Weekly Report: 9 March 2018 — CANVAS


Photo: Activists protest against government-backed amendments to Myanmar’s protest law in Yangon. (Reuters)

Myanmar

Between 200 and 500 demonstrators gathered in Yangon in protest on Monday while the parliament deliberated an amendment to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law of 2010. This change  threatens three years in prison for those who support any demonstration that damages the “security, rule of law and stability of the state, and the moral interests of the people.” In particular, the amendment requires protest organizers to divulge the details of their budget, including their funding sources. Political analyst Maung Maung Soe says the amendment may be intended to target nationalist opposition members who “pay money to people to protest,” in order to destabilize the young government, but that it will nevertheless impact activists not influenced by these nationalist lobbyists. “It’s not possible to only restrict one side,” he warns. The protesters say the amendment would limit free speech; if the government hinders protest, it “cannot hear the true opinions of the people,” said farmers’ rights activist Zaw Yan. A reactionary petition to the amendment has been introduced, signed by around 190 Myanmar civil society organizations and individuals such as Maung Maung Soe. On the other hand, once champion of human rights and democracy Aung San Suu Kyi has supported the amendment. It passed in the Upper House on Wednesday, despite the protests of some MP’s who disapproved of the increased punitive measures, the speed with which the amendment was pushed through parliament, and the vague wording that could allow authorities to arrest peaceful protesters.

The US Holocaust Museum has rescinded Aung San Suu Kyi’s Elie Wiesel Award for human rights due to her continued silence over the human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar military regime against the Rohingya Muslim minority. The mounting abuses have been described as an ethnic cleansing by the UN and have driven around 700,000 people to flee Myanmar. Suu Kyi and her government have refused to work with UN investigators and blocked international media from areas where violence was reported.

An international coalition and the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict called on UN Secretary General Guterres to blacklist Myanmar for grievous violations of children’s rights. Watchlist’s report cites “numerous reports of the killing, burning and beating to death of Rohingya Muslim children by government forces.”

Venezuela

The opposition is once again calling for supporters to take to the streets in protest, asking for a March 17 demonstration against the presidential elections that it considers fraudulent and plans to boycott. Previously, the opposition had stopped calling for protests after a violent crackdown by the government resulted in more than 120 deaths. This protest will be the first major demonstration since last year.

The National Electoral Council announced the five candidates registered for the presidential race. Henri Falco?n and incumbent president Maduro are the two main contenders. The CNE also announced that citizens  had until mid March to register to vote.

Henri Falco?n  entered the presidential race after a break from the main opposition party. While they are of the opinion that his participation will add a “veneer of legitimacy” to the elections, Falco?n states that “Choosing to fight despite unfair rules does not legitimize the rules: It confirms our willingness to defend our rights,” and says the only way to topple a government is through popular uprisings. Voter opinion polls are conflicting. Falco?n references some that show him leading by 14 points against Maduro, who is struggling with hyperinflation, food shortages, and political turmoil. Another poll showed that only 17 percent of the population plans to vote, causing analysts to warn that this would nearly guarantee a win for Maduro. Falco?n maintains that participation is the only way to rid Venezuela of Maduro.

This Monday marked both the fifth year anniversary of Chavez’s death and the beginning of a summit featuring Latin American and Caribbean leaders. The leaders hailed Chavez’s legacy and denounced foreign intervention in Venezuela’s affairs, accusing the US and other states of violating Venezuela’s sovereignty.

USA

Donald Trump is set to be the first US President to hold a diplomatic meeting with the leadership of North Korea. He and Kim Jong-un have announced a meeting in May, with the news coming after successful talks between North and South Korean diplomatic delegations. Kim has further said that he is “committed to denuclearization,” generating both international skepticism and also a glimpse of hope for stabilization in the world order.

Steel and aluminum tariffs have been announced by President Trump despite bipartisan advice against them. Lawmakers domestically and internationally have warned the president against these measures, which they fear could incite a trade war with the country’s important allies. The EU has already announced the retaliatory tariffs that it plans to institute in response to the US decision, but EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström added to the news that she was “eager to avoid an escalation in the war of words between Washington and Brussels over tariffs.”

Syria

The ceasefire conceded by Russia recently continues to prove insufficient for the humanitarian aid urgently needed in Eastern Ghouta. Recent conflicting reports allege a chemical attack against in the territory, but in any case, violence unquestionably continues.

The UN this week reported that more than 1000 children have been killed or injured in Syria since just the beginning of this year. Another report from Reuters exposed a rise in the number and frequency of attacks on health facilities in the country. In the first two months of 2018, the number had already climbed to half of the total amount of attacks that took place last year.

Zimbabwe

Former president Mugabe has startled many this week by posing for a picture with the retired general who will head the opposition Zanu-PF party in the country’s approaching election. This seemed to be an endorsement of the modern party that he formerly led for almost 40 years. At a rally two days after the photo was published, normally-disciplined youth at a Zanu-PF rally shouted “down with Mugabe” in apparent opposition to the development and its implications. Beyond this outburst, many across the country have recently begun to fear a resurgence of the politician. They fear destabilization and the threat he could pose to President Mnangagwa, although most are unsure exactly how the risks would play out.

