Weekly Report: 5 October 2018 — CANVAS

Protesters in Vietnam waving flags. (Asia Times via Facebook)

Syria

After a terrorist attack left 25 people dead in Iran on September 22nd of this year, Tehran launched 6 missiles in Syria at Islamic State militants. Iran has accused U.S.-backed Gulf Arab states on causing the attack in Iran last month and thus decided to target “takfiri terrorists,” which are backed by Washington. The Guards of the Islamic Republic (Iran’s most powerful military) stated that “Our iron fist [missiles] is prepared to deliver a decisive and crushing response to any wickedness and mischief of the enemies,” making it clear that Iran is willing to fire back after any attack from enemies.

It is not recent news that the administration plans to keep troops in Syria until they have ‘defeated’ ISIS, but just recently, it seems there is another motive for the U.S. to stay in the war-torn country. This week, James Jeffrey, the representative for Syria at the State Department mentioned that there will be a continued military mission in Syria until Iranian forces are out of the country. It is believed that Assad’s government is backed by at least 10,000 fighters who follow orders from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. They are believed to be the ‘backbone’ of Assad’s accomplishment in gaining back territory from rebels. Further, it is unlikely that Iran will stop aiding the Assad government any time in the near future, meaning that U.S. troops are likely to be in Syria for an extended period of time.

Although Syria’s government has claimed that it is now ready to accept refugees’ return, the United Nations have urged people to be more cautious. The United Nations resident humanitarian coordinator and various other officials, however, have explicitly stated that they will not urge refugees to return – specifically because there is still a lot to be done before the country can be considered truly safe. Additionally, the Turkish President Erdogan stated that Turkish troops will not leave Syria until general elections are held.

Bolivia

Monday, October 1st marks a day of frustration for Bolivia. At the International Court of Justice in the Hague, it was decided that Chile is not obligated to give Bolivia sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean. The final verdict came after a vote of 12 to 3, in favor of Chile. While the court came to a final vote, they declared that this does not necessarily prevent the two countries from continuing dialogue to address the maritime dispute. Further, only a few minutes after the court came to a final vote, President Piñera of Chile stated that President Morales gave the people of Bolivia a sense of “false expectations.” Piñera also mentioned that Chile is happy to continue dialogue with Bolivia, but only if Morales does not try to reclaim the sea by using other instances of justice.

After the ICJ ruling, citizens across Bolivia took to social media, including Twitter and Facebook to explain their frustrations with the ruling. The people of Bolivia had many reactions. Most people urged the country to overcome the ruling, while others wrote about looking for creative and newer solutions to gaining access to the sea. While not everybody put the blame on President Morales, others have criticized him of lying and confusing Bolivians by creating a false hope.

In a statement about the ICJ ruling in favor of Chile, President Morales mentioned, “I am going to assume all the responsibility to defend Bolivia because of the sea.” After coming back from the Hague, Morales immediately met with his cabinet, armed forces and members of social movements in order to discuss the ruling. Morales believes that the ruling was unfair, specifically stating that the ICJ failed to recognize that Bolivia was “born” with a seacoast and the Treaty of 1904 between Chile and Bolivia lacks a resolution of the maritime enclosure. Morales letter to the UN is meant to justify how the ruling on October 1st showed the United Nations lack of guaranteeing peace to all nations.

Nicaragua

Despite United Nations indications that the Sandinista government has carried out multiple human rights violations against citizens of Nicaragua, the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua has firmly denied these accusations. In an interview, the Vice Minister mentioned that Ortega’s government has initiated a “process to reinstate the peace” after the “attempted coup” against the government.

This week, the Sandinista police declared that the “blue and white” protests carried out against Ortega’s government are illegal. The police are now allowed to arrest any person in the marches. the UN spoke out against this, given it is a violation of the right to peacefully assemble. An Austrian-American reporter who had been covering these protests for outlets including the Guardian and the Washington Post has been deported from Nicaragua due to his coverage after Nicaraguan officials claimed he was spreading false information.

