Weekly Report: 16 November 2018 — CANVAS

Disarmed bombs left from American activities in Laos during the Vietnam War. (Halo Trust)

Syria

In the area of Deir al-Zor, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces resumed fighting against the Islamic State. This comes after a   suspension in warfare. Presumably, Deir al-Zor is the last “foothold” of IS near the Iraqi border.

A report which came out this week claims that beginning in February, the global chemical weapons watchdog group will begin to hold accountable those responsible for chemical weapons used during the Syrian war. The task was given to the watchdog group, given the number of attacks in the most recent years by both the Syrian forces and rebel groups. Attacks have previously used both chlorine and sarin. The team will begin analyzing attacks which began as early as 2014.

Bolivia

Last Friday, a bricklayer shouted “Bolivia said no! Respect the referendum!” at president Morales. For this, the man was imprisoned and put on trial. After hearing of this case, presidential candidate Mesa took to Twitter to declare his solidarity and support for the man. Mesa sees his imprisonment as a direct abuse of the government. While the Bolivian government is claiming that the man also tried to throw an unknown object at president Morales, there is no evidence of the event. There was no reported aggression.

This week, the Social Democratic Movement, led by Ruben Costas and the National Unity party, led by Samuel Medina, agreed upon an alliance in the upcoming presidential elections. The new alliance is also open to agreements with other parties, for they believe that uniting citizen platforms will create a strong movement in opposing Evo Morales. This alliance was official just one day before the deadline to create political alliances expired.

In the Lava Jato case, the MAS has decided to have the Office of the Prosecutor to investigate Mesa, along with seven other former officials who may have been involved with the case during Mesa’s presidency. The Lava Jato case is specific to the construction of the Roboré-Arroyo Concepción highway while Mesa was the president of Bolivia. The investigation will seek to find evidence of Mesa’s involvement in the Lava Jato case; the largest foreign bribery case in history.

On December 5th, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has set a hearing to discuss whether or not re-election is a human right. This comes after the Human Rights and Observatory Foundation (FODHJ) requested further investigation of the matter.

Nicaragua

Over the weekend, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, Josep Borrell, called the events occurring in Nicaragua a “bloody repression.” The Minister spoke of using sanctions against the Nicaraguan government and claimed that the international community has not done enough to put pressure on Daniel Ortega. Borrell would like to put sanctions “on the table.”

The latest reports indicate that since the repressions of Ortega’s government, the death toll has risen to 535 people. Furthermore, according to ANPDH, an estimated 4,354 people have been injured and are unable to access medical care. 1,302 citizens have been kidnapped by paramilitary groups, and 472 of them freed. Conflict between the government, pro-government citizens and opposition groups still continues.

On Wednesday, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) met with representatives from the National Blue and White Unity (UNAB) and Nicaraguan diaspora in the United States. Almagro discussed the crisis occurring in Nicaragua and the many violations of human rights. Furthermore, Almagro spoke of the urgency to release the nearly 400 political prisoners.

North Korea

The Editorial Board of the Washington Post has written a scathing op-ed regarding the Trump Administration’s handling of the North Korea situation, particularly as not much has changed in the volatile situation many residing in the DPRK face – the regime’s crushing prison camps and weapons programs have remained intact, with the only major difference being a lack of military tests. Since the summit, Trump has “swooned” over letters written by Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s infamous despot, and claimed that the United States is in ‘no rush’ to deal with the North Korean nuclear program. Most concerningly, the human rights situation in North Korea has remained alarmingly stagnant, and many international actors have not paid any attention to it at all.

On Monday, new satellite images have identified over a dozen undeclared missile operating bases, something that indicates that Pyongyang has indeed decided to continue moving forward with its ballistic missile and weaponry programs amid stalls during its talks with the United States. These images were first reported on by the New York Times and later were analyzed by Beyond Parallel, the Korean Peninsula program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The images have been identified as belonging to thirteen out of a projected twenty hidden test sites. On Tuesday, United States Vice President Mike Pence met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; both leaders reaffirmed the need to maintain sanctions on the DPRK in order to achieve denuclearization.

