The Democratic Republic of Congo
A series of marches took place across the DRC to demand that President Joseph Kabila leaves office and organizes elections by the end of the year. They were organized by pro-democracy group Lucha, and backed by opposition politicians. The Congolese authorities, which banned opposition demonstrations last September, arrested several protesters. Amnesty International reported that more than 100 people had been arrested, while the UN condemned the ‘arbitrary arrests’.
A UN report based on interviews with almost 100 victims says that more than 250 people, including 62 children, have been killed in attacks in the DRC’s Kasai region that are “taking on an increasing and disturbing ethnic dimension”. It also reported that the DRC government might be complicit in the massacres.
As measles sweeps across the DRC, more than one million children have been vaccinated against the disease in a nine-month campaign by Médecins Sans Frontières, led in different regions across the country.
Fears over the events taking place in the Maldives have only continued to escalate since July 24th, on which day the Maldivian military blockaded parliament and expelled Members of Parliament from the building in order to protect a successful impeachment vote against a close ally of the president. Now, the government is planning to follow through with the execution of three men “in the next few days.” Amnesty International reports that the executions are also a way for the government to divert attention away from its other troubles. In response to the mounting threat, the British Foreign office has updated its travel advice for those traveling to the area, urging tourists to avoid any large gatherings.
US-based foundation Human Rights First published a troubling new report on the ruling party’s assail on Poland’s journalists, activists and NGO workers. Using state controlled media, the PiS has launched a smear-campaign on organizations whose advocacy focuses on the rule of law and human rights, insinuating their funding was only the result of “corruption” and would soon be eliminated. While independent groups are facing cuts and declines in public support due to malicious propaganda, the government is actively surrounding itself with organizations which share its conservative worldview – and largely focus on promoting Catholic family values, the rights of Christian refugees and nationalist Poles. In July, it even announced plans to create a new entity which would centralize EU and state funding for NGO’s, a move local activists fear would deal the final blow to Poland’s fragile civil society.
After a suspect election, the Venezuelan government announced it will go ahead with the creation of its “Constitutional Assembly”, a new, 545-member body tasked with re-writing the constitution, an objective many observers equate with effectively destroying all outlets for dissent. Members of the opposition, which has gained majority in the National Assembly for the first time in years, have already announced they will continue holding plenary sessions, irrespective of the restrictions the CA will likely impose on their political activities.
A day after the results came out, the software company contracted to set up and support the country’s electronic voting system, announced that the government had reported a false turnout rate, inflating the figure by more than 1 million votes. Amidst mounting concerns for the near-irreversible erosion of democracy in Venezuela and growing evidence of fraud, other state actors have already denounced the elections as illegitimate. The US State Department will respond by placing Nicolas Maduro on its sanctions list, while the EU signaled it would undertake similar measures in the case of further assaults on democracy by the Venezuelan government.
On Thursday, Zimbabwean soldiers reportedly clashed with police in the capital Harare. Armed with sjamboks, logs and sticks, soldiers are reported to have chased the police down Robert Mugabe road. Zimbabwean police have come under increasing fire in the last year for using unconventional methods of dealing with the public causing uproar amongst many. Although the reasoning behind the attack remains unclear, some believe that the soldiers were retaliating after the police had placed spikes under the tires of military vehicles. However, others fear that this may be a sign of the factional fights taking place within the Zanu-PF. With President Mugabe’s health in decline, there has been increased fighting over who might take over in the event of his death. Indeed, last week President Mugabe made accusations against the military, suggesting that they were plotting a coup against him. Some speculate that Mugabe is fearful the military may choose to support one of its own generals in a bid for the presidency instead of President Mugabe’s Wife Grace should he die.
In other news, there has been reports uncertainty in the country as many worry about how the Trump administration may cut some or all foreign aid to Zimbabwe in the coming year. Currently, the country receives $150 million from the United States to help fight food insecurity and the effects of climate change.
