Weekly Report: 7 September 2018 — CANVAS

In Malaysia, two women cover their faces following their caning for the ‘crime’ of homosexual activity. (AFP)

Syria

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Monday that an airstrike near a US base killed 8 pro-regime fighters. The fighters include four Syrians, one Iranian National, and three other non-Syrian casualties. There is no confirmation on who led the attack.

Under a new decree established by the Assad Government, Syrian students must finish their degree in a time allotted by the government. This means that students must finish their bachelor’s degree within 3 years, and a student cannot stay in a university past the age of 25. Further, students who have put off their degree and who have not finished courses in the appointed amount of time must be deployed in the army. Because of the new decree, there have been protests from students who wish to retain the right to postpone their military service. By law, every Syrian male must serve in the army when he turns 18, but the service only lasted between 18 months and two years prior to the Syrian war. Once the war began, there was not an end date for service, and some men have been serving for 7 years.

On Tuesday, Israeli air strikes were carried out against Iranian forces in Syria. Over the past year and a half, the Israeli Defense Force has struck more than 200 targets with the end goal of finding Iranian weapons convoys in Syria.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russian and Syrian warplanes struck a region right outside of the northwestern part of Idlib. The attack killed 13 civilians and no rebel fighters. This came just days before Iran, Russia, and Turkey were to hold talks about the potential humanitarian disaster to occur in Idlib if the Assad regime strikes the region. The Trump administration has strongly warned that if Assad carries out a chemical weapon attack on Idlib, Washington will interfere militarily. While there is evidence of the preparation of chemical weapons, the final outcome of the future attack lays in the fate of a meeting on Friday between Assad’s allies and the rebels’ ally.

Bolivia

This weekend, collectives in opposition of Morales 2016 re-election held an eight-hour debate in order to call for a power alternative in the upcoming elections. The debate concluded with the group calling for a nationwide march as to reject Morales in the 2019 general elections. On October 25th, they will march in unity. Further, there is a call to march on October 10th to reject the Law on Political Organizations. In mobilization, they seek to have respect for the Political Constitution of the State. This was all sparked due to the MAS persistence to nominate Evo Morales again in 2019. While Morales blames the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) for the change of elections, the TSE deny being in charge of the change from 2024 elections to 2019 elections.

In response to Evo Morales’s statement, alluding that the National Association of the Press (ANP) should justify their reasoning for rejecting the bill against lying, the ANP claims that freedom of expression, press, and opinion are human rights. They claim that their crucial and elementary rights to think and express would be restricted if the bill were to pass. In the coming weeks, the Hague will make a final decision on the maritime demands between Chile and Bolivia. This week, tensions rose between the two countries after Morales accused La Moneda of canceling a meeting with the Border Committee which was supposed to be held on the 5th and 6th of this month. La Moneda stated that he stopped the meeting because he did not see it as a productive use of time.

Nicaragua

As protests continue to unfold throughout Nicaragua, Ortega’s government claims that life has begun to normalize. While President Ortega and his Vice President are making a case of a normalized society again, interviews with locals from CNN tell a different story. Reportedly, many locals still feel fearful and avoid leaving their homes at night. Further, protesters are still being treated poorly by the police. In only four months, at least 322 people have been killed due to the violent protests. 21 of the deaths have been police officers, and 23 were teenagers or children.

This Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley seeks to impose sanctions on Nicaragua due to the recent crackdown on citizens and political opponents from Ortega’s government. Haley argued before the UN Security Council that the body should involve itself in the crisis before there is further economic, security, and humanitarian disaster. So far, the governments of Russia, Bolivia, and China have blocked the Trump administration’s move.

North Korea

This Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and United States President Donald Trump confirmed their plans to discuss the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea during this month’s UN General Assembly meeting. As Moon and Trump have had vastly different reactions to the DPRK since the shift in both presidencies over 2016 and 2017, with Moon taking a more conciliatory stance and Trump taking an overwhelmingly more hostile one. It remains to be seen if the two leaders will be able to compromise strategically on their viewpoints towards North Korea.

