Weekly Report: 27 July 2018 — CANVAS

Protestors marching against Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila on July 23rd,2018. Associated Press, Bullit Marquez

Syria

At least 215 people have been killed in a series of Islamic State attacks in Sweida, a Southern Syrian province, on Wednesday. A sickening combination of suicide vests and heavy artillery wounded an additional 180. Despite its significant loss of territory in recent years following heavy foreign intervention and combat, IS maintains a considerable amount of territory centered around Southern Syria next to the Jordanian border.

The Syrian government has begun confirming that hundreds of prisoners taken into their custody during the Civil War have died. At least 312 deaths have been confirmed so far, but as relatives continue to search for their loved ones the number is expected to rise. The government has detained more than 80,000 people in the last 10 years.

Independent researchers have found that civilian casualties in Syria have risen by 34% due to Russian air strikes, which are supported by and partnered with the offensive tactics of Assad’s government. Russian weapons have killed at least 2,882 people in 2018. The Kremlin has maintained key interest in the success of Assad’s government following the war and has stated that they plan to employ restoration tactics in Syria akin to those used in the construction of the Soviet Union following World War II.

The United States and France have implemented sanctions to combat the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s government, targeting 5 new manufactures in addition to renewing 24 previous sanctions. The new policy has heightened tensions between the US, France, and Russia, especially following the Trump-Putin summit last week.

Syrian Kurds, who secured control over large swaths of Northern Syria and served as key American allies in combats against IS, have expressed concern about the durability of American support following the conflict and have begun considering negotiations with Assad. While Kurds remained largely uninvolved in direct confrontations with Syria’s regime, they share a complicated history of oppression from the government. It is unclear whether Assad intends to allocate any autonomous territory to the Kurdish People following the war’s end, especially given the high degree of Kurdish influence within the region.

 

Bolivia

In response to the Ecuadorian Prime Minister’s announcement that he intended to donate the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Headquarters in Quito to an indigenous university, the Bolivian foreign ministry has stated that there must be a bloc consensus among UNASUR before the building can be reappropriated by its host state. UNASUR is in the midst of an ongoing crisis, as they have been unable to elect a new secretary general and are presently losing six of their twelve nation-state members.

The government has announced that government-affiliated police will be deployed to Potosi, a major city, in anticipation of protesters on Bolivian Independence Day on August 6th. The protesters, who propagate the “Bolivia says no” slogan, were planning to protest the government for not recognizing the results of the 2016 constitutional referendum as politically binding. The failure of this referendum, which would have put a term limit of two terms on the president, has now removed any term limit of the presidency. According to the ruling Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, the protesters will not be allowed to march, but will be given space to chant their slogan during the Independence Day parade.

 

Nicaragua

Unrest continued in Nicaragua this week as did protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Family members of detained students and civil leaders who oppose the president were forced to flee to a cathedral following harassment from pro-government groups, which were ordered to clear the area around the detention center where these relatives had been waiting. Those detained are not allowed legal representation or visits, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH).

Ortega’s government recently passed a law allowing those who protest against the government to be arrested and designated as terrorists. Protesters have taken to hiding their faces in order to evade police. Supporters of Ortega have also begun to organize pro-government rallies and blame deaths on the opposition. Aside from shootings, insecticide attacks, sulphuric acid attacks, kidnappings, and torture have also been reported, primarily affecting students, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the religious community. The situation has a whole has caused 277 deaths, more than 2,000 injuries, and 215,000 job losses. 

 

North Korea

As outlined under the 2018 Singapore Summit conditions, the dismantlement of key North Korean nuclear facilities has begun at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The facility has been the DPRK ’s primary nuclear launch and intercontinental ballistic missile program center for the past six years. It includes buildings meant to prepare space vehicles for launch and develop specific engines for ballistic missiles and similar systems. Although some believe that this represents an important confidence-building measure, other analysts state that true denuclearization will not have begun until the DPRK begins to dispose of fissile materials and nuclear facilities.