This week, Bassel Khartabil Safadi, an internet entrepreneur and an enthusiastic participant in the 2011 uprising in Syria, was confirmed dead by an undisclosed source in Damascus. He was detained in March 2012 after his participation in the Syrian uprising and was later executed by the government in October 2015. Amnesty International has reported thousands of such secret executions of political prisoners at the prison of Sednaya outside Damascus.
Meanwhile, in a letter to UN’s special envoy Staffan de Mistura, 160 Syrian civil society groups complain that peace talks are failing due to external interference. They urge the UN to focus more on the political transition and to give less time and space to external players with their own agenda, such as Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Gulf States. The letter is understood to be specially aimed at Russian interference.
Furthermore, a ceasefire between Syrian forces and rebels north of Homs has been agreed and will come into effect on Thursday, announces Russia’s defence ministry. It would be the third “de-escalation zone” put in place after talks between powers backing and opposing the Syrian government.
The United States of America
On Wednesday, President Trump supported a new bill in the Senate that would aim to slash illegal immigration levels by half in the next decade. Modified since its initial version in February, the bill would seek to create a ‘merit-based’ immigration system, favoring those with skills over those with family connections. The bill would reduce the yearly award of permanent legal residence (or green-cards) to 500,000 from the original figure of over 1 million. Moreover, the bill would work on a point based system, similar to systems already in place in Australia and Canada, looking at factors such as English ability, education levels and job skills. The bill is titled the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment act (RAISE).
It was also revealed Tuesday that the Trump administration will now begin investigating the use of Affirmative Action policies in college admissions procedures. It is believe that the investigation by the Justice department will specifically target those policies that give typically disadvantaged groups such as African-Americans and Latinos a slight edge over other applicants from more privileged backgrounds who may have higher test scores.
In other news, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been continuing to pursue the Russia probe and is now using a Washington D.C. based grand jury to further investigate claims. Mueller has likewise begun issuing a series of subpoenas and it is even reported that Mueller’s investigation has extended beyond 2016 election and may potentially even be looking at the entirety of Trump’s financial and business history. Matters have only become more troubling for President Trump as it was recently revealed that Trump deliberately dictated his son to release a misleading statement about his meeting with a Russian lawyer earlier last year.
It was also reported last Friday that Trump appeared to be encouraging police to treat suspects with more brutality as he spoke to law enforcement officers in Suffolk county, New York.
Finally, the last week has seen a serious reshuffling of White House staff as Trump swore in retired four star Marine general John F. Kelly as his new Chief of Staff, a move that was immediately followed by the dismissal of Anthony Scarmucci, the former White House Communications Director who had only held the job for a grand total of 10 days.
Cambodia launched a free mobile application with the comprehensive history of the Khmer Rouge. Since seventy percent of Cambodia’s population is under thirty, developers felt it was imperative to educate the younger generations about the development of the Pol Pot-led regime, which started as a guerilla group in the 1950s. Thanks to funding by the EU and the Rei Foundation, the app will be introduced in 80 schools and 20 universities in October.
These efforts coincide with the trials of the last two surviving top leaders of the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodia Tribunal. One is the second-in-command and chief ideologist of the regime, Nuon Chea, and the other is its former head of State, Khieu Samphan — both were sentenced to life imprisonment during the first part of the trial in 2014
ISIS is losing more and more territory in Syria. The Islamic State is struggling to mount an effective defense of the city of Raqqa, its headquarters, as local forces make rapid headway in ousting the militants, the U.S. military said. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they have captured 40% of the city since June 6, when a ground assault began.
Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri held a joint press conference on Tuesday. Trump mentioned that the US will support “the humanitarian needs of displaced Syrian citizens as close to their home country as possible”, thus allocating new funding to Lebanon, in support of Syrian refugees there.
