Photo: Jordi Sànchez (Catalan National Assembl) and Jordi Cuixart (independence group Omnium leader) were arrested and faced a judge in Madrid on Monday, in an investigation for alleged sedition. The arrests of the both ‘Jordis’ is the first imprisonment of senior secessionist figures since Catalonia’s 1 October independence referendum. Photograph: Reuters (via bbc.com)
Also this week we are proud to inform you that executive director of CANVAS Srdja Popovic has been elected rector of St Andrews, one of the oldest English-speaking schools of our world. Read what the BBC wrote about the election here.
On Monday, Cambodia’s parliament voted to make it part of party-law that if a political party is dissolved, seats in parliament should be re-distributed. The vote happened after the government filed a lawsuit earlier this month to dissolve main opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), part of an escalating political crisis. Monday’s parliamentary vote on the new amendments was supported by all 67 parliamentarians present from Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), while the CNRP boycotted the morning session. According to Reuters, under the new laws, “if a political party abandons its seats, is delisted, is disbanded or dissolved, a list of candidates or members of parliament of that party are no longer valid and beneficial.” The vote comes at a time when around half the opposition members of Cambodia’s parliament have allegedly left the country in fear of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s repressive regime, as we reported earlier this month.
On Thursday, the South Chinese Morning Post publishes an interesting column dealing with particular historical explanations behind Hun Sen’s current crackdown against opposition forces ahead of next year’s election. “To understand, we must go back 47 years,” Jonathan Power writes. When the North Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979, they installed ex-Khmer Rouge dissidents as the country’s leaders. One of them being current Prime Minister Hun Sen. As a counter-action, the US, who had then only recently lost the Vietnam war, started backing the Khmer Rouge. The frustration of over a decade of US-backed killing by the Khmer Rouge has contributed to Hun Sen cling to power, Power concludes. “The long period when the US and Europeans supported the Khmer Rouge embittered Hun Sen and most Cambodians. It helped build his popularity.”
Late on Friday last week, Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF has called for an extra-ordinary congress in December. Where the next congress was only scheduled for 2019 (the gathering takes place every four years) an early congress is necessary to deal with internal divisions threatening to destroy the party, ahead of next year’s general elections. “Team Lacoste” is led by one of Mugabe’s deputies, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The other camp, made up of young Turks calling themselves “Generation 40”, is backing First Lady Grace Mugabe to block Mnangagwa’s presidential ambitions. According to an anonymous source who spoke to news platform News24, “a meeting of the Politburo took note of the infighting within the party and it was suggested by members of the G40 that we turn our annual conference into an extra-ordinary congress that would address the problems that we have.”
Late this week, former Vice-President Joyce Mujuru’s National People’s Party (NPP) were to launch a separate opposition-alliance ahead of the 2018 general elections. Mujuru’s NPP would team up with smaller opposition parties Zapu, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment (Dare). The alliance would counter the MDC Alliance led by MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai. “The main reason we refused to get into bed with MDC Alliance is because we said we want a neutral name. We are, therefore, not going to be forming an alliance that bears our name. Those who have proposed that name are just mere dreamers,” NPP spokesperson Jeffreyson Chitandosaid told NewsDay. A split opposition vote could frustrate the opposition’s effort to counter the 2018 ZANU-PF campaign.
Where the DRC secured a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council early this week, the Maldivian mission to the United Nations had announced in July that it would withdraw its candidacy from the vote. The withdrawal was partly guided by allegations of harboring human trafficking cells and being used as a hub for large-scale money laundering. Maldives is also under considerable fire for restrictions to the freedom of expression in the country, caused by recent laws, such as the re-criminalization of defamation in 2016.
Reacting on the UNHRC’s electoral process, former president and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed has now insinuated that Maldives would never have been able to secure a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council anyway. Nasheed insinuated on his official Twitter account on Tuesday that the nation is an ‘international outcast’ under President Yameen, where he also said to have recognized why Maldives withdrew its candidacy only months before the election.
Also, this week, the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has begun investigating the death of Abdul Rasheed, a local activist who passed away on October 10th, while serving a jail sentence. Rasheed was serving a jail term for assault during the ‘May Day’ protest, a mass opposition rally held following the conviction of former president Mohamed Nasheed.
