A UN expert called Jan. 7 for the restoration of telecommunication services in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The internet continues to be shut down across the DRC in the wake of the Dec. 30 general elections. Authorities ordered closure of Internet and SMS services the day after the vote due to "fictitious results" circulating on social media. The results of the election have now been postponed and the shutdown extends past its original Jan. 6 end date. On that day, the head of the elections commission stated that just over half of the ballots have been counted. Both the opposition and ruling coalition said they were on track to win the election. Many citizens were not able to vote due to an Ebola outbreak, and the delay led to protests in the east of the country. The opposition has alleged irregularities and fraud, and there have been reports of militias forcing voters to vote for the ruling coalition. The election commission dismissed any problems as minor.
With the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen launching a major offensive on the rebel-held port of Hodeidah, aid groups are warning of a humanitarian disaster on a scale far outstripping that already seen. Yemen is already considered the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 10.4 million people at risk of famine. Hodeidah is the entry point for 70% of the aid upon which over 22 million Yemenis depend. "The attack on Hodeidah places millions more people at risk of starvation and could violate UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions 2140 and 2216, regarding obstruction of the delivery of humanitarian assistance.," said a statement from the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that a sustained battle or siege of Hodeidah could lead to the deaths of as many as 250,000 civilians.
In Yemen, the world's worst cholera outbreak is unfolding amid the world's largest humanitarian crisis, according to the heads of three United Nations agencies. "The country is on the brink of famine, with over 60% of the population not knowing where their next meal will come from," said the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint statement. The agencies noted that nearly 2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, and "malnutrition makes them more susceptible to cholera; diseases create more malnutrition [in] a vicious combination." A fact-finding mission to Yemen over the last three months documented 400,000 suspected cholera cases and nearly 1,900 associated deaths. The country's health workers are struggling to stem the outbreak, but have not been paid in months.
Cholera has spread at an alarming rate in Yemen over the past month, from a few thousand cases to roughly 70,000. There have been over 600 deaths, and most areas of the country are affected. UNICEF now warns that cases could quadruple in the next month to 300,000, with regional director Geert Cappelaere calling the situation "incredibly dire." (NYT, Al Jazeera) Amid all this, Saudi warplanes on June 4 struck a hospital in Qahza, Sa'ada governorate, where cholera patients were being treated. Several were said to be killed in the strike, and the building destroyed. But, too tellingly, for reports on the Qahza strike we must rely on sources such as Iran's Tasnim News Agency and Venezuela's TeleSur.
In an e-mail sent out the week of Aug. 15, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, made the organization's first-ever acknowledgment of any responsibility for a cholera epidemic that has wracked Haiti since October 2010. "[T]he UN has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera," Haq wrote. Activists, journalists and epidemiologists have contended for nearly six years that the epidemic originated near Mirebalais, in Center department, at a base staffed by Nepalese soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Hundreds of thousands of Haitians have been sickened by the disease, which had never been reported in the country before 2010, and at least 10,000 people have died. Cholera victims have brought several lawsuits against the UN; the organization has repeatedly denied any legal liability.
On Jan. 9 a federal district judge in New York, J. Paul Oetken, dismissed a lawsuit seeking compensation from the United Nations for a cholera epidemic introduced into Haiti in October 2010 by infected soldiers from the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). "The UN is immune from suit unless it expressly waives its immunity," Judge Oetken wrote in his decision, which was based on the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN and a US appeals court ruling in a 2010 sexual discrimination case. Lawyers from the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), representing thousands of Haitian cholera victims, said they would appeal the decision, which came three days before the fifth anniversary of an earthquake that devastated much of southern Haiti.
In a Nov. 2 editorial, the New York Times, possibly the most politically influential US newspaper, called for the US government to free three imprisoned Cuban agents in exchange for the release of US citizen Alan Gross, who has been serving a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba since 2011 for his work there as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Cubans are three of the "Cuban Five," a group of agents convicted in 2001 of espionage against the US; they insisted they were spying on Cuban-American terrorists based in southern Florida, not on the US. Two have already been released on probation after serving time, and two more are scheduled for release within the next 10 years, but the group's leader, Gerardo Hernández, was sentenced to two life terms. In 2012 Cuba indicated that it was open to exchanging Gross for the Cuban agents.
The United Nations (UN) Security Council voted unanimously on Oct. 14 to extend for another year the mandate for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the international military and police force stationed in Haiti since June 2004. For now the operation will continue to consist of 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents. The Council accepted UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon's recommendation to cut the number of soldiers to 2,370, but it decided to maintain the current troop strength until after March 2015, when Ban is to deliver a report on developments, including elections for local, municipal and some parliamentary posts. According to the government of President Michel Martelly, the elections, originally scheduled for 2011, will be held in the first three months of 2015; under the 1987 Constitution a presidential election should take place later in the year.