Weekly Report 19 October 2018 — CANVAS

Nicaraguan police beat demonstrators in Managua. (Oscar Navarrete, La Prensa)

Syria

With just one day to spare, the previously known militant group ‘Nasra Front’ (now known as Tahrir al-Sham), has agreed to abide by the deal of the Turkey-Russia buffer zone. The deal was to fully demilitarize any militant groups in the zone by Monday, October 15th. In a statement, the group said: “We value the efforts of all those striving – at home and abroad – to protect the liberated area and prevent its invasion and the perpetration of massacres in it.” While the group does not intend to give up their arms, nor end their jihad, they intend to remain peaceful, yet weary with Turkey and Russia.

As of Sunday, after three years of being closed, the Naseeb crossing between Jordan and Syria has reopened on Monday, October 15th. The crossing will not be open to ‘normal’ traffic yet, reports say. This is an important step for neighboring counties of Lebanon, the Gulf, and Turkey, seeing as this route provides multi-billion dollar trades. Also on Sunday, foreign ministers from Iraq and Syria discussed the possibility of reopening the border between their countries. Currently, their border is only open for government or military use. The dialogue between Assad and his neighbors is a step forward for Assad, given his government has been isolated since the Syrian war broke out in 2011.

With the United States increased focus on Iran, officials are concerned that this could draw the U.S. military closer to open conflict within Syria. While the Trump Administration has previously made drawing Iranian forces out of Syria one aspect of its four-point plan in Syria, it is becoming more evident that the Trump Administration plan is changing. The new plan would put an emphasis on squeezing Iran financially by withholding construction aid from where both Iranian and Russian forces are held. Further, the United States would impose sanctions on Iranian and Russian companies present in Syria. The administration will soon submit a new strategy to, which will more accurately reflect President Trump’s priorities.

Bolivia

Both The Social Democratic Movement (MDS) and SOL.bo plan to hold an alliance with the former president, Carlos Mesa. This comes just months before the 2019 elections. Their goal in unity is to end corruption in Bolivia and bring an end to the authoritarian government.

 

In the tropics of Cochabamba, the MAS has banned other political parties from registering militants. Further, the MAS has threatened to expel organizations which do not support Evo Morales. This prohibits political parties from opening registration tables, who are not the MAS. The leader of the political group, Leftist Revolutionary Front (FRI) strongly opposed this ban in a statement, claiming that this is “intolerance, the result of 12 years of absolute and hegemonic control of the MAS.”

Despite a 2009 approved constitution allowing indigenous groups of Bolivia to gain autonomous territory, only three of the twenty Autonomous Territorial Entities (ETAs) have obtained self-governance. Accordingly, there are a series of obstacles in the way of indigenous groups having access to their rights. Most of the said obstacles are due to national regulations imposed by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, along with other platforms through the central state. Groups that wish to become autonomous must pass 11 requirements.

This week, the National Committee for the Defense of Democracy (CONADE) announced that they will soon call to action their five resolutions of the council which took place on October 10th, just last week. Among the issues they intend to demand, one of them is a call for the resignation of candidacy for president Morales and his vice president, Álvaro García Linera in the upcoming 2019 elections. An official document stating CONADE’s demands will be sent to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

Nicaragua

On Sunday, the news agency, 100% Noticias, was attacked by Sandinista supporters. Accordingly, the attackers were together on a bus and threw stones at the news agency’s building. Since the protests against Ortega’s government began, 100% Noticias has repeatedly been the victim of an attack, given they are a news agency which reports the truth of what is happening in Nicaragua.

This weekend, demonstrators against Ortega’s government held a peaceful march in Managua, led by the National Blue and White Unit. At the demonstration, Sandinista police used stun bombs and beat several people. Further, they illegally arrested 38 individuals. On Saturday, Sandinista police announced that they would not allow marches if they did not have proper authorization. This is the latest example of police brutality and repression seen in Nicaragua. After finding out about the illegal arrests and police brutality, the executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights described the event as, “unacceptable repressive and authoritarian attitudes at this moment.”

On Sunday, human right defender, Haydee Castillo was arrested in the airport on her way out of Nicaragua. Castillo was traveling with the president of the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua when immigration authorities detained her and brought her in for questioning. She was soon handed over to the Sandinista police. Castillo was then released on Monday, October 15th.

A number of individuals exiled to neighboring Costa Rica gathered to give a press conference, admitting to what they had previously experienced in Nicaragua. The group included President Ortega’s stepdaughter, the retired major of the Nicaraguan army, a defender of human rights in the LGBT community, and more. Upon speaking, Ortega’s stepdaughter denounced the president, claiming he intends “to eliminate any different or critical thinking that takes away the legitimacy that this government has already lost.” Further, others reiterated that the international community needs to step in and help to seek a peaceful solution for Nicaragua.

