ICJ genocide orders, Haiti mission disarray, and UK aid cut fallout: The Cheat Sheet
Our editors’ weekly take on humanitarian news, trends, and developments from around the globe.
On our radar
Historic ICJ ruling on Israeli genocide allegations in Gaza
Israel must do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza, “prevent and punish” public incitement to genocide, and take “immediate and effective measures” to improve the humanitarian situation in the enclave, according to a historic interim ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s top court. The decision stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire, a central request by South Africa, which brought the case against Israel. A final decision on whether Israel is committing genocide could still take years to reach. The ICJ does not have any mechanism to enforce its decisions, but the ruling is likely to increase international pressure on Israel over the human toll and humanitarian consequences of its military campaign in Gaza. The ICJ’s decision not to call for a ceasefire was reportedly greeted with frustration by people in Gaza, who have been living under constant Israeli bombardment and siege since 7 October, when a deadly raid into Israel by Hamas – the Palestinian political and militant group that governs Gaza – ignited the current hostilities by killing around 1,140 people, two thirds of them civilians. More than 26,000 people have been killed by Israel’s military campaign in Gaza – the majority of them women and children – according to health officials in the enclave. Over 85% of Gaza’s population has been displaced, while the amount of humanitarian aid allowed to enter the enclave is falling well short of the staggering needs. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the ICJ’s willingness to consider South Africa’s genocide allegations a “disgrace”.
What the Red Sea crisis means for Yemenis
The conflict in the Red Sea continues to ramp up, with diplomacy as well as weaponry. The US has named Yemen’s Houthi rebels a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” group, and the US and UK issued coordinated sanctions against Houthi leaders they say are involved in coordinating the group’s ongoing assault on international shipping. Houthi leaders, who say the attacks on ships are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, say they will not be deterred, and have reportedly issued orders for US and UK nationals working at the UN or other Sana’a-based NGOs to leave the country within a month. Inside Yemen, the US and UK are still bombing Houthi targets, and local aid groups are increasingly worried about what all this means for their ability to deliver aid safely and for the humanitarian outlook in a chronically hungry country that depends heavily on food and other basics imported through its Red Sea ports. Read this for more.
Court blocks Kenyan bid to lead Haiti police mission
The High Court has blocked the deployment of 1,000 Kenyan police officers to Haiti to try to help rein in rampant gang violence, ruling that President William Ruto’s plan – which had been approved by parliament – is “unconstitutional, illegal and invalid”. The Kenyan government vowed to challenge the ruling. As Kenya had been slated to lead the UN Security Council-authorised mission, the court’s decision has thrown the future of the largely US-funded enterprise into doubt. The situation in Haiti has dramatically escalated in the past year as gang violence rages in the capital Port-au-Prince and spreads through the neighbouring Artibonite department. According to new UN figures, nearly 4,800 people were killed in 2023, double the 2022 figure; while the number of kidnappings soared from 1,359 to 2,490. Social unrest has also spiked this month, as supporters of former rebel leader Guy Philippe launched protests against acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry, paralysing cities across the Caribbean country. For more on Haitians’ mixed feelings about any new foreign intervention, read this report and this story.
Who’s arming who in Sudan?
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has denied arming the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces fighting Sudan’s military, despite a leaked UN document alleging “credible” evidence. The UN report said arms and ammunition shipments are unloaded each week from cargo planes at an airport in Chad, and handed to the RSF at the Sudanese border. The UAE has also been accused of funnelling weapons through Uganda and the Central African Republic, part of a regional supply network that has allowed the RSF to “punch above its weight” in the nine-month conflict. But the Gulf State – with business and political interests across Africa – said it had taken no side in the war. Sudan’s strategic position on the Red Sea (and the RSF’s previous mercenary activities) has attracted regional intervention. Egypt is backing the army, as is reportedly Iran. The multiplicity of actors has complicated resolution to a conflict that has displaced 10 million people.
Blinken looks to bridge US ‘trust gap’ on West Africa tour
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken took time off from the Gaza and Ukraine conflicts to visit four West African nations, reportedly to underline Washington’s continued interest in the continent. Blinken dropped in on Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Angola, extolling the benefits of “partnerships” with the United States in an increasingly complicated multipolar world – but one in which Washington’s influence has waned and a “trust gap” has widened. The four countries are members of the 36-nation Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation, a US-led initiative it sees as significant given increasing instability in the Red Sea and the Indo-Pacific. Blinken also inked security deals, promising new military support to hosts confronting jihadist insurgents. It’s a standard policy playbook that prioritises short-term security goals – and which tends not to work, critics say. African governments have instead called for more mutually beneficial partnerships – including better economic and governance engagement – to build long-term stability and growth.
Set minimum threshold for sexual and reproductive health aid, UK government told
Deep cuts to UK aid had a “devastating impact” on women, girls, and the most marginalised people in crises, a new parliamentary committee report warned, calling for minimum percentages of aid for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). The International Development Committee report examines the impact to SRHR from the aid cuts that followed the 2020 closure of the Department for International Development. Aid groups told the committee that budgets “were cut or cancelled entirely, often with little to no notice”.
