Weekly Report: 3 August 2018 — CANVAS

Riot police in Harare use water cannons to disrupt opposition protesters on August 1st, 2018. (EPA)

Syria

This past Sunday, Iranian and French officials to review efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict in Syria, focusing on a political solution to the protracted war. On Monday, the Syrian government revealed the deaths of an estimated 13,000 deaths among activists who disappeared and were detained by the Syrian government early on during the civil war. Thus far, 400 death certificates have been issues, listing natural causes such as heart attacks or strokes. However, this is widely disputed by groups such as Amnesty International, which claims that those imprisoned in the Saydnaya facility were likely tortured to death by the Syrian regime.

Last Tuesday, pieces of footage were released depicting a Japanese journalist and Italian man respectively. It is believed that they have been held in Syria, one of whom was thought to have been abducted by the Al-Nusra front (a former Al-Qaeda affiliate) in 2015.

A report from Human Rights Watch released this Wednesday revealed that the movement of internally displaced persons as a result of fighting near major city centers has been greatly restricted. In addition, HRW revealed that authorities at the camps for displaced persons have been taking the documentation of residents without returning it, something that makes it impossible for individuals to so much as leave the camps.

Also on Wednesday, Russia implored the United States to back its efforts to repatriate Syrian refugees following the Trump-Putin summit, something that the United States had yet to comment on. Were the US to comment positively on this, it would put it at odds with major allies, as well as the United Nations.

Bolivia

Despite being labeled provocateurs by the government, various civic groups and movements have continued to plan protests and demonstrations throughout the week in order to draw attention to the government’s refusal to recognize the results of referendum 21F. This referendum, which would limit the number of terms a president is able to serve, passed with the majority of Bolivians voting in favor. The majority of these protests are planned for this week and the next, leading up to the celebration of Bolivia’s independence day on August 6th.

This past Tuesday, Bolivian officials have announced the creation of a database of missing persons, coinciding on July 20th with the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. Last year, 563 cases of trafficking and trafficking in persons were registered in Bolivia.

Nicaragua

As violence in Nicaragua continues, Nicaraguans have been fleeing south to states such as Costa Rica. Those on the run include journalists, activists, and doctors, many of whom fear reprisal from the government due to their activism. Although these individuals are continuing their advocacy work in Costa Rica, many of them are living in quite impoverished conditions.

On Monday, the United States chose to revoke visas of government officials in response to the recent crackdowns on protesters. This move has come with a strong statement from Washington that President Ortega and his wife, Vice President Murillo, are responsible for the current human rights situation in Nicaragua. This move comes on the heels of sanctions imposed against three top Nicaraguan officials last month for human rights abuses.

In Nicaragua’s second-largest city, Leon, doctors and medical personnel have been fired for treating protesters. These individuals, who staffed a public hospital, fear that this represents a larger government crackdown on anyone who associates themselves with the protesters.

North Korea

A Seoul human rights commission announced this past Monday that it would investigate the circumstances under which a dozen North Korean defectors came to South Korea.  The DPRK government has backed the statement of one of the workers that an agent from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service used coercive measures to force the North Koreans into South Korea.

Although United States President Donald Trump has thanked the DPRK for the return of American remains, many analysts are still skeptical about the potential for a detente between the United States and DPRK. The latest satellite photography has shown signs of continued work at the military factory in Sanumdong, which suggests that North Korea may be continuing work on its nuclear program. North Korea has also continued to produce nuclear fuel, and all production of missiles has remained at a consistent level with what it had been prior to the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un.

 

Myanmar

Last week’s flooding continues to impact citizens in states along the Thanlwin River as monsoon rains force dams and reservoirs to overflow. On Monday, it was revealed that the government gave warnings to citizens too late, in some cares 24 hours after the flooding had begun in the first place. 12 people have been killed since last Friday, and over 130,000 have been evacuated.

On Tuesday, Myanmar’s commission of inquiry drew criticism from both nationalist groups that deny that the human rights abuses have taken place, along with human rights watchers who claim that this panel might attempt to evade accountability for government actions taken against the Rohingya. Although the United Nations characterized government actions against the Rohingya in the Rakhine state of Myanmar as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” the government claims that it is in fact in response to acts of terror by Rohingya in the area.

On Wednesday, it was announced that Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi will be removed from a display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. This is a direct response to the concerns of Canadian Rohingya people. Already, there has been a plaque installed explaining the situation in Rakhine at the museum.

 

USA

This Sunday, United States President Donald Trump said that he would allow the government to shut down if Democrats continue to refuse to vote for the border wall, as well as various other immigration reforms. This could potentially backfire mere months before congressional elections this November, particularly if voters blame Republicans for the shut-down. Under Trump, there have been two previous government shutdowns – a three-day shutdown in January, and an hours-long shutdown in February.  Also on Sunday, the publisher of the New York Times asked Mr. Trump to discontinue his habit of calling reporters “enemies of the people”  for fear that it could potentially provoke violence against the media.