Nils Melzer, head of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, has submitted a request to visit Nicaragua. Melzer would like to visit Nicaragua to discuss the reported allegations of torture of political prisoners by the Sandinista authorities. He has yet to hear a response, and further, admits that it is a likely difficult response to obtain. There are currently at least 300 political prisoners, some of which have been tortured in order to obtain confessions.

This Thursday marked six months of nonviolent struggle for the Blue and White Party of Nicaragua. The Blue and White party has now launched a series of forms of protest, which they invite all Nicaraguans to join in on. The strategies are as followed: wear white on every 18th of the month, wear black on every 19th of the month, every Monday wear red lipstick, a “blackout” (stop using power) every day between 8-9 pm, stopping the usage of DNP oil, stopping consumption when convened, and to “activate” the streets in demand for freedom.

North Korea

On Tuesday, South Korea, the DPRK, and the United Nations Command jointly consulted regarding the disarming of the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the inter-Korean border area. This is following up on an earlier decision made at the Pyongyang summit between the two leaders in September. The first step in disarming the JSA, de-mining, began on the first of October and is estimated to last around 20 days. Meanwhile, South Korea and the DPRK have agreed to break ground in late November or early December to eventually connect railways across the border between the two Koreas as part of a modernization effort.

North Korean Vice Premier Ri Ryong Nam has been invited to attend a forum on inter-Korean cooperation in Seoul, alongside business leaders from important South Korean companies such as Samsung and Hyundai. Although Ri’s attendance has yet to be confirmed, it is highly likely that he will be in attendance according to an anonymous source from the South Korean Ministry of Economics. In another move by North Korea to broaden its diplomatic horizons, Kim Jong Un has invited Pope Francis to visit North Korea, in a move supported by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. However, North Korea is incredibly repressive when it comes to religious practices, and there are precious few venues in the country where citizens can freely practice religion without fear of persecution.

Myanmar

After revelations last month that Myanmar’s military utilized social media sites such as Facebook to stir anti-Rohingya sentiment prior to the beginning of the Rohingya genocide in the Rakhine state, Facebook reported on Monday that it removed 13 distinct pages and 10 accounts for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior” including the distribution of propaganda. This has continued on from Facebook’s initial investigation, which removed 52 pages and 18 accounts, including some directly linked to military personnel, in August. The Facebook posts used talked about Islam as a “global threat to Buddhism”  and shared fake stories about crimes committed by Muslims – and some of them were even linked to celebrity pages. The social media campaign appears to have been active for at least the past 5 years.

The United States, alongside 8 other Security Council members, has requested that the UNSC receive briefings on the United Nations Fact Finding Mission in Myanmar. Myanmar’s ambassador has gone on record saying that his government strongly objects to this request, and it is expected that China will object as well – although it cannot use its veto on the vote, seeing as adding an item to the agenda is a procedural matter. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, three detained journalists appeared in a Yangon regional court fighting allegations that the stories that they had published were false. The story itself detailed alleged fund mismanagement by the Yangon regional government.

United States Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell claimed that it would not be helpful to continue “piling on” accusations towards Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, claiming that such accusations are undermining the “best hope” that is to be had for democracy in the southeast Asian country.

USA

This weekend, both coasts of the United States saw clashes between far-left group Antifa and far-right group Proud Boys. Both of these activist groups condone political violence. In both New York and Portland, Oregon. Videos went viral of both groups beating each other. Among the weapons used, police stated they saw hard-knuckle gloves, batons, knives, and clubs.

Officials this week have estimated that more than 200 undocumented children separated from their families, are still in US custody. Nearly 175 of those children had parents removed from the United States. Of these, only 18 of them are in the process of being reunited with their families.

On Thursday, President Trump threatened to order the military to fully close the US-Mexico border if the flow of migrants does not stop soon. President Trump tweeted, “Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their Northern Border. All Democrats fault for weak laws!” This lash of a tweet came after hearing word of 4,000 people from Honduras making their way to the border with the intentions of crossing into the United States.

Cambodia

A recent report by Al Jazeera revealed that Cambodia’s brick-making agency, which is being used to support the rapid growth of many of its urban centers, relies upon the debt slavery of Cambodian families in order to exist – despite the fact that slavery is illegal under both domestic and international law. According to the International Labor Organization, debt bondage often goes hand in hand with climate change, as many poor farmers often have no other option to take once their crops fail. Cambodia also lacks a social security system and farmers receive no support from the government.

