Weekly Report 10 August 2018 — CANVAS

Students protest in the streets of the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, in response to a lack of government enforcement for traffic regulations. (MediaOne, India)

Syria

On Sunday, the scientist suspected to be the head of Syria’s chemical weapons program was killed in a car bombing. Pro-government outlets described the attack as an assassination. On Wednesday, the New York Times corroborated this to an extent, describing his death as the result of a targeted assassination by the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

At least one Druze hostage abducted from the Sweida province in Syria last week has been confirmed to be executed. Videos of the victim were sent to his family in Sweida. The Druze, a religious minority, practice a secretive faith that is seen as an offshoot of Islam. They make up approximately 3% of the Syrian population. They have been targeted by the Islamic State, which views them as heretics.

The wife of Junpei Yasuda, a Japanese journalist who was recently discovered to be in the captivity of the Islamic State, made a broad appeal for the return of her husband, safe and sound. Yasuda is only one of the latest of many journalists targeted in Syria by the Islamic State; various journalists of many different nationalities have been kidnapped and even killed by the Islamic State. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 122 journalists have been killed in Syria since the start of the conflict.

Bolivia

On Monday, over 25 opposition groups took to the streets of Potosi, a colonial city with historical importance to Bolivia, in order to protest the government’s continued practice of ignoring the results of a referendum that would force the Bolivian presidency to obey a term limit. These protesters, known collectively in relation to the referendum as the 21F movement, are concerned that the ignored referendum represents a further backslide of Bolivian democracy. In response, police barricades were put up and protesters were stopped from getting into the ceremony; organizations off of the official list were not allowed to mount their protests until after the speech of President Evo Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. During Morales’ speech, however, members of the opposition party reportedly shouted “Bolivia says no,” a reference to the slogan of the pro-referendum protesters.

Activists involved within the 21F movement stated on Tuesday that they would organize a national strike to take place in the event that President Evo Morales is reelected in the coming elections, which will take place in 2019. On the same day, Morales announced that a bilateral event would be held between Venezuela and Bolivia to express support of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro in the wake of an alleged attack on Maduro’s life.

Nicaragua

The continued violent crackdown against anti-government protesters has led to a massive drop in Nicaragua’s tourism industry, which employed a significant population on the western coast of the country. This has impacted the economic situation of the local population massively; of the 120,000 people previously employed in the tourism sector, approximately 70,000 have lost their jobs. Although the beach towns on Nicaragua’s coast have been spared the bloodshed plaguing other parts of the country, these areas have been devastated financially.

On Monday, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) announced that it was forced to close its offices in Nicaragua due to death threats. The NGO also claimed that it received information that there had been plans to accuse staffers of fake crimes. Although ANDPH claims that such closures are temporary, its executive secretary and other staffers have left the country for their own safety. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights set the latest death toll of the conflict in Nicaragua at 317 people dead, including 21 police officers and 23 children.

North Korea

Although US president Donald Trump has claimed that negotiations with the DPRK have been wildly successful, White House security advisor John Bolton has claimed that no one is “starry-eyed” regarding the progress that North Korea has actually made towards disarmament. However, the Trump administration continues to make conciliatory gestures towards the DPRK – including allowing the United Nations Security Council to agree to a series of guidelines that would allow it to become easier for humanitarian aid to enter North Korea. This action –  a surprising move, given the DPRK’s history of utilizing aid to favor specific populations – represents a softer action than one would expect of the United States, given Trump’s harsh rhetoric towards the northeast Asian dictatorship.

On Wednesday, the foreign minister of North Korea met with the Iranian President, as well as his counterpart Jarvad Zarid. The two diplomats called for expanded relations between the DPRK and Iran, particularly in the context of pressures exerted by the Trump administration against both governments. South Korean officials also visited the DPRK for a joint inspection of forests in the Mount Kumgang area of North Korea for the purposes of determining the best ways to combat harmful insects and disease.

Myanmar

After rival armed groups clashed again in Myanmar’s Shan state, more than 800 villagers were forced to flee their homes on Monday. As a result of this fighting between the Shan State Army-South and Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the villagers were forced to stay at temporary camps near Buddhist monasteries. The two groups have been fighting since 2015, after the TNLA was excluded from signing an accord between multiple ethnic groups and the government.