On Monday, the blue and white movement gathered to march in New Guinea in protest of Ortega’s government arresting political activists. The march demanded that political prisoners should be released. There weren’t any incidents of police brutality. Between September 30th-October 5th, the repressions and socio-political issues in Nicaragua will be discussed at the 169th annual session of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR). The session takes place in Boulder, Colorado and Félix Maradiaga, director of IEEPP will be addressing the issues occurring in Nicaragua.

North Korea

South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea launched a joint landmine removal effort in border areas in order to work towards implementing the inter-Korea military agreement, particularly in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the DMZ. The removal will last for twenty days, after which the two sides will launch consultations alongside the UN Command as to how to operate troops in the JSA after the disarmament.

Over the weekend, the North Korean foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, told the United Nations General Assembly that North Korea will not consider denuclearizing until the United States “secures [their] sufficient trust.” Ri also characterized the regime as having taken several goodwill steps of its own, such as stopping nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and dismantling the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. It is uncertain exactly what measures the DPRK is hoping that the United States will take in order to obtain this trust.

The United States announced this week that  Mike Pompeo will be meeting with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang this coming Sunday to plan a second summit between the United States and the DPRK. Pompeo also backed away from his previous timeline, which had claimed that the country would give up nuclear weapons by January 2021, instead stating that the denuclearization process will have to take place more slowly.

According to U.S. security firm FireEye, a North Korean hacking group known as APT38 is allegedly responsible for the theft of over $100 million USD, something that falls in line with past accusations of the DPRK using hacking to raise government funds. It is suspected that the DPRK is responsible for the 2017 WannaCry attacks and was certainly responsible for the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures.

Myanmar

Singapore’s foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, urged Myanmar to begin the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh as per the agreement signed last November, pledging that ASEAN stands “ready to help” – but that Myanmar must facilitate this process and take the first steps. A major focal point of discussion was also on the humanitarian impacts of the crisis, which Balakrishnan called “unacceptable.” Alongside Balakrishnan, various other foreign ministers urged that Myanmar give a full mandate to an inquiry commission to hold those responsible for violence accountable, calling the situation a “man-made humanitarian disaster.”

On Tuesday, Canada chose to revoke Aung San Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship, citing her complicity in the atrocities committed against Myanmar’s Rohingya people. She is the first person to have her honorary Canadian citizenship revoked, having repeatedly denied the atrocities that have taken place despite her position as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her fight for democracy in Myanmar.

On Thursday, India was criticized for deporting seven Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, despite allegations that doing so will put them at risk. The seven men deported have been detained for immigration violations since 2012. The UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Tendayi Achiume, said that India risked breaching its international legal obligation by returning these men to possible harm – specifically calling it a “flagrant denial of their right to protection.”

USA

This week, the United States reached a trade deal on NAFTA with both Mexico and now Canada. This is a big win for President Trump, given reaching a deal was one of his campaign promises. The new deal will be called the U.S-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The new briefed outline of the deal includes, “changes in language governing dairy imports, dispute resolution between countries, limits on online shopping that can be done tax-free, and limits on the U.S. threat of auto tariffs.”

This upcoming Sunday, Mike Pompeo is going to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong Un in an effort to breath new life into nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea. Pompeo is accordingly slowly easing his way into getting North Korea to denuclearize. On Sunday, Pompeo will also discuss the second summit to be held between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump.

After Christine Blasey Ford held a hearing last week which included her admitting personal details about Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault, she is demanding that the FBI should further investigate her with an interview. Kavanaugh now has several sexual assault allegations against him, and while the FBI has investigated the matter, specifically with Ford, they have yet to interview her. By the end of the week, the Bureau will come to a final conclusion on Kavanaugh’s case. The final report will only be available to senators, not the public.