According to a leaked phone call, a ruling party official stated that Cambodian workers who take part in protests against Hun Sen from abroad should be identified and beaten – or made to suffer “traffic accidents.” This official, identified as the spokesperson for the Labor Ministry, made these remarks after recent protests from Cambodian migrant workers living in Tokyo. Civil society organizations have already begun to report that these remarks have frightened migrant workers abroad, who believe that they may be targeted by the government.

Cambodian civil society groups have banded together to create a joint petition, sent to the European Union, to advocate that the European Union not sign an agreement with Vietnam regarding the international trade in timber. Cambodian groups are against this due to Vietnamese support of the illegal mining industry in Cambodian territory. A report by the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency claimed that around 300,000 cubic meters of timber – including species of lumber that are endangered – were smuggled out of protected areas in Cambodia to Vietnam. However, Cambodia is also facing trade issues of its own – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen arrived in Brussels on Wednesday to attempt to persuade top European Union officials to forgo previously threatened sanctions against Cambodia due to actions by Hun Sen’s regime, which rendered the summer’s general elections unfair according to most of the Western world.

On Thursday, the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians universally condemned the treatment of Cambodian lawmakers, particularly opposition lawmakers as part of the CNRP. The IPU, However, Cambodia’s ruling party summarily dismissed what the IPU described as “brutality” on the part of the Cambodian authorities.

Mexico

The extradition of César Duarte, former Chihuahua governor, is being delayed. Duarte faces criminal charges in corruption and illicit enrichment. He fled to the United States in March of last year and is now believed to be residing in Texas. The delay in extraditing the former governor is being labeled as an act of corruption, according to former chief of the Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes, Santiago Nieto.

A report came out this week that Duarte, former Chihuahua governor is not the only official guilt of a crime. Accordingly, state and municipal governments in Veracruz are accused of embezzling upwards of 33 billion pesos over the course of 10 years from 2007-2017. Of the 212 municipalities, mayors of 153 of them are being accused of illegally diverting resources in 2017.

This past Saturday, the border between the United States and Mexico was opened up for the sixth time to allow families to reunite for some time. Nearly 3,000 people gathered at the border in the “Hugs, Not Walls” event. More than 200 families were able to see each other for a short period of time, all thanks to the Border Network for Human Rights cooperation with U.S. border control.

The incoming president has adopted a new security strategy of dividing Mexico into 265 regions. Accordingly, the plan is to deploy between 300-600 members of the army, navy, and federal police to each region, all depending on their crime rate and the number of people in the region. Soon to be president López Obrador says this plan will be implemented as soon as he takes office. Furthermore, 70% of the goal of the security plan is to bring peace to the country through preventative action, meaning combating root causes of violence through stimulating economic growth, creating jobs and providing more education. The other 30% of the strategy is considered coercive, referring to the deployment of federal security forces. After hearing the proposed plan, a top security analyst both questioned and critiqued the plan, pointing out that the number of deployments per region does not add up.

The Maldives

Over the weekend, the currently ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives has denied offering bribes in exchange for false testimony to back President Abdulla Yameen’s challenge of his defeat in the election. Furthermore, on Tuesday, the Maldivian Supreme Court refused to call secret witnesses in President Abdulla Yameen’s petition to annul the results of the September 23 election, despite the president’s lawyers attempting to do so. The bench ruled that these witnesses were inadmissible; Chief Justice Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi announced that a judgment would be heard at the next hearing, although a date has yet to be confirmed. Yameen has been seeking a Supreme Court order for new polls, although he initially conceded mere hours after the election had finished.

On Thursday, the High Court overturned former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s conviction of “obstruction of justice,” which would have resulted in a sentence of 19 months in prison. In part, the High Court judge made this decision, as Gayoom was denied proper representation during crucial parts of the trial. He was released on bail a week after the September elections.

Zimbabwe

Despite claims that the economic situation in Zimbabwe is worsening as black market fuel sales increase and goods continue to be incredibly difficult to find, Zimbabwe’s government claimed that things are improving, and the worst of the country’s economic struggles are now over. However, prices are continuing to rise, and there continue to be mass shortages of goods on the ground – with some economists claiming that the current crisis is only exacerbated by a widespread lack of trust in the government among Zimbabwean citizens.