In a speech later this week, Mnangagwa attempted to reassure the people of both his power and also his visions of progress and good governance in the country. “My government will continue to ensure that there is policy clarity, certainty, cohesion consistency and will guard against policy overlap, information asymmetry, and policy reversals.” Many are nevertheless continuing to express their uncertainty for the future of Zimbabwe’s leadership.

Maldives

The ex-police chief of the Maldives has been arrested due to allegations of plotting to overthrow the ruling government. This development follows his firing in February, which occurred after he ordered the release of all the country’s political prisoners. That moved sparked the current bout of intense turmoil in the country, including the implementation of a state of emergency that is still in effect and the crackdown on protests in capital Malé. Many have been suppressed and taken as political prisoners. The UN Human Rights Council this week reprimanded the country over its unacceptable human rights situation under the state of emergency.

In other recent news regarding the Maldives, former president Mohamed Nasheed disclosed in an interview with Deutsche Welle that the nation’s current government is selling oil to North Korea. A ship was recently caught violating US sanctions against the rogue state. That ship was not only flying Maldivian flags, but was registered in the country and financed by the Bank of Maldives. This creates an incredibly complex situation for both the international community and the people of the Maldives, whose lives could be directly affected by the consequences of this action.  

Cuba

The Cuban people will vote on Sunday in elections that will decide 612 new members of the National Assembly of People’s Power and fill more than 12,000 local positions. Although the people do not directly elect their president, a new leader will also be decided in this process by the National Assembly. Raul Castro has announced that he will not seek another term in office, making this the first time in decades that Cuba will have a president outside the Castro family.  For many, this fact is a sign of hope, for others it is anxiety.

Not involved in the elections this time are any members of the country’s opposition alliance. Opposition leaders announced in November that they had failed to get any candidates through the first round of selection for the municipal positions up for election this weekend. Several hundred dissidents had sought nomination, and their failure across the board is blamed on repression by government authorities.

Honduras

The Honduran anti-corruption commission Maccih, backed by the Organization of American States (OAS), has expressed concern over proposed legislation that would alter the Seizure of Assets Law to protect those charged with corruption. In a tweet, Maccih said that the reform could give “privilege to public officials who are being charged with embezzling state funds.”

Two years ago, indigenous activist Berta Caceres was murdered after a decade-long fight against a dam project. This week, Roberto David Castillo, executive president of a hydroelectric company behind the development of the controversial dam, was arrested in connection with her death. He was accused of “providing logistics and other resources to one of the perpetrators already prosecuted for the crime,” according to Public Ministry spokesman Juri Mora. He is a former military intelligence officer of Honduras and the ninth arrest in this case so far. Last week, members of Caceres’s activist group gathered in front of prosecutors’ offices in the capital, demanding the arrests of the other officials they consider responsible.

Other news:

 

Italy – The results of national election Sunday divided the country between the north and south, but both regions brought victory to populist, anti-establishment, Eurosceptic parties that much now vie for government leadership. – BBC

Czech Republic – Thousands of people came out in protest Monday after the national parliament endorsed a new head of oversight of the Czech police. The chosen lawmaker is Zdenek Ondracek of the Communist party, a former member of a communist-era special police unit. – Reuters

Sri Lanka – A nationwide state of emergency has been imposed following the outbreak of violence between Muslim and Buddhist groups early this week. – AlJazeera

Ukraine – Ukrainian police have been accused of attacking and injuring multiple journalists covering protests in Kiev last week.  – KyivPost

Sierra Leone – A fair and free election was held in the country on Wednesday this week. While voting was conducted peacefully, vote counting and the results remain yet unclear. – AfricaNews

Poland – President Andrzej Duda apologized this week to Jews expelled from the country by the ruling communist authorities in 1968. This came as a surprise to many, in light of the nation’s recent controversial actions regarding its history and involvement in Jewish history. – BBC

Chile – In her final days in office, outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has announced that she will work with lawmakers to replace the “dictator-era constitution” with a modern rewrite including equal pay for men and women and the right to strike for workers in Chile. The move is largely symbolic, as it is almost impossible that such a change could go into effect by the end of her term Sunday. – Reuters

Mexico – Leftist presidential candidate Lopez Obrador pulls ahead of his competition by another point, at 35% of the popular vote and a 14 point lead, according to a poll completed last week. His competition, Anaya and Meade, is mired in accusations of corruption and both squabble for second place, dragging each other down. – Reuters

CANVAS’s News

World’s Longest-Jailed Journalist Freed in Uzbekistan, but Media Struggle Continues

The longest-jailed journalist in the world is finally free. After 19 years, Uzbekistan has released Yusuf Ruzimuradov. While many are celebrating this victory as a sign of progress, however, human rights organizations are focused on the long battle still ahead for achieving press freedom in the country.

A Look at the Failure of Aung San Suu Kyi

In 2012, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Elie Wiesel Award for human rights. Earlier this week, the honor was rescinded. How could it be that this leader, once among the most respected champions of human rights in history, has now so egregiously abandoned her virtues?

Take a look at the Guardian’s live feed of actions on International Women’s Day here.