Weekly Report: 1 February, 2019 — CANVAS

Demonstrators hold banner that reads “Justice” during a rally of the opposition with the self-proclaimed interim president Guaido in Caracas, January 25, 2018. Marco Bello

 

Cuba

As the Cuban government makes the decision to push for legalization of gay marriage, Evangelical churches and their members have made their lack of support clear, causing concern that the reform will be rejected. The legalization of gay marriage will appear sometime this month in a state-proposed constitutional reform in a nationwide referendum. Pastors have been encouraging widespread “no” votes.

This vocal rejection of gay marriage is not new from the Cuban evangelical churches; in December of 2018 as the conversation began in favor of changing the language for the description of marriage to the union of “two people”, protests broke out from members of evangelical churches.

Gabon

Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, returned to the country on January 15th, about one week after a failed coup attempt. The visit was short-lived, as the president returned to Morocco for further treatment just one day after his arrival. Bongo has been president since 2009, but after suffering a stroke in October, doubts of his ability to lead became evident. The coup attempt was executed by a group of soldiers seizing control, but was shut down quickly by those loyal to the president.

Bolivia

Bolivian president, Evo Morales, has secured the position as official candidate of his Movement for Socialism party after winning the primary election this week. This means that Morales will be able to run for a fourth presidential term, a move rejected by 51.3 percent of voters in a referendum in 2016, but approved by the Bolivian Supreme Court in December.

Nicaragua

There has been an ongoing closure of human rights organizations both local and internationally based in Nicaragua, prompting investigations of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government, questioning its oppressive and potentially harsh nature. Alvaro Leiva, secretary of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) has called this a “crisis of repression”,stating that Ortega’s government is repressing fundamental rights.

The staff of the ANPDH previously received a number of threats, forcing the closure of their offices in Central America for safety reasons.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and two members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also been forced out by Ortega, signaling significant and further concern.

This week, the European parliament openly denounced Nicaragua’s tactics, calling the situation a “democratic crisis”.

North Korea

US Intelligence has released a report stating that North Korea is unlikely to give up their nuclear weapons. In June of 2018, President Trump met with Kim Jong-un to agree upon a path todenuclearization, but this report shows that little has been done to actually remove nuclear threats from either country.

Myanmar

Myanmar has experienced a resurgence of violence between security forces and the Arakan Army, resulting in a total of 26 deaths total from both sides. Myanmar officially classified the Arakan Army as a terrorist organization on January 18.

The Rakhine state founded the Arakan Army in 2009 with a primary goal of self-governance. The increasingly tense relations between the Arakan Army and the security forces continues to negatively affect the ongoing goal of achieving peace in the region.

United States

On January 26th, President Trump announced that he would back a deal to temporarily end the 35 day government shutdown, providing funding for federal agencies until February 15th. Despite making a concession on temporarily reopening the government, Mr. Trump still insists that the border wall will still be built.

Cambodia

Cambodia has been under the public eye since the release of the EU threat, warning the country that they would impose significant sanctions and remove trading preferences if the country did not actively address and investigate a number of human rights concerns occurring within the country.

Sam Rainsy, a member of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is involved in similar negative relations with Cambodia, as the country has renewed calls for Rainsy’s arrest under charges of defamation. Rainsy will reportedly return to Cambodia by March of 2019, despite threats of his arrest.

Mexico

A pipeline explosion in central Mexico last week has now killed 114 people, with another 33 people still hospitalized. The explosion was caused by oil thieves illegally tapping into the pipeline, creating a gasoline spill, which quickly caught fire.

Teacher protests in the western state of Michoacan have blocked railways for over two weeks, creating growing fears of a food shortage in the area. Because of the block, trains have not been able to deliver important staples such as corn flour and wheat flour since January 14. As many as 252 trains carrying 2.1 million tons of goods have been unable to operate during this time.

Maldives

There is significant concern over threat to personal freedoms in the Maldives after news of a young woman in Narifuri, an island north of the Maldives, was sentenced to death by stoning on charges of adultery on January 7, 2019. Despite the Maldives Supreme Court overturning the ruling within a day, many continued to take to social media to debate the religious undertone existing behind the ruling. Ibrahim Ismail, a chairman of Mandhu College in the Maldives,challenged posts from Islamic clerics, arguing the young woman’s sentence was defensible. The tense debate over social media eventually escalated to open threats being made towards Ismail from Islamist groups, and signs of an assailant breaking the glass of his office window.

This news is somewhat shocking, as it was reported that there have been notable human rights improvements in the Maldives since the election of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in 2018.