As regional President Puigdemont called for new negotiations with his federal counterpart early this week, Spain signals a hardening line over the Catalonian independence issue. Although Puigdemont failed to respond to Madrid’s ultimatum to clarify whether he had declared unilateral independence in a speech last week, he instead made a “sincere and honest” offer of dialogue over the next two months. In reply, Rajoy said Puigdemont’s stance had brought Madrid closer to triggering article 155 of the constitution, under which it can impose direct rule on any of the country’s 17 autonomous communities if they break the law.
In the meantime, the Spanish high court ordered the heads of the Catalan National Assembly and independence group Omnium to be held without bail, pending an investigation for alleged sedition, in the first imprisonment of senior secessionist figures since Catalonia’s 1 October independence referendum. Both Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart allegedly played central roles in orchestrating pro-independence protests that last month trapped national police inside a Barcelona building and destroyed their vehicles. Puigdemont regretted the arrests, stating that “sadly, [Spain] has political prisoners again.”
Early on Monday, a socialist win in regional elections caused allegations of irregularities and a new risk of rekindling unrest. Despite devastating food shortages and salary-destroying inflation in Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro’s candidates took 17 out of 23 governorships, versus six for the opposition, in Sunday’s poll with turnout of more than 61 percent. “The results are difficult to believe, obviously, given pre-electoral polling that gave the opposition in the range of 15 to 18 governorships, with normal turnout (around 55 percent or above),” political scientist John Polga-Hecimovich told Al Jazeera. As a reaction, opposition leaders decried irregularities and called for street protests on Monday. They also demanded a full audit, but did not immediately offer any evidence of fraud.
On Tuesday, reactions on the election-results could not be any more diverse. Although most opposition leaders claimed the elections to be rigged by the Maduro-state apparatus, some opposition figures acknowledged failures in their counter-campaign. The abstention by their supporters, disillusioned by the failure of street protests to dislodge Maduro earlier this year, was a big factor, opposition figures told Reuters. The United States accounted for the strongest foreign reaction, as Washington slammed Maduro’s “authoritarian dictatorship,” while other major nations from France to Colombia also expressed concern about the adherence to democratic process in Venezuela. “With the opposition coalition’s dozens of parties arguing over whether there was fraud, what went wrong, and where to go next, it will need to regroup and map strategy quickly heading into the 2018 presidential campaign,” according to Reuters.
This week, after four months of Western backed fighting, Syrian forces re-established themselves in Raqqa, ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital. The battle has damaged almost every building in the Syrian city. Although the ISIS-forces have fled Raqqa, the battle continuous to take lives, as hundreds of mines and explosives litter the streets. Now that the extremists are being rolled back, other disputes are coming to the fore. According to Australian ABC-news, “in Raqqa, it is not clear how long local Arabs will continue to cooperate with the Syrian Kurds who dominate the Syrian Democratic Forces, or whether the Syrian Government will continue to tolerate the SDF, negotiate or fight to regain control of the large swathe of Syria now under its control.”
On Tuesday, in-depth Syria platform Syria Deeply writes about the changing role women are playing in the country, focussing on Syrian politics. “The conflict in Syria has shifted traditional roles within communities. More women are starting to play roles in politics at all levels,” according to Federica Marsi, “but their overall influence remains minimal, leaving Syria’s destiny in the hands of men.” Although the feminist movement in Rojava, the Kurdish-controlled Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, might not be comparable to the situation in other Syrian territories, groups of non-Kurdish women also reportedly created similar female popular assemblies and battalions in villages liberated from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), including in Manbij and Raqqa. Also, beyond the country’s borders, Syrian women in the opposition are taking new steps to increase their representation. Mariam Jalabi, a member of the Women’s Advisory Committee at the U.N. and director of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces’ Representative Office, told Syria Deeply about a forthcoming “women’s political movement for Syria” that is set to launch its mission for effective female political representation in mid-October and present at the U.N. later this year.
Democratic Republic Congo
On Monday, the Democratic Republic of Congo was elected to the UN Human Rights Council, serving on the 47-member council from January 2018 until the end of 2020. Despite opposition from the United States, “Kinshasa now finds itself in the rare position of sitting on the Geneva-based council while the body investigates allegations of killings, torture, rape and the use of child soldiers in the Kasai region of the DR Congo,” according to New Vision. Human Rights Watch called the election of the DR Congo “a slap in the face to the many victims of the Congolese government’s grave abuses across the country.