Because of this widespread economic crisis, the Zimbabwean black market has risen in importance to become a vital part of Zimbabwe’s economic structure. According to black market sellers interviewed by Al Jazeera, there is very little that the government can actually do to enforce legal transactions in the case of fuel, as there is simply no other way to obtain fuel for average Zimbabweans. Much of the blame for the crisis has fallen upon the Zimbabwean president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is urging the populace to be patient – as these things cannot be fixed in such a short period of time. However, anger against Mnangagwa appears to be widespread, even as he attempts to tackle other issues.  Recently, he posted a picture of himself getting vaccinated against cholera on Twitter, urging people in high-density areas of Zimbabwe to do the same to protect against the current cholera crisis in Zimbabwe’s capital; however, citizens responded angrily on Twitter, claiming that Mnangagwa should instead be focusing on the economy.

Laos

Although the Laotian government has been promoting Chinese tourism and will continue to do so over the coming year in a bid to improve the economy, Radio Free Asia’s Lao Service has spoken to many that believe that instead of improving the economy of Laos, it is highly likely that much of the money to be brought in by the joint 2019 Visit Year campaign will serve to benefit Chinese hotels and tour groups, without any benefit actually coming to Lao citizens.

Despite taking part in a profit-sharing arrangement with a Vietnamese rubber company, Lao villagers are now receiving no financial compensation for the land that they had leased, with the company claiming that the land actually belongs to the state. The seizure of land for development or agricultural use by foreign companies has been an increasingly large problem in many authoritarian Southeast Asian states, and this is only the latest example in this trend.

Vietnam

United States Defense Chief James Mattis headed to Vietnam starting on Tuesday in what is suspected to be an attempt to counteract the effects of Chinese influence on Vietnamese policy. Over the past year, the United States has pushed harder to cultivate a strong military relationship with Vietnam, with a United States Navy aircraft carrier making a port call at Da Nang. Mattis will be visiting Ho Chi Minh City, which is rarely on the itinerary for Americans visiting Vietnam. Furthermore, the trip initially included a visit to Beijing, which was canceled due to rising tensions between the United States and China.

Following a surprise release from prison on Wednesday, prominent Vietnamese activist and blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (who uses the pen name “Mother Mushroom”) arrived in the United States, where she requested to leave to in the event of her release for the sake of her family. However, she also says that she will not stop raising awareness and protesting until there are human rights in Vietnam, and she has advocated that the American government do the same. Although her release is a positive step forward, Vietnam does not appear to have let up in its punishment of critics in any way, and it continues to oppress and imprison other activists, journalists, and members of civil society.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

After three years of being held in prison, opposition leader Paulin Makaya has been denied leaving Brazzaville. Makaya has tried to travel twice since released and has been stopped both times. Accordingly, Makaya had been jailed after organizing a demonstration against the constitutional referendum which allowed the president to pursue another term in May of 2016. Makaya was released from prison as of September 17th of this year.  

According to Reuters, Congolese migrants residing in neighboring Angola and who have been involved in diamond mining, have been subject to a brutal crackdown carried out by police. In the past few weeks, Angola has launched an operation to crackdown on the thousands of people searching for diamonds and other stones in the northeast of the country. In a report with 20 Congolese migrants, Reuters was told that the migrants had been subject to violence, looting and forced displacement by security forces in Angola.

In the latest UNICEF report on malnourished children in the DRC, it was estimated that at least two million children are in fact acutely malnourished and are facing the risk of death. This continues to be an issue looming over the DRC, and humanitarian budget cuts to the region have made it even more difficult for aid workers to help.

On Monday, a US official reported that people from the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who are in the DRC in order to help control the Ebola outbreak, have been taken out of the more high-risk areas. Due to the recent spike in violence, it was felt that the safety of this personnel was at risk and they were unable to properly do their job.

Colombia

After half a million students and teachers took the streets to demand more funding for Colombia’s education system, President Duque has offered concessions. Accordingly, the countries education system needs $1 billion to cover basic operations costs. Further, students and professors say that universities are in need of an extra $4.9 billion for maintenance of infrastructure. The marches help were the first since the newly elected Duque. After the demands, President Duque admitted that Colombia’s education system is in fact suffering, and has vowed to give $164 million. Although, opposition reject the concession, as they are demanding $325 million.

This week, Colombia’s former army commander agreed to tell the truth about the war crimes which took place under his command. General Montoya had previously resisted the accusations but has now decided to come forward. During the US-funded “Plan Colombia” implemented in 2000, Montoya was held responsible for the execution of thousands of civilians. The general may face 40 years in prison for his crimes against humanity.

With surprise, Colombia’s House of Representatives has voted to hold off 2019 elections and instead push it to 2022 when national elections are held. The amendment seeks to end the separation of elections. While the amendment was approved by 24 of the 32 members of the senatorial first commision, other officials believe that the proposed amendment is purposely trying to reduce regional autonomy by holding regional and national elections at the same time.

