Weekly Report: 2 November 2018 — CANVAS

A protest against Israel’s blockade of Gaza. (Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu)

Syria

A clash between US-backed Syrian fighters and Islamic State Militants left at least 40 Syrian fighters dead. Further, Islamic State recaptured land which was taken from them earlier this month along the border of Iraq. The Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) has been working to capture the last pocket of land being controlled by IS since September. This area is also home to thousands of civilians who are being held in the crossfire.

On Saturday, leaders from Russia, Turkey, Germany, and France met in Istanbul to discuss various issues facing Syria. While there was not a major breakthrough in talks, the four-way summit addressed the necessity of an eventual peace plan. With Russia backing Assad’s Regime, and Turkey backing rebel groups in opposition of Assad, the meeting made for an interesting dialogue. The leaders also discussed the refugee crisis, the Idlib demilitarization zone, and constitutional reform.

The Rukban Camp on the border of Syria and Jordan, home to more than 50,000 stranded civilians, has yet to receive aid since last January. This week, a convoy carrying aid was supposed to make its way to the camp but has been suspended due to security reasons. The camp is home to 80% women and children, all of whom are in desperate need of food, water, and medical attention. While people living in the Rukbar Camp need help, aid workers on their way were in danger.

Bolivia

This week, Maria Eugenia Choque was elected as the new president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). Further, Antonio Costas Sitic will become the new vice president. These new positions came after the previous president and vice president resigned. Their management will continue for the next two years and obtain duties in both the primary and general elections in 2019.

On December 6th, civic leaders from eight separate departments in Bolivia are calling on a strike against Evo Morales. They are calling on a national strike against the referendum results from February 21st, 2016 when President Morales was put into office, even though he lost the majority of votes. The strike is intended to prevent the TSE from granting Evo Morales access to candidacy for the 2019 election cycle.

Nicaragua

This week, Ortega’s government is trying to completely censor the media outlet, 100% Noticias. The Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Postal Services (Telcor) was ordered to replace the news agency with a separate one. Telcor announced that 100% Noticias is an illegal company. Accordingly, the government does not have any legal basis for their claim.

At the end of Mass at a cathedral in Managua this weekend, members of the church held a peaceful protest in which they carried crosses with the names of victims of the socio-political crackdown since April 16th. There were a total of 528 names written, given this is the number of people who have died because of the Sandinista government.

Last Friday, 70 hooded men entered the prison where political prisoners were being held. The prison called La Esperanza is a women’s prison where political prisoners were being held. The men who entered physically beat the prisoners. This week, members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) tried to gain access into La Esperanza in order to verify the physical and mental health of those beaten, but they were denied entry. Prison authorities did not let them in.

North Korea

The United States chief envoy for North Korea said on Monday that he was “certain” that the cooperation of Washington and Seoul could help to secure full nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula. However, he did not claim to be on a specific timeline and has yet to set a concrete meeting with his North Korean counterpart.

Skeptics have been watching South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s relationship with North Korean premier Kim Jong-Un, especially as Moon attempts to shift Kim Jong-un’s public image from one of a war-mongering dictator to someone who is a “young and candid strategist.” This has exacerbated a clear tension between American and South Korean foreign policy – it has been a foregone conclusion among American policymakers for quite some time that the DPRK cannot be trusted to keep promises, even if the proper concessions are made. On Wednesday, the DPRK and South Korea agreed to hold sports talks this week to strengthen exchange; these talks will even include discussions of joint participation in the upcoming 2020 Olympics and a potential 2032 joint Olympic bid.

A Human Rights Watch report released this week has revealed that rape and sexual assault perpetrated by North Korean officials is so widespread that it is considered to be part of ordinary life. According to those interviewed, sexual assault has been so normalized that many defectors did not think it was unusual, and that women have little choice but to comply once an official decides to set his sights on her.

This Thursday, Kim Jong-un publicly latched out at the sanctions regime against the sanctions continued to be enforced against the DPRK by the United States under Trump, claiming that the sanctions place the DPRK in a very difficult situation as it attempts to transform itself into a “tourist destination.”

Myanmar

Workers have been striking from a Chinese-owned garment factory as part of an effort to reinstate colleagues who had previously been fired for their connections with a trade union. In the city of Yangon, about 100 protesters demanded an audience with Chief Minster Phyo Min Thein, seeking to discuss their grievances with the minister. Earlier this month, dozens of workers from the same factory were injured after assailants attacked a crowd that had been gathered outside of the factory – an incident that the government claimed was started by the workers themselves.  

Less than a week after United Nations investigators warned that the genocide against the Rohingya is still ongoing, Myanmar and Bangladesh have come to an agreement to start returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar in mid-November. However, many Rohingya fear to return to Myanmar – especially since they are still not guaranteed rights such as citizenship, access to healthcare, and the freedom of movement. United Nations officials have condemned this deal and attempt at repatriation.