Early on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch published a series of newly released satellite images, which are said to reveal that at least 288 villages were partially or totally destroyed by fire in northern Rakhine State in Burma since August 25 of this year. “The destruction encompassed tens of thousands of structures, primarily homes inhabited by ethnic Rohingya Muslims,” according to HRW. The publication claims that at least 66 villages were burned after September 5, when security force operations supposedly ended, according to a September 18 speech by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The United States of America
Late on Sunday, the New York Times reports on the newest developments in the NFL-protests. Instigator and main protagonist of the recent protest movement against racial injustice Colin Kaepernick, has filed a grievance against the N.F.L., accusing all 32 teams of colluding to keep him from playing in the league. When the protests led to condemnation by US President Trump and other high-ranking figures, team-owners were quick to restrict the protests, which fueled a national conversation on the propriety of protesting during the national anthem. According to the NY-Times, “Kaepernick’s inability to find a team, and the broader debate over the anthem protests, will now become a legal tug of war that could potentially amplify the dispute for months.” In the meantime, other sports teams, also outside of the US, join NFL-players in solidarity.
Since that same New York Times published an investigative report detailing decades of sexual harassment allegations against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein (early October), social media has provided a galvanizing platform for women to discuss their experiences. Building on this case, and the impact it had on American society and societies all around the world, women worldwide were posting messages on social media under the hashtag #MeToo, early this week, to show how commonplace sexual assault and harassment actually are. The hashtag refers to the fact that they, too, have been victims of such misconduct.
Finally, this week the third travel-ban which was proclaimed by the Trump-administration late September came across new restrictions from a federal court. The new travel restrictions, which were supposed to come into force on Wednesday, were overruled by Derrick Watson, a judge in Hawai. Where earlier counterarguments focused on the question if the travel ban targeted Muslims in an inordinate way, this time the argument challenged if Trumps new restrictions would actually be a solution to the supposed problem (national security). The policy “lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be ‘detrimental to the interests of the United States,’” Watson wrote.
Hong Kong – After China countered the Hong Kong national anthem protests with fierce new regulations, the Hong Kong government now considers adopting similar legislation – http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/2115503/after-china-makes-insulting-national-anthem-illegal-hong?utm_content=bufferdcaa7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Iraq – While bickering continues in the Iraqi Kurdish region early this week, Reuters on Wednesday writes about the risky Kurdhish trade-gamble for a region that is heavily dependent on food imports and oil exports, via a pipeline that passes through Turkey – http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-kurds-economy/defiant-kurds-shrug-off-risk-of-trade-war-after-independence-vote-idUSKBN1CN0QS?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Reuters%2FworldNews+%28Reuters+World+News%29
Kenia – As Kenia heads towards the scheduled October 26 rerun of the 2017 presidential election, Human Rights Watch releases a report on violations by security forces in the electoral period of August 2017. Meanwhile, Kenyatta’s competitor Raila Odinga pulled back from the rerun, and here is why – https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/15/kenya-police-killed-beat-post-election-protesters
Malta – In Malta, investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed using a car-bomb on Monday, as a sudden plot twist in the islands’ unfolding governmental corruption saga – http://www.scmp.com/news/world/europe/article/2115644/malta-car-bomb-kills-star-investigative-journalist-who-reported?utm_content=buffer9af12&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Argentina – Ahead of congressional elections on Sunday, Major political parties in Argentina have suspended their election campaigning after the discovery of a body thought to be that of a missing activist. According to BBC, “Mr Maldonado’s disappearance caused a national outcry and has since become highly politicised.” – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-41674565
Ukraine – Thousands of protesters clashed with the police on Tuesday, before setting up more than 50 tents in central Kiev, demanding the creation of an anti-corruption court, the lifting of lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution and a fairer electoral law – https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/protesters-set-first-large-tent-camp-since-euromaidan-revolution.html
In a statement, UN Special Rapporteur Diego García-Sayán, part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, has condemned the indefinite suspension of 54 lawyers in the Maldives after The International Commission of Jurists had already done so two weeks ago (see Weekly Report: 29 September). Among other things, the Special Rapporteur expressed his concerns about the independence of the legal profession and access to justice in the Maldives, and called on the authorities to establish an independent bar association overseeing lawyers’ affairs in the country.