On Tuesday, Bangladesh’s UN ambassador said in a letter that not enough has been done by the Myanmar government to facilitate the conditions for a safe and sustainable return of Rohingya to Myanmar. On the first anniversary of the start of Myanmar’s violent crackdown on Rohingya populations, the United Nations Security Council will be addressed with reference to the crisis by current Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

USA

On Monday, the United States announced its intent to reimpose damaging sanctions on Iran. Although the Trump administration denies that such an action has been made with regime change in mind, Iranians continue to protest a deteriorating economy. This clearly represents an increase in pressure from the American government towards its counterparts in Iran.

Emails leaked to Foreign Policy magazine showed that Jared Kushner and the Trump Administration have been trying to pressure officials to “disrupt” the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works with Palestinian refugees in the near East. Only days after this revelation, the Trump administration revealed its decision to cut funding to the agency by more than half, something that will leave the refugee agency scrambling for more funding. Despite these cuts, the United States remains the biggest donor to the UNRWA

Additionally, the United States announced on Wednesday that it would impose sanctions on the Russian Federation in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom, which took place this past March. The second phase of these sanctions will target industries such as Aeroflot, Russia’s state airline, as well as all imports and exports.

The State Department also specifically called out Russia in a statement warning against foreign interference in American democracy, despite the White House’s apparent reluctance to do so.

Cambodia

Despite international condemnations of the flawed elections in Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Monday that he will give a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Sen has stated that this move is meant to show that Cambodia doesn’t require “stamps of approval” from anyone. In response to July’s election, the United States has stated that it will consider steps such as visa restrictions in response to the elections controversy. Various other countries – including major donors such as Australia, Canada, and the European Union – have voiced concerns about the credibility of the elections, although they have yet to commit to withdrawing aid.

Mexico

Mexico’s incoming president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has pledged to overhaul the strategies in place for Mexico’s failed war on drugs, a conflict that has left an estimated 200,000 dead. He is considering tactics such as the decriminalization of marijuana, limited amnesty, creating truth commissions to evaluate episodes of violence, and hosting daily meetings regarding the question of security. Such considerations are novel among Mexican presidents, particularly those to do with amnesty, something that gives observers hope that a change may, in fact, take place.

The Maldives

President Abdulla Yameen has yet to submit his application for the September elections – and as the deadline is this Friday, the opposition has claimed that this is due to fear. Yameen has also recently drawn criticism for his remarks on Tuesday regarding Ahmed Rilwan, a journalist who disappeared in August 2014. Despite a massive investigation and an Al-Jazeera report claiming that the government was involved, possibly as high-up as the president, no definitive evidence as to the whereabouts of Rilwan has been found. Yameen referred to Rilwan as “dead” in his speech, which many have taken as an implicit confirmation of Yameen’s knowledge of Rilwan’s death.

Zimbabwe

Various human rights groups have condemned widespread repression taking place in Zimbabwe as tensions continued to erupt over the results the historic elections. Although it is currently difficult to confirm, the opposition party has reported abductions, violence, and sexual assaults occurring at the hands of unidentified men, rumored to be government security forces.

Members of Zimbabwe’s opposition have gone into hiding. Most recently, opposition leader Tendai Biti was deported back to Zimbabwe after seeking asylum in Zambia. He is wanted by the police for reportedly urging violence in the aftermath of the elections and prematurely declaring the opposition candidate, Nelson Chamisa, as the winner. UK officials spoke to both Zimbabwean and Zambian authorities to ensure that Biti would remain unharmed.

Laos

After the breach of a newly constructed dam last month, Laos has suspended any considerations of new hydropower projects, choosing instead to focus on safety inspections for existing dams and reviews of policy. Lao citizens displaced by the flooding are living in tent shelters in close quarters, something that is allowing diseases to spread. The death toll following the collapse has climbed to 31, with 130 individuals still considered missing according to Ounla Xayasith, the deputy governor of the affected province.

Vietnam

Twenty Vietnamese women arrested last month for protesting are being threatened for seeking to appeal their jail sentences. According to their lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, the women are being threatened with sexually transmitted diseases if they appeal their convictions for “disrupting public order” after their participation in protests against allowances for foreign governments in special economic zones and the adoption of a cybersecurity law that has drawn criticism for its potential in limiting free speech. This news was announced by Manh only a day after Amnesty International called upon Vietnamese authorities to investigate the death of a farmer who took part in the same protest. He was allegedly tortured in police custody.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

The African Union called for the Democratic Republic of the Congo to work to ensure that its elections, coming up this December, are peaceful, transparent, and inclusive. This comes on the heels of protests in the southeastern city of Lubumbashi by supporters of opposition leader Moise Katumbi, who was refused entry into the country. This has barred him from registering for the upcoming elections; the deadline for signing up to run was August 8th.