South Korean and North Korean leadership have agreed to hold a summit on September 18th through 20th in Pyongyang, where both sides will discuss measures towards denuclearization in addition to other issues affecting the Korean peninsula. They will be reviewing the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration and discussing its practicality, as well as methods of ensuring “joint prosperity on the Korean Peninsula,” according to South Korean official Chung Eui-yong, who lead a day-trip to Pyongyang to hold discussions regarding the summit on Wednesday.

Myanmar

The wives of two Reuters journalists, previously sentenced to prison for their role in reporting on the Rohingya genocide, appealed on Wednesday for the release of their husbands.  The two men were sentenced this past Monday to seven years of hard labor for breaking the Official Secrets Act. The women appealed directly to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar head of state, a Nobel laureate who has been lauded for her role as a human rights figure in the past. The journalists’ lawyer has stated that they are planning an appeal within the next sixty days.

In a statement to Radio Free Asia, several armed groups along with government peace commission will be meeting in southwest China to discuss potential ends to the decades of civil war that have been plaguing Malaysia. Despite these attempts, there are still ongoing ethnic clashes in the Shan and Kachin states, which has led to delays in scheduling meetings for comprehensive peace talks.

USA

As midterm elections are coming up on November 6th, President Trump accused Attorney General Jeff Sessions, along with the justice department of jeopardizing the chances of two Republican representatives. The justice department accused one of inside trading and the other of campaign violations. These accusations are seen as damaging, given there is a wrestle for control over the House of Representatives between Democrats and Republicans.

This week, the Trump administration proposed a new law which would allow US authorities to keep immigrant children detained for longer than the current 20-day limit. This comes after Trump implemented a “zero-tolerance policy” when prosecuting anybody crossing the border into the United States. Since then, more than 2,900 children have been separated from their families. The new regulations would stop the Flores settlement, enacted in 1997 which limits the amount of time that minors can be detained.

Cambodia

This Wednesday, Cambodia held its first parliamentary session since its July’s virtually uncontested general elections last month. Thanks to the dissolution of the major opposition party, the major Cambodian People’s Party holds all of the 125 parliamentary seats that were up for election in July. Representatives of democratically elected states such as Australia, the European Union, and the United States refused to attend, something that the deputy president of the forcibly dissolved CNRP opposition party Mu Sochua referred to as “significant and alarming.”

 

The daughter of James Ricketson, an Australian filmmaker sentenced to six years in jail for espionage in a trial that was internationally decried for showing no actual evidence of his crimes, has created a petition to call upon the Australian government to advocate for his release. Roxanne Holmes, Ricketson’s adopted daughter, is reportedly concerned for her father’s health – he is almost 70 years old and is sharing a small cell with over a hundred other people. According to Holmes, the new foreign affairs minister of Australia Marise Payne has yet to make up her mind about the handling of the case. It is expected that Ricketson’s lawyer will be lodging an appeal over the next thirty days before his window is up.

Youk Chhang, the executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam)  – the country’s only genocide research center – spoke with Time Magazine this week after receiving the Ramon Magsaysay award, known as Asia’s “Nobel Prize,” for his work “preserving the memory” of genocide last Friday. Chhang discussed the challenges of running DC-Cam his dreams of creating an affiliated institute to further education about genocide and his desire to seek justice, even in a country where discourse is often focused on reconciliation.

Mexico

On Tuesday, the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, pressed Canada to join Mexico in the new NAFTA deal with the United States. In his statement, he spoke of the two countries working together in order to confront President Trump.

 

On the 50th anniversary of the massacre of students during a pro-democracy movement, students at Mexico’s largest university went on strike for a separate reason. On Wednesday, two students were seriously injured after marching to end violence on campus from groups of “thugs” who are often registered on campus but do not attend classes. Further, the Monday before the march, protesters from a university-affiliated high school who were campaigning for free speech were attacked.

The Maldives

On Monday, Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, released a report alleging that a company owned by a former Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) was conducting illegal fuel sales to the North Korean regime, which is currently under a series of US-led sanctions. In this dossier, the MDP also released a report that had been leaked by the MNDF, which connected the oil smuggling as high up as Maldivian President Yameen.

