Information and news about civil war

human_rights_abuses_sri_lanka
After 25 years, the civil war that plagued Sri Lanka and claimed thousands of lives is finally finished. The war, between the Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tigers separatist group, is estimated to have killed over 40,000 people in its final months.

The long war was between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE,) or simply the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE desired an independent state for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

The Tamils claim to have been victimized by the Sinhalese majority once the country became fully independent in 1948.

But, just because the war is finished, does not mean its opponents are any less quiet. In fact, many human rights groups are accusing the Sri Lankan government of destroying mass burial sites in order to cover its fingerprints on various human rights abuses.

Australia’s Public Interest Advocacy Center detailed an in-depth report chronicling the various abuses perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. The Tamil Tigers have been accused of using civilians as human shields and recruiting child soldiers. While these violations are heinous, the report lays the majority of the blame at the feet of the Sri Lanka government forces.

A United Nations report shows the majority of those 40,000 killed in the war’s final months can mostly be attributed to government action.

The team of investigators highlight the years 2008 and 2009, where the Sri Lankan government is accused of mass civilian bombardment. For example, in 2009, civilians were blocked by rebel fighters from leaving the war zone; the government shelled the entire area.

U.N. satellite images show the area the government shelled was occupied by up to 50,000 noncombatants. The government forces are also accused of purposefully targeting hospitals as well as blocking food and medicine to civilians and miscounting the number of civilians located in the war zone.

The abuses have been noted by the United States Government, resulting in intensified relations between the two countries. Recently, the U.S. has floated the idea of a third U.N. resolution against Sri Lanka. It responded by denying a visa request for a State Department official.

The government remains obstinate in the face of international pressure. Its President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that it would be a “great crime” to accuse the government of war crimes. He went as far as to say that those bringing these allegations against the Sri Lankan government shows they are “opposed to peace.”

It is uncertain where these U.N. resolutions will lead or if they will be effective at all in finding justice for the many thousands that were needlessly slaughtered by their own government.

– Zack Lindberg

Sources: Al Jazeera, CFR, ABC News
Photo: The Telegraph

Young_People_Flee_Syria
A rising number of young people, as reported by the New York Times, are leaving Europe and the United States before migrating to Syria to wage jihad against President Bashar al-Assad. Bashar al-Assad‘s dictatorial rule is currently being weighed against the threat that the rebellion, which the Western world seems to support, is creating a new generation of jihadists.

All across Europe, people ranging from teachers to intelligence officials are reporting an increased push by Islamist radicals to recruit young Europeans to fight throughout Syria.

A majority of the people being recruited are men, but even some young women have been drawn to the fight in Syria. The possibility exists that these radicals are fighting in hopes of establishing an Islamic state, according to German officials and experts monitoring the trend.

Both American and European intelligence officials estimate that 1,200 young people have left to join Syria’s rebel group, some even having ties to Al Qaeda. Moreover, French President François Hollande stated that French intelligence has counted 700 French citizens and foreigners who have gone to Syria from France while maintaining that he does not support these recruitments.

According to Al Monitor, Hollande explained that as long as al-Assad is in power, there will be no political solution in Syria. Hollande, in fact, believes al-Assad is using Islamists to pressure the moderate position.

Moreover, Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, ranked international terrorism as his No. 1 problem, stating that his main concern involves the return of migrant youth from the Syrian battlefield with knowledge and training in the use of weapons and explosives. He reports that 240 people left Germany for Syria last year, most of them being young men from immigrant families unsuccessful at school or in life in general.

In Germany, the state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is, has been one of the main sources of jihadist recruitment for Syria. The interior minister of Hesse, Boris Rhein, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in November that jihadist religious extremism is “the greatest security policy challenge” of the 21st century.

This thought process may be behind the reason why $2.4 billion has been given in aid to Syrian Civilians. Despite this large amount of money, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, spoke at a donors conference, saying that $6.5 billion would be needed to provide the Syrian refugees and civilians all that they need for the year, according to the New York Times.

Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his point of view on the deterioration of Syria by explaining that the new aid will not be enough unless al-Assad stops “using starvation as a weapon of war” and allows the aid to reach those in need.

Another issue raising concern is that, historically, not all donor nations have followed through on their pledges. Therefore, despite the fact that $2.4 billion has been pledged it may not all come through. Throughout 2013 only 70% of the funding sought out by the United Nations for Syria was actually provided.

– Lindsey Lerner

Sources: New York Times: Flow of Westerners, New York Times: More is Needed, Al Monitor

growing_need_in_syria_demands_response_from_world
The mounting crisis in Syria has prompted seven countries to pledge a collective $2.4 billion in aid during a donors’ conference in Kuwait this Wednesday.

At the UN organized Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference on Syria, the United States and several other countries pledged 36 percent of the UN’s $6.5 billion requested donation total.

Including the additional $380 million pledge from Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. will have donated over $1.7 billion aid to Syria, the most of any other country. Other large donors include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom with $500, $260 and $164 million respectively.

Despite the seemingly large donations, escalating violence and worsening conditions for Syrians demands a parallel response from donors.

“The UN has launched its largest appeal ever. It did not do this lightly,” said Gareth Price-Jones, Oxfam’s Syria country director. “The scale of the appeal simply reflects the immense scale of the need. If every country gave its fair share then the appeal would be funded.”

When the conference met for the first time last year, two years after the Syrian conflict began in early 2011, seven hundred thousand Syrians had been displaced and approximately four million Syrians were in need of aid.

In the year since, the number of refugees has escalated into the millions, with nearly 6.5 million Syrians displaced within the country itself while an additional 2.3 million have fled to neighboring countries Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

Basic necessities like baby formula, water, shelter, medical care and education are needed by half the Syrian population, nearly 9.3 million people. Relief organizations are urging governments to pledge more aid, and quickly.

To complicate matters further, the Assad regime refuses to permit humanitarian aid workers from delivering supplies to distressed populations. In a statement to the donors, Kerry stressed the importance of actively confronting the problems in the region.

“I will tell you all clearly today we are under no illusion that our job or any of our jobs here are to just write a check,” said Kerry. “The international community must use every tool at our disposal to draw the world’s attention to these offenses. They are not just offenses against conscience; they are also offenses against the laws of war, against international law.”

The offenses to which he refers include the Assad regime’s attacks on schools, healthcare facilities and residential areas. Chemical warfare, gender-based violence and starvation have left 100,000 people dead and many injured with few hospitals and doctors to turn to for help.

During his speech to the donors, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon expressed his commitment to resolving this conflict and described his visit to a refugee camp in Iraq.

“I was there to show my solidarity. Their suffering is heartbreaking. Their resilience is admirable. They need us to prove that the world stands with them now,” said Mr. Ban.

Discussion will continue at the Geneva talks in Switzerland next week. In addition to continued relief efforts, parties will also be covering methods of ending the conflict, including ending the arms and ammunition transfers that help sustain the civil war.

Emily Bajet

Sources: CNN, CNN, U.S. Department of State, Al Jazeera, Oxfam, Oxfam, United Nations
Photo: NY Daily News

A Mother Climbs Mountains
As the conflict in Syria rages on, the past three years of violence has led to nearly 9.3 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance — almost half of Syria’s population — 46% of whom are children.  More than 8 million Syrians are now displaced, including about 2.3 million refugees and more than 1 million children who are at risk of malnourishment, abuse and exploitation.

Poor and deteriorating living conditions have inevitably had negative impacts on food security, with reports of starvation surfacing.  According to one Reuters report, a Syrian state security official said: “We like to call it our Starvation until Submission campaign.”

The current severe winter months are further exacerbating an already dire situation, where there is already a shortage of adequate shelter and household items.

There is one young mother who will climb a mountain, literally, to try and help alleviate some of the suffering of these children.  Ayat El-Dewary, an external relations associate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Abu Dhabi office, will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa this February to raise money for Syrian refugee children.