On Monday, the United States released an advisory opinion detailing the measures that the North Korean government takes to evade the consequences of sanctions;  as a result, Taiwan has announced this Tuesday that it would cease employing North Korean workers. This is part of a larger trend of American policy targeting North Korean overseas workers, as they are estimated to provide $500 million USD to the North Korean regime annually. Despite continually enforced sanctions from the United States, South Korea continues making efforts to improve its relationship with its northern neighbor; this week, South Korean officials have both explored revitalizing the previously defunct railway system between the two and begun to consider reducing the number of troops stationed on the Demilitarized Zone.

The alleged path to peace between the United States and the DPRK remains strained. However, this Friday, the DPRK repatriated the remains of what is believed to be 55 American troops killed in the Korean War. The contents of these ashes remain to be seen, and some skeptics have noted that the DPRK government has given fabricated remains of foreign nationals to grieving relatives in the past.

 

Myanmar

After a landslide at a jade mine in the Kachin state and 27 subsequent casualties, questions about the jade industry’s regulation and corruption have risen again among members of the international community. As a result of heavy rains in the area, police, the Red Cross, and the fire brigade have been unable to locate any of the injured or deceased people at this time.

On Monday, the United Nations Security Council strongly advised Myanmar’s government to create conditions which enable the return of Rohingya refugees currently in Bangladesh. Despite continued scrutiny over the government’s role in the Rohingya crisis following last week’s report by Fortify Rights, Laos has vowed this Wednesday to promote bilateral relations and cooperation with Myanmar.

Also concerning is the recent revelation that two Reuters reporters detained last year have been subject to severe interrogation techniques, including forced sleep deprivation. The two were originally arrested over their work on a story regarding the murder of 10 Rohingya Muslims by government soldiers.

 

USA

Facing bipartisan pushback against tariffs, the White House has announced a $12 billion USD aid package for farmers struggling due to the escalating trade war. This stopgap solution is designed to help assuage Republican fears that Trump’s trade policy is harming their constituents and weakening their chances of faring well in the 2018 midterm elections. President Trump also met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss the trade war. While no definitive agreement was reached, both parties demonstrated a willingness to work together and remove trade barriers.

Student protesters from March for Our Lives, an advocacy group led by student survivors of the Parkland shooting, continued their fight for gun reform in Gainesville, Florida this week. Inaction by politicians since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February has only incensed students and their supporters who seek to “register more young people to vote” and end gun violence through gun control reform.

The United States aims to forge a closer relationship with Taiwan through a new Congressional defense spending bill intended to push back against Beijing. This bill, if passed, would expand military-to-military engagement between the countries and sell US military equipment to Taiwan.

After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted that Trump’s hostile policies could lead his country to “the mother of all wars,” President Trump lashed back with an equally volatile tweet, inciting increasingly poor relations between the two nations.  Similarly, the apparent camaraderie between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin has not directly translated into improved US-Russia relations as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a “Crimea Declaration” condemning Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. The White House has also threatened sanctions on Turkey over their refusal to free Andrew Craig Brunson, an American pastor who was charged with converting Kurds to Christianity and “radicalizing” them towards independence. 

 

Cambodia

Cambodia’s elections, set for this Sunday, have been globally discredited due to the government’s removal of opposition groups. Human Rights Watch has called the election “not genuine,” and the United States, EU, and Japan, the main supporters of Cambodian elections, have refused to send observers to the country. Exiled opposition party leader Sam Rainsy called for a boycott of the election, however, this is expected to have little to no effect on the outcome or the legitimacy of the fraudulent election.

More than 25,000 people will be evacuated in Northern Cambodia after the collapse of a dam in neighboring Laos causing a surge in the Mekong river.

 

Mexico

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is set to become Mexico City’s first female mayor in December. Mexico has one of the highest female election rates in the world, and many suspect Pardo’s mayoral win is the first of many steps to her eventual candidacy for Mexico’s presidency.

Six people were killed and four wounded when a gunman opened fire at a funeral in Western Mexico. Official police statements have yet to be released on the subject; however, the shooting occurred in Michoacan State where many drug trafficking routes are located. Homicides in Mexico have increased by 16% so far in 2018, with a total of 15,973 murders in the last six months.