As the second hearing of the suspects charged with the murder of popular blogger and human rights defender Yameen Rasheed was held behind closed doors, some have called for public hearings of the case in the future. The Asian Tribune and other organizations such as the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Democracy (FORUM-ASIA) or the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) called on the Criminal Court of the Maldives to do so in order “to respect the Constitution […] [and] the interest of Yammen, his family and justice in the Maldives. Yameen had received several death threats which were ignored by the police and was stabbed to death in April this year. Besides criticizing prevailing issues in the Maldives such as pervasive injustice and human rights abuses, the blogger was a leading advocate of justice for his friend and journalist Ahmad Rilwan Adulla who had disappeared in 2014.
On Wednesday, Moosa Rasheed of Avas Online dedicated his award of “Most Promising Journalist Of The Year”, awarded by the Maldives Media Council (MCC), to the missing journalist. At the awards ceremony, RaajjeTV also staged a silent protest, criticizing the unfairness and bias of the Commission in panalizing the TV station. RaajjeTV was fined by the Commission, penalizing a statement made in July during a live program, which allegedly encouraged to overthrow the government and negatively impacted national security, among other things.
After the ruling Cambodian government has started dissolving the main opposition party, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia now warns about Cambodia’s rapidly deteriorating civil and political rights. According to a statement, current developments have “deeply worrying implications for forthcoming elections and the future of democracy in the country.”
The South China Morning Post referred to Cambodia as “Asia’s newest one-party state” and reported Mu Sochua, one of Cambodia’s top opposition leaders, had fled to Morocco. She is one of three vice-presidents of the opposition party and was one of the remaining senior leaders still left free in Cambodia. She had been involved in opposition politics since the mid 1990s, but did not feel safe in the country anymore.
After thousands of Rohingya were leaving Myanmar on Wednesday and Thursday last week, army chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing stated that the Rohingya ‘were not native’ to Myanmar. According to him, they were rather left in only by the colonialists and they were originally Bengali. In his accounts, the general – most powerful person in Bugghist-majority Myanmar – claims that Rohingya insurgents’ attacks had triggered the situation. According to the UN human rights office, the military has been violently forcing out Rohingya to Bangladesh in recent weeks, and the “U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein has described the government operations as ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’”. U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman is scheduled to visit the country today. In the meantime, the EU is reportedly considering sanctions and cutting ties with the country if the situation does not improve. EU ambassadors have approved an agreement calling for the violence to end.
Democratic Republic Congo
Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that the electoral commission of the DRC has announced that presidential elections are not to be held before April 2019, after they were already due to be held last year. President Joseph Kabila therein undermines the pact of him to step down in 2017, made with the political opposition. According to a senior opposition member “[t]he holding of elections has become a political tool of Mr. Kabila to distract the people,” and The Rassemblement opposition coalition “will ‘no longer recognize him as head of state’ after Dec. 31”.
On Tuesday, a Statement by the UN Security Council condemned the attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) on 09 October in the North Kivu Province on a base of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). The attack had led to the death of two Tanzanian peacekeepers and 18 further peacekeepers injured. Besides the attacks on MONUSCO, presumed ADF forces have ambushed a group of motorbiker, reportedly killing 20 civilians earlier on Sunday. On Thursday, News24 further reported on Rwandan rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) killing 7 people including civilians and a police officer in the same province. At the same time, the International Committee of the Red Cross highlighted the urgent need for humanitarian assistance in the Kasai region.
Seven international and Congolese human rights organizations urged the United States and the European Union to increase targeted sanctions on President Joseph Kabila’s family and financial associates who benefit from unlawful activity, reported Human Rights Watch on Tuesday.
