildfires that are burning in 15 drought-stricken states in the country. On 28 March, 130 fires were still active, fuelled by strong winds. In some areas, the lack of firefighters forced locals to fight the fire themselves, while in other areas, community members blocked a highway demanding more help from the government.

MIGRATION DEATHS: More than 63,000 people have died while migrating irregularly in the past decade, according to a new report from the UN migration agency’s Missing Migrants Project. That number is a minimum estimate, based on recorded fatalities. Many deaths go undocumented, so the true toll is likely significantly higher. Of those documented, two thirds were from drowning and most took place in the Mediterranean Sea. Two thirds of the people who died were unidentified, leaving their families and communities without answers.

MONGOLIAN WINTER: At least nine people have been killed in snowstorms in Mongolia as the country endures its harshest winter in half a century. Snowfall covered 90% of the country at its peak in January, and the harsh winter has killed 5.2 million animals – about 8% of the country’s livestock – putting at risk the livelihoods of a third of the population, who are nomadic herders.

PAKISTAN BOMBING: At least five Chinese nationals and one Pakistani were killed in a car bombing on 26 March in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It was the third attack on Chinese interests in Pakistan in a week. No group has claimed responsibility for the car bombing, but the two previous attacks were claimed by a separatist group opposed to China’s influence in the country that is based in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

PARIS OLYMPICS: Authorities have been regularly transferring asylum seekers and migrants out of Paris to small towns in the French countryside ahead of the Olympics this summer, which France’s capital is hosting. Asylum seekers and migrants have long struggled to find stable housing in France, leading many to sleep in makeshift camps on the streets of Paris, which are frequently torn down by police. In February, a group of French NGOs denounced what it called the “social cleansing” of Paris.

SYRIA/LEBANON: At least 42 people were reportedly killed on 29 March in Israeli airstrikes on Syria allegedly targeting an arms depot belonging to the militant group Hezbollah. Those killed include members of Hezbollah and Syrian soldiers. Israeli airstrikes in southern Lebanon on 27 march killed 16 people, and one person in Israel was killed by a barrage of rockets fired by Hezbollah from south Lebanon into Israel. Earlier in the week, another series of airstrikes on Syria killed 15 people, including a World Health Organisation staff member. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for those strikes. 

Weekend read 


Where Yemenis talk, and the world listens

Yemen has been at war for nine years this week. It’s a devastating conflict that continues to consume Yemen’s more than 30 million people. When their story is told, it is by journalists, government officials, and aid groups. Their voices are rarely heard. Until now.

What has it really been like to live through all this? To find out, The Yemen Listening Project asked Yemenis one question: “How has the war impacted your life?” More than 100 Yemenis ​​– from inside the country and across the world – answered. They sent emails and WhatsApp messages, voice notes, videos, poems, and pictures.

And finally…

UN relief chief to step down

The UN’s most powerful humanitarian official, Martin Griffiths, will step down in June. The OCHA chief told agency staff poor health meant he was unable to travel as much as his job demanded, according to an email obtained by The New Humanitarian. 

Griffiths’ tenure, which began in 2021, was extremely busy: “Crises followed each other with relentless demands… none of these crises has been resolved,” he wrote to staff. Despite a “truly a demanding journey”, Griffiths continued, he said he was “privileged to be involved in all these crises and have a memoir of experiences of OCHA courage and self-sacrifice”.

While his time in the role was not without criticism, Griffiths’ announcement was largely met with notes of appreciation from other senior humanitarians. The spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General said Griffiths “advocated tirelessly for life-saving aid” and was a “skilled diplomat and mediator”.

Attention now turns to who will be the new OCHA chief, traditionally a position held by someone from the UK – a reflection of how permanent Security Council members exercise power at the UN. But there are likely to be strong calls for that to change, which Griffiths himself may be sympathetic to. “This is too crucial a job to be left to favouritism," he told The New Humanitarian in 2022.

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