After the Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen claimed last month that every island making up the archipelago nation has a development project, a Maldives Independent investigation found that out of 107 island councils contacted, various projects were host to a variety of problems – including 20 projects that were discovered to be completely nonexistent. Other projects have had work stop on them entirely, and over half of the projects that did exist are currently experiencing massive delays. It was discovered that Yameen’s government is also taking responsibility for projects that were completed before he entered office, in many cases by the island’s local council.

Early on Wednesday morning, the MDP meeting hall was burnt down in a suspected arson attack barely a week after it was first built. A council member told a local media outlet that gasoline appears to have been thrown at the building from the outside, although these reports have been unconfirmed as of yet by the police investigation. This is only the latest in a series of vandalism of campaign halls and offices belonging to the opposition over the past few weeks.

Zimbabwe

This Wednesday, Zimbabwe’s new parliament was sworn in after the controversial July elections. The Zanu-PF ruling party won 145 out of 210 seats in the lower house national assembly, which is more than the two-thirds majority amount required to amend the constitution. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, took 63 seats, and just 2 seats went to independents. This comes as Zimbabwe is in the midst of a worsening economic crisis with rising unemployment and prices for basic goods.

Despite the fact that many fuel stations in Zimbabwe were found to be completely without fuel on Thursday, Zimbabwe’s reserve bank governor claimed that there is  “no fuel crisis” in Zimbabwe. The government increased fuel funds this last May to prevent another shortage, the latest of which has driven black market prices up exponentially. The increasing crisis appears to be another symptom of the current state of a faltering economy, spelling economic uncertainty for the beginning of the new presidential term. On Wednesday, it was also reported by groups such as the Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe that Zimbabwe is facing an impending grain crisis, with its stock having fallen to less than a month’s supply of the usual standard of three months’ worth of grain, which analysts fear may be a beginning sign of an incoming food crisis.

Laos

Despite flooding as a result of poor dam construction last month, many of the hydroelectric dam projects in Laos have continued, particularly as hydropower has become Laos’ major national industry. Unfortunately, the construction of the dams has left many fishing villages without a sustainable source of income, as the construction of various dam projects has been notably causing the fish stock to dwindle since 2016. Laotian NGOs, such as Mekong Watch, have also warned that the hydroelectric dams are negatively impacting the flora and fauna of Laos, citing examples such as the Irrawaddy dolphin, which is endangered.

Vietnam

Due to large demonstrations, the Vietnamese government’s plans to open one of three special economic zones have been stalled until 2019. Protests against the special economic zones (SEZs) have been widespread since early June, and over 1,000 people have been arrested in cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. The public is concerned that the SEZs represent growing Chinese influence in Vietnam; although the  SEZs do not deliberately favor Chinese investment, foreign direct investment from China has been quite widespread in recent years, and Chinese buyers have already begun to buy property and begin Chinatowns in several areas of Vietnam.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

 

This week, the government has a plan to end the ban on industrial logging concessions. The allowance of industrial logging would risk the safety of the world’s second largest rainforest which is the size of France.

Near the epicenter of the most recent outbreak of Ebola, two U.N. peacekeepers were wounded after being attacked in a rebel ambush. The U.N. faces challenges in containing the outbreak of Ebola, but since the disease has spread to rebel-held areas, they are finding it difficult to keep the situation under control. It is reported that 81 people have died from Ebola since July, and another 40 have been infected. 19 of these cases come from the area of Beni which is an active conflict zone and is also a border of Uganda.

Colombia

After two more social leaders were reported murdered this week, the death toll of Colombian activists and leaders has reached 158 people. The most recent victims were Oliver Herrera Camacho and Alirio Antonio Arenas Gómez, who were both presidents of their local action boards. Because murders against social leaders are continuing, the Patriotic Union Party has requested an emergency meeting with President Duque in order to confront the issue at hand.