According to Washington-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, North Korea’s hacking program constitutes “the most innovative threat-actors in cyberspace,” despite the fact that the DPRK’s program lacks much of the “technical sophistication” of actors such as Russia or China. On Friday, according to North Korea’s official news media, the state has tested a new “ultramodern tactical weapon.” The state media has yet to identify the weapon and it is uncertain exactly what it is, although South Korean sources claim that the North Koreans have tested multiple rocket weapons this month. Also on Friday, the North Korean government announced that it would deport an American citizen detained one month ago for illegal entering the country to the United States.

Myanmar

Despite consistent condemnations from the United Nations and dozens of human rights groups, Myanmar and Bangladesh are moving forward with the beginnings of their repatriation plan to return Rohingya Muslims to the very place that they initially fled this Thursday. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced on Tuesday that forcing the first batch of approximately 2,200 Rohingya living in Bangladesh to return to the “ground zero” of ethnic cleansing against them would be a “clear violation” of core international legal principles. United Nations officials have also claimed that they were not involved adequately throughout the process. Rohingya refugees themselves have also spoken out about their lack of involvement in the processes, many of whom have shared that they are afraid to return to Myanmar. On Thursday, people protested when they were told that buses had been organized, and it is unclear if any have been forced to leave so far.

As a result of this ongoing Rohingya crisis, Amnesty International has withdrawn its most prestigious human rights award (the Ambassador of Conscience Award) from Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, only the latest of a number of international honors and recognitions to be stripped from the leader in response to the genocide against Rohingya

USA

What began as a small campfire on last Thursday in Paradise, California, ended as the worst wildfire that California has ever seen. The fire was officially put out on Tuesday evening. Latest reports indicate that 63 people have been confirmed dead, and the toll is expected to increase. Furthermore, the fire started in a town home to 27,000 people, and 7,000 structures have been wiped out. Now, most citizens are without homes and businesses. 95% of the town is gone. This is the deadliest wildfire that California has endured.

According to a think tank group, the Brookings Institute, the Trump Administration has the highest number of turn-over in their staff. As of Tuesday, it is possible that president Trump may fire three more officials including the cabinet Chief of Staff John Kelly, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Cambodia

According to the anti-trafficking authority of Cambodia, fifteen people have been arrested for alleged illegal surrogacy in Cambodia – a violation that can result in charges of human trafficking and lead to approximately 20 years in prison. In Cambodia, commercial surrogacy is seen as “buying or selling children” according to the National Committee of Combating Trafficking; the status of the children born as a result of this practice is unknown, as it is uncertain whether the intended parents will be permitted to claim and raise the children.

On Friday morning, over four decades after a fifth of Cambodia’s population perished under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, an international tribunal ruled for the first time that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Muslim Cham minority and ethnic Vietnamese. Additionally, two of the oldest surviving members of the regime – Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan – were found guilty of genocide and various crimes against humanity.

Mexico

During the New York trial of drug lord “El Chapo” Guzmán, the current and former president of Mexico were accused by El Chapo of taking bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel. President Nieto denies any claims to being involved with the largest drug cartel in Mexico. Further, El Chapo believes he is being made a scapegoat, stating that the true leader of the cartel, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada is walking freely in Mexico.

The Maldives

This week, the United Nations reported on a number of family planning youth advocates in the Maldives who are responding to a troubling lack of family planning education and reproductive health. In the Maldives, sex out of wedlock is criminalized, and citizens cannot access family planning services until after they have been married. Only one organization provides sexual and reproductive health education to young people the Society for Health Education, supported by the United Nations Population Fund.

