Weekly Report: 21 September 2018 — CANVAS

Presidents Moon and Kim hold hands on Mount Paektu, believed by North Koreans to be a sacred site. 

Syria

On Sunday, Syria held its first election since the war broke out in 2011. Because Sunday is a typical working day for the average Syrian, voting hours were extended for another five hours. Only people in government-controlled areas are able to vote, and further, refugees and displaced Syrians are not allowed to cast a vote. For example, a person originally from Aleppo who is now living in Damascus cannot vote as a citizen of Damascus, they must go back to Aleppo if they want to cast a vote. As if this is not challenging enough, some believe that voting will not change anything. A researcher from the London School of Economics conveyed that the Syrian government is using this election for further propaganda. This way it appears as though the country is on its way towards recovery when really the elected officials are typically appointed, not elected.

In an attempt to stop the bombardment of Israeli missile attacks in Syria, the Syrian regime unintentionally shot down a Russian aircraft. The aircraft carried 15 Russian servicemen, who all died in the attack. The Russian Ministry of Defense sees this act as irresponsible of Israel and claims the act was entirely their fault.

On Monday, Russian and Turkish Presidents, Putin and Erdogan reached an agreement to make Idlib a buffer zone. The two presidents will demilitarize the region by October 15th and plan to withdraw all heavy weaponry and “radical fighters.” The goal of the buffer zone is to prevent the impending humanitarian disaster. Further, both Turkey and Russia will carry out patrols in the demilitarized zone.

Bolivia

This week, activists who have been defending the 21F continue in their hunger strike. Their objective for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to hold true to the law and disempower Evo Morales as a candidate for the 2019 elections. The protests are held in front of the electoral body in Abaroa square. The members of the organization are from Todos Unidos and the Civic Committee of Cochabamba. One person involved states, “I prefer to die of hunger than to live in a dictatorship, I ask you to join for the love of democracy.”

This week, the TSE denied legal status to SOL.bo. Although the political group was denied entry into the 2019 election, they stated that they will use any legal means necessary to gain access back into the election. The head of SOL.bo, Luis Revilla called on citizens to march with him in a protest.

On Thursday, José Alberto Gonzales was elected as the Ambassador of Bolivia to the OAS. In his first speech, he made no mention of the speech given earlier this week by Almagro, who is the head of the OAS and outrightly criticizes the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan regimes. Gonzales backs both of these regimes. In his speech, Gonzales proposed that there should be a working team to begin reconstruction of the OAS in order to best serve the people of the 34 member country coalition.

Nicaragua

On Sunday, protests across the nation continued to unfold. Thousands of people marched through the capital and demanded that President Ortega step down from office. During the labeled “Rescuing the Homeland” march, entire families entered the streets, waving their flags and shouting anti-Ortega slogans.

The United States is in the midst of coming up with a plan to sanction Nicaragua. The plan would bring together the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (Nica) and the Law for Human Rights and the Fight Against Corruption in Nicaragua. By combining these two laws, there will be calamitous effects on Ortega’s dictatorship for its ability to appropriate individual sanctions which include blocking capital and the revocation of visas. Further, there would be limited access to attention from multilateral financial organizations. A draft for this combined law will be announced in the following weeks.

A trip to Geneva, Switzerland was originally scheduled from September 14th but has been postponed until further notice. The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) was supposed to meet with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to discuss the ongoing human rights violations taking place in Nicaragua. The trip was canceled due to lacking financial means.

Peaceful protesters from several cities across Nicaragua including,  Managua, Nagarote, Jalapa, Bluefields, Condega, Chichigalpa, Ocotal and Mozonte are using balloons as a form of protest. People are blowing up blue and white balloons, marking them with a variety of anti-Ortega phrases, and covering the streets with them.

North Korea

After the Pyongyang summit this Wednesday between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the DPRK’s Kim Jong Un, the two leaders have announced that they have signed an agreement. Reportedly, the discussions of the two lead to an agreement in which the North Korean leader agreed to shut down one of the North’s main missile testing and launch sites. Although some details are unclear at this point, the declaration definitely allows for independent inspectors to look at the site. According to Kim, the site will only be dismantled if the United States takes reciprocal measures that have yet to be unspecified. In addition, the two countries have announced that they are seeking to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics.

On the final day of the summit between Moon and Kim, the two rival leaders visited Mount Paektu, a site which is considered sacred by the North Korean regime. The two took a picture together with the volcano and its crater in the background. Moon and Kim have been making strides towards reducing military tensions on the border, such as establishing buffer zones around their borders to prevent potential clashes, withdraw 11 guard posts from the Demilitarized Zone by December, and establish a no-fly zone about the border between the two Koreas.

