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: 17 August 2018

A Congolese health worker tends to patients prior to the launch of the vaccination campaign in the DRC this week. (Reuters)

Syria

This Monday, an explosion in the rebel-held town of Sarmada close to the Turkish border killed at least 36 people, including twelve children. According to the White Helmets rescue group, at least ten people were rescued from the rubble. The building was suspected to be storing weapons and ammunition, but also was home to many civilians that had fled the initial conflict of the war.

On Tuesday, the Russian military pledged its forces to help UN peacekeepers to restore patrols along the Syrian frontier with the Golan Heights, which are currently under Israeli occupation. This reflects a growing trend of Russian trying to exert influence in the region, as the Russians have fairly good relationships with both the Israelis and the Assad regime in Syria.

This week, details are beginning to emerge about the disappearance of Razan Zaitouneh, one of Syria’s most prominent human rights activists. Zaitouneh went missing at the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in December of 2013, after she was seen being abducted by unidentified gunmen at the Violation Documentation Center in Douma, a rebel-held town in the Eastern region. The most recent clue as to what happened to Zaitouneh was the appearance of graffiti in the recently reclaimed Tawbeh Prison, dated 2016 and signed by Zaitouneh.

As the conflict in Syria seems to be drawing to a close, Israeli leaders are looking to seek a truce in Gaza for the time being – particularly as the Israeli government is concerned about Iranian presence in Syria moving forward. Although Netanyahu would not comment about any potential strategic links, many analysts believe that a fear of Iranian influence in the region is leading to a more conciliatory approach to Gaza.

Bolivia

This Wednesday, former Bolivian presidents Carlos Mesa and Jorge Tuto Quiroga met with a representative from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) in Bolivia, warning him that if the results of the 21F referendum are not honored, tension will increase. Both presidents also challenged Evo Morales, current president of Bolivia, consult the commision – and respond to any “clear and transparent” legal conclusions that it may come to.

As a result of pushback from indigenous leaders, the government agreed to allow the Commission of the International Court of Nature Rights (TIDN) to the Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) to ensure that that the indigenous land is not being misused or exploited by the government. However, leaders of the TIPNIS sub-centers have warned that they would not be allowing representatives to enter this Saturday, with no response from the government as to how it will be guaranteed on the ground.

Nicaragua

On Tuesday, the National Assembly of Nicaragua agreed to a drastic cut to the national budget in response to the anti-government unrest over the past few months, which has derailed the economy. What was adopted constituted a 9.2 percent reduction of the 2018 budget, meaning that spending will be $180 million less than it had been last year.

A representative of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy told the BBC that Nicaragua protests must remain peaceful as they evolve into what he has described as a “national revolt” by all kinds of people. On Wednesday, thousands of Nicaraguans marched through the capital, demanding those anti-government protesters that have been jailed since the beginning of the conflict be released. This demonstration was organized by the Civic Alliance, a group of unions, business groups, students, and various others.

North Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivered a speech this Monday, stating that his country hopes to make great strides in the relationship between South Korea and the DPRK at an upcoming summit in Pyongyang.  Moon claimed that building a greater trust between the two is key to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula, and vowed to work towards this end – as well as facilitate peace between the DPRK and Washington. The next summit is planned to take place at the end of September.

A heat wave in North Korea has led to a widespread food shortage, something that is highly alarming given the amount of malnutrition that most North Koreans already face. Temperatures have soared to an average of 39 degrees Celsius across the country, with impacts that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies described as “potentially catastrophic.”  

Myanmar

On Tuesday, Myanmar political analysts expressed concerns regarding whether an agreement between the government and several United Nations bodies could be successful in safely repatriating Rohingya to the Rakhine state in Myanmar. Leaders of several human rights organizations, such as the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, have explicitly stated that they do not think that the current agreement will work to safely return the refugees, especially as Rohingya are still not considered citizens under Myanmar’s legal system.