On Wednesday, a controversial anti-defamation law was repealed by the Maldives’ Parliament; the 2016 law had served to re-criminalize defamation and had been used to fine and jail journalists and individuals found guilty of slander alike. This is the first of many campaign promises by president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, despite the fact that he has yet to formally take office. On the same day, an outspoken whistleblower who had formerly worked with the judicial watchdog agency returned to the Maldives after living abroad for several years and was promptly arrested for “mocking Islam and leaving the principles of Islam,” and also for her own safety, according to the police. This arrest was legal under the 1994 religious unity law, which criminalizes “attempting to disrupt the religious unity of Maldivians or talking in a manner that creates religious conflict among people,” in addition to “criticism of Islam in a public medium” under various sections of the penal code, citing posts that she made on social media perceived to be critical of Islam.

Zimbabwe

Inflation is the highest that it has been in Zimbabwe since its period of rapid hyperinflation ten years ago, leading economic experts to say that Zimbabwe’s economy is currently “teetering on the edge.” This month, inflation rates have soared to 21%, as opposed to the previously cited regional threshold of 7% – and compared to last month’s inflation rate of 5.4%. It is thought that this soaring rate of inflation has been exacerbated at least in part by the implementation of a tax imposed by Finance Minister Ncube on October 1st.

This week, two Zimbabwean generals testified that government troops were not responsible for the killings of six civilians during post-election violence on August 1st, claiming that the shooters instead must have been related to Zimbabwe’s opposition activists, which a military official described as “militant.” These interviews took place as a part of the government-led commission to determine the source of the shootings.

Laos

According to a piece by Radio Free Asia, it is highly likely that more disasters akin to the Lao dam disaster in July will occur if the region does not do more to hold project-funders and international development partners accountable and ensure that the environment is capable of supporting such large-scale projects. There are plans for 11 more large-scale dams, either proposed or already under construction, on the Mekong River in Laos and Cambodia – and about 140 dams on Mekong tributaries in Laos.

Amid the escalation of the trade war between the United States and China, China has pledged to set up a free-trade zone on its border between Thailand and Laos, offering special privileges to traders from the Mekong countries in what is likely an attempt to build regional supremacy amid its global economic uncertainty. It is also highly likely that this is only the first of a series of measures that will seek to bring Chinese economic ties closer to ASEAN. A report released on Friday revealed that it will be 200 years before Laos is cleared of unexploded American bombs from the time of the Vietnam War, with a remaining 80 million bombs to be dug up and defused.

Vietnam

On Monday, Vietnam became the seventh country to ratify the new Trans-Pacific trade pact (the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP). It is believed that this will help Vietnam to modernize its labor laws and industrial relations system, and also help to grow its garment-focused export industry. The CPTPP has been signed formerly by Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Singapore. The four remaining states that are expected to ratify the pact are Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, and Peru.

Vietnamese activists fear that the government’s continued support of an anti-dissent law that could regulate anti-government speech on the internet could be used to completely curb activist activity even further than it is already being stifled.  This law will come into effect on January 1st and will give relevant companies such as Google and Facebook, one year to bring their company policies into compliance with the draconian new law.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ebola outbreak is expected to last another six months in the DRC. Thus far, Ebola has claimed at least 200 lives in the latest outbreak, and while predicting a timeframe of ending the epidemic is a difficult matter, officials believe there cannot be a final declaration of its end until mid-2019.

After leaders from a variety of opposition groups met in Geneva to discuss and choose one leader to oppose Joseph Kabila in the December 23rd elections, Martin Fayulu was chosen as the candidate. An agreement was signed upon on Sunday, marking a rare moment in the Congo, given the political distress which has been occurring in the country due to president Kabila’s unwanted ruling since 2001. Although, a mass of citizen protests began because of the choice. Further, two of the opposition leaders who met in Geneva pulled out of the contract because the reaction from the public was angry and unsupportive of the decision. There are doubts that the December 23rd election will show a peaceful transition of power.

Colombia

During a student-led protest across Colombia after talks with president Duque stalled, violence unfolded after groups of masked people began to attack the police. Due to this, the police began to violently attack students. While students intended to march peacefully, the feared riot police, ESMAD deployed tear gas and stun grenades. It appears as though the masked people who uninvitedly joined the march and escalated the chaos with the police. Students are now fearful that president Duque will see the acts of violence, he will pull out of talks completely.

