Weekly Report: 14 September 2018 — CANVAS

Protesters call for political prisoners to be released. (Reuters)

Syria

On Friday, Russia and Iran declined coming to a truce about Idlib, even though there are international fears of a humanitarian disaster in the region. Further, the following Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that government helicopters released 19 barrel bombs and Russian warplanes carried out 68 strikes. In just 2 strikes, four civilians were killed in Southern Idlib.  

This weekend, the Russian government accused the United States of dropping white phosphorus bombs on the Syrian region of Deir al-Zor. Further, the alleged air strikes hit a major refuge of ISIS. The United States has firmly denied these accusations, claiming that their military units in that area are not equipped with white phosphorus.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, addressed Russia, Iran, and Turkey to avoid a full-scale battle for the sake of avoiding a potential humanitarian disaster. Guterres stated on Tuesday, “I understand that the present situation in Idlib is not sustainable and the presence of terrorist groups cannot be tolerated. But fighting terrorism does not absolve warring parties of their core obligations under international law,” making it very clear that there needs to be a different solution to targeting terrorist groups.

While Assad and the Russian Government claim to only be targeting rebel militant groups in their offenses, civilians are in fact at great risk in Idlib. Since the attacks in the region began last week, more than 30,000 civilians have fled the area with the only option of heading towards villages along the Turkish border.

Beginning Monday, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militant group backed by the U.S launched an attack on the supposed ‘last pocket’ of ISIS fighters. US military suggests that ISIS has lost 98% of their land since their peak point of power. This last mission takes place in the Hajin area.

Bolivia

This week, opposition party leaders were informed that they may not form alliances after the internal primary elections in October 2019, only beforehand. There must be a request for alliance up to 75 days before the primaries. While this is a set back for opposition leaders, they may still have political agreements prior to the primaries which can be practiced after the elections in 2019.

This week, five candidates who were originally disqualified for running for the Attorney General position were reinstated. Those who may run again are: Juan Lanchipa, William Alave, Jorge Pérez Valenzuela, Silvano Arancibia Colque and Luciano Negrete.

As tensions continue to rise between Chile and Bolivia over their maritime dispute concerning sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean, it has been confirmed that an official verdict will be given on October 1st at 9:00 AM (Bolivian time) from the ICJ. There are three potential outcomes: Chile is obligated to negotiate with Bolivia and grants them full sovereignty, Chile is not obligated to negotiate with Bolivia, or the two countries fail to negotiate and are then suggested to continue resolving their differences in a friendly manner.

Nicaragua

On Friday, opposition leaders carried out a 24-hour strike across the country. Business owners of restaurants, stores, and banks closed down after being called upon my opposition leaders in the Civic Alliance. The purpose of the strike was to demand that student activists be released after being charged with terrorism earlier last week. While most small shops and businesses were closed in the main city, the closeby city of Boaco only had 7% of their businesses open.

On Sunday, the families of activists led a march through the capital city of Managua. According to human rights groups, at least 135 people are still in prison after being wrongly convicted of terrorism and have been illegally arrested. During the march, the organizers had to quickly change their routes due to pro-government supporters gathered at their starting point. Clashes between pro-government civilians and oppositionists of Ortega’s government continue to unfold, leaving hundreds of people dead.

On Wednesday, a Magnitude 5.3 Earthquake hit the western part of Nicaragua. While there is not any damage reported yet, major cities like Leon, Chinandega, and Managua felt the quake.

North Korea

This week, the DPRK celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding through a military parade this past Sunday, in addition to its infamous Mass Games – a rigorously choreographed spectacle that often brings patriotism to the forefront through its gymnastic and artistic displays.  In a break from the trends of past Mass Games and military parades, anti-Americanism and the DPRK’s nuclear capabilities were not showcased, with the parade instead focusing on the state’s goals with reference to economics, science, and inter-Korean relations.

Despite the lack of vitriolic rhetoric between the United States and DPRK currently, there is steady evidence that the DPRK is continuing to make nuclear weapons – something that has American policymakers concerned that the United States needs to take a more aggressive stance towards Pyongyang. Instead of de-escalating the North Korean nuclear program in the wake of the Singapore Summit with US president Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un has instead opted to focus government resources on better concealment of nuclear infrastructure. According to American intelligence assets, the DPRK could produce five to eight new nuclear weapons in 2018 alone, despite claims that Trump made stating that North Korea is “no longer…a threat.”

Although the United States has at least made efforts to continue undercutting the North Korean economy in order to put pressure on the Kim regime, China continues to steadily ease its restrictions on the DPRK, something that effectively cancels out measures put in place by other countries, as China is the DPRK’s closest ally and trading partner. Resultantly, gasoline prices have been steadily dropping, and the DPRK also appears to be defying UN sanctions from December 2017 that limited its fishing rights to specific waters. On Thursday morning, officials from the DPRK and South Korea met for working-level talks to discuss ways to ease military tension between the two Koreas. These talks are set to last the weekend.