Upcoming Sunday, Venezuelans will participate in state elections to vote for governors. The opposition already claims that the government is using tactics of manipulation, confusion and fear. According to recent polls, Maduro is deeply unpopular, but support for the opposition has also gone down. Whatever Sunday’s elections’ outcome will be, governors are expected to be subordinated to the government-controlled assembly, leaving little risk when allowing clean votes, “while gaining much from the optics” – possibly hoping to defuse international pressure and appease domestic opposition. While demand for travel documents is at a record high, many Venezuelans have been waiting for their passports to be renewed since new ones cannot be issued due to a lack of material, and have not been able to travel in the meantime. President Maduro has now signed an emergency decree to extent those passports’ validity. At the same time, Colombian authorities have already stated that the number of foreigners coming in to Cucuta has more than doubled this summer, though it does not reflect dual nationals returning or those crossing without passing official checkpoints. More Venezuelans than ever have decided to leave the country, many using the Simon Bolivar International Bridge towards Colombia.
While calls for Catalan independence continue, others have made statements against independence the independence of Catalonia as happened on Sunday during a march organized by the Catalan Civil Society, when people were waving Spanish, Catalan and EU flags together. On Thursday, many Spaniards also crowded the streets and displayed flags in Madrid and Barcelona to demonstrate Spanish unity on a National Holiday. However, Sunday as well as Thursday were marked by extremism and violent escalation. Tension remains high between the central government and Catalonia after Catalan government chief Puigdemont signed a symbolic declaration of independence on Tuesday, citing the results of the referendum from 01 October which had been declared illegal by Madrid. Prime Minister Rajoy has now given Puigdemont eight days to drop his push for independence. If the latter does not do so, Rajoy could use Article 155 of the constitution and impose rule from Madrid. As the Article has never been used before, uncertainty remains about what that could mean in practice.
The Islamic State (IS) has seen its territories decline throughout the last year, now falling back on territories in the Euphrates valley southeast of Deir al-Zor, writes Reuters. While the US-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) have been preparing for “a final showdown with Islamic State”, the UN estimates up to 8,000 civilians to still be trapped in Raqqa. The Raqqa Civic Council has attempted to negotiate to release of civilians facing fear that the latter may be used as human shields. Raqqa is one of the IS’ last strongholds and has served as their de-facto Syrian capital since 2014. Reportedly, there has been a number of IS fighters surrendering in recent weeks. However, the SDF had already been predicted ahead of a major push in June, which has proven overly optimistic with militants holding out months until now.
On Thursday, IS suicide attackers staged a triple car bomb attack in Abu Fas, northeast Syria, killing at least 50 people among which were refugees fleeing the fighting in Deir-al Zor. On Wednesday, suicide bombers had detonated near the Damascus police headquarters, killing two people and leaving six wounded. Reuter reports of aid agencies warnings’ “the the fighting in eastern Syria is the worst in the country this year and that air strikes have caused hundreds of civilian casualties.”
The United States of America
The US announced its withdrawal from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), accusing the body of an ‘anti-Israel bias’. Heather Nauert, US state department spokesperson, announced on Thursday that the US would replace its representation there with an ‘observer mission’. Israel has also declared to prepare a withdrawal from UNESCO alongside the US. Among other reactions, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the organization, lamented the US decision and stated that at times when “conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” she said.
Early this week, President Mugabe announced a Cabinet reshuffle where he dropped three ministers and reassigned ten others. The reconfiguration of Cabinet posts should be viewed in the light of ZANU-PF’s internal battle over Mugabe’s succession. President Mugabe “clipped under-fire Vice-President Mnangagwa’s wings” by taking away the Justice Ministry from him as well as demoting several of his affiliates. The post was re-administered to Happyton Bonyongwe, director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, which is still under strong hold of the President.
The Cabinet reshuffle included the creation of a new ‘Cyber-Ministry’, which pro-democracy groups and social media users fear will be used to suppress free speech following comments by Mugabe’s spokesperson. The new Ministry will “will help us in nailing those who do mischief using cyber space,” George Charamba told reporters at State House on Tuesday. The Presidential spokesperson also mentioned the fact that Mugabe learned a lot from Zimbabwe’s Eastern allies in this matter, such as China, Russia and Korea, as these countries “have done exceedingly well in terms of ensuring some kind of order and lawfulness in that area.”
Also this week, Zimbabwean activist and National Vendors Union leader Sten Zvorwadza was arrested for describing the ancient President of the country, Robert Mugabe as a dead man walking. Zvorwadza made the remark about the 93-year-old leader while he was commenting on the recent disturbance between authorities and vendors. Armed Zimbabwean police have arrested several vendors resisting moves by the government to remove them from the streets following an order by President Robert Mugabe to get rid of people selling various wares in public.