Her climb is in support of The Big Heart Campaign for Syrian Refugee Children, which was established by Sharjah’s Shaikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, a UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children.

On her fundraising page, El-Dewary says that although training for this climb “is both mentally and physically grueling,” it does not compare to what children in Syria endure.  She hopes that her journey will shed light on the deplorable situation for Syrian refugees and to make a difference “to the victims who have been most affected by this brutal conflict.”

The money she raises through her campaign will be used to provide a variety of supplies that will help the children face the cold winter months, including synthetic mats, high thermal fleece blankets, and pre-fabricated housing units to shelter from the elements.

Through her efforts, El-Dewary hopes to inspire others to do what they can to make a positive impact on the lives of those suffering around the world, and to create a sustainable movement that will last beyond her climb.

Rifk Ebeid

Sources: Just Giving, World Vision, USAID, UNOCHA, Relief Web, Al Jazeera, Khaleej Times, UNHCR
Photo: Sylvia Sanchez

iran_syria_peace_talks
A UN spokesperson has confirmed that Iran was not invited to the first round of the Syrian peace talks due to take place in Switzerland.  As it stands, invitations to participate in peace talks are usually extended by the initiating countries. In this case, Russia and the United States have remained at odds about Iran’s role in the talks.

Syria has been facing an increasingly bleak humanitarian crisis as the civil war between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces. Since the violent outbreak in 2011, more than 100,000 Syrian civilians have been killed while millions more have sought refuge in neighboring countries to escape the escalating violence and increasing poverty. With no end of the civil war in sight, neighboring countries have expressed their concerns about taking refugees without more aid from other countries or action taken to end the violence.

The ultimate goal the United States hopes to reach in the peace talks involves transitioning president Bashar al-Assad out of power. The plan doesn’t say that al-Assad must leave, something which must come as a relief since al-Assad stated that while he will send a representative to the talks, he will not voluntarily leave office.

As it is, though the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is actually in favor of inviting Iran to the first round, the United States chose to offer Iran a role in the less official ‘second round’ talks. Iran immediately rejected this offer saying that, “suggesting such an arrangement would not respect the country’s honor,” which makes sense since Iran is Syria’s neighbor and ally. However, according to US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Iran opposes the proposed plan of a transitional Syrian government.

All in all, UN officials are hopeful that issues involving Iran’s participation can be resolved in a preliminary meeting between the initiating countries. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled to meet on January 13.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Al Jazeera, Washington Post
Photo: Noisy Room

humanitarian_aid_syria
Syria has been engaged in a civil war ever since 2011.  As different rebel groups continue to clash against the authoritative and repressive regime of President Bashar al-Assad, over 130,000 people have died.  Furthermore, over 9.3 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 6.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced from their homes while an additional 2.3 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries.

Relief reception areas and displacement camps are set up inside Turkey, Iraq and Jordan, though refugees are also fleeing to Lebanon and Egypt.  It is clear that the magnitude of this crisis is beyond the financial capacity of Syria’s neighbors.  So how is the rest of the international community contributing?

The United States government has been the single largest contributor of humanitarian aid, providing more than $1.3 billion to Syria and its neighbors.  The European Union has also pledged more than $800 million while the U.K., Germany and Kuwait comprise the remaining top five donors contributing $670 million, $415 million and $333 million respectively.

Aid is distributed through dozens of different implementing channels with the largest coordinator of aid being the United Nations through its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  The UN has 15 different organizations on the ground in Syria including World Health Organization, World Food Program, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  There are also 18 registered international NGO’s including Action Against Hunger, Danish Refugee Council, Oxfam and SOS international.

These organizations provide food to almost 3.4 million people in the form of rations and flour delivered to households and bakeries.  Drinking water, sanitation services and shelter materials are also being distributed to refugee camps throughout the region.  Relief programs are furthermore providing medical supplies and emergency and basic health care in attempt to counter the loss caused by damaged hospitals and medical facilities.  The health sector of the relief effort has provided about 5.9 million people with health care and medical supplies.