Myanmar

The continued investigation into the role of Facebook posts into the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar has revealed that Facebook definitively had a “determining role” in creating anger against the Rohingya minority. The investigation, conducted by Reuters, Facebook, and other investigative bodies concluded that people who may be affiliated with the military would post content that is dehumanizing, comparing Rohingya to dogs and pigs and using racial slurs against Muslims. Facebook has admitted that it was “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate in Myanmar” and has pledged to keep an eye out in the future. This case is only one example of the way that technology can be misused to facilitate mass human rights violations.

On Tuesday, the United Nations human rights office called on Myanmar to end “a political campaign against independent journalism” after the latest in a series of cases through which the Myanmar government has routinely worked to suppress instances of independent journalism, most recently resulting in the jailing of two Reuters journalists last week for a period of seven years due to their reporting on the Rohingya genocide. In a 14 page report, the United Nations urged the Myanmar government to drop cases against reporters who were only carrying out their professional duties. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the government actions reported on made it clear that Myanmar’s future as a democratic state is in jeopardy.

In response to the above criticism, Myanmar government leader Aung San Suu Kyi stated that the jailing of the Reuters reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression, claiming that the journalists can feel free to appeal their convictions, but that it has nothing to do with the greater human rights situation in the region.

USA

This week, a major hurricane has been brewing off of the coast of North Carolina. Hurricane Florence is supposed to have a full impact on early Friday, and officials are warning more than 1 million people to flee the region. According to CNN, the storm may last for days, unleashing life-threatening amounts of rainfall and winds. The effects of the hurricane will be felt as far away as Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky, given it is a category 4 storm.

On Monday, the Trump administration closed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in D.C. While some U.S. officials see this as a move to force Palestine to come closer to peace negotiations with Israel, others see this step as causing extra tensions. Further, it may create greater distance in the relationship between Palestine and the U.S. A Palestinian official stated after the fact that, “We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to US threats and bullying…” which certainly echoes their distaste for the Trump administration’s move.

While there is not a set date or time, the United States invited China to further discuss trade talks this week. Before the Trump administration administers $200 billion worth of more tariffs on Chinese goods, they have decided that having proper communication will be in both parties best interest. There are hopes that this talk will conclude the ongoing dispute between the worlds two biggest economies.

Thursday, the Trump administration has done a large reversal on the well known, internationally condemned, family separation measure at the U.S-Mexico border. Accordingly, families separated from their children will, in fact, get a second chance at claiming asylum in the United States. Further, some parents who have already been deported may even get that second chance. The agreement must first be approved by federal judges. While this is a positive moment for separated families, it is only bringing circumstances back to what they would have been, had the government never separated parents and children in the first place.

Cambodia

After many critiques from foreign governments and international bodies alike, the Cambodian government has chosen to release former opposition leader Kem Sokha on bail this Monday. However, he will still be under investigation for treason – and may be convicted for up to thirty years in prison. Sokha is required to stay within a block radius of his home, cannot meet with foreigners or political leaders, and cannot host any rallies or political activities. Although it is clear that the release of Sokha in the first place was the result of international pressure, few international actors are satisfied with this development in the state of Cambodian democracy.

In order to create more administrative efficiency, the Cambodian government has announced that it will be creating two new provinces to better reflect geography and demographics of administrative management, something that the Minister of the Interior has claimed is vital to “local development.” The last time a new province was created in such a manner, it was in a province that was dominated by a then-opposition party, and some analysts believe instead that the move is to create more posts for officials who are loyal to the government.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch launched a new webpage called Political Prisoners Cambodia, which profiles 30 current and past political prisoners in Cambodia in an attempt to call attention to the unlawful detention of those who are considered dissidents to the ruling party. Although some political prisoners have been released at the time of the website’s creation, they are still facing other pending charges that may allow the government to imprison them for various amounts of time or pay exorbitant funds. Insulting government officials is illegal under Cambodia’s Criminal Code, and since 2017, the government has passed various new laws that have restricted the rights to freedom of expression and association.

Mexico

This week, authorities announced that they have found a mass grave site with more than 160 human skulls. This report comes after a report from last year when more than 250 human skulls were found in the city of Veracruz. This recent investigation will not release the whereabouts of the gravesite, but officials say that they also found more than 100 ID cards, meaning some of the victims will be identified.

A US $600 million construction project to install 100 wind turbines in Oaxaca has come to a halt this week. The 300-Megawatt project has been put on hold after local organizations called the federal government claiming that the wind farm is on the lands of indigenous people.