The latest Ebola outbreak in the DRC has taken as many as 33 deaths according to the health ministry, with a suspected up to 43 additional individuals infected. According to the World Health Organization, the “active conflict” in the area may provide a massive barrier for health providers looking to aid those affected by the latest outbreak. The health ministry of the DRC announced a new Ebola virus outbreak mere days after the previous one was declared over. Four Ebola cases were confirmed in the North Kivu province, and on Thursday, international experts set up a laboratory in a city close to where the outbreak occurred.

Colombia

Ivan Duque, Colombia’s new president, was sworn in on August 7th. At 42, he is the youngest president in Colombia’s history. Duque ran on a platform emphasizing the need to crack down on crime and corruption and has already begun to discuss these goals with officials from the United States, including Vice President Mike Pence. Only a few hours prior to the swearing-in ceremony, an earthquake shook the nation’s capital, as well as several neighboring departments. This earthquake had a magnitude of 6.1 at the epicenter and 5.4 elsewhere and was considered to be relatively mild.

Prior to Duque’s inauguration on Tuesday, former president Juan Manuel Santos announced that Colombia would be recognizing the Palestinian state. The Israeli embassy to Colombia described this move as a “slap in the face” and a shock. In the letter penned by Santos, he claimed that this move is the result of a renewed commitment to brokering peace in the Middle East. Duque’s administration has stated that this move is under review before a commitment is made.

Venezuela

After an assassination attempt against Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro took place on Saturday, Venezuelan authorities have ordered the arrest of a top opposition leader, Julio Borges. Borges, who is currently in Colombia, has not been able to be reached for comment; however, six people were arrested by the government, including one opposition lawmaker. As a result of the worsening situation in Venezuela, Brazil temporarily shut its borders on Monday. Officials in border states such as Roraima are concerned that they lack the infrastructure to properly handle a large influx of people; however, the majority of Brazilian central government officials oppose the closing of any borders, as they feel that Brazil has a responsibility to help the victims of Venezuela’s ongoing humanitarian crisis.

According to Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Maduro is the biggest obstacle to ameliorating the situation in Venezuela. She also pledged that the United States government will give Colombia $9 million USD in aid to help provide for the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees seeking refuge in Colombia.

Malaysia

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was arrested in July, was charged on Wednesday with three counts of money laundering linked to his now-infamous 1MDB scandal. Razak is also facing time for counts of abuse of power and breach of trust and has pleaded not guilty to these counts.

The Malaysian government has come under fire for homophobic policies leading to the removal of portraits of two activists – a transgender woman and a gay man – from a festival meant to celebrate Malaysian arts. The transgender activist, Nisha Ayub, has expressed concern that the action of removing the portraits may lead to an uptick in the amount of violence targeting transgender individuals, something that is already a huge issue globally. This is, in particular, the result of the director of Islamic affairs, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, who explicitly stated that the promotion of LGBT culture is not supported in Malaysia.

Cuba

The Cuban Communist Party this week stated on Tuesday that new regulations would allow for farmers to lease double the amount of land that they are currently able to own. This is in an attempt to decrease the level of dependency that the Cuban government has on food imports, with approximately 60% of food items being imported from outside of the island state.

For the first time in history, the Cuban government will be involving Cuban diaspora members to contribute to the discussion on the draft constitution. This will be done using the internet to track contributions written by Cuban diaspora members. It is unknown to what extent these contributions will be taken into account during the formation of the new constitution.

Other News

The Philippines — On Thursday, the Philippine Navy tested its first ever aquatic missile system, manufactured by Israel. (Business Insider)

Poland  — The Polish government has called for “repolonisation,” a concept extolling nationalism – especially economic patriotism. This has been illustrated most recently in a push to nationalize banks in Poland, with a strong pushback against foreign banks.  (The Economist)

Thailand — After the rescue of the 12 young Thai soccer players and their coach from their three-week stint in a flooded cave, three of the soccer players and their coach have been granted Thai citizenship, in a move lauded by the UNHRC. (Time)

Pakistan Analysts have stated that Pakistan is currently on the brink of economic disaster, with foreign exchange reserves at four-year lows. It is expected that Pakistan will need a bailout from either the IMF or China, both of which have potentially major drawbacks. (CNBC)

Bangladesh – After the death of two students in a traffic accident in late July, Bangladesh’s college and high school students took to the streets to enforce Bangladeshi traffic laws, which reportedly are not enforced due to corruption. According to WHO, there were between 17,349 and 25,283 road deaths in Bangladesh in 2013. (BBC)