Myanmar

Over 80 American lawmakers have urged the current administration to step up efforts to gain the release of the two Reuters journalists who have been jailed in Myanmar over their reporting on the Rohingya crisis. The two journalists were sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for “possessing state secrets.” On Sunday, at least 100 demonstrators – including high school students – gathered in Myanmar’s largest city to demonstrate against the imprisonment of the reporters, holding signs with messages such as “revealing the truth is not a crime.”

On Tuesday, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court announced the beginning of its preliminary investigation into the expulsion of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh. This announcement comes only a day after Monday’s accusation by United Nations investigators of committing atrocities against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, which the UN investigators believe calls for top Myanmar generals to be charged with genocide. Also on Tuesday, the United  Nations Human Rights Council released a 400-page report detailing the findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

In Myanmar’s Shan state, members of Myanmar’s United Wa State Army (UWSA), an ethnic armed group comprising the military wing of the ruling party of the self-declared Wa state (which has not been recognized by the government), has been targeting Christian clergy members and destroying churches in its self-proclaimed autonomous areas. The Myanmar government is attempting to come to an agreement with the UWSA and other armed groups to end seven decades of civil war.

USA

On Tuesday, the Trump administration decided to cap the already small number of refugees allowed into the United States. The new limit is at 30,000 people, which is a significant decrease from the previous 45,000 allowed into the country. The announcement came in a brief statement by Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. This is the lowest ceiling to come in decades.

Brett Kavanaugh, a Supreme Court nominee who has received tremendous backlash from Democrats in the past few weeks, has now been accused of sexual assault. Next Monday, September 24th, Kavanaugh and his accuser will appear before a Senate hearing to discuss the alleged assault. Although Kavanaugh has denied the sexual assault, if the hearing proves his guilt, his future as a member of the Supreme Court will be at stake.

The Trump Administration has ordered the justice department to bring transparency to Russia-related materials. In a statement, President Trump ordered the justice department to declassify and publicize materials from the supposed Russian interference in the 2016 election. Further, there is an order to publicize text messages between high-level officials in the FBI and the Justice Department. Thousands of pages of material have been handed over, although the department has made it clear that there is a line they are not willing to cross.

The US-China trade war continues as the Trump Administration imposed $200 billion more in Chinese goods. This is Trump’s biggest move yet, and retaliation is expected to unfold. Beginning September 24th, American importers will have to pay another 10 percent tariff for the affected items. This will eventually climb to 25 percent by the end of the year.

Cambodia

According to top Southeast Asia analysts, Cambodia will be unable to regain its standing in the international community unless it reverses its current policy agenda and allows for more opposition voices to be heard within Cambodia’s democratic institutions. The analysts also supported measures for Cambodia such as reducing governmental corruption but stressed the necessity of regaining electoral accountability for future elections. Specifically, scholars cited the Paris Peace Agreement, through which many parties signed on to hold Cambodia accountable in the case of democratic backslides.

Mexico

This week, local residents outside of the Guadalajara area began complaining of a foul stench in their neighborhood. After investigations, there appeared to be a refrigerated trailer containing near 150 corpses. Accordingly, the dead bodies were to be examined and investigated at a later date due to local laws in Mexico stating that a body may not be cremated until there is a full investigation on it. Because local mortuaries were full, a refrigerated trailer seemed to be the next liable option. The top forensic official was fired after the discovery for his lack of ability to be responsible for the bodies.

The Maldives

A recent investigation has uncovered new details about Maldivian government corruptions; this report was published on Tuesday and has discovered that at least 50 of the nation’s tropical island leases were obtained illegally – and at prices that were hugely discounted. It is believed that President Abdulla Yameen, who is hoping to be re-elected this coming Sunday, helped to clear at least 24 of these leases for tourism companies – and was involved personally in at least one of these deals.

According to a recent report by the World Health Organization, the Maldives health insurance scheme must be reviewed urgently.  The report on the health insurance scheme, called Aasandha, found that there was a high level of dependency on overseas medication and confirmation of medical test, despite some successes in increasing life expectancy, improving child and maternal health, and the control of communicable diseases. However, the rate of noncommunicable diseases has skyrocketed, accounting for approximately 80% of all deaths in the past year.

