Crisis Action Update: September 2023
This month’s update features the latest news from our work with partners on our campaigns for Syria, Ethiopia, Ukraine and the Sahel, as well as our emergency response on Sudan.
Achieving an Historic Triumph for Syrian Families
In the midst of sustained gridlock in the multilateral system, we are proud to celebrate a resounding victory for creative and determined advocacy.
After years of tireless effort by Syrian family, survivor, and victim associations—and with the support of Crisis Action and a dream team of partner organizations—the United Nations General Assembly voted on 29 June to establish the Independent Institution on Missing Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic (IIMP), a landmark achievement that will serve as a model of coalition-building in the years to come.
“It passed. It passed. It passed,” wrote Ahmad Helmi, co-founder and manager of the Ta’afi Initiative, one of the ten Syrian organizations that make up the Truth and Justice Charter Group. ”Four years of fighting paid off. We set a precedent.’
The institution has been established to clarify the fate and whereabouts of 100,000+ Syrians who have gone missing or been forcibly disappeared since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. It will ‘‘help bring answers and support to all the families of the many thousands of disappeared, and to survivors – bringing clarity about what has happened to all the people of this wounded and exhausted country, and extending hands of practical support and assistance to those desperately in need of them,’’ as Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the General Assembly.
In the lead-up to the final vote, Crisis Action worked with the Truth and Justice Charter Group and other partners to bring a high-level delegation of Syrian family representatives to New York. They met with key member states; participated in a UN side event; conferred with senior UN officials; and held in a photo opportunity in front of the UN that was covered by influential media outlets.
We worked with partners to elevate the messages of Syria families with a global civil society letter that boasted more than 100 global NGO signatories (including Syrian groups, INGOs, and national NGOs, from more than 30 countries).
The final-stage efforts paid off.
”I say this every chance I get, but truly—HATS OFF to Syrian family & victim-led groups, including the Truth & Justice Charter group, who—alongside their allies—mobilized to conceptualize this idea, mainstream it & to make it reality,” wrote Mai El-Sadany, executive director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) after the votes were counted. ”A masterclass in survivor-driven advocacy.”
The UN is now finalizing the terms of reference for the institution with the hope that it will be operational by the beginning of next year.
Moving Beyond the ‘Two Men Fighting’ Narrative
Crisis Action has mobilized a global coalition in response to the crisis in Sudan with a key aim of influencing regional actors with clear vested interests and leverage with the warring parties to press them to contribute to de-escalating the conflict.
Working with Sudanese and African civil society, scholars, investigative journalists, international campaigners, feminist voices, and climate activists, the coalition is exposing the regional actors’ affiliations and business interests with the warring parties while also elevating public messaging that highlights the constructive role that these actors can play in resolving the conflict in line with their national interests.
We have also strived to elevate Sudanese civil society perspectives on the crisis by supporting a delegation to New York and Washington (where the delegates met with member states, UN officials, and US policymakers) and working with partners to place the Sudanese point of view into the international media.
The fruit of this work can be seen in a broadcast by ABC News in the United States that included the viewpoint of Sara Mohammed Sulaiman, a Darfuri humanitarian worker with Nonviolent Peaceforce based North Darfur, and a France 24 interview with Kholood Khair, a Sudanese political analyst and the founding director of Confluence Advisory, a “think-and-do” tank based in Khartoum.
”The impact on civilians is frankly apocalyptic,” Khair told France 24, in what she described as the ‘‘forgotten conflict” in Sudan.
Pushing for an Expanded Peace in Ethiopia
In an effort to expand and bolster the African Union-led peace process in Ethiopia, Crisis Action worked with regional and international partners to launch civil society monitoring mechanism of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) reached between the Ethiopian Federal Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The objective of the initiative—the first of its kind in Ethiopia—was to identify gaps in the agreement and make the case for expanding the peace process to other regions—including Amhara.
The findings were published in a report entitled Ethiopia Watch: Civil Society Monitor of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. It collected and analysed data from both private and public sources—including local Ethiopian organisations—creating a comprehensive assessment of the African Union-brokered peace deal.
The report meticulously detailed critical gaps in the agreement that derive both from its limited scope and implementation failures. It also provided recommendations for further action to be taken by all stakeholders and served as a basis for continued advocacy by the civil society coalition, with targeted outreach to the African Union, the Ethiopian government, the Tigray Interim Administration, Tigray Defence Force, and the US government.
“Despite its successes in silencing the guns in Tigray, the CoHA represents the floor, rather than the ceiling of what can be achieved for Ethiopians,” the report concluded. ”The scope of future agreements must be enlarged, if lasting peace is to be achieved across the country.”
The report’s launch was covered widely by high-profile media outlets (in both English and Amharic), amplified on social media with hashtag #EyesOnEthiopia, and touted during a virtual launch event with 235 attendees.
Responding to the Evolving Crisis in the Sahel
With the startling news of a coup in Niger and the end of a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, Crisis Action doubled down in its support for the People’s Coalition for the Sahel, working with its members to strengthen and entrench a culture of collaboration and solidarity among national, regional and international organisations around shared advocacy priorities to better protect civilians in the region.
Just a few weeks prior to the Niger coup, members of the People’s Coalition participated in June in a Crisis Action-convened workshop in Niamey, where they agreed to focus their collective efforts on two priorities: spurring West African leadership to avoid the failed, military-first playbook detrimental to civilians pursued by successive Sahelian governments over the past decade with the support of their international backers (including France and now Russia) and, second, engaging public opinion to counteract the zero-sum call to ”eradicate terrorists” and instead affirm the universality of international norms and human rights.
In the wake of the 26 July coup, the People’s Coalition issued a statement urging all parties ensure the protection of civilian life, honour civil and political liberties, and promptly enter into a peaceful dialogue. A set of private, more specific recommendations are being presented to AU and ECOWAS leaders.
After the Malian authorities’ abrupt call for MINUSMA to exit the country, Crisis Action worked with partners to draw up recommendations to address gaps in civilian protection and human rights monitoring. Many of the recommendations, which have been shared privately with UN officials and UNSC members, are reflected in the MINUSMA withdrawal plan presented to the Security Council by UN Secretary General António Guterres.
Crisis Action continues to work with partners to advance the ‘autonomisation project’ to enable the People’s Coalition to become an effective and independent entity that can influence politics and policy in the Sahel in the long term. In October, an in-person meeting of the newly established steering committee of the Coalition will be convened in Dakar, where a work plan of advocacy activities for the next six months will be agreed to.
Amplifying Global South Calls on Russia’s War in Ukraine
In the lead-up to the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, we supported four of South Africa’s leading foundations to make a private appeal to the seven nations involved in the African Peace Initiative, which includes South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Comoros, Zambia, and Uganda.
The appeal—made by the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation, the Nelson Mandela foundation, the Umlambo Foundation, and the Helen Suzman Foundation—called upon the African nations to raise a set of humanitarian concerns with Russia during bilateral and multilateral dialogues. The nations were asked to press Russia to address matters of global food security, international humanitarian law, and nuclear safety. It was the first time the South Africa foundations have acted jointly.
In a separate initiative, we are facilitating a dialogue bringing together senior officials of the Brazilian government with Brazilian, Ukrainian, and South African partners to speak about the ways that Brazil and other BRICS nations can foster a just peace in Ukraine.
We continue to elevate voices from the Global South that are pushing for civilian protection norms and adherence to humanitarian obligations in Russia’s war on Ukraine.