Weekly Report: 9 November 2018 — CANVAS

A boat of Rohingya refugees fleeing the threat of repatriation, seeking better fortune in Malaysia. (Reuters)

Syria

A UN convoy which was supposed to reach the Rukban desert camp last week has finally arrived. There are near 50,000 stranded Syrian refugees in the camp, 80% being women and children. The area is controlled by Syria’s army and is nearby a U.S backed rebel-base. After joined efforts between the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent on Saturday, 78 trucks containing food, medical supplies, and hygiene kits arrived.

On Thursday, 19 people who have been held hostage by IS since a July 25th attack, have finally been freed. On July 25th of this year, 30 people were kidnapped by IS when they raided the Sweida province. That same day, the militant group killed 216 people in the region. Of the 30 people kidnapped, 19 were released. Syrian troops liberated the 19 women and children, and in exchange, IS received a monetary payment and women related to IS militants who were being held hostage by the Syrian army.

Bolivia

On December 6th of this year, eight departments of the country will hold a strike in solidarity against Evo Morales. Although, the president of the Association of Municipalities of Santa Cruz (Amdecruz) admitted that the mayors of his municipality will not be taking part in the strikeJorge Tuto Quiroga, the former president between 2001-2002 strongly warned the TSE that if they try to illegally enable Evo Morales and vice president Linera in the 2019 elections, they will face trials and jail time. Quiroga stated that the members of the TSE cannot simply ignore the Political Constitution of the State.

On Wednesday, officials from Bolivia and Paraguay met to discuss building a bi-national pipeline, the installation of gas networks, selling LPG to Paraguay, and exploration into hydrocarbons. At the meeting, they signed a memorandum which established an open negotiation between the two countries for further developments.  

Nicaragua

On Friday, November 2nd, seventeen people were arrested by the Sandinista police. The reason for the arrest is considered “ridiculous” given, those arrested were imprisoned for using the colors of blue and white during a visit to a gravesite in order to honor their loved ones. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh) reported more than 100 officers inside and around the gravesite.

While civic resistance continues to remain strong against Ortega and the Sandinista government, the United States is helping to make economic and diplomatic means difficult for the Nicaraguan government. This month, the United States imposed a law called “Global Magnitsky” which would punish Ortega by removing visas and financial restrictions of members of Ortega’s government who have helped to commit crimes and violate human rights. This will likely put pressure on Ortega to hold an early election or force him to negotiate for an internationally supervised election.

While Daniel Ortega has only registered 273 political prisoners, the Blue and White National Unity claims that there are a total of 552 people imprisoned. Ortega’s government continues to deny allegations of the number of prisoners and their poor treatment. The government is treating the prisoners as “terrorist and coup prisoners”.

Between November 9-11th, a meeting will be held in Washington to discuss the ongoing crisis in Nicaragua. Members from civil society organizations, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development, among others, will attend. The meeting will be led by the Nicaraguan Freedom Coalition and will pose as a platform to unite different groups in the country to discuss the crisis. The goal is to not only bring international awareness to Ortega’s government but also to return democracy to Nicaragua by adopting a resolution.

Beginning Thursday, any Nicaraguan with a refugee application card who is currently residing in Costa Rica may apply for a work permit. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), between January and September of this year, more than 52,000 Nicaraguans who have entered Costa Rica have remained in their territory and at least 40,000 of them have articulated a need for protection from Costa Rica.

North Korea

A report released by Human Rights Watch this week revealed that sexual abuse against women is widespread, especially abuse enacted by officials. According to this report, which was compiled from individual testimonies from over sixty North Korean defectors, sexual abuse and assault are so common that many women believe it is a part of everyday life.

During a visit by Cuba’s president, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s official portrait was unveiled next to a portrait of Cuba’s president. The unveiling of this portrait is significant – it signifies that Kim is being seen as a leader in his own right instead of simply a successor to his father. Kim’s reputation as such has improved domestically throughout 2018, thanks in part due to a large number of high-profile diplomatic meetings, including the Singapore Summit with US president Donald Trump.  

The long-awaited talks between the DPRK and the United States have been called off by the North Korean side this week. According to the United States State Department and South Korean foreign ministry, the meetings were called off due to scheduling issues and nothing more. However, the calling off of these talks has come at a time when the DPRK and the United States are coming to a head over the future of sanctions against the DPRK and nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.

Myanmar

The European Union threatened over the weekend to impose trade sanctions on Myanmar that could have a devastating effect on the country’s domestic clothing industry as well as various others over a lack of accountability on the part of Myanmar’s government with respect to the genocide against the Rohingya. Meanwhile, the United Nations has urged Bangladesh and Myanmar to drop their “rushed” plans to repatriate the Rohingya to Myanmar. stating that Rohingya refugees still face a “high risk of persecution” if they return.

This Monday, the lawyers of the two Reuters journalists jailed for reporting on the military violence against the Rohingya filed an appeal, claiming that the original ruling of the court was incorrect. The two reporters were sentenced to seven years in prison for breaching Myanmar’s official secrets act, accused of possessing secret documents. In their appeal, the lawyers stated that the court “ignored compelling evidence of a police set-up” in addition to violations of due process and an inadequate job on the part of the prosecution.