On Thursday, The Iraqi government stated that it would not hold talks with the Kurdish autonomous region on reopening its airports and providing dollars for its banks, unless the Kurds commit to “Iraq’s unity”. The flight-ban was imposed immediately after the September 25th referendum, in which a landslide majority voted in favor of independence. Among other measures to isolate the Kurdish region, Baghdad stopped selling dollars to four Kurdish-owned banks and called for a halt to its independent crude oil sales. Although the Kurdish representatives have called for negotiations many times since the independence-vote, Baghdad sticks to their position that the Kurds must disavow the referendum result as a pre-condition for any talks. In coordination with the Bagdad-regime, Turkey this week committed to gradually closing border gates with northern Iraq in response to the independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdish region.
Reacting to the rising tension in the region, the two main roads connecting Erbil and Dohuk to Mosul were cut off on Thursday with sand embankments as a precautionary measure after Kurdish forces detected an increase in deployments and movements of Iraqi forces near the front line with the Peshmerga. According to Al Jazeera, the move came after Kurdish authorities on Wednesday claimed they feared Iraqi government forces and allied paramilitary units were preparing to launch an assault on the autonomous northern region.
Bolivia: Thousands of protestors marched in several cities throughout Bolivia to make a statement against President Evo Morales newest attempt to clear the way to run for a fourth term in 2019. – http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bolivia-politics-protests/bolivians-protest-morales-new-bid-to-extend-term-limits-idUSKBN1CG0BR?utm_source=34553&utm_medium=partner
Morocco: Last Sunday, hundreds of people from all over Morocco protested in Casablanca and continued the wave of demonstrations which have been happening throughout the year. Protestors came out in support of jailed activists and in general solidarity with the Rif region, where protests had started last year. – https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2017/10/9/casablanca-protests-in-solidarity-with-jailed-rif-activists
Photo: Efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit. While various authorities in Europe have opened investigations of serious international crimes committed in Syria, Sweden and Germany are the first two countries that have prosecuted and convicted people for these crimes. Photograph: Human Rights Watch
In a report released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said that efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit, notably in Sweden and Germany. In the 66-page report, the countries efforts to investigate and prosecute people implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria are outlined. The report emphasizes that Syrian refugees consistently stressed to Human Rights Watch the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for atrocities committed in Syria.
On this same Wednesday, ISIS claims responsibility for bombing in Damascus on which happened two days before. Killing 17 people in the central and famous al-Midan neighborhood of the city, the attack was the first of its kind in the capital since July this year. Midan is a predominantly Sunni Muslim area that witnessed some of the biggest peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad at the start of the civil war.
On Tuesday, Al Jazeera covers the UNHCR reporting of Congolese refugees fleeing towards Zambia. More than 3,000 people have fled to that country from DRC in the past month to escape escalating violence, according to the United Nations. UNHCR stated that unrest in parts of southeastern Congo since 30 August has driven these numbers into northern Zambia – the largest influx of its kind in the past five years. People “are escaping inter-ethnic clashes, as well as fighting between Congolese security forces and militia groups”, Andrej Mahecic, UNHCR spokesman, told reporters in Geneva.
In the meantime, opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have mobilized for a new effort to oust President Joseph Kabila, calling for civil disobedience by citizens. The Guardian reports on these new efforts under the banner of ‘Go Kabila Go’. Protests, however, have proven to not be without a risk. “The government shut down protests in December. Its message is simple: if you demonstrate, we will shoot you. And it has done that in the past … Fayulu [Martin Fayulu, an opposition member of parliament] is a brave man, but when was he last able to get more than 500 people on to the streets? The opposition has not put a ding in the Congolese government,” said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University.
Late on Friday last week, Zimbabwean police fired teargas to break up protests in Harare. Led by the anti-government social movement #Tajamuka, demonstrators demanded the resignation of central bank chief John Mangudya, over severe cash shortages. Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is visibly worsening since early this year, as rising prices fuel opposition to President Robert Mugabe’s regime.