On early Saturday morning, a group of ELN soldiers attacked buses and trucks in the César area of Colombia. In the event, the ELN forced passengers off of the buses and the vehicles were set on fire. This recent violent event came just one week after an ELN guerrilla group killed four Venezuelan soldiers. Five people were wounded in the most recent attack.

After walking 300 miles from the Choco area of Colombia to the capital of Bogota, 500 internally displaced civilians were turned away from entering the capital. The indigenous communities had walked to Bogota in order to flee the violence undergone between FARC members, ELN guerrillas, and the AGC paramilitaries. Authorities have continued at failing to maintain control of Choco. Once the band of 500 people arrived in the capital, they did not receive food, water or shelter. Instead, they were stopped by authorities.

Venezuela

The oil-rich Venezuela continues to have shortages in food, medicine and other basic goods for people across the country. In the latest report, it seems that Venezuela’s inflation rate is approaching 150,000%. It is expected to continue to spiral out of control. The new “Sovereign Bolivar” instituted by President Maduro just a few months ago persistently fails.

 

According to a Reuters report, Chinese telecom giant ZTE helped Venezuela develop a social credit system, similar to the one in China. The new development, called the “fatherland card” is intended to hold information about the user, and the data is then put into a government database. This way, the government can keep track of medical records, presence on social media, membership of a political party, and more. Venezuelans are concerned that this system can be used to further tighten social control. The card was implemented last year, and president Maduro offered cash prizes and cheaper fuel as an attempt to get people to sign up for the service. Accordingly, nearly half of the population has the card.

Malaysia

On Monday, Malaysia has decided to abolish the death penalty for 32 offenses according to a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who claims that a cabinet memorandum is already being circulated to the relevant ministries. On Wednesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir expressed appreciation and thanks towards Singapore for its role in aiding Malaysia to recover some of the funds lost as a result of the 1MDB scandal. Malaysian prosecutors have also announced that they will bring additional charges against the wife of the former premier Najib Razak in relation to this scandal. She has already pleaded not guilty to earlier charges.

This week, Malaysia claimed that amendments to curb child marriages will be reviewed in the middle of 2019 after widespread international backlash at a series of child marriages through the Islamic court system in rural Malaysia. On Thursday, the wife of former prime minister Najib Razak was officially charged with corruption accused of soliciting and receiving an approximate $45.12 million USD in bribes.

Other News

Russia — The Russian Duma has approved a bill which will soften punishment for first-time hate crime offenders this week.  (Radio Free Europe)

Hungary — The former prime minister of Macedonia, now a fugitive after being sentenced to jail time for corruption, has reportedly sought asylum in Budapest claiming “persecution” by a “leftwing government” . (The Guardian)

Poland— On Sunday, Poland held a nationwide march to mark their anniversary of independence. While it was a peaceful march, far-right groups were among the 200,000 participants amidst a controversial decision to allow them in. (BBC)

The Philippines — Prominent Philippine journalist and government critic Maria Ressa, founding member of news site Rappler, has been charged with tax evasion in a move that Ressa and other advocates claim are acts of intimidation by the government. (TIME)

 

Saudi Arabia — The Attorney General of Saudi Arabia is pursuing giving the death penalty to at least five people who were involved in the Jamal Khashoggi murder. (Al Jazeera)

Palestine — In a targeted rade to kill a Hamas leader, Israeli soldiers killed seven Palestinians in the Gaza Strip this week. Further, one Israeli soldier died. (Al Jazeera)

China — An American congressional panel focusing on Chinese policy has released a report urging policymakers to take a harder approach to an increasingly authoritarian China. (Radio Free Asia)

Yemen — Due to international requests for a ceasefire between the Saudi-UAE alliance and the Houthis in Hodeidah, the coalition is finally coming to a halt. This is after weeks of fighting between the two groups. (Al Jazeera)