Additionally, there is evidence that Myanmar officials are in fact seeking to eliminate evidence that the Rohingya population even lived in certain areas of the Rakhine state: the government has been enacting large-scale construction projects in depopulated areas, with local government administrators claiming that these new comes would soon be occupied by “Rakhine, Chin, Bamar, and Hindu people from other parts of the country.” Meanwhile, some of the five ethnic armed groups that have yet to sign Myanmar’s nationwide ceasefire will attend talks with the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, according to a report released on Tuesday.

USA

 

Over the weekend, a man named Robert Bowers entered a Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and carried out a mass shooting. Bowers killed a total of eleven people, while others were injured. After authorities arrested the man, he claimed he just wanted “to kill Jews.” This shooting is the deadliest attack against Jewish people in the United States to date. There will be a court hearing this week to determine Robert Bowers jail time.

Due to the large mobilization of Central American migrants making their way to the United States border, Homeland Security and the Pentagon have decided to send 5,200 troops, military helicopters, and razor wire to the Mexican border. While some officials see the mass of people as a security threat, others, like the policy counsel for the ACLU’s Border Rights Center in El Paso state that, “Sending active military forces to our southern border is not only a huge waste of taxpayer money but an unnecessary course of action that will further terrorize and militarize our border communities.” Furthermore, the caravan of people is nearly 900 miles away, so it does not appear to be an immediate threat.

Cambodia

Although Kem Sokha, the leader of the banned opposition party (the Cambodian National Rescue Party), was released from prison to house arrest on September 10th, he is being barred from speaking to United Nations officials. Specifically, Rhona Smith – the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia – has been refused permission to speak with him about his detainment and various other issues, although she will be allowed to speak with various government officials and representatives from human rights groups during her visit this week. Meanwhile, Cambodia’s king has moved around 60 court officials, judges, and prosecutors to various posts around the country in a move welcomed by NGOs as a potential method to reduce judicial corruption.

Australia’s refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia has expired and is no longer considered to be an option according to Australian officials this week. According to rights advocates, the deal (which involved the Australian government paying Cambodia to resettle its refugees, who are usually confined to an offshore processing center on the small island of Nauru. Meanwhile, Cambodia-based rights group Licadho released a report on Thursday detailing the overcrowding issue in Cambodian prisons, with a focus on what they are calling “needless mass detention.”

Mexico

As migrants coming from Guatemala crossed the border into Mexico through the Suchiate River, one man died in clashing. Mexican authorities were deployed to the border. Accordingly, the police were not armed, yet one man was killed with a rubber bullet to the head. The deployment of authorities to the border is to stop the flow of migrants coming from Central America, given they are coming through Mexico in an illegal way.

The Maldives

Amnesty International released a briefing on October 30th that detailed the ordeal of Lahiru Madhushanka, a Sri Lankan driver who was accused of planning to assassinate then-President Abdulla Yameen in 2015. Madhushanka was reportedly denied a fair trial and repeatedly beaten by police in what may amount to torture. He was also denied access to legal representation and forced into prolonged solitary confinement. Amnesty International has urged that as the Maldives transitions into a new presidency, it must pay more attention to strengthening its human rights record.

Another area that Solih may wish to focus as he assumes the presidency next month is the potential for the Maldives to escape what is known as China’s debt-trap, in which Beijing repeatedly finances a variety of “questionable” infrastructure projects across countries and makes repeated purchases of land. It is hoped by some analysts that the Maldives will shake Chinese influence and return to the sphere of India, despite the fact that China holds over 80% of the Maldives’ sovereign debt. The relative cost of Beijing’s infrastructure project to any other agent of infrastructure development in the region means that it is, however, going to be incredibly difficult for the Maldives to completely depart from Chinese influence as it seeks to maintain investing in regional infrastructure.

Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed returned from a two-year-long exile on Thursday, only two days after the Supreme Court withdrew a warrant for his arrest. Nasheed was welcomed at the Male airport by president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and hundreds of reporters. It is unknown what role, if any, Nasheed will play in Solih’s new government.

Zimbabwe

A man detained for insulting the president while testifying before the commission probing the fatal shooting of six civilians during post-election protests this summer has been freed on bail this Monday. The man, Wisdom Mkwananzi, was detained after he accused Mnangagwa of leading a 1980s government crackdown during which human rights groups claim approximately 20,000 suspected government opponents are killed. According to a spokesperson from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, he was charged with “undermining the authority of the president, assaulting police officers during his arrest, and lying under oath.”

Over the weekend, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change held a rally at which it installed candidate Nelson Chamisa as the “president of Zimbabwe.” Chamisa lit a ‘democracy flame’ that was meant to resemble Zimbabwe’s Independence Flame in an attempt to draw attention to what MDC believes were the rightful results of the election. ZANU PF, the ruling party, has claimed that these actions “border on treason.” Chamisa and the MDC have continually refused to recognize the results of August’s elections as legitimate.

On Monday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa met with Zimbabwe’s business community and attempted to reassure them that he is working to stabilize the economy, despite signs that the country may be returning to a massive economic crisis, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the massive crisis ten years earlier. Mnangagwa also said that Zimbabwe would continue operating under its multi-currency system, although the bills have been increasingly difficult to come by as of late. By the end of the week, Mnangagwa announced the discovery of potential oil and gas deposits in the north of the country.