In northern California, a deadly wildfire is beginning to come under control – with firefighters claiming that it is now 20% contained as opposed to the 5% that it was previously. This fire, the Carr Fire, is one of eight fires currently burning in California, and one of ninety across the entire United States.

On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the White House could not withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities, which are cities that limit their cooperation with the national government’s immigration law enforcement procedures, have openly opposed the Trump administration’s attempt to enforce stronger regulations against illegal immigrants.

The State Department also specifically called out Russia in a statement warning against foreign interference in American democracy, despite the White House’s apparent reluctance to do so.

Cambodia

Cambodia’s general elections on Sunday remain controversial as Cambodia continues to slide towards becoming a one-party state. Although many were threatened with the deprivation of local and federal government services if they neglected to vote, many Cambodian citizens still found ways to protest through their ballots. Such acts of resistance included blocking out the name of the leading party or drawing an X over the entire ballot. Such action has led to a total of nine percent of the overall vote being invalidated.

Despite global criticism from various international actors over the unfair elections, the Cambodian People’s Party announced on Tuesday that it would be forming a new government within two months. Meanwhile, the U.S. and the EU (who had previously withdrawn all support for these elections) have begun to reconsider their relationship with Cambodia. Most notably, the European Union is currently reviewing a previously preferential trade agreement for Cambodian exports, as well as the overall human rights situation in Cambodia.

 

Mexico

On Monday, new data released by the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography indicated that the number of homicides in Mexico was much higher than previously thought in 2017. In addition, this data shows a clear increase in Mexico’s homicide rate – a 27% difference from 2016’s homicide rate.

Mexico’s president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said on Tuesday that he expected that a deal would be agreed upon to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement in the coming days. Although the bilateral meeting held on Thursday has yet to yield any tangible results, American Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin indicated that an agreement would be coming “soon.” However, U.S. President Donald Trump has stated that he wants to wait until the November midterm elections are over to settle on renegotiation terms for the treaty.

On Tuesday, a plane flying out of Durango en route to Mexico City crashed, with miraculously no fatalities. Although the pilot and an eight-year-old girl are currently in critical condition, many passengers were completely unharmed; and out of those that were, most were released from the hospital by Wednesday morning.

In the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, part of a marble mine collapsed this Thursday – leaving one dead and four missing. Hildago’s local government has committed to continuing the search for the missing four, who were inside a vehicle on the mine’s roads at the time of the collapse.

 

The Maldives

On Sunday night, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen challenged the opposition candidate to answer to the alleged crimes of the previous Maldivian Democratic Party government, which was ousted in 2012. This accusation is meant to address the issues of the upcoming referendum this September, which will ask whether Maldivians have the right to determine the direction of the country, among other things.

It was discovered this Monday that the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives proposed an amendment to the Maldivan penal code that would remove bribery as a prosecutable offense. The PPM claimed that this resulted from the delay of an amendment meant to add an entire chapter on corruption to the penal code. However, it was discovered that the time of submission for the supposedly complementary bill was only submitted on Tuesday. Former deputy prosecutor general Hussain Shameem claims that “the government was obviously trying to decriminalize corruption.”

 

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s first general election since Robert Mugabe’s ousting took place this Monday, with a voter turnout of 75% country-wide. Although voting itself was a relatively peaceful process, protests and later violence erupted throughout Zimbabwean capital Harare after the reveal of the results of the presidential race were repeatedly delayed.  Police used water cannons and tear gas against MDC-affiliated protesters, who claimed that their candidate had won and the delay had only come to pass so that the total could be altered. Troops opened fire on protesters as well, with a total of six people killed in the chaos.

Zanu-PF, the incumbent party, took 144 seats in Parliament, with 64 seats going to the opposition MDC Alliance. One seat went to the National Patriotic Front. It was revealed on Thursday night that Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Zanu-PF candidate, was declared the winner with 50.8% of the vote. However, on Friday morning, Nelson Chamisa’s MDC party said that they refused to accept the election results, and would launch a legal challenge.

Laos

After a dam collapse last week, Laos continues trying to find the more than 1,100 people that remain unaccounted for in southern Laos. The reason behind the dam’s collapse remains unclear; however, a current major point of controversy is the fact that citizens often did not receive warning of the incoming floods – or did, far too late. The collapsed dam in question, the Xe Pian-Xe Nam Noy dam project, was a joint venture between two South Korean companies, a Thai company, and the Lao government. Local Lao people are increasingly voicing anger and concern over the credibility of government safety standards, with many calling it a “man-made disaster,” and the government has only acknowledged this as recently as Thursday. Whether any reparations will be given to those affected remains to be seen.

 

Vietnam

On Monday, twenty protesters were put on trial and then sentenced for participating in the June 10 protests in Vietnam’s Bien Hoa city. All were convicted of “disrupting public order,” with sentencing varying from eight months to one and a half years in prison. Additionally, five needed at home to care for their children were placed under house arrest for similar amounts of time.