After nearly one month of being held hostage by the National Liberation Army which follows a Marxist ideology, three soldiers have been released. The rebel group is supposedly keeping 6 other members of the security force, along with 10 civilians. Duque stated that in order to continue dialogue with the rebel group about suspending military activity in the region of Choco, as requested by ELN, they must release 19 hostages.

Venezuela

This week, President Maduro stated that he intends to increase oil prices by October. Even with the crisis in Venezuela, fuel prices are incredibly low at $1 for 400,000 gallons of fuel. This allows for an advantageous smuggling trade. Maduro says that in the meantime, he will implement a new payment system at state borders which uses state-backed identification cards when crossing into border states. This is intended to limit the smuggling. The increase in fuel prices will be the first time in 20 years that Venezuela will substantially hike prices.

ConocoPhillips, a U.S. oil producer is still waiting for Venezuela to pay the $2 billion settlement which was reached last month. CEO of Conoco, Ryan Lance suspects that Venezuela will follow through with the payment, given they have 2 further arbitration decisions with the country. This deal comes from Conoco’s deal last month to suspend legal attachments, which in turn cut Venezuela’s oil exports.

According to Business Insider, the new cryptocurrency, which President Maduro recently created has shown to be nearly worthless. The currency is supposedly backed by Venezuelan oil reserves in the Atapirire area, yet the region seems to be lacking any effort in developing said oil. There is also very little to show for a flourishing Petro trade. This evidence shows that Maduros plan to save Venezuela’s economy is failing.

Malaysia

On Monday, the two Malaysian women accused and convicted of “sexual relations between women” were caned at the Shariah High Court, despite widespread outcry from various international human rights groups – such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Within Malaysia, opinions were split – some groups claimed that under Shariah law, caning does not constitute a particularly severe punishment; the Malaysian Bar, on the other hand, claimed that caning is a “harsh and barbaric” practice. Charles Santiago, a governing-coalition lawmaker, called the punishment “outrageous,” and stated that Malaysians “need to stop targeting the LGBT community.” He would go on to call upon the Malaysian government to repeal all forms of institutional discrimination against LGBT people.

 

In a stark contrast to the actions of the previous regime, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has pushed back against Chinese influences and investment within Malaysia. Mahathir has been notably critical of the infrastructure projects of his predecessor, Najib Razak, who is currently awaiting trial for his involvement in the 1MDB scandal. Mahathir is reportedly considering Chinese infrastructure investments worth close to forty billion USD over the fear that these deals, conducted under Najib’s leadership, are also suspect. Mahathir is now seen as someone who is turning to the West and Japan for potential allies, something that is a stark turnabout from his first stint as Prime Minister from 1981-2003.

After a series of talks between Singapore and Malaysia, the plan to build a high-speed rail link has been delayed by two years after Prime Minister Mahathir threatened to scrap the railway completely earlier in May. It has been confirmed that Malaysia will not pay any compensation to Singapore, but instead that the two states have amicably agreed to postpone the project.

Cuba

There has been an ongoing investigation into the 26 Americans working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. It has now been medically confirmed that each American has symptoms consistent with mild traumatic brain injury. Symptoms include cognitive difficulties such as memory loss or lack of concentration, headaches, tinnitus, and trouble sleeping. While there is not a definite answer in the cause of these symptoms, but researchers and scientists are arguing that it may be from microwave radiation. Because of the health risks, there has been a decrease in employment at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Other News:

Brazil — This Friday, the frontrunner for Brazil’s presidential election, Jair Bolsonaro, was stabbed during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora. (BBC)

The Philippines — Families of eight of the victims of President Duterte’s war on drugs have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing the government of crimes against humanity and murder. (Al Jazeera)

Thailand — Thai officials arrested 12 Facebook users for sharing information related to the alleged rape of a British tourist last June. (Human Rights Watch)

Pakistan On Wednesday, U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo visited Pakistan with a goal to “reset” relations with the former ally. (Times of India)

India — This week, India’s supreme court decriminalized gay sex. The 160-year-old ban was finally lifted; a huge upturn for the LGBTQ community. (The Guardian)