Weekly Reports — CANVAS

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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.

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Weekly Report: 16 November 2018

Disarmed bombs left from American activities in Laos during the Vietnam War. (Halo Trust)

Syria

In the area of Deir al-Zor, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces resumed fighting against the Islamic State. This comes after a   suspension in warfare. Presumably, Deir al-Zor is the last “foothold” of IS near the Iraqi border.

A report which came out this week claims that beginning in February, the global chemical weapons watchdog group will begin to hold accountable those responsible for chemical weapons used during the Syrian war. The task was given to the watchdog group, given the number of attacks in the most recent years by both the Syrian forces and rebel groups. Attacks have previously used both chlorine and sarin. The team will begin analyzing attacks which began as early as 2014.

Bolivia

Last Friday, a bricklayer shouted “Bolivia said no! Respect the referendum!” at president Morales. For this, the man was imprisoned and put on trial. After hearing of this case, presidential candidate Mesa took to Twitter to declare his solidarity and support for the man. Mesa sees his imprisonment as a direct abuse of the government. While the Bolivian government is claiming that the man also tried to throw an unknown object at president Morales, there is no evidence of the event. There was no reported aggression.

This week, the Social Democratic Movement, led by Ruben Costas and the National Unity party, led by Samuel Medina, agreed upon an alliance in the upcoming presidential elections. The new alliance is also open to agreements with other parties, for they believe that uniting citizen platforms will create a strong movement in opposing Evo Morales. This alliance was official just one day before the deadline to create political alliances expired.

In the Lava Jato case, the MAS has decided to have the Office of the Prosecutor to investigate Mesa, along with seven other former officials who may have been involved with the case during Mesa’s presidency. The Lava Jato case is specific to the construction of the Roboré-Arroyo Concepción highway while Mesa was the president of Bolivia. The investigation will seek to find evidence of Mesa’s involvement in the Lava Jato case; the largest foreign bribery case in history.

On December 5th, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has set a hearing to discuss whether or not re-election is a human right. This comes after the Human Rights and Observatory Foundation (FODHJ) requested further investigation of the matter.

Nicaragua

Over the weekend, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, Josep Borrell, called the events occurring in Nicaragua a “bloody repression.” The Minister spoke of using sanctions against the Nicaraguan government and claimed that the international community has not done enough to put pressure on Daniel Ortega. Borrell would like to put sanctions “on the table.”

The latest reports indicate that since the repressions of Ortega’s government, the death toll has risen to 535 people. Furthermore, according to ANPDH, an estimated 4,354 people have been injured and are unable to access medical care. 1,302 citizens have been kidnapped by paramilitary groups, and 472 of them freed. Conflict between the government, pro-government citizens and opposition groups still continues.

On Wednesday, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) met with representatives from the National Blue and White Unity (UNAB) and Nicaraguan diaspora in the United States. Almagro discussed the crisis occurring in Nicaragua and the many violations of human rights. Furthermore, Almagro spoke of the urgency to release the nearly 400 political prisoners.

North Korea

The Editorial Board of the Washington Post has written a scathing op-ed regarding the Trump Administration’s handling of the North Korea situation, particularly as not much has changed in the volatile situation many residing in the DPRK face – the regime’s crushing prison camps and weapons programs have remained intact, with the only major difference being a lack of military tests. Since the summit, Trump has “swooned” over letters written by Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s infamous despot, and claimed that the United States is in ‘no rush’ to deal with the North Korean nuclear program. Most concerningly, the human rights situation in North Korea has remained alarmingly stagnant, and many international actors have not paid any attention to it at all.

On Monday, new satellite images have identified over a dozen undeclared missile operating bases, something that indicates that Pyongyang has indeed decided to continue moving forward with its ballistic missile and weaponry programs amid stalls during its talks with the United States. These images were first reported on by the New York Times and later were analyzed by Beyond Parallel, the Korean Peninsula program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The images have been identified as belonging to thirteen out of a projected twenty hidden test sites. On Tuesday, United States Vice President Mike Pence met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; both leaders reaffirmed the need to maintain sanctions on the DPRK in order to achieve denuclearization.