After about a year of ongoing strikes and harsh criticism from the public about unfair wages and unhealthy work conditions, Amazon has increased their minimum wage to $15 per hour. This will affect 250,000 Amazon employees along with 100,000 season Amazon employees who work during the holiday season. Bezos, the current wealthiest person in the world, has undergone a lot of public criticism, including from Senator Bernie Sanders who last month, introduced a bill called the “stop BEZOS Act” which would require Amazon along with other large companies similar to Amazon to cover costs of public housing, food stamps, along with other federal assistance received by employees. Now that Bezos has stepped forward in his efforts of making a difference in the lives of his employees, there will hopefully be a ripple effect among other large companies, such as Walmart, to follow along.

Cambodia

At the United Nations meetings this weekend, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned against questioning the legitimacy of his reelection after a top United Nations official doubted whether the polls could be considered democratic. Despite assertions that any accusations of undemocratic conduct are against “the will of the Cambodian people,” Hun Sen’s presence at the UN building caused massive protests outside of the General Assembly, specifically denouncing the conduct of the Cambodian leader.

On Monday, Cambodia’s Supreme Court rejected the defamation conviction of Ny Chakrya, the deputy secretary-general of the National Electoral Commission, citing a lack of evidence and ordering the Appeal Court in Cambodia to hold a retrial. This conviction was previously upheld in 2016 by the Appeal Court. Local human rights groups applauded the rejection on the part of the Supreme Court; however, the Supreme Court also ruled that state security forces were not responsible for provoking violence against activists during a controversial 2013 protest, despite claims that the police were “violently and intentionally attacked” by security forces from those such as Am Sam Ath, the head of investigations for one Cambodian human rights group.

Under a grant from the United Nations Democracy Fund, the Cambodian Development Resource Institute has worked to empower women’s groups to work for climate change advocacy in four separate provinces throughout the country. The groups have been analyzing climate change risks in their communities and working to enhance their community resilience against natural disasters such as floods, landslides, and droughts. Meanwhile, on Friday, the Cambodian government jailed a seventy-year-old barber for his violation of a new law against defaming the royal family. The man has been sentenced to a year in prison; he is the first to have been sentenced under this new law, which was adopted unanimously by parliament in February.

Mexico

After Canada agreed to take part in the NAFTA trade deal, President Nieto of Mexico calls the deal a “win-win-win.” The deal was finalized this past Sunday after 13 months of negotiations between the three neighbors.

The new president-elect has proposed a six-year project that would entail moving some government agencies and large companies outside of the capital, Mexico City, and relocating them to smaller areas of the country. The plan includes moving up to 31 agencies in the hopes that workers and their families will follow their jobs, relocate, and thus spread out the population. Currently, 18% of Mexico’s population is in Mexico City–a startlingly large number. If the new president’s plan works, potentially 2.7 million people would leave the main city. Although, some reports say it is unlikely that everybody would just up and move from their home. Although the influx of new agencies would cause a bit of buffer and disruption due to the necessary infrastructure and allocation of resources necessary to move entire companies, most cities would, in fact, benefit from this plan in the long run. A report shows that the entire project is likely to cost up to 140 billion pesos, a demography researcher in Mexico admits that it is a necessary step to overcoming overpopulation, a shrinking water supply, and pollution, among other factors.

The Maldives

Although the incumbent president of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, conceded defeat last week, he has now openly questioned the election results and urged supporters to protest nationwide against alleged “vote rigging.” Simultaneously, Yameen came under fire for an Al Jazeera report that dropped this Tuesday, which alleged that $1.5 million was deposited in his private bank account as donations for his reelection campaign. The presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Muaz Ali, claimed that all of the money was regularly deposited and that allegations of corruption are unfounded.

The Maldivian Supreme Court is set to rule this week on the issue of twelve lawmakers who defected last year to hand the opposition a majority who are deemed to have lost their seats. They are said to have lost their seats as a result of an anti-defection legislation which came into place on July 13th of last year, despite the fact that they were expelled from the party prior to the ruling.

On Tuesday, former Maldivian strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom met with the president-elect and urged Yameen to accept the results of the election. He stated that “for the safety and security of the people,” Yameen must accept the results and “say goodbye with a smiling face.”