One year after the 8.2 magnitude earthquake which devastated Oaxaca, 50,000 people have yet to receive financial compensation which was originally promised to them. The mayor called on the federal government to supply more money so that families can rebuild their homes and finally receive the aid that they deserve.

As December is slowly approaching, meaning the swearing in of the newly elected president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, lawmakers from the new party presented a new bill concerning the salaries of government officials. The new bill will lower the salaries of politicians and public sector workers. The new plan would also cut remuneration by 28%. While the law will not take pesos directly from one’s base salary, it takes away medical and life insurance along with contributions to individuals savings funds. This means that all government officials will use the public social security system for all of their benefits rather than relying on private insurance benefits. After these measures, the legislation aims to produce 409 million pesos within the final 4 months of 2018.

The Maldives

With general elections coming up in a matter of weeks, the Maldives police have warned that people may be planning dangerous acts on election day to call attention to the fact that Maldivian elections are neither “free nor fair.” The police have specifically warned against arson and other, unspecified criminal activities. However, during past political events, it has been known that the police actually incited violence during protests – and the joint opposition claims that the police are simply attempting to create fear amongst voters as the general elections draw closer.

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen has continued to make development a cornerstone of his campaign, despite the previously reported evidence that many of the infrastructure projects that he takes credit for cannot actually be accredited to the actions of his regime. Local governments have accused Yameen of “abusing state resources” for his own campaign and attempting to buy votes with promises of infrastructure improvements on specific islands. The executive director of Transparency Maldives, Mariyam Shiuna, stated that “the Maldives has a history of vote buying, but this time we have seen an alarming trend of these types of incentives being offered.”

The Maldives election body has also made it clear that any foreign journalists wishing to attend must apply for a visa prior to entry, which includes a lengthy background check and the necessity of a Maldivian sponsor. Despite critics calling out these “restrictive, the government denies blocking entry to foreign journalists. These measures were implemented in the wake of an Al Jazeera expose in 2016 which uncovered the widespread scandal.

Zimbabwe

This week, Zimbabwe’s opposition party (The Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC) will hold a mock inauguration for its leader Nelson Chamisa in an attempt to call attention to its claims of election fraud, which was rejected by the constitutional court last week. MDC spokesperson Nkuleleko Sibanda told the Agence France Press that Chamisa “will be recognized as the legitimate president of Zimbabwe,” and has been denied his proper victory by “cheating.”

Zimbabwean police claim that they are being left out of ongoing investigations into a bombing that took place at a majority-party rally last June, which left two people dead and several others injured. Although the police reportedly have no knowledge of who the culprit is, the president has claimed that the suspects behind the bombing incident are now known. The police spokesperson, Charity Charamba, has claimed herself that the police are being left in the dark.

Public assembly has been banned in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, as part of ongoing efforts to contain a cholera outbreak that has killed 21 people so far. The government has declared this outbreak a state of emergency in Harare, and health officials have identified more than 3,000 suspected cases of cholera, which is spread through contaminated water. Although it can kill within hours if left untreated, it is considered to be “easily treatable” by the World Health Organization. The last outbreak in Zimbabwe, nearly a decade ago, killed a total of 4,000 people.

Laos

The Laos government has decided to continue its strategy of becoming a major producer of hydropower despite the results of a deadly dam collapse last month which killed dozens and displaced innumerable Lao citizens. Although the government has claimed that the death toll from this most recent disaster was at 35, it is suspected by locals that the toll might be much higher. The government claims that all future projects will be subjected to an increased level of scrutiny. One of the Korean firms involved in the project has pledged to help with investigating the cause of the dam break and will be donating $10 million USD in relief aid.

Vietnam

On Monday, five policemen were charged with the death of a detainee in southern Vietnam last year. Human Rights Watch has stated that police brutality is systematic in Vietnam, with this case being one of many that have never come to trial – even members of the Vietnamese government have admitted that at least 226 suspects and inmates have died in government custody between October 2010 and September 2014. Five police officers were last convicted in 2014 of the murder of a criminal suspect and were given sentences ranging from one and a half to five years.

Though Hanoi is hosting the World Economic Forum this week, not all observers are welcome. Leaders from Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights were barred from entry for the meeting, with personnel from both groups being accused of threatening the national security of Vietnam. Although Vietnam is increasingly trying to boost its reputation among the international community, it has increasingly been placing restrictions on free speech over the past year.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

As of this week, the World Health Organization has confirmed 90 deaths and 130 other infections due to the most recent Ebola outbreak. For the first time in the DRC’s history, the outbreak has spread to active conflict zones, making it far more difficult for response teams to keep Ebola from spreading even further.