On Wednesday, a report commissioned by Facebook found that Facebook platforms were definitively used to incite violence in Myanmar, specifically in aiding organized groups to conduct attacks on the country’s Muslim population. Facebook has stated: “We agree that we can and should do more.” In Myanmar, Facebook is so ubiquitous that it is considered to be essentially the internet.

USA

On Sunday, Mike Pompeo, the U.S Secretary of State, agreed to hold accountable all people involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. At the same time, Pompeo would like to maintain strategic relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Thus far, 16 visas from individuals involved have been revoked.

Tuesday concluded the United States most expensive and consequential midterm election. While Democrats claimed the House of Representatives, the Republicans claimed the Senate vote. These results show to confirm the divided country. There were highly contested votings in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Texas, all of which won with a Republican majority. Furthermore, this election showed a record number of women representatives in the House.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned from working for the White House after president Trump’s request. Sessions had been in charge of the Russian interference investigation during the 2016 presidential campaign. While Session’s removal has been foreseen for some time now, some officials were shocked at his forced resignation. The Attorney General will be replaced by Matthew G. Whitaker, Session’s chief of staff.

Cambodia

This week, a report released by Freedom House claimed that internet freedom in Cambodia is slipping after Cambodia has continued a series of crackdowns on online dissidents. In addition, media freedom has declined in that independent media institutions have been stifled and shut down, including Radio Free Asia Cambodia and the Cambodia Daily newspaper, and the relationship between the government and journalists has worsened. Cambodia’s score for media freedom has been slipping continuously for the past few years.

Thanks to threats from the European Union, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has begun to relax pressure on local labor union leaders. The European Union is continuing to review Cambodia’s duty-free export access, which is only available to developing countries. As a result, business leaders that benefit from Cambodian labor, including representatives from countries such as Adidas, New Balance, and others, have come to meet with Cambodian government ministers in an attempt to defuse the situation.

This week, a United Nations expert released a report claiming that in order to improve human rights in Cambodia, the government must allow for inclusive institutions, transparency, and access to justice – all principles directly in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal 16. Particularly concerning to the United Nations is the lack of speedy trials in Cambodia, in addition to issues such as transparency regarding land rights for Cambodian citizens.

Mexico

Two busloads of Central Americans fleeing towards the United States border, totaling nearly 80 people, have gone missing this week. The National Human Rights Commision states that the missing people were kidnapped and turned over to criminal groups in Mexico. This occurred while the migrants traveled through Puebla on last Saturday. Neither federal or state authorities have responded to the reported incident. Accordingly, criminal groups have long kidnapped Central American migrants in order to force men into labor work and women into prostitution.  

The Maldives

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit the Maldives, the only country in South Asia which he has yet to visit, next week. Although the visit has yet to be officially announced, Modi’s staff has already arrived in the Maldives to help plan for the occasion. It is expected that Modi will use this occasion to revive a closer relationship between India and the Maldives, particularly as the previous administration stopped many large infrastructure projects that were jointly underway with Indian contractors. Thanks to Indian support, the Maldives also became the latest member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, something that would not have been possible under the previous administration.

Dr. Mohamed Asim, the foreign minister of the Maldives, has been accused of sexual harassment in the workplace by at least four junior staffers. According to sources from within the minister’s bureau, at least one of the accusations would qualify as sexual assault. However, the ministry’s permanent secretary has claimed to not have any official complaints submitted until this Thursday. Impunity for perpetrators is currently a huge problem in the Maldives in the case of sexual assault investigations.

Zimbabwe

According to several news sources, petrol supplies have returned to normal at most service stations in major Zimbabwean cities, signaling that the worst of the previous financial crisis is over. The price has also begun to recede for fuel in both Harare and Bulawayo. Despite this, officials are still concerned that the economic crisis will return. It appears to have been spurred on by major economic reforms announced last month, which incentivized Zimbabweans to attempt to spend as much of their money as they possibly could before cash or goods could disappear – not helped by the memory of the 2008 economic crisis. It remains to be seen whether the situation will be ameliorated for good by the end of the month when Financial Minister Ncube announces the national budget.

This week, two former ministers under Robert Mugabe’s reign appeared in court to face corruption charges: former information, communication, and technology minister Supa Mandiwanzira, and former local government, youth, and environment minister. Both were formerly fairly significant in the ruling ZANU-PF party. On Wednesday, 47 people died in a major traffic accident along the Harare-Mutare highway, which Zimbabwean police have characterized as a collision between two buses caused by “speed or reckless driving.”

Laos

Analysts are predicting that Laos’s dependence on Chinese loans to build their extensive dam projects will lead to Laos falling “even deeper” into China’s infamous debt trap. It is estimated that Laos has received about $11 billion in development financing from China so far, second only to Pakistan in Asia. Laos, currently one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, has already been warned last year by the International Monetary Fund that it runs a huge risk of “external debt distress.”