Myanmar’s government also asked Bangladesh to suspend aid provided to 6,000 Rohingya people stranded on the border between the two countries. They are stuck in a ‘no man’s land,’ and are refusing to return to Myanmar for fear of their personal safety. They are continually uncertain as to whether Myanmar will actually provide any sort of assistance to them, and fear that they will have nothing to depend on if Bangladesh indeed decides to stop giving aid.

USA

After former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman decided to release secretly-taped conversations from inside the Trump campaign and Trump White House, many government officials are bracing themselves for the potential impact of future leaks. As she has been releasing these tapes slowly, there is no way to know for certain how much information she actually has on the inner workings of the Trump administration – and all scandals that accompany it.

An annual report to Congress has claimed that China is increasing its military capacity in order to be able to conduct strikes against US and allied targets in the Pacific Ocean. The document also warns that China may be preparing for a contingency under which it will attempt to unify Taiwan by force. China has also decided to grow its space program, despite the fact that it is viewed as a champion state against the militarization of space.

Cambodia

Making good on its promises to respond to last month’s elections, the United States government has decided to expand visa bans. In addition to lengthening visa restrictions already in place against an undisclosed number of Cambodian officials, the new visa restrictions will target those “both inside and outside the Cambodian government” who have contributed the most to the recent backslide in Cambodian democracy. This announcement came on the same day that the official results of the elections were announced, which showed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party winning all contested seats.

This Thursday, the trial of Australian filmmaker James Ricketson has begun in Cambodia. He was accused of spying and arrested on June 3rd, 2017 after he was photographed flying a drone about a rally for the now-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party. There is nothing to indicate exactly who he was accused of spying for. Ricketson has been in a Cambodian prison for over a year, having been denied bail.

Mexico

Despite the looming deadline for the Mexican government and the statements of American officials such as Robert Lighthizer, American President Donald Trump claimed that a breakthrough would not yet come in negotiations between the United States and Mexico regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement. The American Congress, itself, has already missed the window of a deadline for approving any revised deal in this section – seeing as the Congress that would vote on it will be one that has changed hands in the midterm elections.

However, the United States and Mexico have recently agreed on a joint plan to take down Mexico’s drug cartels, who estimates say can be blamed for approximately 150,000 murders since 2006. The details of this joint plan are unknown; all that has been announced is that it will financially target kingpins and their affiliates, similar to the plan that led to the capture of the Sinaloa cartel leader known as ‘El Chapo.’

The Maldives

This week, Human Rights Watch reported that governmental intimidation of the political opposition and media alike in the Maldives post a very real threat to the possibility of free and fair elections in September of 2018. The full report released by HRW, which comes to about 52 pages, details how the government of President Abdul Yameen Abdul Gayoom has used legislation and decrees to silence dissenters, arbitrarily arrest critics, and overall impinge on the rights of the citizens of the Maldives.

Zimbabwe

This week, the MDC Alliance filed a petition against the election of Zanu PF’s Emmerson Mnangagwa as president, claiming that his party has evidence of “mammoth theft and fraud.” However, Zanu-PF declared on the 13th that it will be defending its electoral win. The judges of the constitutional court will have two weeks to rule on this case and determine if, indeed, any fraud has taken place.

Mnangagwa stated on Friday that he is unconcerned by the American decision to continue to sanction Zimbabwe, and stated that he would instead seek to continue “bringing development” to Zimbabwe. Amnesty International’s new leader also levied critiques against the Zanu-PF government and stated that his first act as leader of AI would be to write to Mnangagwa to ask after the whereabouts of Itai Dzamara, a high-profile activist who was abducted in 2015 by suspected state agents under former Zanu-PF President Robert Mugabe.  

Laos

Despite the order on the part of the government to halt new hydropower projects, developers have continued to do work on the various mega-dams on the Mekong River,  regardless of the dam breaches last month that killed 35 people and displaced thousands. According to developers working at one dam project in northwestern Laos, the government has not personally reached out to notify them. Certain developers are continuing building, citing a difference in the materials between the dam that was breached and their own projects. This is believed to be the result of an imbalance in power between the federal and regional governments in Laos, as regional governments ultimately have more sway over what goes on in their respective provinces.