In the Maldives, an ongoing political crisis is unfolding after President Abdulla Yameen ordered troops to barricade Parliament on July 24. Opposition lawmakers have been physically barred from entering and assaulted with pepper spray. This comes after the unified opposition declared a no-confidence vote for July 24 against the Speaker Abdulla Maseeh; the Opposition claims it has support from 45 out of 85 MPs. The situation escalated after last week, when Yameen arrested and jailed the son of Abdul Maumoon Gayoom. Gayoom is the former authoritarian leader who has now joined the opposition against Yameen.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
This week, the UN issued two declarations related to the DRC. The first focused on the mass graves found in the insurrection-ravaged Kasai region: for the first time, the UN has directly suggested that government forces dug most of these graves. Congo’s authorities, however, have repeatedly denied this accusation. The second declaration urged Congo’s government to hold presidential elections by the end of the year. Current president Kabila has been trying to postpone these elections, blaming the lack of funds and voter registration.
Meanwhile, as the conflict in Congo continues, the Congo Central Bank predicted a steep rise in 2017 inflation, from a previous forecast of 33.12% to 44%. Moreover, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, the founder and leader of a Congo rebel group who is wanted for crimes against humanity surrendered Wednesday in the country’s North Kivu province, the United Nations mission in Congo said.
The United States of America
As republicans failed to once again pass a successful health care reform bill, President Trump shifted tactics and has now set his sights on repealing Obamacare. The so-called “skinny repeal” that republicans attempted to pass would have stripped 16 million people of healthcare insurance by 2026 and eliminated the mandate requiring all Americans to have health care coverage. Although Trump secured a victory Monday after John McCain flew in to cast a yes vote, allowing for debate to begin health care legislation reform, republicans were dealt a major blow after the skinny repeal failed to pass in a 49-51 vote. As a result, all three Obamacare repeal bills have now failed to pass.
Meanwhile, President Trump also announced Wednesday that Transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the military, citing costs of gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy. Soon after, hundreds of protestors took to the streets of New York, D.C. and San Francisco to speak out. Protestors held signs saying such things as “Resist” and “Trans is not a burden.” Although the military has yet to act upon Trump’s announcement, many currently out service men and women fear for their future in the military. Trump’s announcement is seen as a significant reversal in White Policy, after previous President Barack Obama had earlier declared that Transgender people would be allowed to freely serve in the military.
On Thursday, the Venezuelan government banned protests and said violators would be punished with 5-10 years in prison. This came on the second day of a 48-hour national strike, organized by the opposition, in an attempt to thwart the upcoming vote on Sunday that would give President Maduro’s government power to rewrite the constitution. Thousands are fleeing the country leading up to the vote, and the protest ban demonstrates an escalation of repression by the Maduro government.
This week, it is reported that Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe, has urged her husband, President Robert Mugabe, to appoint an heir. Over the past year, President Mugabe has flown to Singapore at least three times in order to receive medical treatment. Although the government has attempted to downplay the severity of Mugabe’s health problems, many are starting to think that Mugabe may not survive until even the next president presidential election.
In other news, almost 100 Zimbabwean civil rights groups are protesting a recent ruling that would alter Zimbabwe’s current constitution. The previous constitution had been amended twenty times, and people fear that Zimbabwe’s current constitution might go the same way. This has only cemented fears that the government has no intention to undergo reform.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
This Thursday, a research group at New York University published a new report, which revealed a vast network of businesses owned by President Joseph Kabila and his family which pervades virtually all sectors of the economy. While the Congolese constitution does not bar government officials from owning private enterprises, it remains far from clear how the family amassed its wealth – apart from lucrative state contracts, disproportionately awarded to firms owned and operated by the President’s close relatives.
Observers note that further enrichment is a powerful incentives for Kabila, who has been receiving approval ratings in the single digits and recently declined the public’s appeals to hold elections on the grounds that DRC could not afford them, to cling to power. The President and his family continue to invest large sums in real estate around the country and assets which are not easy to liquidate – a further troubling sign that they do not intend to relinquish the presidency.
The Mexican government has routinely undermined a national anti-corruption system put in place by President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose approval ratings have dwindled to the teens after he was caught in a conflict of interest scandal last year. The mechanism has not had the promised effect of tackling corruption, which still costs Mexico between 2%-10% of GDP annually, but rather given the appearance of reform while harassment and suppression of anti-graft activists continues.