Ruben Pat, the director of a Mexican news website, was killed this week, the second member of the Semanario Playa News outlet to be killed in a month. It is widely suspected that Pat’s murder occurred in relation to his journalism, which was critical of drug cartels and police impunity.

Families of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students have continued the search for their children by pursuing a court case with Mexico’s Supreme Court. The group has requested that the court create a truth commission that works impartially to find the responsible culprits, as impunity and corruption have stalled independent investigations into the matter for 46 months.

President Trump’s intended US-Mexico border wall will spark serious repercussions for animals, including limited movement, habitat, and disrupted environmental patterns according to a new study. Subsequently, animal rights activists have joined human rights activists in petitioning the US Congress to implement more sustainable and less harmful border control measures in the region

 

The Maldives

The Maldivian Supreme Court completely overturned its watershed February ruling which had ordered the release of political prisoners and the reinstatement of 12 opposition lawmakers. Following February’s court ruling, President Abdullah Yameen had declared a state of emergency and began to imprison top judges and opposition leaders on charges of terrorism. The newly appointed set of judges are heavily politically biased in favor of the current government and have drawn condemnation from international groups who are shocked by the degradation of the independence of the judiciary in the Maldives.

 

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s first election without Robert Mugabe is to be held on Monday after a mostly peaceful electoral season. Campaigns and candidates were able to freely and openly oppose the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa without major threats of intimidation. International observers arrived in the country for the first time in decades, showing additional signs of progress. However, both main candidates, Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, have used dangerous rhetoric against each other in the campaign, and their commitment to democracy is yet to be fully tested. Chamisa continues to claim that the elections will be fraudulent. The United Nations has also warned of increasing voter and candidate intimidation as the elections approach. Polls have so far been unable to predict a clear winner, and the race may continue into a run-off election.  

Business in the country has grown as the election season has brought both international interests and increased consumer spending in the country. The prospects of a more open economy have also bolstered preparations for increased foreign investment.

 

Laos

Following several days of heavy rain, a dam collapsed in Laos on Monday night leaving at least half a dozen villages destroyed, 27 people dead, 131 missing, and 7,000 people homeless. Roughly two hours before the dam collapsed an evacuation warning was issued; however, few evacuation efforts were actually attempted. The impact of the dam break spread into Cambodia where roughly 25,000 Cambodians have had to relocate to higher ground. Water levels are only expected to rise in coming days, as is the death toll. Singapore has pledged 50,000 USD in aid to Laos following the collapse, South Korea has sent several relief teams for search efforts, and the Thai army has also pledged its support to the flood victims in the coming weeks.

 

Vietnam

Human Rights Watch has urged the Vietnamese government to drop charges against environmental activist Le Dinh Luong. Mr. Luong was charged with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under the Vietnamese penal court.  

With its growing exports and moderate imports, the Council of Foreign Relations has called Vietnam “the next China”. Vietnam’s foreign reserves have nearly doubled in the past two years. While there are indications that the US-China trade war might negatively affect Vietnam, the economy has not been affected yet.

 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

In his state-of-the-nation address last week, President Kabila declined to state whether he would run for another term this December. While promising that he would “unequivocally respect the constitution,” his track record indicates the opposite and critics fear he will register to run before the August 8th deadline for candidates.

Fortunately, DRC’s Ebola outbreak has finally ended.

 

Colombia

The former President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe has stepped down from his seat in the  Senate after the Supreme Court disclosed it was conducting a criminal investigation against him, including charges “bribery and procedural fraud.” Considering that his protégé Ivan Duque is soon to take office, Uribe’s resignation might offer Duque more maneuvering space in the Senate, especially as he is considered to be more moderate than his predecessor with regards with the FARC deal Uribe has long been accused of supporting right-wing paramilitaries to fight against the FARC forces in Colombia’s civil war.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated  that the greatest challenge for the incoming Colombian government is bringing development, security, and the rule of law “to vast expanses of the country that continue to be prey to violence.” He has expressed hope that the achievements of incumbent President Santos must be preserved to “consolidate peace.”