Vietnam

Will Nguyen, an American citizen detained for 40 days in Vietnam as a result of his participation in protests against plans to establish special economic zones within the country, has returned to Houston, Texas after being deported for a conviction of “disturbing the public order.” It is believed that his deportation is partially the result of interference from American officials, including the U.S. embassy in Vietnam, which helped to ensure that he was treated well.

According to Amnesty International, Vietnamese authorities must investigate allegations that activists were beaten by police officers this Wednesday at a private gathering that celebrated pre-Communist era songs. This is yet another incident in a disturbing trend where police officers in Ho Chi Minh city have increasingly begun to use excessive force and ill-treatment against prisoners, with claims of torture coming to the forefront as well.

On Thursday, a court in northern Vietnam sentenced an activist to 20 years in prison, found guilty of attempting to overthrow the Communist government. In addition, prominent environmental activist Le Dinh Luong was also sentenced to 5 years’ house arrest for encouraging others to join a group for Vietnamese exiles in the United States, which the government brands as a terrorist organization.

 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for free access in responding to the DRC’s recent outbreak of Ebola, which has appeared in the more war-torn areas of the DRC. WHO has been working closely with the Minister of Health, Dr. Oly Ilunga, and helped to launch the Ebola vaccine for health workers in the hospital in Beni, close to where the outbreak began. The WHO delegation also visited the Emergency Operations Center in Beni, which was built by the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The most recent death toll given by the DRC’s government has been 41 people killed, something that has increased by a fifth in only a week. The chief of the WHO has called for all warring parties to cease hostilities, as the virus does not discriminate between groups and all will be in danger. This message, broadcast this Thursday, can hopefully incentivize armed groups to allow medical workers to intervene in at-risk populations, especially as a new vaccine has shown some promising effects in preventing the spread of Ebola.

Colombia

Representatives from FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said that Colombian military officials are attempting to arrest three senior FARC leaders who may have violated the peace agreement with the Colombian government. If this is true, it suggests that some FARC members may continue to be involved in activities such as cocaine trafficking; if such accusations turn out to be true and an arrest is enacted, it is even possible that this may endanger the tenuous peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC, as others may decide to break the agreement in retaliation for the arrests.

Colombian officials are concerned about the rate of deforestation in Colombia, with a particular focus on the Tinigua Park, which is the only place in Colombia that connects the Orinoquia, the Andes, and the Amazon. Between February and April 2018, 3% of the ground cover in Tinigua Park was found to have been cleared for economic purposes. It is suspected that these forests are being cleared for the farming of illicit crops, migration, and pastureland for cattle – something that environmental entities are currently having trouble combatting.

Venezuela

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro announced on Tuesday that he will end subsidized gas prices as previously planned to cease smuggling from Venezuela to Colombia and the Caribbean. This announcement will hopefully curb the $18 billion USD that Venezuela loses to fuel smuggling annually – something that is incredibly untenable for the Latin American state, as its economy has suffered tremendously in the past few months. Those Venezuelans who hold the “Fatherland-ID,” a government-issued identity card, will still qualify for direct subsidies for about two years.

Across South America, there has been a 900 percent increase in Venezuelan migrants from about 89,000 in 2015 to 900,000 in 2017. This mass exodus from the country is one of the largest mass-population movements in history, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ spokesman William Spindler. Globally, the number of Venezuelan migrants has risen from 700,000 to more than 1.6 million over the same period of time.

 

Malaysia

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said this week that he would actively work towards canceling two multibillion-dollar projects in Malaysia, backed by China and his predecessor, Najib Razak.  Although some of the funding for these ventures has already been transferred to Chinese companies, Mahathir is not letting this stop him take a hard stance against the East Asian power. Mohamad also stated that China should respect the free movement of ships in the South China Sea and attacked Myanmar for its treatment of the Rohingya, both hard stances that are setting him apart from his predecessor.