The UN Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan requested $1.4 billion in 2013.  As a result, nations were able to contribute approximately 74% of the requested amount.  Moreover, in December of 2013, the UN announced that aid agencies needed nearly $13 billion for humanitarian relief operations in 2014.  This includes $6.5 billion just for the Syrian conflict, $2.3 billion of which will go to aid people within Syria while the remaining $4.2 billion will be allocated for Syria’s five neighboring countries.

As the world powers continue to search for diplomatic solutions to end the civil war, the humanitarian crisis will undoubtedly extend well beyond the duration of the conflict.

Sunny Bhatt

Sources: Huffington Post, USAID, UNOCHA, Reuters
Photo: BBC

troops_afghanistan
By the end of 2014, the United States is expected to have all of its troops withdrawn from Afghanistan after 13 years of occupation. Public opinion in the U.S. heavily favors troops leaving Afghanistan before the proposed deadline. A majority of Americans now believe that the initial occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 was a mistake.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has stressed the importance of pulling out of Afghanistan for years, but now Obama is trying to land a deal with the Afghan Government that will allow several thousand military personnel, Special Forces troops, and CIA members to stay in the country through 2024. Why would the U.S. effectively ‘end the occupation of Afghanistan’ while leaving behind thousands of workers for the next 10 years? There are two possible explanations that could explain why the U.S. is opting to remain in the region and not just let the Afghan government completely take over.

First, the U.S. government fears that if they leave Afghanistan in the same way they left Iraq, the country could lose ground to al-Qaeda. The Iraqi government has already lost two cities that were considered major wins for the U.S. troops during the fighting in 2004, Fallujah and Ramadi. The U.S. pulled out of Iraq before reaching an agreement between both governments that was similar to what they are working on in Afghanistan. Not securing an agreement meant the U.S. had no control over the political development in Iraq. Al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda have since begun gaining more ground in the western Anbar province.

Another reason that could be compelling the U.S. to maintain a presence in the region is because the only Middle Eastern Pentagon base is in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a strategic geopolitical asset for the U.S. It borders Iran, China and Pakistan, so it sits in the center of an area of the world that the U.S has many vested interests. Maintaining top officials in the country can help influence U.S. interests throughout the region.

If the U.S. does not pull all of their officials from the region, there is a possibility of continuing a smaller scale occupation until 2024. On the other hand, if the U.S. completely leaves and al-Qaeda and other military groups regain control of the region, more problems could be created for the U.S. and for citizens of Afghanistan.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: The Telegraph, Global Research
Photo: The Telegraph

Separated_Families_in_South_Sudan
Fighting erupted in the South Sudan capital of Juba in December and has since spread throughout the country, not only displacing families, but separating them.

Save the Children fears that of the 121,000 people who have fled from their homes, countless children have been forced to fend for themselves in the surrounding swamp areas without access to shelter or clean water.

Over the course of three days in Juba alone, 60 children were reported as separated from their families. This is indicative of a larger problem, as the fighting is now concentrated in the northern part of the country, in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Malakal.

United Nations compounds and surrounding communities are providing refuge for some displaced families. However, due to the ongoing danger, access is limited where the fighting is at its worst, leaving the severity of the situation for South Sudanese children largely unknown.

United States missionaries in Malakal spent Christmas day protecting orphans from the conflict inside a U.N. peacekeeping base.

Forced from their home, the Campbells, a missionary family from Omaha, fled to their local base having pushed mattresses up against the inside of their doors and endured bullets through their windows.

Bradley Campbell, a former visual artist turned pastor, moved his family to South Sudan in 2012 as part of a Christian ministry based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Keeping Hope Alive.

Campbell recalls Christmas night spent trying to keep the orphans quiet inside the base, for fear the soldiers would find them.

400 U.S. government officials and private citizens have been evacuated since the conflict started, at least 60 more are awaiting evacuation, including the Campbells, although leaving may not be an option for the family.

The Campbells now count 10 Sudanese orphans as family members and fear what would happen to them if they are not considered U.S. citizens and granted the ability to leave.

Most of the orphans under Campbell’s care are ethnic Nuer, the tribe from which former vice president and current rebel leader Riek Macher hails.

The conflict arose when fighting broke out between those aligned with Macher and those with President Salva Kiir of the Dinka tribe. The president then accused Macher of starting a coup, after which an ethnic conflict erupted between the Nuer and the Dinka.

This recent violence in South Sudan is a continuation of Africa’s longest running civil war. Having gained independence just two years ago, South Sudan has endured decades of unrest, a total of two million lost lives as well as four million refugees.

An end to the current conflict does not seem eminent despite the insistence of East African mediators that the two sides must engage in peace talks.

Macher has requested the release of numerous imprisoned politicians before the talks can commence, a wish the government will not grant until the fighting has ceased.

– Zoë Dean

Sources: BBC, Save the Children, Washington Post
Photo: BBC

syria rebels
Raging since early 2011, the civil war in Syria has left many wondering who will obtain the reins of power in the war torn nation. Will the rebel forces topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime, creating a power vacuum? Or will Assad maintain control?

These questions lie at the heart of what policymakers consider when sending aid to rebel forces who have managed to continue their three year war against the Assad regime with minimal support from the West.

One of the questions that has been most pertinent to American policymakers is who exactly are the rebels and to what extent are there Islamist extremists in their ranks.

Politifact points out politicians on both sides of the aisle, advocating both for and against aid to the Syrian rebels, who use questionable sources to justify the numbers of radical or moderate elements among the rebel forces.

For example, Senator John McCain has been a vocal proponent of aid to the rebels and has stated that close to 70 percent of the rebels are still moderate. When pressed on his certainty of where the rebels stand, McCain simply stated he visited the war torn country and through his visit, gained an understanding as to the leanings of the rebel forces.

Others such as IHS Jane’s, a British intelligence analysis agency, have estimated the radical element composes half of the 100,000 opposition fighters. Their conclusion is based off interviews and intelligence estimates that are extremely difficult to confirm.

Many have turned to social media to examine the political leanings of the rebels.

Caerus, a strategy firm that examines Syrian governance for government clients, examines major internet platforms such as YouTube to glean data about the rebels. They claim through examining social media, very reliable data can be constructed giving a better understanding of the ideological makeup of opposition fighters.

For example, the Free Syrian Army has a hefty YouTube footprint of over seven YouTube channels. Other rebel groups are active Facebook and Twitter users, posting propaganda sympathetic to their cause.

Unfortunately, David Kilcullen, CEO of Caerus, as well as many government officials have concluded that moderate opposition forces are losing influence to radical Islamist sects within the rebel forces.

The perception of Islamist elements among the rebels gaining ground has led some officials to suggest that Assad staying in power would be the best outcome for the protracted civil war. The Christian Science Monitor quotes Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Damascus, predicting Assad’s eventual victory in Syria.

He states, “And do we really want the alternative–a major country in the heart of the Arab world in the hands of Al-Qaeda?”

The different factions of moderates versus Islamist hardliners have contributed to the propagation of the Assad regime. Their incoordination among each other has prevented a cohesive strategy from forming against Assad.  And the radicalization of many forces has blocked the flow of foreign aid from countries unwilling to potentially support Al-Qaeda linked forces.

While many officials are now leaning toward the continuation of the Assad regime as the best outcome for the war, others have argued that the brutal tactics perpetrated by the regime was the main cause for their radicalization in the first place, and the failure by the west to adequately fund the rebel forces have led them toward radical ideals in an attempt to secure funding from wealthy Arab nations.

Now close to three years old, the Syrian conflict shows no signs of letting up and rebel groups no closer to toppling the Assad regime.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, Politifact
Photo: Giphy.com