 

Venezuela

As Venezuela’s inflation crisis continues, the government will remove five zeroes from the currency and tie it to the state-backed cryptocurrency, the Petro. The move is seen as a last-resort attempt to stabilize inflation that is expected to reach 1,000,000% by the end of the year according to the IMF. Maduro has also given a large oil concession bloc to the Central Bank as a means to boost lackluster currency reserves and ease economic tensions. Both plans are expected to be part of a broader economic recovery plan.

The country’s last anti-Maduro newspaper is struggling to survive amidst the inflation crisis and a new defamation lawsuit by the government. The newspaper’s survival remains one of the greatest oppositions to the consolidation of Maduro authoritarian government.

American authorities have arrested two people engaged in a $1.2 billion USD currency scam through Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. Two more Venezuelan nationals have been indicted in the United States for the scam. The American government has continued the use of sanctions to weaken top Venezuelan officials and sow doubts about their allegiances to Maduro.

A group of farmers has been marching across the country to protest weak and inefficient agrarian policy in the country. They are expected to reach Caracas in the coming days to present a series of proposals to President Maduro. The protest represents discontent in a major pillar of support for Maduro’s party– the rural campesinos.

Major strikes have also occurred in the electrical sector causing major power outages. The workers are protesting low wages and poor economic conditions by showing up to work but refusing to conduct any maintenance work. The electrical workers union has often been a supporter of both Chavez and Maduro, but recent problems in the outdated electrical grid, a shortage of skilled technicians, and poor wages have led to the strike.

 

Malaysia

Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, recently stated that the government he inherited has been ravaged by corruption. In a recent interview with CNN, he stated that “most of the top echelons in the government are corrupt.” Mohamad also spoke strongly against the escalating trade war between the United States and China, stating that there is no benefit to be had from a potentially destabilizing trade war.

Despite the ongoing scandal led by former prime minister Najib Razak and the 1MDB fund, construction of the 1MDB-affiliated Exchange 106 tower in Kuala Lumpur is still underway. Prime Minister Mohamad has continued to fund this project which is being marketed as the “world’s most luxurious” office building.

Mohamad has continued to honor the 1692 Water Agreement with Singapore despite having discussed reneging it during his electoral campaign.  Additionally, top-level Malay politicians are attempting to refocus discourse between the two countries on the renegotiation of the High-Speed Railway project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The Malaysian government stated in May that this project would be scrapped, but signals have been incredibly mixed over the past few weeks as to what the future of the joint project will be.

 

Cuba

Cuba’s new constitutional reforms have been preliminarily released to the public as the legislature approved the first steps for amending the constitution last week. Among the changes is the possibility for a referendum allowing same-sex marriage. However, the changes have faced criticism from around the world and human rights organizations for not going far enough as the country continues to violate basic human rights and repress activists.

 

Other News:

The Philippines: As a result of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s history of violently misogynistic remarks, 40,000 women’s rights supporters protested him on Monday using the hashtag #BabaeAko, which translates to “I Am Woman.” – Time

Poland  — The judicial crisis in Poland continues as legislators push to remove Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gelsdorf from office from office. The lower chamber of Parliament pushed for a new law that would allow the appointment of her replacement to be expedited. — Reuters

Thailand — Thai nurse and activist, Natthida “Waen” Meewangpa, continues to be held on lese majeste (blasphemy to the monarchy) charges. She has been held since 2015 without trial and is expected to face charges in military court soon. Her involvement in anti-coup protests in 2010 led to her arrest by the military junta. — Human Rights Watch

Bahrain A United Nations Report released this week calls for increased freedoms of expression and human rights in the country amidst the incarceration of several activists, increasing use of police violence, expanding anti-terror laws, and discrimination against women. — Channel News Asia

Pakistan Imran Khan, the chief of the Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Party, won the recent general elections in Pakistan. However,  Khan will need to form a coalition with the Independents before he can establish his government. This year too, electoral violence plagued the Baluchistan and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan.— AlJazeera