On Thursday, Malaysia repealed its “fake news” law, which was introduced by previous prime minister Najib Razak; this law was widely criticized as a move to silence critics of Razak’s 1MDB scandal and characterized as an assault on free speech. Mahathir himself was previously investigated under this legislation after lodging complaints against Razak’s administration for attempting to sabotage his registration in the presidential campaign. The Committee to Protect Journalists has applauded this move as an overwhelmingly positive move and notes that it follows through on Mathahir’s campaign pledge to remove the law

Cuba

On Monday, Cuba began its public discussion to overhaul its constitution, a move that the government is calling participatory democracy – and a move that opposition thinkers are calling a fraud. This overhaul, proposed by the communist party, will be discussed in about 35,000 workplaces and community meetings across the island and will be scheduled to stretch into November – with the new draft being submitted by February.

On Wednesday, a leading Cuban dissident was freed from jail 12 days after his arrest for attempted murder. He was accused of deliberately trying to run over an official from the Cuban interior ministry. This dissident, Jose Daniel Ferrer, is still charged with attempted murder. His release was called for by Amnesty International and the United States State Department, among other organizations. Ferrer, who has previously been imprisoned in 2003, says that it is entirely possible that he won’t know his legal status for the next few years.

Other News:

The Philippines — Tensions in the South China Sea have led the United States to state explicitly that, were anything to happen on the main Filipino-occupied island in the area, would be a “good ally” and defend its ally’s territory.  (Reuters)

 

Poland  — Poland’s president stated this Thursday that he would veto a law that would benefit larger parties in European Parliament, claiming that this law would move the European Parliament “too far” from proportional representation. (Reuters)

 

Thailand — Thailand is going to ban imports of over 400 different types of scrap electronics within six months, hoping to mitigate fears that Thailand will be the next global dumping ground for electronic waste after China cracked down on high-tech trash earlier this year.  (Channel News Asia)

 

Pakistan The United States military training program for Pakistani soldiers has been suspended amid rising tensions between the two allies, as confirmed by Pakistan’s foreign ministry on Friday morning. (ABC)

 

Bangladesh – Crackdowns on student protesters have led to the arrest of nearly 100 people on Friday morning in Bangladesh for “violence and incitement in social media.” (The Straits Times)

 

Weekly Report: 3 August 2018

Riot police in Harare use water cannons to disrupt opposition protesters on August 1st, 2018. (EPA)

Syria

This past Sunday, Iranian and French officials to review efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict in Syria, focusing on a political solution to the protracted war. On Monday, the Syrian government revealed the deaths of an estimated 13,000 deaths among activists who disappeared and were detained by the Syrian government early on during the civil war. Thus far, 400 death certificates have been issues, listing natural causes such as heart attacks or strokes. However, this is widely disputed by groups such as Amnesty International, which claims that those imprisoned in the Saydnaya facility were likely tortured to death by the Syrian regime.

Last Tuesday, pieces of footage were released depicting a Japanese journalist and Italian man respectively. It is believed that they have been held in Syria, one of whom was thought to have been abducted by the Al-Nusra front (a former Al-Qaeda affiliate) in 2015.

A report from Human Rights Watch released this Wednesday revealed that the movement of internally displaced persons as a result of fighting near major city centers has been greatly restricted. In addition, HRW revealed that authorities at the camps for displaced persons have been taking the documentation of residents without returning it, something that makes it impossible for individuals to so much as leave the camps.

Also on Wednesday, Russia implored the United States to back its efforts to repatriate Syrian refugees following the Trump-Putin summit, something that the United States had yet to comment on. Were the US to comment positively on this, it would put it at odds with major allies, as well as the United Nations.

Bolivia

Despite being labeled provocateurs by the government, various civic groups and movements have continued to plan protests and demonstrations throughout the week in order to draw attention to the government’s refusal to recognize the results of referendum 21F. This referendum, which would limit the number of terms a president is able to serve, passed with the majority of Bolivians voting in favor. The majority of these protests are planned for this week and the next, leading up to the celebration of Bolivia’s independence day on August 6th.

This past Tuesday, Bolivian officials have announced the creation of a database of missing persons, coinciding on July 20th with the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. Last year, 563 cases of trafficking and trafficking in persons were registered in Bolivia.