Tens of thousands of Poles demonstrated in from of the Warsaw palace on Thursday, after the lower house of Parliament passed a bill which would gravely curtail the freedom of the judiciary. If approved by the government- controlled upper house, the new bill would allow the president to dismiss all current Supreme Court Justices and hand-pick replacements. Since coming the power, the PiS, which sponsored the new legislation, has eroded other liberties as well: freedom of expression, through new media laws, and freedom of assembly.
In response to the vote in the lower house, a top EU official threatened the use, for the very first time in EU history, of Article Seven –which would even provide for sanctions or a suspension of Poland´s voting rights if the political onslaught on the judiciary persists. European Parliament president Donald Tusk has taken a more conciliatory stance and requested a meeting with President Duda to seek ways out of a situation which, the former stated, goes against Eropean values and tarnishes Poland’s international image.
President Trump has decided to end the CIA’a covert program to train moderate rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad. The program was a central measure undertaken by the Obama Administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad. US’s involvement in Syria now consists of air strikes on Isil and the Pentagon-run train-and-equip program supporting Kurdish forces currently battling to capture Isil strongholds in Raqqa.
Many observers worry that the discontinuation of the program will not only disparage and undermine moderate opponents of the regime, but advantage radical rebel groups, since the USA will have even less opportunity to control the flow of sophisticated weapons from Turkey and Persian Gulf allies.
Millions of people are taking part in a general strike called by the opposition in an effort to pressure President Maduro to cancel the July 30 vote for a new constituent assembly. Protesters barricaded roads in the capital and other cities across the country during the country-wide strike. Hundreds have been arrested and at least three killed.
This comes after a referendum on Sunday in which nearly 7.2 million Venezuelans rejected the upcoming vote, which could lead to a rewriting of the country’s constitution and a further consolidation of Maduro’s power. The referendum was non-binding and organized by the country’s main opposition parties; it has been condemned as illegal by the Maduro regime.
A Venezuelan diplomat at the UN broke with the government on Thursday and is calling for Maduro’s resignation. Several influential countries have called for Maduro to cancel the vote, including the US, France, Spain, Colombia, and EU leaders.
Human Rights Watch has recently reported that as political violence is on the rise in the face of the 2018 elections, police are failing to investigate reports or attacks. Recent examples of violence include the destruction of house of an MDC-T (Zimbabwe’s main opposition party) local councilor as well as reports of unidentified men burning down a bar in Harare owned by Elias Mudzuri, the deputy president of the MDC-T. Although activists have accused ZANU-PF of orchestrating these attacks, ZANU-PF has struck back by stating that these were merely inside-jobs conducted by the MDC-T itself. Regardless though, no arrests have taken place in response to the events, and it is feared that such on-going examples of impunity will only further fuel fire in Zimbabwe.
United States of America
On Sunday July 19th protestors gathered at the U.S. Women’s Open bath the Trump National Golf Club to protest against Donald Trump. Activists held pink umbrellas and spelt out messages on their white tee-shirts as they stood in front of the Trump National clubhouse. Other protestors wore shirts encouraging the US Golfing Association to “Dump Sexist Trump.”
Later, on Wednesday, police arrested 155 demonstrators holding a sit-in inside three senate office buildings. Earlier on Monday, the US Republican party, having yet again failed to pass a healthcare replacement bill, began to push for the repeal of the American Care Act. Republican efforts have not been aided by the fact that two additional Republican senators also early voiced their opposition to the proposed bill.
More recently, activists across the states have just commenced a week of protests, recalling the 230 protestors that were arrested 6 months ago for rallying against President Trump’s administration on January 20th. The “Week of Solidarity” is set to take place in Washington D.C. as well as several other cities such as Pittsburgh and New York City. Protestors anticipate to rally around a DC court at the end of the week on July 27th as a hearing is held over dismissing felony chargers against the January arrestees.
With regards to the March 6th Travel Ban, the Supreme Court also recently ruled that anyone with a “bona fide relationship” to a US person would not be barred entry, therefore allowing for family members such as grandparents to visit from the six countries mentioned in the ban.