In case you missed it
AFGHANISTAN: More than one million Afghans were deported in 2023, the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation has said. The majority of the deportees came from Pakistan, which announced its plan to expel all “illegal foreigners” last October. Iran has also ramped up its expulsions. In a 10-day period earlier this month, Iranian officials claim to have expelled nearly 14,000 Afghans.
BRITAIN: The House of Lords voted on 22 January to delay ratifying a treaty between Britain and Rwanda, potentially stalling the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda until the government can demonstrate that Rwanda is safe. Tamil asylum seekers sent by the UK to Rwanda last year for medical treatment have said the country is not safe, and that they have faced sexual abuse and harassment there.
BURKINA FASO: Human Rights Watch has accused the government of “apparent war crimes” over three drone strikes that killed more than 60 civilians last year. The Burkinabé government alleged the targets were jihadist insurgents, but HRW said crowded markets and a funeral had been hit, and called for an urgent investigation.
MALARIA: Cameroon has become the first country to roll out routine anti-malaria shots. The RTS,S vaccine works alongside existing protection methods such as bed nets. Nineteen other countries are expected to begin similar programmes this year. A second malaria vaccine, R21, has cleared a key regulatory hurdle, easing supply concerns.
MEASLES: Measles cases in Europe rose almost 45-fold last year, ballooning from under 1,000 cases in 2022 to more than 42,000 in 2023, according to the World Health Organization. The agency attributed the spread to “backsliding in vaccination coverage” and has called for urgent vaccination efforts to prevent further transmissions. Measles is highly contagious and can be deadly in children.
ROHINGYA: At least 569 Rohingya died or went missing in the Andaman Sea or the Bay of Bengal in 2023, the highest annual number in almost a decade, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. To find out more about the overcrowded and dangerous conditions in the Bangladesh refugee camps that many of them were fleeing, read our recent story.
SUDAN: The government has reportedly banned grassroots civil society groups that are providing help to people in the nine-month civil war. Mohamed Saleh, acting minister of federal governance, said the crackdown – including a freeze on bank accounts – would affect resistance committees and committees of the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change. For more background, read: How mutual aid networks are powering Sudan’s humanitarian response.
SYRIA: Mid-January Turkish airstrikes put major power stations in northeast Syria out of service, leading to widespread electricity outages and shortages of heating and cooking gas. Aid groups in the region have warned that the ongoing attacks on infrastructure have serious consequences for civilians in a region that already has a water crisis.
UNITED STATES: A showdown over immigration enforcement at the US-Mexico border, which led to three deaths earlier in January, saw the Texas National Guard continue to block US Border Patrol agents from accessing a park abutting the border in Eagle Pass, Texas, despite a Supreme Court decision. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is trying to push a bill through the US Congress that would see increased funding for border security in exchange for Republican support for over $100 billion in military aid to Ukraine and Israel.
UNRWA: The US government has “temporarily paused additional funding” to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, following allegations that 12 employees “may have been involved” in the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel. Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s commissioner-general, said the contracts of the accused employees had been terminated, Reuters reported. UN Secretary-General António Guterres promised a “comprehensive independent review” of the agency. The US is UNRWA’s biggest donor. The agency says it employs some 30,000 people. At least 152 UNRWA staff have been killed in Israel’s siege of Gaza since 7 October.
VENEZUELA: Venezuela’s authorities arrested 32 civilians and soldiers over an alleged US-backed plot to kill President Nicolás Maduro, and issued another 14 warrants against supposed conspirators, including a human rights activist and a journalist living abroad. In a statement, the US State Department expressed concern over the detentions and called on Maduro to respect the Barbados agreement signed last October.
YEMEN/UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: A BBC investigation says the UAE has paid US-trained mercenaries to assassinate its political adversaries inside Yemen, with more than 100 assassinations in a three-year period. The UAE, which is part of a Saudi Arabia-led coalition that backs Yemen’s government in a war with Houthi rebels, denies the allegations.
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Any spare change?
Faced with donor pressure and squeezed budgets, humanitarian leaders are trying out a new approach in 2024: restraint and prioritisation. But there are still billions of dollars in emergency response costs to fundraise. And so the big UN agencies have taken turns launching humanitarian appeals in recent days: $9.3 billion for UNICEF, at least $6 billion for the refugee agency UNHCR, or $1.5 billion for the World Health Organization, for example. Not to be excluded, the migration agency, IOM, recently launched its first-ever global appeal ($7.9 billion). Don’t forget all the other agencies or NGOs – and of course the overlapping country and regional response plans that total some $46.4 billion this year. It’s an eye-watering sum, and going cap-in-hand to donors and the public is always a little awkward, as UN relief chief Martin Griffiths knows: “Only asking for a little bit,” he told reporters recently while publicising an appeal for Ukraine. “$3.1 billion, please.”