Nicaragua

As violence in Nicaragua continues, Nicaraguans have been fleeing south to states such as Costa Rica. Those on the run include journalists, activists, and doctors, many of whom fear reprisal from the government due to their activism. Although these individuals are continuing their advocacy work in Costa Rica, many of them are living in quite impoverished conditions.

On Monday, the United States chose to revoke visas of government officials in response to the recent crackdowns on protesters. This move has come with a strong statement from Washington that President Ortega and his wife, Vice President Murillo, are responsible for the current human rights situation in Nicaragua. This move comes on the heels of sanctions imposed against three top Nicaraguan officials last month for human rights abuses.

In Nicaragua’s second-largest city, Leon, doctors and medical personnel have been fired for treating protesters. These individuals, who staffed a public hospital, fear that this represents a larger government crackdown on anyone who associates themselves with the protesters.

North Korea

A Seoul human rights commission announced this past Monday that it would investigate the circumstances under which a dozen North Korean defectors came to South Korea.  The DPRK government has backed the statement of one of the workers that an agent from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service used coercive measures to force the North Koreans into South Korea.

Although United States President Donald Trump has thanked the DPRK for the return of American remains, many analysts are still skeptical about the potential for a detente between the United States and DPRK. The latest satellite photography has shown signs of continued work at the military factory in Sanumdong, which suggests that North Korea may be continuing work on its nuclear program. North Korea has also continued to produce nuclear fuel, and all production of missiles has remained at a consistent level with what it had been prior to the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un.

 

Myanmar

Last week’s flooding continues to impact citizens in states along the Thanlwin River as monsoon rains force dams and reservoirs to overflow. On Monday, it was revealed that the government gave warnings to citizens too late, in some cares 24 hours after the flooding had begun in the first place. 12 people have been killed since last Friday, and over 130,000 have been evacuated.

On Tuesday, Myanmar’s commission of inquiry drew criticism from both nationalist groups that deny that the human rights abuses have taken place, along with human rights watchers who claim that this panel might attempt to evade accountability for government actions taken against the Rohingya. Although the United Nations characterized government actions against the Rohingya in the Rakhine state of Myanmar as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” the government claims that it is in fact in response to acts of terror by Rohingya in the area.

On Wednesday, it was announced that Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi will be removed from a display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. This is a direct response to the concerns of Canadian Rohingya people. Already, there has been a plaque installed explaining the situation in Rakhine at the museum.

 

USA

This Sunday, United States President Donald Trump said that he would allow the government to shut down if Democrats continue to refuse to vote for the border wall, as well as various other immigration reforms. This could potentially backfire mere months before congressional elections this November, particularly if voters blame Republicans for the shut-down. Under Trump, there have been two previous government shutdowns – a three-day shutdown in January, and an hours-long shutdown in February.  Also on Sunday, the publisher of the New York Times asked Mr. Trump to discontinue his habit of calling reporters “enemies of the people”  for fear that it could potentially provoke violence against the media.

In northern California, a deadly wildfire is beginning to come under control – with firefighters claiming that it is now 20% contained as opposed to the 5% that it was previously. This fire, the Carr Fire, is one of eight fires currently burning in California, and one of ninety across the entire United States.

On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the White House could not withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities, which are cities that limit their cooperation with the national government’s immigration law enforcement procedures, have openly opposed the Trump administration’s attempt to enforce stronger regulations against illegal immigrants.

The State Department also specifically called out Russia in a statement warning against foreign interference in American democracy, despite the White House’s apparent reluctance to do so.

Cambodia

Cambodia’s general elections on Sunday remain controversial as Cambodia continues to slide towards becoming a one-party state. Although many were threatened with the deprivation of local and federal government services if they neglected to vote, many Cambodian citizens still found ways to protest through their ballots. Such acts of resistance included blocking out the name of the leading party or drawing an X over the entire ballot. Such action has led to a total of nine percent of the overall vote being invalidated.