Zimbabwe

Despite the ruling of the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court to dismiss opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s claims of election fraud, Chamisa has continued to claim that he won the elections – and said to an audience at his party’s headquarters on Tuesday that he would not be waiting until 2023 general elections to challenge current president Mnangagwa again. However, a Zanu PF spokesperson said that the ruling party would not lose any sleep over threats to remove the current president from power, claiming that these threats are not credible and that the state has protections against such “lawlessness.” However, churches united under the Zimbabwe Council of Churches have taken the lead in attempting to facilitate talks between President Mnangagwa and Chamisa to defuse the tension and facilitate dialogue.

As part of a plan to stabilize the economy, Zimbabwe’s cabinet agreed to cut some government jobs to reduce the public-sector wage bill. This is only one feature of what Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube calls the “Transitional Stabilization Programme,” which will seek to eradicate corruption, strengthen Zimbabwe’s balance of payments, simplify the administration of taxes, and strengthen fiscal responsibility.

Laos

This week, Al Jazeera released an in-depth piece about the state of freedom of speech in Laos, which has been effectively strangled by the government’s policing of both journalism and social media efforts. Influential Facebook users, known in Laos pejoratively as “net idols,” have faced retribution for their posts – and two of the topics that are most dangerous for posters are democracy and human rights. The crackdown has increased since the floods last July left many dead and almost 100 missing with little information from the government, which forced Laotians to turn to Facebook in order to obtain information about their loved ones. NGO and aid workers have also been afraid to make public statements about the Laotian government since the disappearance of an aid worker 6 years ago.

Vietnam

Only a week after the death of former Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, the former head of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Do Muoi, has died at the age of 101 after fighting serious illness. Muoi formerly was arrested by the French colonial government but escaped and fought for independence as a member of the Communist party. It is unknown when Muoi’s state funeral will take place.

The Vietnamese government has continued to crack down on pro-democracy activists and activist groups with the aim of severing connections between growing political groups and organizations that may present a challenge to the dominance of the ruling Communist Party. Members of groups such as the Brotherhood for Democracy have been given increasingly harsher sentences, especially as the activist community has been increasingly galvanized by the potential creation of special economic zones, which would give foreign powers like China an undue economic advantage.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

In a rally held by opposition leaders in the capital of Kinshasa, thousands of peaceful supporters showed up to hear what the leaders needed to say. Congo’s opposition warned the people of the Congo that they are fearful of a rigged vote in the upcoming election on December 23rd. The current president, Joseph Kabila is meant to step down after 17 years of power. At the rally this past weekend, opposition leaders cautioned citizens of the new electronic voting system, which they believe can be easily rigged. while authorities argue that the system will do the opposite for its ability to cut costs, reduce fraud and advance counting of votes, supporters of the opposition leaders were in full support of what the opposition had to say.

The newest statistics about the Ebola outbreak in the DRC have confirmed 150 total cases, and 150 deaths so far. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the likelihood of the outbreak spreading to neighboring countries is “very high.” Further, the WHO’s emergency response chief said that there are not any plans to remove health workers from the DRC, and that there seem to be several obstacles in the way of stopping the Ebola outbreak.

Colombia

Due to the large influx of Venezuelan migrants flowing into Colombia, there are reports of an informal camp inside the capital of Bogota where hundreds of Venezuelans have situated themselves. The camp is called El Bosque and home to many families and individual Venezuelans looking to eat, sleep, and figure out next steps. Unfortunately, as of this week, reports say that police have plans to barricade the site and evict people living there. While local authorities are trying to move children and pregnant women to shelters, the rest of the residents must fend for themselves.

According to a report by Reuters, if the crisis in Venezuela continues to worsen, there could be as many as 4 million Venezuelan migrants living in Colombia by 2021. Further, it is estimated that this influx of people would cost near $9 billion and .5 percent of Colombia’s gross domestic product in healthcare, education and infrastructure spending. While this is a prediction of the “worst” possible outcome, it is an estimation that Colombia is deeply considering and paying attention to.