According to Washington-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, North Korea’s hacking program constitutes “the most innovative threat-actors in cyberspace,” despite the fact that the DPRK’s program lacks much of the “technical sophistication” of actors such as Russia or China. On Friday, according to North Korea’s official news media, the state has tested a new “ultramodern tactical weapon.” The state media has yet to identify the weapon and it is uncertain exactly what it is, although South Korean sources claim that the North Koreans have tested multiple rocket weapons this month. Also on Friday, the North Korean government announced that it would deport an American citizen detained one month ago for illegal entering the country to the United States.

Myanmar

Despite consistent condemnations from the United Nations and dozens of human rights groups, Myanmar and Bangladesh are moving forward with the beginnings of their repatriation plan to return Rohingya Muslims to the very place that they initially fled this Thursday. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced on Tuesday that forcing the first batch of approximately 2,200 Rohingya living in Bangladesh to return to the “ground zero” of ethnic cleansing against them would be a “clear violation” of core international legal principles. United Nations officials have also claimed that they were not involved adequately throughout the process. Rohingya refugees themselves have also spoken out about their lack of involvement in the processes, many of whom have shared that they are afraid to return to Myanmar. On Thursday, people protested when they were told that buses had been organized, and it is unclear if any have been forced to leave so far.

As a result of this ongoing Rohingya crisis, Amnesty International has withdrawn its most prestigious human rights award (the Ambassador of Conscience Award) from Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, only the latest of a number of international honors and recognitions to be stripped from the leader in response to the genocide against Rohingya

USA

What began as a small campfire on last Thursday in Paradise, California, ended as the worst wildfire that California has ever seen. The fire was officially put out on Tuesday evening. Latest reports indicate that 63 people have been confirmed dead, and the toll is expected to increase. Furthermore, the fire started in a town home to 27,000 people, and 7,000 structures have been wiped out. Now, most citizens are without homes and businesses. 95% of the town is gone. This is the deadliest wildfire that California has endured.

According to a think tank group, the Brookings Institute, the Trump Administration has the highest number of turn-over in their staff. As of Tuesday, it is possible that president Trump may fire three more officials including the cabinet Chief of Staff John Kelly, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Cambodia

According to the anti-trafficking authority of Cambodia, fifteen people have been arrested for alleged illegal surrogacy in Cambodia – a violation that can result in charges of human trafficking and lead to approximately 20 years in prison. In Cambodia, commercial surrogacy is seen as “buying or selling children” according to the National Committee of Combating Trafficking; the status of the children born as a result of this practice is unknown, as it is uncertain whether the intended parents will be permitted to claim and raise the children.

On Friday morning, over four decades after a fifth of Cambodia’s population perished under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, an international tribunal ruled for the first time that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Muslim Cham minority and ethnic Vietnamese. Additionally, two of the oldest surviving members of the regime – Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan – were found guilty of genocide and various crimes against humanity.

Mexico

During the New York trial of drug lord “El Chapo” Guzmán, the current and former president of Mexico were accused by El Chapo of taking bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel. President Nieto denies any claims to being involved with the largest drug cartel in Mexico. Further, El Chapo believes he is being made a scapegoat, stating that the true leader of the cartel, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada is walking freely in Mexico.

The Maldives

This week, the United Nations reported on a number of family planning youth advocates in the Maldives who are responding to a troubling lack of family planning education and reproductive health. In the Maldives, sex out of wedlock is criminalized, and citizens cannot access family planning services until after they have been married. Only one organization provides sexual and reproductive health education to young people the Society for Health Education, supported by the United Nations Population Fund.

On Wednesday, a controversial anti-defamation law was repealed by the Maldives’ Parliament; the 2016 law had served to re-criminalize defamation and had been used to fine and jail journalists and individuals found guilty of slander alike. This is the first of many campaign promises by president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, despite the fact that he has yet to formally take office. On the same day, an outspoken whistleblower who had formerly worked with the judicial watchdog agency returned to the Maldives after living abroad for several years and was promptly arrested for “mocking Islam and leaving the principles of Islam,” and also for her own safety, according to the police. This arrest was legal under the 1994 religious unity law, which criminalizes “attempting to disrupt the religious unity of Maldivians or talking in a manner that creates religious conflict among people,” in addition to “criticism of Islam in a public medium” under various sections of the penal code, citing posts that she made on social media perceived to be critical of Islam.

Zimbabwe

Inflation is the highest that it has been in Zimbabwe since its period of rapid hyperinflation ten years ago, leading economic experts to say that Zimbabwe’s economy is currently “teetering on the edge.” This month, inflation rates have soared to 21%, as opposed to the previously cited regional threshold of 7% – and compared to last month’s inflation rate of 5.4%. It is thought that this soaring rate of inflation has been exacerbated at least in part by the implementation of a tax imposed by Finance Minister Ncube on October 1st.

This week, two Zimbabwean generals testified that government troops were not responsible for the killings of six civilians during post-election violence on August 1st, claiming that the shooters instead must have been related to Zimbabwe’s opposition activists, which a military official described as “militant.” These interviews took place as a part of the government-led commission to determine the source of the shootings.

Laos

According to a piece by Radio Free Asia, it is highly likely that more disasters akin to the Lao dam disaster in July will occur if the region does not do more to hold project-funders and international development partners accountable and ensure that the environment is capable of supporting such large-scale projects. There are plans for 11 more large-scale dams, either proposed or already under construction, on the Mekong River in Laos and Cambodia – and about 140 dams on Mekong tributaries in Laos.

Amid the escalation of the trade war between the United States and China, China has pledged to set up a free-trade zone on its border between Thailand and Laos, offering special privileges to traders from the Mekong countries in what is likely an attempt to build regional supremacy amid its global economic uncertainty. It is also highly likely that this is only the first of a series of measures that will seek to bring Chinese economic ties closer to ASEAN. A report released on Friday revealed that it will be 200 years before Laos is cleared of unexploded American bombs from the time of the Vietnam War, with a remaining 80 million bombs to be dug up and defused.

Vietnam

On Monday, Vietnam became the seventh country to ratify the new Trans-Pacific trade pact (the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP). It is believed that this will help Vietnam to modernize its labor laws and industrial relations system, and also help to grow its garment-focused export industry. The CPTPP has been signed formerly by Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Singapore. The four remaining states that are expected to ratify the pact are Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, and Peru.

Vietnamese activists fear that the government’s continued support of an anti-dissent law that could regulate anti-government speech on the internet could be used to completely curb activist activity even further than it is already being stifled.  This law will come into effect on January 1st and will give relevant companies such as Google and Facebook, one year to bring their company policies into compliance with the draconian new law.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ebola outbreak is expected to last another six months in the DRC. Thus far, Ebola has claimed at least 200 lives in the latest outbreak, and while predicting a timeframe of ending the epidemic is a difficult matter, officials believe there cannot be a final declaration of its end until mid-2019.

After leaders from a variety of opposition groups met in Geneva to discuss and choose one leader to oppose Joseph Kabila in the December 23rd elections, Martin Fayulu was chosen as the candidate. An agreement was signed upon on Sunday, marking a rare moment in the Congo, given the political distress which has been occurring in the country due to president Kabila’s unwanted ruling since 2001. Although, a mass of citizen protests began because of the choice. Further, two of the opposition leaders who met in Geneva pulled out of the contract because the reaction from the public was angry and unsupportive of the decision. There are doubts that the December 23rd election will show a peaceful transition of power.

Colombia

During a student-led protest across Colombia after talks with president Duque stalled, violence unfolded after groups of masked people began to attack the police. Due to this, the police began to violently attack students. While students intended to march peacefully, the feared riot police, ESMAD deployed tear gas and stun grenades. It appears as though the masked people who uninvitedly joined the march and escalated the chaos with the police. Students are now fearful that president Duque will see the acts of violence, he will pull out of talks completely.

On early Saturday morning, a group of ELN soldiers attacked buses and trucks in the César area of Colombia. In the event, the ELN forced passengers off of the buses and the vehicles were set on fire. This recent violent event came just one week after an ELN guerrilla group killed four Venezuelan soldiers. Five people were wounded in the most recent attack.

After walking 300 miles from the Choco area of Colombia to the capital of Bogota, 500 internally displaced civilians were turned away from entering the capital. The indigenous communities had walked to Bogota in order to flee the violence undergone between FARC members, ELN guerrillas, and the AGC paramilitaries. Authorities have continued at failing to maintain control of Choco. Once the band of 500 people arrived in the capital, they did not receive food, water or shelter. Instead, they were stopped by authorities.

Venezuela

The oil-rich Venezuela continues to have shortages in food, medicine and other basic goods for people across the country. In the latest report, it seems that Venezuela’s inflation rate is approaching 150,000%. It is expected to continue to spiral out of control. The new “Sovereign Bolivar” instituted by President Maduro just a few months ago persistently fails.

 

According to a Reuters report, Chinese telecom giant ZTE helped Venezuela develop a social credit system, similar to the one in China. The new development, called the “fatherland card” is intended to hold information about the user, and the data is then put into a government database. This way, the government can keep track of medical records, presence on social media, membership of a political party, and more. Venezuelans are concerned that this system can be used to further tighten social control. The card was implemented last year, and president Maduro offered cash prizes and cheaper fuel as an attempt to get people to sign up for the service. Accordingly, nearly half of the population has the card.

Malaysia

On Monday, Malaysia has decided to abolish the death penalty for 32 offenses according to a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who claims that a cabinet memorandum is already being circulated to the relevant ministries. On Wednesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir expressed appreciation and thanks towards Singapore for its role in aiding Malaysia to recover some of the funds lost as a result of the 1MDB scandal. Malaysian prosecutors have also announced that they will bring additional charges against the wife of the former premier Najib Razak in relation to this scandal. She has already pleaded not guilty to earlier charges.

This week, Malaysia claimed that amendments to curb child marriages will be reviewed in the middle of 2019 after widespread international backlash at a series of child marriages through the Islamic court system in rural Malaysia. On Thursday, the wife of former prime minister Najib Razak was officially charged with corruption accused of soliciting and receiving an approximate $45.12 million USD in bribes.

Other News

Russia — The Russian Duma has approved a bill which will soften punishment for first-time hate crime offenders this week.  (Radio Free Europe)

Hungary — The former prime minister of Macedonia, now a fugitive after being sentenced to jail time for corruption, has reportedly sought asylum in Budapest claiming “persecution” by a “leftwing government” . (The Guardian)

Poland— On Sunday, Poland held a nationwide march to mark their anniversary of independence. While it was a peaceful march, far-right groups were among the 200,000 participants amidst a controversial decision to allow them in. (BBC)

The Philippines — Prominent Philippine journalist and government critic Maria Ressa, founding member of news site Rappler, has been charged with tax evasion in a move that Ressa and other advocates claim are acts of intimidation by the government. (TIME)

 

Saudi Arabia — The Attorney General of Saudi Arabia is pursuing giving the death penalty to at least five people who were involved in the Jamal Khashoggi murder. (Al Jazeera)

Palestine — In a targeted rade to kill a Hamas leader, Israeli soldiers killed seven Palestinians in the Gaza Strip this week. Further, one Israeli soldier died. (Al Jazeera)

China — An American congressional panel focusing on Chinese policy has released a report urging policymakers to take a harder approach to an increasingly authoritarian China. (Radio Free Asia)

Yemen — Due to international requests for a ceasefire between the Saudi-UAE alliance and the Houthis in Hodeidah, the coalition is finally coming to a halt. This is after weeks of fighting between the two groups. (Al Jazeera)

Weekly Report: 9 November 2018

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

Syria

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

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

Bolivia

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

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

Nicaragua

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

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

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

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

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

North Korea

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

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

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

Myanmar

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

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

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

USA

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

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

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

Cambodia

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

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

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

Mexico

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

The Maldives

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

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

Zimbabwe

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

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

Laos

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

Vietnam

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

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

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

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

Colombia

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

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

Venezuela

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

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

Malaysia

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

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

Other News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Report: 2 November 2018

A protest against Israel’s blockade of Gaza. (Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu)

Syria

A clash between US-backed Syrian fighters and Islamic State Militants left at least 40 Syrian fighters dead. Further, Islamic State recaptured land which was taken from them earlier this month along the border of Iraq. The Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) has been working to capture the last pocket of land being controlled by IS since September. This area is also home to thousands of civilians who are being held in the crossfire.

On Saturday, leaders from Russia, Turkey, Germany, and France met in Istanbul to discuss various issues facing Syria. While there was not a major breakthrough in talks, the four-way summit addressed the necessity of an eventual peace plan. With Russia backing Assad’s Regime, and Turkey backing rebel groups in opposition of Assad, the meeting made for an interesting dialogue. The leaders also discussed the refugee crisis, the Idlib demilitarization zone, and constitutional reform.

The Rukban Camp on the border of Syria and Jordan, home to more than 50,000 stranded civilians, has yet to receive aid since last January. This week, a convoy carrying aid was supposed to make its way to the camp but has been suspended due to security reasons. The camp is home to 80% women and children, all of whom are in desperate need of food, water, and medical attention. While people living in the Rukbar Camp need help, aid workers on their way were in danger.

Bolivia

This week, Maria Eugenia Choque was elected as the new president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). Further, Antonio Costas Sitic will become the new vice president. These new positions came after the previous president and vice president resigned. Their management will continue for the next two years and obtain duties in both the primary and general elections in 2019.

On December 6th, civic leaders from eight separate departments in Bolivia are calling on a strike against Evo Morales. They are calling on a national strike against the referendum results from February 21st, 2016 when President Morales was put into office, even though he lost the majority of votes. The strike is intended to prevent the TSE from granting Evo Morales access to candidacy for the 2019 election cycle.

Nicaragua

This week, Ortega’s government is trying to completely censor the media outlet, 100% Noticias. The Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Postal Services (Telcor) was ordered to replace the news agency with a separate one. Telcor announced that 100% Noticias is an illegal company. Accordingly, the government does not have any legal basis for their claim.

At the end of Mass at a cathedral in Managua this weekend, members of the church held a peaceful protest in which they carried crosses with the names of victims of the socio-political crackdown since April 16th. There were a total of 528 names written, given this is the number of people who have died because of the Sandinista government.

Last Friday, 70 hooded men entered the prison where political prisoners were being held. The prison called La Esperanza is a women’s prison where political prisoners were being held. The men who entered physically beat the prisoners. This week, members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) tried to gain access into La Esperanza in order to verify the physical and mental health of those beaten, but they were denied entry. Prison authorities did not let them in.

North Korea

The United States chief envoy for North Korea said on Monday that he was “certain” that the cooperation of Washington and Seoul could help to secure full nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula. However, he did not claim to be on a specific timeline and has yet to set a concrete meeting with his North Korean counterpart.

Skeptics have been watching South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s relationship with North Korean premier Kim Jong-Un, especially as Moon attempts to shift Kim Jong-un’s public image from one of a war-mongering dictator to someone who is a “young and candid strategist.” This has exacerbated a clear tension between American and South Korean foreign policy – it has been a foregone conclusion among American policymakers for quite some time that the DPRK cannot be trusted to keep promises, even if the proper concessions are made. On Wednesday, the DPRK and South Korea agreed to hold sports talks this week to strengthen exchange; these talks will even include discussions of joint participation in the upcoming 2020 Olympics and a potential 2032 joint Olympic bid.

A Human Rights Watch report released this week has revealed that rape and sexual assault perpetrated by North Korean officials is so widespread that it is considered to be part of ordinary life. According to those interviewed, sexual assault has been so normalized that many defectors did not think it was unusual, and that women have little choice but to comply once an official decides to set his sights on her.

This Thursday, Kim Jong-un publicly latched out at the sanctions regime against the sanctions continued to be enforced against the DPRK by the United States under Trump, claiming that the sanctions place the DPRK in a very difficult situation as it attempts to transform itself into a “tourist destination.”

Myanmar

Workers have been striking from a Chinese-owned garment factory as part of an effort to reinstate colleagues who had previously been fired for their connections with a trade union. In the city of Yangon, about 100 protesters demanded an audience with Chief Minster Phyo Min Thein, seeking to discuss their grievances with the minister. Earlier this month, dozens of workers from the same factory were injured after assailants attacked a crowd that had been gathered outside of the factory – an incident that the government claimed was started by the workers themselves.  

Less than a week after United Nations investigators warned that the genocide against the Rohingya is still ongoing, Myanmar and Bangladesh have come to an agreement to start returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar in mid-November. However, many Rohingya fear to return to Myanmar – especially since they are still not guaranteed rights such as citizenship, access to healthcare, and the freedom of movement. United Nations officials have condemned this deal and attempt at repatriation.

Additionally, there is evidence that Myanmar officials are in fact seeking to eliminate evidence that the Rohingya population even lived in certain areas of the Rakhine state: the government has been enacting large-scale construction projects in depopulated areas, with local government administrators claiming that these new comes would soon be occupied by “Rakhine, Chin, Bamar, and Hindu people from other parts of the country.” Meanwhile, some of the five ethnic armed groups that have yet to sign Myanmar’s nationwide ceasefire will attend talks with the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, according to a report released on Tuesday.

USA

 

Over the weekend, a man named Robert Bowers entered a Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and carried out a mass shooting. Bowers killed a total of eleven people, while others were injured. After authorities arrested the man, he claimed he just wanted “to kill Jews.” This shooting is the deadliest attack against Jewish people in the United States to date. There will be a court hearing this week to determine Robert Bowers jail time.

Due to the large mobilization of Central American migrants making their way to the United States border, Homeland Security and the Pentagon have decided to send 5,200 troops, military helicopters, and razor wire to the Mexican border. While some officials see the mass of people as a security threat, others, like the policy counsel for the ACLU’s Border Rights Center in El Paso state that, “Sending active military forces to our southern border is not only a huge waste of taxpayer money but an unnecessary course of action that will further terrorize and militarize our border communities.” Furthermore, the caravan of people is nearly 900 miles away, so it does not appear to be an immediate threat.

Cambodia

Although Kem Sokha, the leader of the banned opposition party (the Cambodian National Rescue Party), was released from prison to house arrest on September 10th, he is being barred from speaking to United Nations officials. Specifically, Rhona Smith – the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia – has been refused permission to speak with him about his detainment and various other issues, although she will be allowed to speak with various government officials and representatives from human rights groups during her visit this week. Meanwhile, Cambodia’s king has moved around 60 court officials, judges, and prosecutors to various posts around the country in a move welcomed by NGOs as a potential method to reduce judicial corruption.

Australia’s refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia has expired and is no longer considered to be an option according to Australian officials this week. According to rights advocates, the deal (which involved the Australian government paying Cambodia to resettle its refugees, who are usually confined to an offshore processing center on the small island of Nauru. Meanwhile, Cambodia-based rights group Licadho released a report on Thursday detailing the overcrowding issue in Cambodian prisons, with a focus on what they are calling “needless mass detention.”

Mexico

As migrants coming from Guatemala crossed the border into Mexico through the Suchiate River, one man died in clashing. Mexican authorities were deployed to the border. Accordingly, the police were not armed, yet one man was killed with a rubber bullet to the head. The deployment of authorities to the border is to stop the flow of migrants coming from Central America, given they are coming through Mexico in an illegal way.

The Maldives

Amnesty International released a briefing on October 30th that detailed the ordeal of Lahiru Madhushanka, a Sri Lankan driver who was accused of planning to assassinate then-President Abdulla Yameen in 2015. Madhushanka was reportedly denied a fair trial and repeatedly beaten by police in what may amount to torture. He was also denied access to legal representation and forced into prolonged solitary confinement. Amnesty International has urged that as the Maldives transitions into a new presidency, it must pay more attention to strengthening its human rights record.

Another area that Solih may wish to focus as he assumes the presidency next month is the potential for the Maldives to escape what is known as China’s debt-trap, in which Beijing repeatedly finances a variety of “questionable” infrastructure projects across countries and makes repeated purchases of land. It is hoped by some analysts that the Maldives will shake Chinese influence and return to the sphere of India, despite the fact that China holds over 80% of the Maldives’ sovereign debt. The relative cost of Beijing’s infrastructure project to any other agent of infrastructure development in the region means that it is, however, going to be incredibly difficult for the Maldives to completely depart from Chinese influence as it seeks to maintain investing in regional infrastructure.

Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed returned from a two-year-long exile on Thursday, only two days after the Supreme Court withdrew a warrant for his arrest. Nasheed was welcomed at the Male airport by president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and hundreds of reporters. It is unknown what role, if any, Nasheed will play in Solih’s new government.

Zimbabwe

A man detained for insulting the president while testifying before the commission probing the fatal shooting of six civilians during post-election protests this summer has been freed on bail this Monday. The man, Wisdom Mkwananzi, was detained after he accused Mnangagwa of leading a 1980s government crackdown during which human rights groups claim approximately 20,000 suspected government opponents are killed. According to a spokesperson from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, he was charged with “undermining the authority of the president, assaulting police officers during his arrest, and lying under oath.”

Over the weekend, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change held a rally at which it installed candidate Nelson Chamisa as the “president of Zimbabwe.” Chamisa lit a ‘democracy flame’ that was meant to resemble Zimbabwe’s Independence Flame in an attempt to draw attention to what MDC believes were the rightful results of the election. ZANU PF, the ruling party, has claimed that these actions “border on treason.” Chamisa and the MDC have continually refused to recognize the results of August’s elections as legitimate.

On Monday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa met with Zimbabwe’s business community and attempted to reassure them that he is working to stabilize the economy, despite signs that the country may be returning to a massive economic crisis, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the massive crisis ten years earlier. Mnangagwa also said that Zimbabwe would continue operating under its multi-currency system, although the bills have been increasingly difficult to come by as of late. By the end of the week, Mnangagwa announced the discovery of potential oil and gas deposits in the north of the country.

Laos

A report uncovered by Radio Free Asia has revealed that the government was ill-equipped to handle July’s dam break, which killed over forty people and has left countless others missing; this report reveals a high level of redundancy  between local and higher-up levels of the government, as well as general confusion over when to start evacuations. This account reveals that the government may have even known about the need for evacuation up to a day before the breaking of the dam, even though evacuations were not begun until two and a half hours before the dam actually burst.

Vietnam

Though the recent appointment of Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong has been seen by some as his rise to the top as a dictatorial strongman (as he is the first person to be both Party chief and president), some analysts believe that instead of showing his strength, this development is reflecting the Vietnamese government’s overall weakness. Although there has not yet been any substantial actions taken by the government to show otherwise, it is speculated that Trong was only nominated to be president because there were no other viable candidates that fit the requirements.

Vietnam has this week rolled out a series of measures aimed at controlling “false information” in its latest effort to combat ‘fake news,’ although many critics believe that these measures are in actuality meant to punish and control those who dissent against government policy. Vietnam has also been attempting to enact tougher measures on companies such as Google and Facebook to ensure that they hand over information on people who post what the government deems to be “false information,” and also remove such information when it is discovered.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

As of Monday, there are 120 confirmed cases of Ebola in Beni, the epicenter of the outbreak. Of those cases, 30 of the people are children under the age of 10 years old, and 27 of them have died. According to Reuters, the children may have contracted Ebola after being treated for unrelated cases of Malaria in a clinic run by traditional healers. Furthermore, in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, 168 individuals are confirmed dead and another 98 have been affected. The high numbers are in part due to the heightened conflict causing complications in administering help from health officials.

Colombia

This week, President Duque plans to send 5,000 troops to a northeastern region of Colombia. This came after citizens of the area begged the president to do the opposite. Duque’s deployment came after visiting the area of Ocaña because it is overrun by guerrilla groups and is home to Colombia’s second largest Coca growing region. According to locals, sending troops into the area only inflicts more violence and does not resolve any issues.

After Brazil elected the far-right president-elect, Bolsonaro, president Duque both congratulated Brazil and went as far as to suggest an alliance against Venezuelan president Maduro. Reports came out that Duque would willingly use military intervention against Socialist president Maduro if Jair Bolsonaro joined in.

Venezuela

On Tuesday, an official from the Treasury Department of the United States warned that Venezuela could pose a huge threat to its regions stability. The official stated that neighboring countries like Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina due to Venezuela’s migrant and economic crisis’. Further, the Venezuelan president has been accused of contaminating water supplied at gold mining sites. The top official believes that Venezuela’s neighbors and their allies (including the United States) are under threat.

Malaysia

A luxury ocean-liner that had been previously been at the heart of the longstanding 1MDB scandal has gone on sale on Monday in an effort by Malaysian government officials to recover some of the billions of dollars that have gone missing from the state fund under the previous presidency. Reportedly, Malaysian financier Jho Low bought the yacht with money diverted from the 1MDB fund. So far, he has not been apprehended by investigators.

Malaysia has suspended seven police officers after discovering that about US$1.9 million has gone missing following a police search of a condo in Kuala Lumpur. This investigation was conducted by the police narcotics unit. About 20 other people have been detained in relation to the case. A little over half of the money has been recovered so far, and the police are attempting to locate the rest. On Thursday, the United States Department of Justice has announced charges against a fugitive Malaysian financier and two former Goldman Sachs bankers for money laundering in connection to the 1MDB fund.

Palestine

On Monday, three young Palestinian boys were killed by bombings coming from the Israeli Defence Force. The boys were aged 13-14 and the killing took place in the southeastern Gaza Strip.

This week, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was given permission to suspend recognition of Israel until Israeli recognizes Palestine. Further, they were given permission to stop security coordination with Israel. Economic agreements have been suspended, and the validity of the Oslo Accords have been revoked.

Other News

Russia —  Despite American threats to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Forces treaty, NATO has urged Russia to hold true to the arrangement despite the renewed tensions between Russia and the United States. (Radio Free Europe)

Hungary — A Hungarian journalist who has filmed tripping and kicking migrants at the border in 2015 has been cleared by courts, despite their acknowledgment that her actions were “morally incorrect and illicit.” (BBC)

Poland— The recent rule created to forcibly replace a majority of Polish judges into retirement is now being contested. (Radio Poland)

The Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked most top officials in the customs bureau after they failed to intercept over a ton of methamphetamines, replacing them with individuals from other agencies. (Al Jazeera)

Pakistan — On Wednesday, Asia Bibi, the women who were originally put on death row eight years ago after defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed, overturned her conviction. (CNN)

China — A researcher based in Canada has claimed that China must now justify the existence of its many re-education camps for Uighur Muslims after compiling a list of these 59 camps, and has claimed that the Chinese government has been deleting information about these camps since he began his investigations. (Radio Free Asia)

Iran This week, Denmark accused Iran of planning an assassination of an Iranian activist on Danish soil. (BBC)

Yemen As a part of a new Saudi-EAU-led coalition, more than 10,000 troops will be sent to Hodeidah in order to fight the Houthis. (Al Jazeera)