Laos

A report uncovered by Radio Free Asia has revealed that the government was ill-equipped to handle July’s dam break, which killed over forty people and has left countless others missing; this report reveals a high level of redundancy  between local and higher-up levels of the government, as well as general confusion over when to start evacuations. This account reveals that the government may have even known about the need for evacuation up to a day before the breaking of the dam, even though evacuations were not begun until two and a half hours before the dam actually burst.

Vietnam

Though the recent appointment of Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong has been seen by some as his rise to the top as a dictatorial strongman (as he is the first person to be both Party chief and president), some analysts believe that instead of showing his strength, this development is reflecting the Vietnamese government’s overall weakness. Although there has not yet been any substantial actions taken by the government to show otherwise, it is speculated that Trong was only nominated to be president because there were no other viable candidates that fit the requirements.

Vietnam has this week rolled out a series of measures aimed at controlling “false information” in its latest effort to combat ‘fake news,’ although many critics believe that these measures are in actuality meant to punish and control those who dissent against government policy. Vietnam has also been attempting to enact tougher measures on companies such as Google and Facebook to ensure that they hand over information on people who post what the government deems to be “false information,” and also remove such information when it is discovered.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

As of Monday, there are 120 confirmed cases of Ebola in Beni, the epicenter of the outbreak. Of those cases, 30 of the people are children under the age of 10 years old, and 27 of them have died. According to Reuters, the children may have contracted Ebola after being treated for unrelated cases of Malaria in a clinic run by traditional healers. Furthermore, in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, 168 individuals are confirmed dead and another 98 have been affected. The high numbers are in part due to the heightened conflict causing complications in administering help from health officials.

Colombia

This week, President Duque plans to send 5,000 troops to a northeastern region of Colombia. This came after citizens of the area begged the president to do the opposite. Duque’s deployment came after visiting the area of Ocaña because it is overrun by guerrilla groups and is home to Colombia’s second largest Coca growing region. According to locals, sending troops into the area only inflicts more violence and does not resolve any issues.

After Brazil elected the far-right president-elect, Bolsonaro, president Duque both congratulated Brazil and went as far as to suggest an alliance against Venezuelan president Maduro. Reports came out that Duque would willingly use military intervention against Socialist president Maduro if Jair Bolsonaro joined in.

Venezuela

On Tuesday, an official from the Treasury Department of the United States warned that Venezuela could pose a huge threat to its regions stability. The official stated that neighboring countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina due to Venezuela’s migrant and economic crisis’. Further, the Venezuelan president has been accused of contaminating water supplied at gold mining sites. The top official believes that Venezuela’s neighbors and their allies (including the United States) are under threat.

Malaysia

A luxury ocean-liner that had been previously been at the heart of the longstanding 1MDB scandal has gone on sale on Monday in an effort by Malaysian government officials to recover some of the billions of dollars that have gone missing from the state fund under the previous presidency. Reportedly, Malaysian financier Jho Low bought the yacht with money diverted from the 1MDB fund. So far, he has not been apprehended by investigators.

Malaysia has suspended seven police officers after discovering that about US$1.9 million has gone missing following a police search of a condo in Kuala Lumpur. This investigation was conducted by the police narcotics unit. About 20 other people have been detained in relation to the case. A little over half of the money has been recovered so far, and the police are attempting to locate the rest. On Thursday, the United States Department of Justice has announced charges against a fugitive Malaysian financier and two former Goldman Sachs bankers for money laundering in connection to the 1MDB fund.

Palestine

On Monday, three young Palestinian boys were killed by bombings coming from the Israeli Defence Force. The boys were aged 13-14 and the killing took place in the southeastern Gaza Strip.

This week, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was given permission to suspend recognition of Israel until Israeli recognizes Palestine. Further, they were given permission to stop security coordination with Israel. Economic agreements have been suspended, and the validity of the Oslo Accords have been revoked.

Other News

Russia —  Despite American threats to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Forces treaty, NATO has urged Russia to hold true to the arrangement despite the renewed tensions between Russia and the United States. (Radio Free Europe)

Hungary — A Hungarian journalist who has filmed tripping and kicking migrants at the border in 2015 has been cleared by courts, despite their acknowledgment that her actions were “morally incorrect and illicit.” (BBC)

Poland— The recent rule created to forcibly replace a majority of Polish judges into retirement is now being contested. (Radio Poland)

The Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked most top officials in the customs bureau after they failed to intercept over a ton of methamphetamines, replacing them with individuals from other agencies. (Al Jazeera)

Pakistan — On Wednesday, Asia Bibi, the women who were originally put on death row eight years ago after defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed, overturned her conviction. (CNN)

China — A researcher based in Canada has claimed that China must now justify the existence of its many re-education camps for Uighur Muslims after compiling a list of these 59 camps, and has claimed that the Chinese government has been deleting information about these camps since he began his investigations. (Radio Free Asia)

Iran This week, Denmark accused Iran of planning an assassination of an Iranian activist on Danish soil. (BBC)

Yemen As a part of a new Saudi-EAU-led coalition, more than 10,000 troops will be sent to Hodeidah in order to fight the Houthis. (Al Jazeera)