Crisis Action update: January 2023
This month’s update features the latest news from our work with partners on our UN-focused campaign on Syria, our core campaigns on The Sahel and Ethiopia, and our strategic engagements on Russia and China.
Supporting Syrian families to spur action by the UN Secretary-General on missing persons
In December 2022, Crisis Action organised a meeting between the UN Secretary-General and our partners, the Truth and Justice Charter Group, representing the families of missing persons in Syria, to secure his support for the establishment of “a new international body to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the missing in Syria and provide adequate support to victims, survivors and their families”. The Secretary General’s support was confirmed publicly in a press release released shortly after the meeting.
Securing Latin American support for the families of missing persons
Also in December, Crisis Action worked with our partners the Truth and Justice Charter Group, the Syria Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and the Syria Legal Development Program to convene a roundtable with UN Ambassadors from the Group of Latin America and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), who have been identified as critical to securing wider UN support for a new international mechanism for missing persons in Syria (see previous story). The meeting helped ensure GRULAC missions were aware of progress made to–date towards the establishment of a mechanism, and understood the perspectives of Syrian families on its importance. Crisis Action continues to work with our partners to secure commitments from GRULAC states in the first months of 2023, ahead of a vote by the UN General Assembly in March.
Challenging the military junta and protecting civic space in Burkina Faso
Following a massacre in Nouna, Burkina Faso over the New Year period, where members of the Fulani community were targeted in a retaliatory act by government-sanctioned armed groups, Crisis Action and the People’s Coalition for the Sahel – the ground-breaking Sahelian civil society coalition established by Crisis Action in 2020 – supported Burkinabe partners to call on the government to issue stronger condemnation of the massacre and visit the region to assuage tensions. When one partner received threats from government supporters in response to the comments, partners further amplified the calls on traditional and social media (including TV5 Monde), in a show of solidarity and resistance to the growing pressure civil society has been subjected to in the country since the military coup last September.
Re-enforcing the primacy of a people-centred approach amid growing tensions
Amid considerable shock among Sahelian civil society at the Nouna massacre (see previous story) and the decision by Malian authorities in November to ban all French-supported NGO operations, Crisis Action and partners from the People’s Coalition for the Sahel continued to advocate for a people-centred approach to peace with key governments and international bodies. Internationally, partners contributed to meetings of both the intergovernmental Sahel Contact Group in Brussels and the European Union External Action Service. In both meetings, repeated reference was made to the 2022 People’s Coalition report ’The Sahel: What Has Changed?’, and partner recommendations were widely supported by policymakers and officials present. Nigerien partners also continued advocacy at national level, sharing the report with local authorities at launch event in Maradi.
Coordinating civil society contributions to peacebuilding in Ethiopia
In December 2022, Crisis Action and our partner, Atrocities Watch Africa, brought together 25 experts on mediation, Ethiopia, and the African Union (AU) to conduct a situation analysis of the AU-led mediation in Ethiopia. The gathering discussed the current conflict and political dynamics around the potential of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed by the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2022. The meeting culminated with a series of specific advocacy actions for civil society organisations to contribute to peacebuilding efforts in Ethiopia being agreed, with participants committing to taking the proposals forward. As one participant put it: “[I am] hopeful – from the meeting’s clarity of thought and the inclusivity of multidisciplinary experts.”
Please note, for security reasons, some names and details have been left out of the updates on our Russia work
Working with Russian and Syrian partners and the media to challenge Russian state disinformation
Crisis Action and Russian partners have continued our media work challenging Kremlin disinformation and raising awareness among Russia-speaking audiences of repeat Russian violations and abuses in conflicts around the world. In November, this involved helping place an op-ed by Mouna Mafaalani of the Syrian White Helmets in the independent Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta, in which she highlighted chilling similarities in the disregard for civilian lives shown by Russian forces in both Syria and Ukraine, and called on world leaders to end the impunity that enabled these repeat offences. We also supported six Russian journalists to travel to the Middle East, to gather eye-witness and expert testimony on the Syrian conflict, and establish new connections with Syrians that will enable fresh scrutiny of Russian conduct over the coming months.
Supporting Russian voices in international media
With the world media spotlight focused on the atrocities committed by Russian regime outside Russia, Crisis Action and Russian partners continued our work to support Russian activists inside the country to share their stories of civil society resistance against ever-growing repression with international audiences. For readers in France and Francophone Africa, where the pro-Russian media narrative is increasingly aggressive, Crisis Action worked with leading media outlet Mediapart to create a blog – Russie – les voix de la dissidence d’aujourd’hui (‘Voices of Dissent Today) – through which representatives of environmentalist, feminist, native peoples groups, and human rights defenders can share regular stories. A number of articles have since been republished by media in other countries, including the Huffington Post.
“The Nobel Peace Prize in times of war”
Ahead of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in December 2022, we were honoured to have one of Crisis Action’s colleagues moderate an event in Oslo, “The Nobel Peace Prize in Times of War” invol
ving the three of the 2022’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates: the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties, the Russian human rights organisation Memorial, and representatives of the Belarusian human rights centre Viasna. The panellists discussed the role of human rights organisations in creating the foundations for peace and democracy in time of war and the importance of recognising the immense effort civil society makes in pursuit of peace.
Engaging China for peace in East Africa
In December, Crisis Action convened an online roundtable in which a select group of advocates and experts in China-Africa relations and Chinese foreign and development policy discussed China’s Global Security Initiative and its implications for conflict resolution in Ethiopia and across Africa.
Moderated by our partner, Dr Cobus van Staden of the China Global South Project and the South Africa Institute for International Affairs, the discussion concluded that while Chinese investment generally supports long-term regional stability and security, it can have the opposite effect if it is not inclusive and exacerbates economic disparities. We will now work with partners to factor these conclusions into a new strategy for engaging China, to build on our work challenging it to play a more proactive role in conflict resolution in East Africa and across the continent.