Zimbabwe

During the first state of the nation address of President  Emmerson Mnangagwa’s term since the elections, opposition politicians walked out, continuing to cite the claim that Mnangagwa was not legitimately elected. As a cholera outbreak continues to spread throughout Harare, President Mnangagwa has vowed to give financial assistance to the Harare City Council and advocated that the corporate world also pledge to fund to help cease the outbreak. So far, the outbreak has affected more than 3,000 people and killed 32 people over the past three weeks. A United Nations spokesperson in Zimbabwe said this Tuesday that a UN emergency response fund may be activated if the outbreak continues to spread to other parts of the country.

A week after being chosen as Zimbabwe’s new finance minister, Mthuli Ncube is working to stabilize Zimbabwe’s economy, hoping to be the driver of President Mnangagwa’s plan for Zimbabwe to become a middle-income country by 2030. According to Ncube, the plan to make Vision 2030 achievable will be revealed within the next couple of months. Zimbabwe is also hoping to make a bid to international financial institutions for additional engagement at the next IMF and World Bank meetings, which will take place in Bali, Indonesia.

According to Amnesty International, Zimbabwe authorities have to further support the Commission of Inquiry into the post-election killings in order for the families of victims to have “any hope of obtaining truth, justice, and reparations.” Amnesty International has also called upon the government to provide guarantees that witnesses testifying before the Commission are protected, especially as the political climate in Zimbabwe is known to be repressive.

Laos

Sports games that were previously scheduled to take place in northeastern Laos during November have been postponed due to concerns about corruption in the awarding of construction contracts in the lead up to the event. Laos, which ranked 135 out of 180 countries on corruption in Transparency International’s 2017 list, has faced many challenges with combating corruption in the past couple of years, with the most notable instance being that of similar corruption during the awarding of construction contracts for the 10th National Sports Games in 2014.

After the collapse of a dam built by a South Korean firm left 36 Lao citizens dead, 98 missing, and over 6,000 displaced the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy has agreed to fund and attempt to develop an entirely energy self-sufficient town in central-eastern Laos. The consulting firm awarded the contract, Kumho E&G, has created a solar-powered microgrid for a village in Myanmar in the past.

Vietnam

This Tuesday, a court in the northern Vietnamese province of Bac Ninh sentenced Do Cong Duong, a land rights activist and citizen journalist, to 48 months in prison for the crime of “disturbing public order.” Duong is only the latest in a rash of rights activists to have been jailed for the regime, with Radio Free Asia counting at least 28 rights activists and bloggers who have been put on trial, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms in the first months of 2018.

Additionally, a retired teacher who used Facebook as a venue to post writing critical of the Vietnamese government was sentenced to a 14-year prison term for “trying to overthrow the state.” Dao Quang Thuc, the teacher, called for better protections for Vietnam’s environment and against perceived Chinese encroachment into Vietnamese territories in the South China Sea. According to Thuc’s lawyer, all but two witnesses were not allowed to testify and there was “no presumption of innocence.”

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang died on Friday morning after a protracted period of illness. As Vietnam has no paramount leader and is instead ruled jointly by the president, leader of the Communist party, and Prime Minister. Tran Dai Quang was elected in 2016 and had had a reputation for being tough, no-nonsense, and preferring to stay out of the public eye.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

On Monday, politician Jean-Pierre Bemba was fined 300,000 euros and sentenced 1 year in prison. Bemba was on a trial before the International Criminal Court in the Hague. He was convicted of witness tampering and has been banned from running in the presidential election in December. Although he was sentenced to 1 year in prison, Bemba will not have to serve it given his previous time in prison.

After a riverboat capsized in the DRC, at least 27 people have been confirmed dead. The boat carried 60 people. There was a mix of students and merchants and the boat was overloaded with a variety of merchandise. The roof of the boat caved in, causing the boat to submerge.

Colombia

The ELN has made peace talks between the Colombian government and their organization worse after they kidnapped a 15-year-old girl hostage. While the kidnapping supposedly took place on September 7th, it was not confirmed until this past Saturday. The ELN believed that the girl in hostage is an “army informant.” President Duque sees the kidnapping as insulting to children in Colombia and that the act is cowardice. The UN reminded the guerrilla group that kidnapping breaks the international humanitarian law.

President Duque received backlash and criticism after appointing his close friend to the role of Superintendent of Industry and Commerce. Duque received over 80 applications for the position but decided to designate the seat to Andres Barreto. The president has previously experienced judgment for filling jobs out of friendship rather than merit, so this recent job placement has added fuel to the fire.