Vietnam

Vietnam has claimed that due to “toxic information” on platforms such as Facebook and Google, it wants at least half of its domestic social media users to use domestic social networks by 2020. Vietnam’s information ministry has been drafting a code of conduct for the internet. As the Vietnamese government normally exercises strict controls over domestic media and what is allowed in the country, it is thought by many that this is actually a way of silencing dissidents – who are generally only able to openly critique the government through their online activities.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

According to a recent human rights report, brutal torture and sexual assault have been used by authorities in the DRC against political dissidents as a way to silence them. Members of political opposition groups or social justice campaigns have fallen victim to rape and torture for simply taking part in protests or by wearing political shirts. This report comes after interviewing 74 people, both women, and men. According to the report, all of them women and two-thirds of the men had been raped, while others were subject to electric shocks and beatings.

Different leaders from opposition groups for the upcoming elections have agreed to go to Geneva in order to select a joint candidate. The leaders left on Thursday for the three-day summit. There are high expectations, therefore all of the leaders believe it is best to act together to choose one leader. The DRC elections are to take place on December 23rd, and the outcome is crucial for the future of the Congo.

Colombia

According to the United Nations, an estimated 350 people have fled the northeast region of Colombia, while another 400 people are caught in the “crossfire” of warfare between militant groups ELN and EPL. Last week, president Duque declared that he sent 5,000 troops to the region in order to protect civilians and create peace, even though civilians from the region fiercely opposed the president’s decision. Militarizing the region, Catatumbo has only proven to develop more harm than good in the past. Locals from Catatumbo believe that the military is corrupt and unorganized, and they have yet to help in the most recent situation concerning people being caught in the crossfire of militant groups.

Last week, Venezuelan soldiers entered through the Colombian border. This is the latest in a series of border crossings. On Wednesday, Colombia sent a letter of protest to Venezuela. Duque sees the repeated crossings as a violation of sovereignty. Venezuela did not immediately respond to the letter.

Venezuela

Due to the imposed US financial sanctions on Venezuela’s gold, Venezuela’s hard currency has dwindled. Because of this, Maduro is pursuing bringing back nearly $550 million of gold from the Bank of England, held in Britain. Venezuela is fearful of being caught up in international sanctions. Given the country is in its fifth year of recession, losing this gold could cause even further damage to the country’s economy.

The European Union has extended sanctions on Venezuela until November of 2019. In 2017, the EU imposed an arms embargo and further added a variety of Venezuelan officials to the sanctions list. The most recent decree is because of Maduro’s human rights violations and undermining of democracy. The EU’s sanctions came less than one week after the United States imposed sanctions on the oil-rich country. The goal is to add more pressure on Maduro and his government.

Malaysia

This week, the Malaysian delegation at the third Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva reaffirmed the new Malaysian government’s commitment to working towards ratifying all UN human rights treaties that have yet to be ratified by the Malaysian government. The Malaysian government also indicated that it would be placing a moratorium on all executions until the death penalty is abolished, attempting to signify its new commitment to human rights. Activists and civil rights groups also used the stage provided by the Universal Periodic Review to express disappointment and outrage to the government’s response to accusations of female genital mutilation in the country. The Malaysian government claims that people practice “female circumcision,” and insists that the practice is independent of what is characterized as FGM.

Dozens of Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis boarded a boat attempting to reach the southern coast of Malaysia and were apprehended by Malaysian authorities. This has occurred mere weeks after Myanmar and Bangladeshi officials announced a repatriation plan set to begin in mid-November, despite protests from groups such as the United Nations that such repatriation efforts are premature. The Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, warned Malaysians to not “abuse” the freedom of speech, expression, and media given by the government. Specifically, he condemned uses of these basic freedoms to cause trouble on matters relating to race and religion.

Other News

Russia —  This week, the United States blocked a Russian attempt to ease sanctions against the DPRK under the premise of affording humanitarian aid to the impoverished nation. (Radio Free Europe)

Hungary — Although the Hungarian investigation of an alleged corruption scheme involving the Prime Minister’s son-in-law has been dropped, the European Union announced that it would continue pursuing the case. (Politico EU)

Poland— After elections were concluded on Sunday, Poland showed a deeply divided nation between its more liberal cities and conservative countryside. (New York Times)

The Philippines — Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos has been found guilty of graft this Friday, a rare conviction among a variety of corruption cases that have been brought up in recent Philippine politics. (TIME)

Pakistan — Asia Bibi, the women who was held on death row for the past eight years, was freed of her sentence. Her freedom sparked riots in Pakistan. (BBC)

Palestine — During a protest, a young Palestinian man famous for his symbolism of Palestinian resistance through a picture of him which greatly compares to the French Revolution painting, Liberty Leading the People, was injured by Israeli Soldiers. (Al Jazeera)

China — As many as 500 children of detained Uighur Muslims have been placed in what is being called a “closed school” in Kashi Prefecture, where they are not allowed to have any kind of contact with the outside. It is thought that these are the children of those who have been placed in “re-education camps.” (Radio Free Asia)

Yemen — The Yemeni port city of Hodeidah is facing the worst violence that it has seen in months. This is due to the US-backed Saudi coalition of fighters in a war with the Iranian-backed Houthis. It is estimated that nearly 100 civilians died this week. (CNN)