Towards the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe, the battle for succession of Robert Mugabe is heating up. On Wednesday, one of Zimbabwe’s vice presidents accused the other of “using lies” over an allegation of poisoning, fueling political tensions within ZANU-PF. Emerson Mnangagwa, 75, was flown to South Africa for emergency treatment after falling ill at the ZANU-PF party rally in the southern town of Gwanda on August 12. The Vice-President claimed he had been given poisoned ice cream in an attempt to kill him. After Mugabe later said that Mnangagwa was not poisoned, Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko of making a “calculated” challenge to the president’s account of the incident. “There appears to be an agenda to undermine the authority of President Mugabe and to destabilize the country by using lies,” Mphoko said in a statement. “This must stop.”
Meanwhile, the ‘tribal’- discussion fired up in Zimbabwe again this week. The tribal divide between Shona and Ndebele within the country came to a head when MDC-T deputy president, Thokozani Khupe strongly opposed the formation of MDC Alliance, arguing some of the coalition parties do not bring anything to the table. Khupe was then accused of being a tribalist. When Tendai Biti fell out with his colleagues in the People’s Democratic Party later that week, he also accused his secretary general, Gorden Moyo and everyone supporting him, of tribalism. NewsDay reporter Nqaba Matshazi wrote an interesting article about how “labelling someone a tribalist could be meant to deflect from substantial issues, […] and is quite a lazy way to avoid political debate.”
On the weekend, the South China Morning Post reports on the Cambodian government cracking down on dissenting voices. Around half the opposition members of Cambodia’s parliament have allegedly left the country in fear of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s repressive regime, a deputy party leader said. After the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha early September, the government has said there could be more arrests linked to the alleged plot, which the opposition has dismissed as a ploy to ensure Hun Sen keeps his more than three-decade hold on power in next year’s general election. Where the ruling party accuses the United States to be behind a plot to democratically remove the prime minister in next year’s elections, the opposition says it is evidence of an election strategy, not a coup plot.
On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch released a statement in which it calls on UN Rights bodies to ensure pre-election reporting on Cambodia. Summing up the main human- and civil rights violations, HRW concludes that “the Cambodian government’s actions amount to a comprehensive campaign of intimidation, violence, and misuse of legal mechanisms in the lead-up to next year’s national election. In view of this campaign, pre-election reporting, followed by Council discussion, should be a red line in the resolution currently under consideration,” according to the statement.
The United States of America
This week, the United States news was completely dominated by the Las Vegas shooting. After a man opened fire at a crowd, killing 59 people and injuring several hundred others, the bitter debate about gun rights is moved back to the center of Washington politics. Despite the fact that support for stricter gun laws spikes after mass-shootings, that shift in public opinion largely fades over time. “Gun owners are too powerful of an interest group and anybody who crosses them will pay a steep political price,” according to Andy Sullivan for Reuters. Jimmy Kimmel on Monday delivered an emotional monologue after the mass shooting, imploring Congress to act. Kimmel focused on the contrast between the aggressive US response to terror-threats, and the countries in-action concerning gun violence, which has a far larger death-tole.
On Monday, Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Tamara Taraciuk Broner puts out a small summary on the attention the profound human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela got at the UN Human Rights Council session that ended last week. Although member states, including from Latin America, spoke up clearly and forcefully about the countries increasingly brutal crackdown on dissent, “the challenge now is to keep up the multilateral pressure on the Venezuelan government,” according to Taraciuk Broner.
The Atlantic featured a great long read on Wednesday, addressing a central question in the countries deteriorating situation. “Given Maduro’s deep unpopularity and the widespread chaos, hunger, violence, and scarcity of basic goods under his rule, an obvious question arises: After three years of determined, ceaseless efforts, why has the opposition failed to unseat him?” About the importance of image, small victories, and how high-profile failure has generated a pessimism among the public about the oppositions’ chances for success.
On Thursday, the Washington Post features a story on the Venezuelan government’s anti-crime campaign. A new report, by the local news site RunRun.es in partnership with a Colombian-based journalism nonprofit called Connectas, alleges that instead of pacifying the country, the operation has left more than 500 people dead. Very worrying, then, is that the report concludes that the operations led to the installation of pro-government armed groups in slums, replacing organized-crime groups with violent pro-government gangs known as “colectivos”. The report relied on official figures, media reports from around Venezuela, and interviews with people in five states to document the impact of the anti-crime program, known as Operation for the Liberation and Protection of the People, or OLP.