Despite global criticism from various international actors over the unfair elections, the Cambodian People’s Party announced on Tuesday that it would be forming a new government within two months. Meanwhile, the U.S. and the EU (who had previously withdrawn all support for these elections) have begun to reconsider their relationship with Cambodia. Most notably, the European Union is currently reviewing a previously preferential trade agreement for Cambodian exports, as well as the overall human rights situation in Cambodia.

 

Mexico

On Monday, new data released by the Mexican National Institute of Statistics and Geography indicated that the number of homicides in Mexico was much higher than previously thought in 2017. In addition, this data shows a clear increase in Mexico’s homicide rate – a 27% difference from 2016’s homicide rate.

Mexico’s president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said on Tuesday that he expected that a deal would be agreed upon to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement in the coming days. Although the bilateral meeting held on Thursday has yet to yield any tangible results, American Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin indicated that an agreement would be coming “soon.” However, U.S. President Donald Trump has stated that he wants to wait until the November midterm elections are over to settle on renegotiation terms for the treaty.

On Tuesday, a plane flying out of Durango en route to Mexico City crashed, with miraculously no fatalities. Although the pilot and an eight-year-old girl are currently in critical condition, many passengers were completely unharmed; and out of those that were, most were released from the hospital by Wednesday morning.

In the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, part of a marble mine collapsed this Thursday – leaving one dead and four missing. Hildago’s local government has committed to continuing the search for the missing four, who were inside a vehicle on the mine’s roads at the time of the collapse.

 

The Maldives

On Sunday night, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen challenged the opposition candidate to answer to the alleged crimes of the previous Maldivian Democratic Party government, which was ousted in 2012. This accusation is meant to address the issues of the upcoming referendum this September, which will ask whether Maldivians have the right to determine the direction of the country, among other things.

It was discovered this Monday that the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives proposed an amendment to the Maldivan penal code that would remove bribery as a prosecutable offense. The PPM claimed that this resulted from the delay of an amendment meant to add an entire chapter on corruption to the penal code. However, it was discovered that the time of submission for the supposedly complementary bill was only submitted on Tuesday. Former deputy prosecutor general Hussain Shameem claims that “the government was obviously trying to decriminalize corruption.”

 

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s first general election since Robert Mugabe’s ousting took place this Monday, with a voter turnout of 75% country-wide. Although voting itself was a relatively peaceful process, protests and later violence erupted throughout Zimbabwean capital Harare after the reveal of the results of the presidential race were repeatedly delayed.  Police used water cannons and tear gas against MDC-affiliated protesters, who claimed that their candidate had won and the delay had only come to pass so that the total could be altered. Troops opened fire on protesters as well, with a total of six people killed in the chaos.

Zanu-PF, the incumbent party, took 144 seats in Parliament, with 64 seats going to the opposition MDC Alliance. One seat went to the National Patriotic Front. It was revealed on Thursday night that Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Zanu-PF candidate, was declared the winner with 50.8% of the vote. However, on Friday morning, Nelson Chamisa’s MDC party said that they refused to accept the election results, and would launch a legal challenge.

Laos

After a dam collapse last week, Laos continues trying to find the more than 1,100 people that remain unaccounted for in southern Laos. The reason behind the dam’s collapse remains unclear; however, a current major point of controversy is the fact that citizens often did not receive warning of the incoming floods – or did, far too late. The collapsed dam in question, the Xe Pian-Xe Nam Noy dam project, was a joint venture between two South Korean companies, a Thai company, and the Lao government. Local Lao people are increasingly voicing anger and concern over the credibility of government safety standards, with many calling it a “man-made disaster,” and the government has only acknowledged this as recently as Thursday. Whether any reparations will be given to those affected remains to be seen.

 

Vietnam

On Monday, twenty protesters were put on trial and then sentenced for participating in the June 10 protests in Vietnam’s Bien Hoa city. All were convicted of “disrupting public order,” with sentencing varying from eight months to one and a half years in prison. Additionally, five needed at home to care for their children were placed under house arrest for similar amounts of time.