An American citizen of Vietnamese descent was confirmed detained by Vietnam’s government for alleged conspiracy, possibly after contacting some of his friends through social media. According to the U.S. Consulate General, he is under investigation for “activity against the People’s government.” Although there are no formal charges, Vietnamese officials have indicated that the investigation could take anywhere from three to five months. The family has appealed to the American government to intercede, with no federal response thus far.

 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Forty protesters were held overnight on Tuesday after they staged a silent march in Kinshasa, the country’s capital, against violence and sexual slavery in the conflict-torn central region of the country. Although they were unable to complete their official goal of turning in a letter to the president’s representative for fighting sexual violence to ask for more decisive action to this issue, they were released on Tuesday afternoon with no charges held against them.

After the overturning of his International Criminal Court Conviction in May, former Congolese vice president and rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba returned to the DRC on Wednesday. Accompanied by members of the political party that he initially founded as a rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, Bemba registered as a presidential candidate for the upcoming elections this December.

The health ministry of the DRC announced a new Ebola virus outbreak mere days after the previous one was declared over. Four Ebola cases were confirmed in the North Kivu province, and on Thursday, international experts set up a laboratory in a city close to where the outbreak occurred.

 

Colombia

The Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies  declared a red alert on Sunday in seven departments due to heavy rains. It is predicted that bodies of water will be rising, and already one minor has died after heavy rains caused a wall to collapse, with twenty more individuals injured.

On August 2nd, the activist group Colombia Free from Fracking along with legislators from the majority of parties presented a bill to ban fracking across the country and begin a 15-year transition to end the use of fossil fuels. Members of all parties, except the ruling Democratic Center party, supported the bill. If this bill were to be adopted, it would allow Colombia to follow in the footsteps of states including Germany, France, Ireland, and Uruguay.

On Thursday, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos granted 440,000 refugees from Venezuela two-year temporary residence permits. This move allows these Venezuelan refugees to study, work, and get medical care in Colombia. Santos, who leaves office next Tuesday, also condemned the crisis in Venezuela, and particularly Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for his role in the crisis.

 

Venezuela

On Tuesday, much of Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, was impacted heavily by power outages for several hours Tuesday morning, shutting down various businesses, as well as the metro system. According to Communication Minister Jorge Rodriguez, the power troubles resulted from a downed power main in a remote area. Although Venezuela is in a widespread crisis, such power outages are considered relatively rare.

President Maduro stated that he would roll out a new gasoline policy to ease the economic crisis. Although this policy has no specific initiatives so far, Maduro will continue with his plan announced last week to conduct a nationwide census of vehicles, with the aim of limiting gasoline sales to potential smugglers. However, the Venezuelan currency continues to be in danger. On Thursday, the government announced that some transactions will be legalized in currency exchange houses, with the intent of stopping the freefall of Venezuela’s economy.

Malaysia

On Monday, a Malaysia-based human rights group revealed the crisis that faces those detained in Malaysian immigration detention centers. Tenaganita, the human rights group in question, cited stories of violent assault, bribery, and horrific living conditions. Additionally, immigration officials harassed and detained a transgender man who had an appointment in Kuala Lumpur with the United Nations office on refugees and detained him without reason for 36 hours. More than 100 foreigners in Malaysia’s immigration centers have died in the past two years – more than half of whom were Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar.

Mike Pompeo, the American secretary of state, met with Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad this Friday. The two discussed bilateral and regional issues, with American trade interests high on the agenda. This meeting comes towards the end of Pompeo’s two day stay in Malaysia, the first visit of an American official since Mahathir’s surprising political comeback last May.

 

Cuba

During the first 100 days of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, much of the changes have been purely stylistic to the Cuban presidency. Although he has been far more of an outgoing leader than his predecessors, Diaz-Canel has yet to identify his own policy agenda that differentiates himself from the Castros. In fact, his new cabinet retains 2/3rds of the ministers who served under Castro. Some analysts believe that Diaz-Canel will only be able to have a strong, independent policy direction once he succeeds Castro as chief of Cuba’s Communist Party, something which is expected to happen in 2021.

Other News:

The Philippines — The Philippine military stated on Thursday that it arrested a Muslim cleric who had knowledge about a bomb that killed 11 earlier this week.  – ChannelNews Asia

Poland  — The Polish Supreme Court has suspended parts of the law that had forced approximately two dozen members to retire early, attempting to slow a judicial overhaul by the ruling Law and Justice party. – Financial Times

Thailand — Thailand’s government appealed to the United Kingdom this week for the extradition of the country’s last democratically elected prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. – New York Times

Pakistan This week, Justice Tahira Safdar was nominated as a chief justice of the Balochistan High Court; if she is confirmed, she will be the first Pakistani woman to ever hold this office. – Human Rights Watch