Colombia

NBC News came out with an article this week discussing the battles of deforestation in Colombia. Since 2016 when civil conflicts came to an end and FARC signed a peace deal with the Colombian government, their jungle bases were disarmed and demobilized. Since, 984,888 acres of forest have been lost, which is nearly 40 soccer fields worth of forest daily. Further, species which thrive in these regions are threatened of going extinct. While deforestation is growing at a rapid rate, scientists and researchers see a chance to restore the forests by 2020 in a plan to reforest just under 50 million acres of land.  

 

In a recent report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), forced displacement in Colombia has gone up by 112% in the first half of 2018. Violence between illegal groups and the military along with violence against civilians has severely diminished human movement. While the peace agreement between FARC and the Colombian government in 2016 promoted a sense of peace in the country, the upsurge of regional powers and armed illegal groups has unveiled Colombia’s weak state. Seemingly, the state has failed to take full control of previous FARC controlled territories, allowing others to take control and therefore limiting civilian mobilization and allowing violence to unfold.

On Saturday, a former FARC leader by the name of David, who formed his own dissident group named the United Pacific Guerillas (GUP), was killed. Before his death, David was wanted for a variety of crimes including homicide, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and forced displacement. He has control over a major port city and cocaine hub. While control over this region has been a struggle between former FARC groups and Colombia’s state, the port may be taken over by a separate dissident group ‘Guacho,’ which is a rival of GUP.

Venezuela

After violence unfolded in the Brazilian city of Boa Vista against fleeing Venezuelans, hundreds are returning back to Venezuela out of fear. Many migrants have been living without proper sanitation necessities or water in the city. After a fight between a migrant and a group of Brazilian men, the Venezuelan man was beaten to death by the group. Because of the recent outbreak of violence and hostility, migrants are afraid.

Reports this week have suggested that various officials within the Trump administration have met with rebellious members of the Venezuelan military. The discussions have been about a coup to remove the current president of Venezuela, Maduro. When interviewed by the Time, American officials stated that they never agreed to help overthrow Maduro, and the White House has yet to confirm or deny this report. When the Venezuelan government found out about the secret meetings, they labeled them “unacceptable” and “unjustifiable,” claiming that Venezuelan democracy is being threatened by U.S. interference.

While Venezuela is continuously struggling under a hyperinflationary economy, the country recently agreed to give over at least 7 oil fields to small, inexperienced companies. Maduro stated that the new plan is a joint service agreement with PDVSA and the small companies. While details about their agreement are currently unknown, the main point of the deal includes PDVSA putting these small companies in charge of oil fields for six years in order to promote oil production. For it to work, $430 million in investment is necessary. Further, five of the firms are in fact Venezuelan, but it appears that they have little experience operating oil fields. In Reuters report, they called this plan between PDVSA and the 7 companies ‘disguised privatization.’Between Thursday to Saturday of this week, President Maduro will make a visit to China upon invitation from their ally, President Xi Jinping. Maduro plans to exchange future plans about economic agreements and hopes that China will “disburse fresh loans.”

Malaysia

In the most recent development of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 1MDB scandal, the lawyer representing Razak has been charged with money laundering and false income tax declaration in relation to the previous scandal. Allegedly, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah – the lawyer in question – received the equivalent of $2.3 million USD from Najib during the scandal. The government is more than halfway done with the investigation and is attempting to recoup at least half of the funds lost to Najib’s alleged corruption.

Cuba

Although there are not any official reports or ‘pointed fingers’ on the alleged sonic attacks of U.S. officials in the Embassy in Havana, Russia has become the most recent suspect. Investigators of the brain-damage-causing incidents have intercepted communication which apparently reveals Russian responsibility for the attacks. If this investigation is confirmed, the Trump administration would likely take actions against Cuba and Russia.

Other News:

Russia — An activist with the Russian group, Pussy Riot, has reportedly been poisoned. Staff at the Moscow hospital say that he is under intensive care. (BBC)

Hungary European Union legislators have overwhelmingly voted to launch punitive action against the Hungarian government for ignoring democratic rules and growing authoritarianism, which has been particularly pronounced in regards to refugee policy. (Al Jazeera)

Poland — After European Parliament voted to sanction Hungary for neglecting Democracy norms, Poland stated that they will block any sanctions imposed by the EU. (Reuters)

The Philippines — 10 million people are reportedly in the path of “super typhoon” Mangkhut, set to make land in the Northeast of the Philippines on Saturday. (New York Times)

Thailand — The deadline for the first Thai elections to be held since the military takeover in 2014 has been set for May 2019 by the current government. (Al Jazeera)

Pakistan This week, the new government of Pakistan removed one member of the countries EAC after a right-winged religious group forced the government to do so. The reason for his removal is because of his Ahmadi faith. (The Diplomat).