An American citizen of Vietnamese descent was confirmed detained by Vietnam’s government for alleged conspiracy, possibly after contacting some of his friends through social media. According to the U.S. Consulate General, he is under investigation for “activity against the People’s government.” Although there are no formal charges, Vietnamese officials have indicated that the investigation could take anywhere from three to five months. The family has appealed to the American government to intercede, with no federal response thus far.

 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Forty protesters were held overnight on Tuesday after they staged a silent march in Kinshasa, the country’s capital, against violence and sexual slavery in the conflict-torn central region of the country. Although they were unable to complete their official goal of turning in a letter to the president’s representative for fighting sexual violence to ask for more decisive action to this issue, they were released on Tuesday afternoon with no charges held against them.

After the overturning of his International Criminal Court Conviction in May, former Congolese vice president and rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba returned to the DRC on Wednesday. Accompanied by members of the political party that he initially founded as a rebel group, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, Bemba registered as a presidential candidate for the upcoming elections this December.

The health ministry of the DRC announced a new Ebola virus outbreak mere days after the previous one was declared over. Four Ebola cases were confirmed in the North Kivu province, and on Thursday, international experts set up a laboratory in a city close to where the outbreak occurred.

 

Colombia

The Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies  declared a red alert on Sunday in seven departments due to heavy rains. It is predicted that bodies of water will be rising, and already one minor has died after heavy rains caused a wall to collapse, with twenty more individuals injured.

On August 2nd, the activist group Colombia Free from Fracking along with legislators from the majority of parties presented a bill to ban fracking across the country and begin a 15-year transition to end the use of fossil fuels. Members of all parties, except the ruling Democratic Center party, supported the bill. If this bill were to be adopted, it would allow Colombia to follow in the footsteps of states including Germany, France, Ireland, and Uruguay.

On Thursday, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos granted 440,000 refugees from Venezuela two-year temporary residence permits. This move allows these Venezuelan refugees to study, work, and get medical care in Colombia. Santos, who leaves office next Tuesday, also condemned the crisis in Venezuela, and particularly Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for his role in the crisis.

 

Venezuela

On Tuesday, much of Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, was impacted heavily by power outages for several hours Tuesday morning, shutting down various businesses, as well as the metro system. According to Communication Minister Jorge Rodriguez, the power troubles resulted from a downed power main in a remote area. Although Venezuela is in a widespread crisis, such power outages are considered relatively rare.

President Maduro stated that he would roll out a new gasoline policy to ease the economic crisis. Although this policy has no specific initiatives so far, Maduro will continue with his plan announced last week to conduct a nationwide census of vehicles, with the aim of limiting gasoline sales to potential smugglers. However, the Venezuelan currency continues to be in danger. On Thursday, the government announced that some transactions will be legalized in currency exchange houses, with the intent of stopping the freefall of Venezuela’s economy.

Malaysia

On Monday, a Malaysia-based human rights group revealed the crisis that faces those detained in Malaysian immigration detention centers. Tenaganita, the human rights group in question, cited stories of violent assault, bribery, and horrific living conditions. Additionally, immigration officials harassed and detained a transgender man who had an appointment in Kuala Lumpur with the United Nations office on refugees and detained him without reason for 36 hours. More than 100 foreigners in Malaysia’s immigration centers have died in the past two years – more than half of whom were Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar.

Mike Pompeo, the American secretary of state, met with Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad this Friday. The two discussed bilateral and regional issues, with American trade interests high on the agenda. This meeting comes towards the end of Pompeo’s two day stay in Malaysia, the first visit of an American official since Mahathir’s surprising political comeback last May.

 

Cuba

During the first 100 days of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, much of the changes have been purely stylistic to the Cuban presidency. Although he has been far more of an outgoing leader than his predecessors, Diaz-Canel has yet to identify his own policy agenda that differentiates himself from the Castros. In fact, his new cabinet retains 2/3rds of the ministers who served under Castro. Some analysts believe that Diaz-Canel will only be able to have a strong, independent policy direction once he succeeds Castro as chief of Cuba’s Communist Party, something which is expected to happen in 2021.

