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CANVAS produces a weekly report on several countries where nonviolent resistance can play an important role in confronting challenges to democracy, including Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, Syria, the United States, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Weekly Report: 27 October, 2017

Rights activists gather in front of the Justice Palace during the opening hearing of the trial of eleven human rights activists accused of terrorism charges, in Istanbul, Turkey, October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Photo: Rights activists gathered in Turkey before the trial of other activists (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)

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Zimbabwe

After Zimbabwean President Mugabe’s appointment as a WHO goodwill ambassador for non-communicable diseases last week had caused national and international criticism, the organization’s director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus revoked the decision on Sunday. Reactions included surprise and disappointment, as critics stated that in contrary to Tedros’ statement on Zimbabwe prioritizing the issue of health in its policies, the country has faced a highly deteriorating health system. News24 also reported on Zimbabwe’s severe health situation and reactions after the WHO’s decision(s). The media outlet further wrote that Zimbabwe’s government declared Mugabe did not have notice of the appointment and would have declined anyway.
At the same time, there have been reports about ongoing intimidation and violence, especially by Zanu PF supporters against those in favor of the MDC, during the Biomentric Voter Registration (BVR) that started earlier this month. The NGO Election Resource Center (ERC) called on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to take actions against those parties and supporters hampering the process of registration in preparation for peaceful, free and fair election, wrote allAfrica on Wednesday.
Late last week, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had taken further steps to form his alliance with five other opposition parties, announcing Welshman Ncube to be the new spokesperson. The alliance also established numerous natioal alliance committees, to create joint efforts especially for voter education and registration mobilization. Meanwhile, all Africa reported on MDC opposition spokesman Obert Gutu voicing his doubts about the ZEC’s capabilities and pointed out the likelihood of next year’s elections being rigged in favor of the ruling party. Gutu “suggested it was therefore important that the nation consider pushing forward the election until the voters’ roll is ready and other proposed electoral reforms have been addressed”, besides pointing towards current ill-preparedness of the opposition.

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/22/robert-mugabe-removed-as-who-goodwill-ambassador-after-outcry
  2. http://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/zimbabwes-grim-hospital-wards-fuel-outrage-toward-who-20171025
  3. http://allafrica.com/stories/201710260125.html
  4. http://allafrica.com/stories/201710250219.html

Democratic Republic Congo

The UN recognized the Kasai, South Kivu and Tanganyika regions as Level 3 (L3) emergency territory, highlighting the graveness of the current humanitarian crisis. The only three other countries labeled L3 are Syria, Irak and Yemen. The Norwegian Refugee Council hopes that the labeling of L3 will attract much-needed financial support for the underfunded crisis, “having the highest increase of newly displaced in the world in the last year”.
Meanwhile, one of DRC’s key opposition parties, the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC), announced on Monday to withdraw Pierre Kangudia Mbayi from the transitional government. Kangudia is currently serving as minister of state supervising budget. News24 writes that the UNC had stated it decided to pull out Kangudia “after “an evaluation of the level of implementation of the agreement’”, while lamenting the delay and non-organization of elections as well.
On Wednesday, Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) opposition supporters were released, after they had been dispersed with teargas and arrested on Sunday and Monday during a visit by opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi in Lubumbashi. “The releases followed diplomatic pressure in the form of a joint statement from EU officials and UN diplomats” from the US, Switzerland and Canada, wrote New Vision.

  1. https://www.nrc.no/news/2017/october/un-level-3-emergency-declared-in-dr-congo-highlights-scale-of-crisis/
  2. http://www.news24.com/Africa/News/key-opposition-figure-quits-drc-coalition-government-20171025
  3. https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/video/1464408/drc-releases-detained-opposition-supporters

Venezuela

On Thursday, the EU Parliament announced the democratic opposition and political prisoners in Venezuela to be this year’s winners of the EU Sakharov Prize, which had been created in 1988 to honor defendants of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Through this decision the European Parliament “wanted to reward the courage of students and politicians fighting for freedom in the face of a repressive government”, reported the Independent.
The media has also been addressing concerns about a possible Venezuelan default, considering two due repayments of bonds this and next week, without having ‘grace periods’ for its payments. While the Financial Time reported of a Venezuelan Think Tank hinting at the country being able to pay, other experts have pointed out that a possible Venezuelan default could entail an even worse economic situation than already now. While sanctions had been imposed by the US, “Venezuelans continue to look to Russia for help”.
In the meantime, Human Rights Watch called on “international pressure to restore democracy” to continue after “Questionable elections in Venezuela” on October 15.