Venezuela

After this months more than 3,000 percent increase to Venezuela’s minimum wage–which is claimed to not be enough to cover needs–PDVSA oil workers began to protest. Accordingly, the new minimum wage law disregards agreements on previous pay scales and union agreements. On Friday, dozens of oil workers protested outside of Petropiar, demanding fair wages. Because of the protests, workflow and procedures have come to a halt.

Malaysia

Rosmah Mansor, the wife of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, has been arrested by members of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency on Thursday. She has been charged with 17 counts of money laundering and tax evasion; this is similar to her husband, who faces multiple counts of money laundering, breach of trust, corruption, and the abuse of power. Rosmah pleaded not guilty. Some of her belongings, however, have been linked back to her husband’s corruption at the very least. The United States Department of Justice discovered in its inquiry, released last year, that Rosmah’s $23 million pink diamond (set in one of her necklaces) was paid for with funds stolen from 1MDB.

A Syrian asylum seeker, who has been stuck in transit in an airport in Kuala Lumpur since March has been forcibly removed by immigration services and is reportedly in questioning. The asylum seeker, 36-year-old Hassan al-Kontar, has been moving from country to country since 2016 in hopes of seeking asylum, with no success. He has also applied for asylum in Canada, but the process can take up to two years, and the United Nations refugee agency has yet to offer “real solutions.”

A United Nations human rights expert urged Malaysia to ban child marriage immediately, weighing in on a controversy that has raged since reports of a 44-year-old Malaysian man marrying an 11-year-old Thai girl came out in July. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has promised to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 since his ascension to the presidency in May. However, he has faced quite a bit of backlash from Islamic courts and officials, as they have technical jurisdiction over marriages between Muslim individuals – and are currently able to approve marriages between those younger than 16, the current marriageable age in Malaysia.

Palestine

On Monday, the order for Israel to complete a demolition in an occupied Palestinian neighborhood in the West Bank came into effect. Of the people living in the Khan-Al-Ahmar region, some 180 of them are being forcibly evicted and transferred. The Palestinians and Bedouins in the area were given a warning, but are choosing to stay and confront the Israeli troops who will eventually come and knock down the infrastructure. Some from the international community strongly oppose this, including countries like the UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain given this demolition will further threaten the continuation of a two-state solution. Further, the UN has called on Israel on numerous occasions to stop the plan, stating that it is a “breach of international law.”

 

Other News

Russia — This week, a top Russian diplomat warned that the United States is “on a dangerous path” by accusing Russian military intelligence of hacking Western institutions. (Radio Free Europe)

Hungary — Alongside Poland, Hungarian officials have taken the European Union to court over an EU directive that proposes tightening labor laws for workers sent abroad from less wealthy states. (Politico.eu)

Poland— A new movie involving the corruption of priests hit the theatres in Poland this week, causing outrage in conservative politicians within the country. (Reuters)

The Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has revealed that he is awaiting the results of tests for cancer, staying that he does not “know where [he is]” now physically. (Time)

Pakistan —  Weeks after the United States cut off $300 million in military aid, Pakistan is urging the country to restore relations and continue military aid. (Radio Free Europe)

Tibet The U.S. Congress has passed a bill saying that it will deny U.S. entry to Chinese officials who prohibit American citizens from entering Tibet after lobbying from Tibetan-Americans and Tibet supporters. (Radio Free Asia)

China Photos posted by a Canadian law student show a rapid expansion of a re-education camp in western Xinjiang, where 8 million Uighur Muslims are detained. (Business Insider)

Iran This week, the United States has terminated the 1955 treaty with Iran. This came directly after the United Nations urged the Trump administration to calm sanctions against Iran. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen This week, southern separatists, backed by the UAE, called for an uprising against the Yemeni government. While the separatist movement has demonstrated months of violent protest in the port city of Aden, they are continuing to uprise because of their suffering. (Al Jazeera)