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Top Picks: Mass atrocities, makeshift refineries, and migrant children

Africa, Middle East

Top Picks: Mass atrocities, makeshift refineries, and migrant children

Welcome to IRIN’s weekly top picks of must-read research, podcasts, reports, blogs and in-depth articles to help you keep on top of global crises.

Six to read:

Scorched earth and charred lives in Syria

As the US-led coalition and Russia target so-called Islamic State’s oil refineries to dent the group’s finances, thousands of makeshift facilities have sprung up, controlled both by IS and civilians desperate for fuel or income. Syrians need fuel for heating, pumping water, and running hospital generators, but could do without the dangerous (and possibly deadly) side-effects PAX documents in this report, from carcinogens and other toxins to long-lasting environmental impacts. Tens of thousands of Syrians may be affected by these practices. Worst off are likely those staffing the backyard refineries, a large number of them children orphaned by the war.

Ballot bother

In the wake of the Gabon election unrest, Afrobarometer has released its latest survey which finds that only half of Africans trust their national electoral commissions, and many fear violence and unfair practices during campaigns.

Citizens’ views on election quality are generally consistent with assessments by international experts. Two thirds of Africans rate their most recent election as completely free and fair” (41 percent) or free and fair, but with minor problems” (24 percent). But substantial proportions of the population are sceptical about the quality of their elections. More than four in 10 Africans say that voters are at least sometimes” threatened with violence at the polls (44 percent); that opposition parties and candidates are at least sometimes” prevented from running (43 percent); that the news media never” or only sometimes” provides fair coverage of all candidates (43 percent); and that voters are often” or always” bribed (43 percent).

With at least 25 countries conducting national elections in 2016-2017, the perceptions paint a troubling picture of the management and quality of elections.

Dissecting an attack on a university in Afghanistan

In a two-part series, the Afghanistan Analysts Network puts together a detailed account of the 24 August attack on the American University in Kabul, which killed 13 people and injured 49, mostly students. The first part contains a blow-by-blow report of the attack, which began when a truckload of explosives was detonated next to the country’s only vocational school for visually impaired people. That’s followed by brief bios of the victims. The second part asks: who did it and why? No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the analyst finds that the Taliban are the most likely suspects.

Africa in bloom

Africa’s farms are beginning to bloom. A decade of intense domestic attention to farmers and food production has generated the most successful development effort” in African history, with countries that made the biggest investments rewarded with sizeable jumps in both farm productivity and overall economic performance, according to a major new report by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

The report, released this week, finds evidence that many farmers are gaining more options in the seeds they plant, in the fertilisers they use, and in the markets available to purchase their produce.” But the gains are fragile. Africa remains the world’s most food insecure continent”, and climate change will make the going even harder.

The 284-page report includes a range of findings, from a call for four times more public funding on agriculture – the equivalent of $40 billion – to the need to link production to agro-industries, and provide farmers with better access to financing. It warns that much more remains to be done to sustain these gains and truly drive the agricultural transformation needed for Africa’s development and ensure a better life for all.”

Preventing mass atrocities

The race to become the next UN secretary-general is heating up, but no one seems to know with any certainty which candidate will triumph. Whoever it is, argues this report from the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, their essential agenda” needs to focus on preventing mass atrocities, from Syria to South Sudan. Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon have achieved much by advocating for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and introducing innovations such as the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG) and the Human Rights up Front (HRuF) initiative, but much more needs to be done, it says. Four core recommendations: strengthen HRuF (early action to prevent large-scale abuses of human rights or international humanitarian law); merge the posts of special adviser on R2P and OSAPG into one overarching senior adviser on preventing mass atrocities (and give the person greater powers); strengthen the UN’s preventive and response tools (including resources for mediation and diplomatic capabilities in regional offices); and revitalise international discussions around mass atrocities. The fifth strand is one IRIN aims to help with: improve early warning and analysis, including with more detailed analysis and better reporting on threats from senior UN officials. Please, come to us and we’ll help spread the word.

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