  1. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/sakharov-prize-eu-venezuela-opposition-political-prisoners-students-a8020746.html
  2. https://www.ft.com/content/b1f9373e-b987-11e7-8c12-5661783e5589
  3. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/23/questionable-elections-venezuela

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Myanmar

On Tuesday, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement for repatriating Rohingya who had come to Bangladesh back to Myanmar. So far, no details on the exact proceedings are known, and hundreds had protested in Rakhine, urging the Myanmar government not to repatriate the Rohingya. The US signaled on Monday that it was considering further action against Myanmar, following their treatment of the Muslim minority. There have been numerous reports about what the Rohyngia have been facing during this humanitarian crisis and especially women and girls have suffered. Médécins sans Frontiers accounted that more than half the girls treated after sexual assaults are under 18. Speaking to the Guardian, a leading Red Cross official warned the international community to take the situation seriously and that it was failing in its response so far. The South China Morning Post also reported on a large numbers of Rohingya women prostituted in overcrowded Bangladeshi refugee camps.

  1. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya/myanmar-bangladesh-agree-to-cooperate-on-rohingya-refugee-repatriation-idUSKBN1CT29C
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/26/world-failing-myanmars-rohingya-muslims-top-red-cross-official-says

Syria

As a new round of Syrian peace talks have been scheduled for November 28th, a UN investigation found that Assad’s forces are responsible for a deadly sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun in April this year. New talks in Geneva are said to focus “on drafting a new constitution and holding UN-supervised elections in a country devastated by several overlapping bloody civil conflicts”, wrote the Guardian. US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has stated that the United States do not see a role for Bashar al-Assad, or rather the whole Assad family, for the future of Syria. Russian UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, on the other hand, stated that “we should not pre-empt any future for anybody”.
While the US-backed coalition efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS) have captured Syria’s largest oil-field which had been in the hands of ISIS forces since 2014, a rising number of civilian deaths caused during coalition operations become also known. Moreover, reports have pointed out the devastating humanitarian situation in eastern Ghouta near Damascus, currently being blocked by the Syrian regime. As the regime has tightened its siege, basic supplies were not able to reach the region, leading to lack of food and medicine, causing a large number of infant death and general malnutrition.

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/26/syria-gas-attack-bashar-al-assad-un-tillerson

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The United States of America

This week, traditional and social media continued addressing the #MeToo campaign which reached the European Parliament on Wednesday, as a session in Strasbourg was addressing sexual harassment and assaults. Another topic which of interest in the US, was lawmakers deciding over the passing of a bill addressing child marriage in Florida, which is among the states with the highest child marriage rate in the US. A HRW article stated that for now, “Afghanistan has a tougher law on child marriage than Florida”, but also said that if passed, the new law would make Florida the first state to ban any marriage under 18. The first step was taken on Tuesday, when a Senate committee unanimously approved a bill. What caught attention on the federal level, were rising tensions within the Republican Party about Donald Trump, as two senators accused Trump of “debasing U.S. politics and the country’s standing abroad.” Via Twitter, Trump had been criticizing the two Republicans as well.
Causing new criticism, the US is now left as one of the only two countries, beside Syria, not having joined or signaled to join the Paris Climate Accord (anew), after Nicaragua had announced it would do so a few days ago. In June this year, President Trump declared the US would withdraw from the accord as it was, according to him, “excessively onerous and hampered American business”, wrote the New York Times. Nevertheless, US officials will be travelling to Germany next month for United Nations climate change discussions, “effectively putting them in the position of negotiating a deal they have said they are leaving.”