With 90 percent in favor of independence on a turnout of 42 percent at the independence-referendum on Sunday, the Catalans gave of a strong statement to their federal government in Madrid. After the vote on Sunday, separatist parties and unions urged Catalans to stop working and join a general strike on Wednesday, to put pressure on Spanish national authorities to take note of their referendum vote in favor of independence. After an earlier pledge to engage parliament on a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours of the vote, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has meanwhile pulled back, saying he wants the European Union to help mediate what he calls “a new understanding” with the Spanish state. Puigdemont called on Europe to step in to make sure fundamental rights were fully respected but for now Brussels is maintaining a determined silence.
Spain’s constitutional crisis deepened Wednesday after the nation’s king lashed out at Catalan’s secessionist leaders in a TV address. King Felipe’s rare TV speech was unexpectedly hard; he accused pro-independence leaders of “unacceptable disloyalty” and made no mention of the nearly 900 people injured in clashes with Spain’s national security forces. Instead, the king blamed the referendum’s organizers for the strife. Catalan President Puigdemont vowed to declare independence within days; late this week or early next week, his government will act to split from Spain. According to CNN, declaring independence would be a huge gamble for Puigdemont. While there was broad support for holding the referendum, support for independence is not overwhelming in Catalonia.
On Thursday, the Guardian publishes a worrying article about the role of the UN in the run up to the current Rohingya-crisis in Myanmar. Based on information provided by inside-sources, Guardian claims that the highest UN-authorities commissioned and then “suppressed” a report that criticized its strategy in Myanmar and warned it was ill-prepared to deal with the impending Rohingya-crisis. The report, which was released in May this year, accurately predicted a “serious deterioration” in the six months following its submission and urged the UN to undertake “serious contingency planning”. However, sources within the UN and humanitarian community claimed the recommendations were ignored and the report was suppressed. The BBC also wrote about the UN failing the Rohingya last week.
Some days earlier on Tuesday, Reuters reports on the skepticism among the Muslim minority, on the chances of ever going home. The Rohingya in Bangladesh are skeptical about their chances of ever going back to Myanmar, even though the government there has given an assurance it would accept people verified as refugees. At the root of the problem is the refusal by Buddhist-majority Myanmar to grant citizenship to members of a Muslim minority seen by a mostly unsympathetic, if not hostile, society as interlopers from Bangladesh, according to Reuters.
In the second half of this week, The Maldives have announced to suspend all trade activities and relations with Myanmar, said the Maldivian government. The Maldivian effort is part of an outcry by mainly Muslim countries in Asia, representing a growing chorus of criticism aimed at Myanmar and its civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority. Resolutions were passed today in provincial assemblies of Pakistan condemning the brutal killing of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.
On Friday, the news platform TRT-World published an article on the current aggravating situation in the Maldives. Basing their information on interviews with several activists opposing the regime, the article sketches a good macro-level understanding of the current circumstances. The spread of Salafism through new found partner Saudi Arabia and the developing relationship with China make the short analysis into a good introductory read.
Hong Kong – Popular protest continues in Hong Kong on Sunday, as thousands of protesters call for justice secretary’s resignation in aftermath of prominent activists being sent to jail. Organisers claimed 40,000 people took part. They had projected a turnout of 20,000. Police put the figure at 4,300. – http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/2113583/national-day-protest-hong-kong-draws-40000-streets?utm_content=buffereda52&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Uganda – On Wednesday, Reuters reports on attacks that were committed against MP’s who opposed the scrapping of the presidential age limit and thereby extending President Yoweri Museveni’s more than 31 years in power – http://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-politics/grenades-thrown-at-homes-of-ugandan-mps-opposed-to-extending-presidents-rule-idUSKCN1C81LM?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Reuters%2FworldNews+%28Reuters+World+News%29
West Papua – The UN decolonization-committee, responsible for monitoring the progress of former colonies towards independence, will not accept a petition signed by 1.8 million West Papuans calling for independence. On Tuesday, the exiled West Papuan leader Benny Wenda presented the petition, but the committee claims that West Papua’s cause is outside the it’s mandate – http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/2113504/united-nations-refuses-accept-west-papua-independence?utm_content=buffer900f2&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer