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Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Deserving of Attention: Three Underreported Conflicts in Three Countries

Based on: CIVICUS State of Civil Society Report 2024

This article is based on edited excerpts from the State of Civil Society Report 2024. The report is published annually by CIVICUS, the world’s biggest alliance of civil society organisations, with over 15,000 members in 175 countries. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Release Peace.

CIVICUS Lens

Case 1: Sudan’s Forgotten Conflict

The civil war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia that began in April 2023 has almost completely fallen off the world’s radar. But it has created a vast humanitarian crisis that is not just limited to Sudan but also impacts surrounding countries. Chad in particular has been the destination for many who have fled the fighting.

Conflict Spreading Across the Country

Armed violence initially played out on the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and its neighbouring city of Omdurman, but has since spread to other parts of Sudan. The region of Darfur is on fire, with the RSF accused of door-to-door killings of Masalit people and other ethnic groups, mirroring the genocide perpetrated by the Janjaweed in the early 2000s. In December 2023, the RSF took control of the city of Wad Madani. Fighting has also flared up in the mountainous Kordofan region. Meanwhile, the battles for Khartoum and Omdurman have not stopped.

The UN has reported that since April 2023, over 12,000 people have been killed and 7.8 million displaced, giving Sudan the unenviable record of having the world’s highest number of displaced people. Cholera has also broken out in the chaos along with other diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and measles, putting the health system under unprecedented strain. In the worst-affected regions, food, water and essential medications are scarce.

Sudanese Civil Society

Sudan’s civil society is diverse. There are established civil society organisations (CSOs) that advocate for human rights and provide essential services in their communities. Some CSOs have a track record of involvement in political processes and many backed the supposedly transitional administration that emerged after the 2021 coup. And then there are resistance committees: These are neighbourhood-level groups that formed to play a crucial role in the 2019 revolution that ousted former dictator Omar al-Bashir and that have continued to defy military rule.

The resistance committees practise internal democracy, making decisions by consensus, and have consistently called for a democratic Sudanese government. They reject the calculations of the outside world, which has consistently trusted those now at war. During the conflict, they have also become a key provider of essentials such as food and water, healthcare services and life-saving information. In response, the army is targeting people involved in resistance committees and attacks on CSOs are part of a broader wave of violence towards civilians by the SAF, RSF and other militias.

Case 2: Myanmar as the Possible Next Failed State?

In Myanmar, the military junta dissolved parliament in 2021 and it remains suspended to this day. Resistance to this reseizure of absolute political power has fuelled a worsening conflict. Myanma’s junta is trying to control the narrative, including by detaining a reported 64 journalists. In April 2023, military forces reportedly killed 168 people in a single airstrike in the village of Pa Zi Gyi, including 40 children. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which keeps a running count, reports that the junta has detained over 26,000 people. Thirty-four political prisoners died in detention last year. And by the end of 2023, over 2.6 million people had been displaced, 1.1 million up on the year before. The UN assesses that 18.6 million need humanitarian help, but only received 29 per cent of the funding it requested in 2023.

CSOs in Myanmar and the region have developed a plan calling for an international response to end military violence, including through sanctions, an arms embargo and an ICC referral. Civil society is also demanding that the key regional body, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), gives the conflict priority and talks to the many groups seeking a return to democracy.

Case 3: Haiti’s Gang Violence Spirals Beyond Control

In Haiti, conflict comes from a different source: Gang violence has flourished in the wake of the assassination of President Juvenal Moïse back in July 2021. One of those accused of complicity is the man who replaced Moïse, Ariel Henry. But he is not among the 50 people recently indicted over the assassination, including Moïse’s widow Martine Moïse and former prime minister Claude Joseph, in what they claim was a politically motivated move.

Criminal gangs have thrived in the vacuum. It is estimated that gangs now control around half of Haiti. The capital, Port-au-Prince, is ground zero in a bloody battle between rival gangs. The UN Integrated Office in Haiti estimates that during 2023 3,960 people had been killed, 1,432 injured and 2,951 kidnapped. The real figures may be even higher, since many crimes go unreported. Gangs target peace activists and journalists, and use systematic sexual violence to control communities through fear. They have also become skilled at extracting resources, including through kidnapping for ransom. Webs of corruption link gangs with judges and police officers, leading to widespread impunity. The criminal justice system is weak and police ill-equipped. Some have responded to violence by forming vigilante groups that have carried out lynchings of suspected gang members, and have also claimed victims with no involvement in gangs. Violence has fuelled a dire humanitarian situation. Cholera has returned and many children are malnourished.

The Transitional Council

An intensification of gang violence forced Henry to step down in April 2024, replaced by a transitional council that includes representation from several political coalitions, the private sector and, in a non-voting capacity, civil society and interfaith representatives. Civil society, a source of ideas often unheard by the government and the international community, has long called for a Haitian-owned solution. A key test of the transitional authority will therefore be the extent to which it engages with civil society. The formation of the transitional council was characterised by considerable jockeying for positions, and a key gang leader has already announced his intention to continue the violence.

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