US government responds to problems in Burma, Nigeria and South Sudan

Unofficial poster for US international diplomacy.

It has been an active stretch for the US government in regards to some ongoing humanitarian problems around the world.

The US has both quietly and publicly worked on problems faced by Nigeria, South Sudan, Burma and Somalia in the past, but these new developments represent important steps forward in each region.

All this comes on the heels of an African tour by Secretary of State John Kerry. His stops tended to focus on issues pertaining to security, rather than development.Here is a quick rundown of what is going on:

Nigeria

A group of military, intelligence and law enforcement advisors will soon arrive in Nigeria to help the country deal with the Islamist militants Boko Haram. The group has made recent headlines for kidnapping more than 270 school girls in mid-April. The girls are still missing, after three weeks, and the Nigerian government asked for international assistance to deal with the problem.

“We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of these young girls, and we want to provide whatever assistance is possible in order to help for their safe return to their families,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, to reporters.

South Sudan

In a positive development for South Sudan, rebel leader Riek Machar traveled to Ethopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa to meet with President Salva Kiir. The two leaders represent the groups that have been fighting in the country since December. The talks taking place today will be the first time the two opponents have met since the fighting began.

It follows on the heels of public calls by the US for peace talks between Machar and Kiir. Sec Kerry warned that the US would impose economic sanctions on the two sides if a resolution was not determined.

“We encourage both leaders to take advantage of this moment to try to make peace for their people,” said Kerry.

He met with Kiir late last week to encourage the president to travel to Ethiopia for mediated peace talks. He also spoke with Machar by phone, but there was an indication that the opposition leader would not commit to talks. His discussions and pressure from activists and other countries appear to have worked.

Burma

A resolution from the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), condemned the continued attacks on the Rohingya Muslims in western Burma. It called for “the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people and respect internationally recognized human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma.” The resolution was passed by a voice vote, six months after it was initially introduced by McGovern.

More than 200,000 people have been displaced in Burma due to conflict in Rakhine and Kachin states. Attacks on Rohingya have drawn international attention and humanitarian assistance. The response, already hampered by a lack of support from the Burmese government, has dwindled significantly as the result of ‘systematic ransacking’ of UN and NGO offices in late March.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) were kicked out of Burma in early March for treating people injured during attacks in the remote Maungdaw region. The move cuts off some 750,000 people from medical services, warned the group at the time of the ban.

McGovern and his supporters hope that the new resolution will nudge the US to apply greater pressure on Burma and reduce the ongoing conflict.

Somalia

Meanwhile, the House passed the Money Remittances Improvement Act by a voice vote on Wednesday. If passed by the senate, it represents a small victory for the Somali diaspora who rely heavily on sending money back home. Things have grown difficult  The bill adds oversight and regulations to money transfer organizations, so that banks feel more protected from money transfers being used for money laundering or terrorism.

“The bill might tip the scales for one or two banks that were on the fence about opening accounts, and it might mean lower costs of remitting,” said Scott Paul, Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor for Oxfam America. “It might not even do that- we don’t know for sure. But it’s a positive, it has some potential for impact.”

Money transfers to Somalia have become more difficult in both the US and England over the past few months. London’s Barclays bank has taken steps to cease the use of its banking branches for transfers to Somalia. A strong campaign by Oxfam and Somali diaspora in England delayed the decisions, but options are diminishing for the people who rely heavily on cash transfer services.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.