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/25/world/europe/european-parliament-weinstein-harassment.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur
  2. https://apnews.com/63488138c5e544cf9a92dd2b0c9f9170/Woman-who-married-at-11-seeks-to-change-Florida-marriage-law
  3. http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-trump-republicans/two-republican-senators-blast-trump-as-party-feud-deepens-idUKKBN1CU0L0
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/world/americas/nicaragua-paris-climate-agreement-us.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur

Cambodia

On Wednesday, Cambodia‘s Prime Minister Hun Sen pardoned a senator from the main opposition party CNRP from a seven-year jail sentence. The senator had been sentenced after a Facebook post last year. While the opposition welcomed this pardon, Hun Sen did not ease his stance on the CNRP, which he reiterated would be dissolved and those officials who defected to his party could stay in office.
The Economist published an article about foreign textile companies lobbying for Cambodia’s government to loosen its tightening labor laws. The government had been introducing stricter regulations throughout the last year, especially affecting the heavily unionized textile industry – Cambodia’s biggest. Activistst have stated that the foreign companies should acquire the sewing mills and make them into subsidiaries if really wanting to help on a greater scale. Regarding the struggle for land rights in the country, Reuters reported on Buddhist monks who are highly regarded within Cambodian society, taking a leading role in this issue.

  1. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cambodia-politics/cambodian-opposition-member-pardoned-at-pms-request-idUSKBN1CU17M
  2. https://www.economist.com/news/business/21730633-textile-workers-find-unlikely-ally-against-state-repression-cambodian-government

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Spain

Yesterday, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont had been expected to call for new regional elections “to break the deadlock between Madrid and separatists”, wrote Reuters. However, Puigdemont did not, arguing that the government had not given sufficient guarantees to hold an election and eventually left further steps to the Catalan Parliament. Meanwhile, the Spanish Senate will decide on Friday on approving the government’s take-over of Catalonia’s institutions and provide them with the power to remover the Catalan president. Not only did Puigdemont’s move sharpen the political crisis which could possibly turn into direct confrontation, but it also further drove apart a divided Catalan independence movement.

  1.  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-politics-catalonia/catalonias-leader-rules-out-snap-election-crisis-deepens-idUSKBN1CV2B9

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The Maldives

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on ongoing injustices against RaajjeTV station which had faced various fines under the  Maldives’ controversial defamation act introduced last year. “Criminal defamation laws are often used as tool to jail journalists and silence dissent, particularly by authoritarian governments”, stated CPJ. Meanwhile, RaajjeTV asked for a review of two dimissed cases which they had filed earlier this month regarding a 2013 arson attack and a fine imposed by the Maldives Broadcasting board.

  1. https://www.raajje.mv/en/news/20173
  2. https://raajje.mv/en/news/20218

In-other-News

Other News

Kenya – Following confrontations between the police and protesters, part of Thursday’s re-run elections in Kenya were postponed until Saturday. Though most of the voting happened peacefully, at least three people had been killed yesterday. The contested elections with incumbent Kenyatta’s main opponent Odinga boycotting the vote, happened after the Supreme Court had been unable to hear a case that could have postponed the elections on Wednesday. – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/26/world/africa/kenya-elections-police.html

Poland – This week, a Human Rights Watch report drew new attention to Poland and how the ruling party has used its parliamentary majority to curb various human rights and the rule of law. In an article, a HRW researcher called on the EU to sanction Poland more harshly and trigger Article 7 (1) of the EU treaty which could result in the suspension of a member’s rights to vote on the Council. – https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/24/poland-dismantling-rights-protection

Hong Kong – Two Hong Kong activists who had been jailed in August for their involvement in the 2014 ‘umbrella movement’, were released on bail at the beginning of the week. On Thursday, a lower Court of Appeal rejected their appeals to jail terms, but they had already filed a separate case directly at the Court of Final Appeal scheduled to hear their case on November 7th. – http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-crime/article/2117122/hong-kong-court-rejects-appeal-bids-two-jailed-occupy

Turkey – This week, international attention focused on court trials being held in Turkey. Eleven human rights activists, one Swede, one German and nine Turks, had been detained and remained in prison for several months, causing widespread European criticism. Charges against them included having connections to “terrorist organizations” such as the Gulen group and Kurdish separatist factions. As the trial continues, two activists had been released on bail prior to the trial and eight of them were released from prison in Istanbul this Wednesday, while one remained in prison in Izmir.
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-security-rights/turkish-court-releases-eight-rights-activists-on-bail-in-terrorism-trial-idUSKBN1CU0BM
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/amnesty-turkey-chair-taner-kilic-remanded-custody-171026142521574.html

Vietnam – This week, a Vietnamese student was convicted “for propaganda against the state” criticizing the government online, and now faces six years of prison plus four years of probation, reported Reuters. Citizens have been facing tight media censorship and intolerance of criticism by the government. Human Rights Watch also called on Vietnam to release the student and drop all charges against him, while a Vietnamese lawyer stated the proof being vague. – https://www.reuters.com/article/us-vietnam-dissident/vietnam-jails-student-activist-six-years-for-propaganda-against-the-state-idUSKBN1CU11D

Iraq – On Wednesday, Kurdish authorities offered to put a hold on the independence referendum’s result and proposed an immediate ceasefire to start dialogue with the Iraqi federal government. However, an Iraqi military spokesman suggested the military offensive would continue. The Iraqi Prime Minister had called on the Kurds to cancel the referendum’s outcome for good as a pre-condition for talks. – https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-kurds-referendum/kurds-offer-to-suspend-independence-drive-seek-talks-with-baghdad-idUSKBN1CT37M

China – At the end of China’s quinquennial Communist Party Congress, President Xi Jinping further consolidated his power, the party elevated him “to the same exalted status as the nation’s founder, Mao Zedong” and there was no introduction of a younger member as a potential predecessor in the reshuffled Politburo Standing Committee, as had been an unwritten convention in past years. Some have speculated that this could indicate Xi Jinping’s aspirations to continue dominance after the next five-year term, or to further assess possible successors. – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/world/asia/xi-jinping-china.html

Weekly Report: 20 October, 2017

REUTERS Jordi and Jordi

PhotoJordi 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.

Cambodia

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.”

  1. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cambodia-politics/cambodias-parliament-votes-for-party-law-changes-as-opposition-future-in-limbo-idUSKBN1CL0CB?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Reuters%2FworldNews+%28Reuters+World+News%29
  1. http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2115900/two-million-reasons-why-cambodias-prime-minister-fears-us?utm_content=buffer18f5e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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Zimbabwe

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.

  1. http://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/zanu-pf-calls-for-extra-ordinary-congress-20171013
  1. https://www.newsday.co.zw/2017/10/mujuru-launch-alliance/

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The Maldives

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.

  1. https://raajje.mv/en/news/19728
  2. https://raajje.mv/en/news/19631

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Spain

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.”

  1. http://catalannews.com/politics/item/puigdemont-calls-rajoy-for-a-two-month-negotiation-period
  1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/17/madrid-jails-catalan-separatist-leaders-jordi-cuixart-and-jordi-sanchez-pending-investigation

Venezuela

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.

  1. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-election/venezuela-vote-dispute-risks-rekindling-unrest-sanctions-idUSKBN1CK06A?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Reuters%2FworldNews+%28Reuters+World+News%29
  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics/venezuelas-maduro-defends-disputed-vote-opposition-divided-idUSKBN1CM2JG

Syria

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.

  1. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-18/syria-war-islamic-state-raqqa-free-devastated-and-empty/9060570
  1. https://www.newsdeeply.com/syria/articles/2017/10/17/amid-war-women-are-starting-to-make-a-mark-on-syrian-politics

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.

  1. https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1463784/dr-congo-wins-seat-rights-council

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Myanmar

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.

  1. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/17/burma-new-satellite-images-confirm-mass-destruction

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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.

  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/15/sports/colin-kaepernick-nfl-collusion.html
  1. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/technology/metoo-twitter-facebook.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur
  1. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/17/trump-travel-ban-blocked-hawaii-judge

In-other-News

Other News

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

Weekly Report: 13 October, 2017

Maldives

Photo: On a Media Award Ceremony, RaajjeTV staff staged a silent protest against the Maldives Media Council Photograph: RaajjeTV

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The Maldives

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.

  1. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22211&LangID=E
  2. http://www.asiantribune.com/node/91076
  3. https://avas.mv/en/39599
  4. https://raajje.mv/en/news/19418

Cambodia

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.

  1. https://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B9C2E/%28httpNewsByYear_en%29/40BA8DAC40D9F4EAC12581B70032D58D
  2. http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/2113968/welcome-asias-newest-one-party-state

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Myanmar

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.

  1. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya/myanmar-army-chief-says-rohingya-muslims-not-natives-numbers-fleeing-exaggerated-idUSKBN1CH0I6
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/eu-burma-cut-ties-rohingya-muslims-crisis-ethnic-cleansing-myanmar-rakhine-state-a7997161.html

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.

  1. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-11/congo-elections-won-t-be-held-before-april-2019-commission-says
  2. https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/sc13022.doc.htm
  3. https://www.cnbcafrica.com/apo/2017/10/10/monusco-repels-deadly-attack-by-suspected-adf-in-mamundioma-reinforcements-deployed-to-secure-the-location/
  4. http://www.news24.com/Africa/News/hutu-militia-kills-seven-in-eastern-drc-attack-20171012
  5. http://www.icrcnewsroom.org/open.asp?ID=1570&title=Violence_in_DR_Congo_s_Kasai__Humanitarian_assistance_urgently_needed&mID=426qg9g.a44356057f0460129.36
  6. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/10/dr-congo-us-eu-should-expand-targeted-sanctions

Venezuela

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.

  1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/is-venezuela-a-dictatorship-a-key-election-will-offer-clues/2017/10/11/d4301382-ad01-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_story.html?utm_term=.3329e56e668d
  2. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-10-12/thousands-are-fleeing-venezuela-by-two-lane-border-bridge
  3. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4972088/Venezuela-runs-paper-ink-print-new-passports.html#ixzz4vKXqPBLR

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Spain

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.

  1. http://catalannews.com/politics/item/hundreds-of-thousands-march-in-barcelona-against-catalan-independence
  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-politics-catalonia/spaniards-use-national-holiday-to-show-unity-amid-catalan-crisis-idUSKBN1CH1BH
  3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/catalonia-barcelona-fight-demonstrations-spain-national-day-independence-unity-clash-a7997191.html

Syria

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.”

  1. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-raqqa/fighters-on-raqqa-front-line-brace-for-final-showdown-with-islamic-state-idUSKBN1CE1M5
  2. http://www.dw.com/en/syria-civilians-trapped-in-raqqa-as-islamic-state-makes-last-stand/a-40915379
  3. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-attack/islamic-state-attacks-kill-at-least-50-in-east-syria-kurdish-red-crescent-idUKKBN1CH2RE

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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.

  1. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/science/2017/10/12/california-fires-map-how-deadly-wildfires-spreading/759038001/
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/us/california-wildfire-deaths-napa-sonoma.html
  3. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/withdraws-unesco-171012133838151.html

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Zimbabwe

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.

  1. https://www.newsday.co.zw/2017/10/mugabe-shock-cabinet-reshuffle/
  2. http://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/well-nail-those-who-do-mischief-mugabe-on-social-media-abuse-20171011
  3. https://www.pmnewsnigeria.com/2017/10/12/zimbabwe-activist-arrested-saying-mugabe-walking-dead/

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Iraq

 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.

  1.  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-kurds-referendum-iraq/iraq-refuses-talks-with-kurds-unless-they-commit-to-unity-idUSKBN1CH0N6?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Reuters%2FworldNews+%28Reuters+World+News%29
  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-turkey-iran/turkey-to-close-border-gates-with-northern-iraq-in-coordination-with-baghdad-tehran-erdogan-spox-idUSKBN1CH13Z
  3. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/kurd-fighters-iraq-briefly-block-roads-mosul-171012091357819.html

In-other-News

Other News

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