After the former president left the country’s commission (which monitors the peace process with FARC) without government representation, current president Duque has reactivated it. The tripartite commission previously consisted of the United Nations, FARC, and Representatives of the State, and now there will be new members including Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez, Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos, and post-conflict advisor Emilio Jose Gutierrez. There are hopes to “renew momentum” to the peace process amid the ongoing violence taking place in former FARC territories.

According to a new UN statistic, Cocaine production in Colombia hit an all-time high in 2017. Accordingly, production rose 31%. The UN is concerned that this amount of production could harm peace processes.

Venezuela

In a recent press conference held in Cucuta, Colombia, the OAS Secretary General gave a speech where he denounced the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro for the recent migration crisis. The Secretary-General went as far as to say that he is not ruling out a military intervention, which is a statement that US president Donald Trump threatened just last year. Almagro spent three days in Cucuta which borders Venezuela. According to the UN, more than 2.3 million Venezuelans have left their country in the past few years, and many of them have traveled into Colombia.

After the OAS chief gave his speech claiming that military intervention is a possible option against Venezuelan dictator, President Maduro, the Lima group who established themselves in 2017 and work to apply international pressure on Venezuela, disagreed. Of the 14 governments part of the Lima group, 11 of them firmly disagreed with a military intervention. They believe that there are more peaceful means to an end of Maduro’s dictatorship.

After Maduro’s recent visit to China this past weekend to discuss oil exports, it was concluded that Venezuela will increase exports to 1 million barrels per day. China has agreed to invest another $5 billion into Venezuela. There are hopes from China’s end that this will help to boost production.

Malaysia

Fresh pressure has been put on Myanmar by the United Nations and international community regarding the scourge of child marriage this Wednesday after a 15-year-old Malaysian girl was allowed to be married to a 44-year-old man in July after being given the permission of the Islamic courts. This is only the most recent case of such incidents this year that has made headlines, with the last being the marriage of an 11-year-old Thai girl to a 41-year-old Malaysian man in June. The Malaysia representative of UNICEF urged the government to “bring legislative change to ban the practice,” although she also acknowledged that this is difficult, as Islamic courts have sole jurisdiction over marriage between Muslims.

In the latest update in the 1MDB scandal, former Prime Minister Najib Razak has been charged with 25 additional corruption charges linked to the scandal. The new charges, which include four counts of abuse of power and 21 counts of money laundering, have come after Najib’s detainment by Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency this Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty to all charges after they were read out in court. This newest development brings the total number of charges against Najib to 32.

Cuba

In his first interview since taking presidency back in April, Miguel Diaz-Canel openly supports LGBTQ rights. He supports to change the constitution to include marriage between same-sex couples, stating that he’ll “defend there being no kind of discrimination.” Cuba is currently in the process of drafting a new constitution, and the president hopes that the people of Cuba will respect the change.

The Maldives

A recent investigation has uncovered new details about Maldivian government corruptions; this report was published on Tuesday and has discovered that at least 50 of the nation’s tropical island leases were obtained illegally – and at prices that were hugely discounted. It is believed that President Abdulla Yameen, who is hoping to be re-elected this coming Sunday, helped to clear at least 24 of these leases for tourism companies – and was involved personally in at least one of these deals.

 

According to a recent report by the World Health Organization, the Maldives health insurance scheme must be reviewed urgently.  The report on the health insurance scheme, called Aasandha, found that there was a high level of dependency on overseas medication and confirmation of medical test, despite some successes in increasing life expectancy, improving child and maternal health, and the control of communicable diseases. However, the rate of noncommunicable diseases has skyrocketed, accounting for approximately 80% of all deaths in the past year.

Other News:

Russia — A judge in Chechnya has ordered that Oyub Titiyev, a Chechen human rights activist, must have a closed-door court – something that Titiyev’s lawyer claims violates his rights under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. (Radio Free Europe)

Hungary A Hungarian court has upheld the terrorism conviction of a Syrian refugee who threw stones at Hungarian police, despite rights groups calling it an “abuse of terrorism laws.” (Al Jazeera)

Poland— After Polish President Andrzej Duda has made several requests for the US to have a permanent military base in Poland; reportedly, the US is finally considering the offer. (Radio Free Europe)

The Philippines — As many as 800,000 people have been negatively affected by Typhoon Mangkhut, with 74 dead and countless missing in the northeastern provinces of the country. (Asia Times

Thailand — With elections coming up next year, Thai officials have begun to relax rules against participation in political parties.  (Channel News Asia)

Pakistan Only two months into his 10 year jail sentence, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was released from prison. (BBC)