Venezuela

After spending four years in prison, a Venezuelan activist named Lorent Saleh was released from prison and immediately sent to Spain. In a statement, Saleh said, “What I ask is that we all think about the fact that in Venezuela there are innocent people behind bars, people that have been kidnapped and who deserve to cross the same bridge that I have.” Back in 2014, Saleh was arrested after a video surfaced of him speaking out against Venezuela. The arrest was highly condemned by human rights groups. Saleh’s sudden release came just days after a political prisoner suspiciously died and further, is seen as a way to ease political tensions.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Venezuela’s annual inflation rate could reach an all-time high at the end of 2018. The suspected inflation is suspected to hit 1.37 million percent. This has increased dramatically since January’s inflation rate of 13,000 percent, to July’s rate at 1,000,000 percent, to now.

Malaysia

After six hours of questioning over the alleged abuse of power that took place while he was in office, former Prime Minister Najib Razak was seen leaving the headquarters of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission on Tuesday. It is suspected that this new round of questioning might be a result of a new investigation taking place, linked to the heavily-scrutinized state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Najib was last summoned to the MACC on September 19th, when he was held overnight and forced to appear in court in the morning. So far, it is unknown exactly what new allegations may have emerged to cause this new round of questioning.

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the former deputy prime minister, appeared in court this Friday to face charges of 45 separate counts of corruption. He is only the most recent in a string of senior Malaysian politicians to be charged with suspected corruption since May’s general elections. Some of Zahid’s charges relate to the misuse of charitable funds and questionable payments, although he has so far denied all wrongdoing. Following his arrest, Zahid spent the night in custody, had to pay a bail of 2 million ringgit (approximately $481,000 USD), and was forced to surrender his passport.

Palestine

This week, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to cut off all fuel deliveries to the Gaza strip. This threat came after a move by Hamas on Friday to employ tactics, including sending balloons attached to explosive devices over the border to Israel. Further, on Friday, Israeli forces killed seven protesters along the fence during the ongoing Great March of Return protest. If Netanyahu cuts off fuel shipments, the Gaza Strip will lack electricity completely, seeing as Israel is the only supplier of the resources. Accordingly, fuel deliveries will only continue if there is a complete ceasefire to violence.

Reports came out this week that the unemployment rate for college graduates in occupied Palestine is 55% for men, and 72% for women. Accordingly, college graduates are finding it harder to obtain a job than their peers who do not have any degree in higher education. the Palestinian minister of education is worried about young Palestinians’ future opportunities.

In response to a rocket launched from Gaza into the Israeli territory of Beersheba, Israel fired back with jets, striking 20 targets in the Gaza strip. One Palestinian was killed, and eight others were injured. Among the injured were six children.

Other News

Russia —  21 died at a shooting taking place at a technical school in Crimea, a region which was illegally annexed from Ukraine. (Radio Free Europe)

Hungary — In another move condemned by the United Nations as “cruel and incompatible with international human rights law,” Hungarian officials have passed a constitutional amendment that bans people from sleeping on the streets, which came into effect this Monday. (Washington Post)

Poland— At Poland’s Equality March, promoting the rights of the LGBT community, counter-protesters pelted marchers with firecrackers, rocks, and bottles. Several dozen counter-protesters were then arrested. (Radio Poland)

The Philippines — Shortly after formalizing his bid for Camarines Sur Governor, House Majority leader Rolando Andaya Jr. survived what is suspected to be an assassination attempt. (CNN Philippines)

Pakistan — Militants within Pakistan abducted 11 Iranian guards, sparking a coordination of search efforts. (Washington Post)

Tibet — Chinese workers in Qinghai province, on the border of Tibet’s autonomous region, attacked a group of Tibetans who were protesting their intrusion into local grazing areas – even dragging one man a short distance with a truck. (Radio Free Asia)

China — A regional official in west Xinjiang defended the mass internment of Chinese Muslims in the province, claiming that authorities were preventing “terrorism” through these centers, which supposedly are providing “vocational education.” (Al Jazeera)

Iran On Tuesday, the United States imposed sanctions on a band of businesses which provide financial support for military forces in Iran, which supposedly train and deploy child soldiers. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen This week, President Hadi fired his prime minister, Ahmed Bin Dagher. The prime minister was blamed for Yemen’s poor economic crisis. (Al Jazeera)

Bhutan — Two opposition parties received the most votes during last months national elections, and this Thursday, voters cast their ballot for the National Assembly. (NHK World)