Zimbabwe

Women in Zimbabwe gathered on Wednesday to protest the recent allegations of sexual violence by military forces in the country. Police have claimed that there was only one report of rape, though many women’s rights groups have argued otherwise. These allegations, along with the deaths of at least 12 people and ransacking of people’s homes are all part of the government’s violent response to a 3-day shutdown caused by protests regarding rising fuel prices a few weeks ago.

Over the past few weeks, living costs have more than doubled, and the salaries people are receiving aren’t even enough to afford the transport to and from work. Zimbabweans fear that the government crackdown could lead them back to levels of suppression last seen during the era of President Mugabe, who was ousted in November 2017.

Laos

Shortly after the news of three Thai political activists being reported missing had reached human rights organizations,  two bodies were found along the Mekong River prompting concern in late December. On January 22, 2019, it was reported that the bodies matched the DNA to two of the political activists that had previously been reported missing. The Human Rights Watch has urged the Lao government to further investigate the disappearance of the activists.

Vietnam

Five former top public security officers have been sentenced to jail for “abusing position and power while performing duties”. Three have also been charged with disclosing state secrets, facing a sentence of 11 to 12 years.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is feeling hopeful with the newly elected president, Felix Tshisekedi. In January 2019, Tshisekedi gave a speech stating that the DRC will not be a country of “division, hate, or tribalism”. The nation post-Kabila is one that exists with deep distrust in the government, perhaps one of Tshisekedi’s most difficult jobs to perform relatively quickly in his new leadership position.

Tshisekedi has already inspired monumental change within the country; this week around 50 rebel recruiters from the Kasai region, out of respect and recognition for Tshisekedi as their new president, made the decision to surrender; authorities estimated nearly 1700 militia fighters in the region.

Columbia

Since Maduro’s inauguration in Venezuela, the number of people crossing into Columbia to escape food shortages and hyperinflation has dramatically increased. Human rights groups on the border hope that this influx of migrants will draw enough attention to bring necessary support for aid groups. The IRC showed a 21 percent increase in migration to Columbia between late 2018 and January 2019, with over 1000 people per day crossing the border in January.

Venezuela

Early this week, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela accused Guaido of “violating the constitution and laws”, and alleged that the United States was staging a coup to remove him from a power position. Both actions prompted officials from the UK, Spain, Germany, and France to intervene on Saturday, January 26, threatening Maduro to hold elections within 8 days of their message, or they would be forced to recognize Guaido as the presidential power.

The escalating tensions in Venezuela reached the United Nations, as the UN Human Rights chief, Michelle Bachelet’s office released reports stating that “security forces and pro-government armed groups have shot at least 20 people during protests taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday”.

On Tuesday, January 29, Venezuela’s attorney general announced Guaido was under investigation, and would be both banned from the country and subject to frozen bank accounts. The United States has been active in support for Guaido; John Bolton, the US National Security Advisor, tweeted: “Let me reiterate – there will be serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaido”.  Guaido’s team has made it clear that their future plans are nonviolent; a Guaido-appointed diplomat, Carlos Vecchio, has been meeting with USofficials in the hopes of beginning the process of a legitimate election.

While the United States has been a strong supporter of Guaido, the most notable nations supporting Maduro include Russia, China, Cuba, and Turkey.

Malaysia

Malaysia crowned their 16th king, Sultan Abdullah, on Thursday – about a month after the former king, Sultan Muhammad V suddenly stepped down. Sultan Muhammad V had only held the position for 2 years, and the palace gave no reason for his resignation.

Malaysia has been stripped of hosting the world para swimming championships after their decision to ban Israeli athletes from competing. Malaysia stated that they stand with their decision, on the ‘ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight.”

Philippines

At least 21 people have been killed in a double bombing on a Catholic church on Jolo Island. The attack, executed during Sunday mass, has been claimed by the Islamic State. The attack comes just a week after a successful vote for the majority Muslim region to be ruled autonomously – part of a peace deal between the national government and the rebel group ‘Moro Islamic Liberation Front.’ While overall the vote passed in an overwhelming victory, Jolo Island voted not to pass the deal.

Other news:

Brazil – 65 people are dead and 300 more are missing following the collapse of a dam in southeastern Brazil. The dam burst on January 25th, and residents in the surrounding area had little to no warning. Search and rescue efforts were hampered and 3000 people were forced to evacuate on January 27th when fear of another dam collapsing became evident. On Monday, 2 engineers and 3 employees of the mining company Vale SA were arrested as a result of the disaster.