Other News:

The Philippines — The Philippine military stated on Thursday that it arrested a Muslim cleric who had knowledge about a bomb that killed 11 earlier this week.  – ChannelNews Asia

Poland  — The Polish Supreme Court has suspended parts of the law that had forced approximately two dozen members to retire early, attempting to slow a judicial overhaul by the ruling Law and Justice party. – Financial Times

Thailand — Thailand’s government appealed to the United Kingdom this week for the extradition of the country’s last democratically elected prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. – New York Times

Pakistan This week, Justice Tahira Safdar was nominated as a chief justice of the Balochistan High Court; if she is confirmed, she will be the first Pakistani woman to ever hold this office. – Human Rights Watch

Weekly Report: 27 July 2018

Protestors marching against Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila on July 23rd,2018. Associated Press, Bullit Marquez

Syria

At least 215 people have been killed in a series of Islamic State attacks in Sweida, a Southern Syrian province, on Wednesday. A sickening combination of suicide vests and heavy artillery wounded an additional 180. Despite its significant loss of territory in recent years following heavy foreign intervention and combat, IS maintains a considerable amount of territory centered around Southern Syria next to the Jordanian border.

The Syrian government has begun confirming that hundreds of prisoners taken into their custody during the Civil War have died. At least 312 deaths have been confirmed so far, but as relatives continue to search for their loved ones the number is expected to rise. The government has detained more than 80,000 people in the last 10 years.

Independent researchers have found that civilian casualties in Syria have risen by 34% due to Russian air strikes, which are supported by and partnered with the offensive tactics of Assad’s government. Russian weapons have killed at least 2,882 people in 2018. The Kremlin has maintained key interest in the success of Assad’s government following the war and has stated that they plan to employ restoration tactics in Syria akin to those used in the construction of the Soviet Union following World War II.

The United States and France have implemented sanctions to combat the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s government, targeting 5 new manufactures in addition to renewing 24 previous sanctions. The new policy has heightened tensions between the US, France, and Russia, especially following the Trump-Putin summit last week.

Syrian Kurds, who secured control over large swaths of Northern Syria and served as key American allies in combats against IS, have expressed concern about the durability of American support following the conflict and have begun considering negotiations with Assad. While Kurds remained largely uninvolved in direct confrontations with Syria’s regime, they share a complicated history of oppression from the government. It is unclear whether Assad intends to allocate any autonomous territory to the Kurdish People following the war’s end, especially given the high degree of Kurdish influence within the region.

 

Bolivia

In response to the Ecuadorian Prime Minister’s announcement that he intended to donate the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Headquarters in Quito to an indigenous university, the Bolivian foreign ministry has stated that there must be a bloc consensus among UNASUR before the building can be reappropriated by its host state. UNASUR is in the midst of an ongoing crisis, as they have been unable to elect a new secretary general and are presently losing six of their twelve nation-state members.

The government has announced that government-affiliated police will be deployed to Potosi, a major city, in anticipation of protesters on Bolivian Independence Day on August 6th. The protesters, who propagate the “Bolivia says no” slogan, were planning to protest the government for not recognizing the results of the 2016 constitutional referendum as politically binding. The failure of this referendum, which would have put a term limit of two terms on the president, has now removed any term limit of the presidency. According to the ruling Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, the protesters will not be allowed to march, but will be given space to chant their slogan during the Independence Day parade.

 

Nicaragua

Unrest continued in Nicaragua this week as did protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Family members of detained students and civil leaders who oppose the president were forced to flee to a cathedral following harassment from pro-government groups, which were ordered to clear the area around the detention center where these relatives had been waiting. Those detained are not allowed legal representation or visits, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH).

Ortega’s government recently passed a law allowing those who protest against the government to be arrested and designated as terrorists. Protesters have taken to hiding their faces in order to evade police. Supporters of Ortega have also begun to organize pro-government rallies and blame deaths on the opposition. Aside from shootings, insecticide attacks, sulphuric acid attacks, kidnappings, and torture have also been reported, primarily affecting students, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the religious community. The situation has a whole has caused 277 deaths, more than 2,000 injuries, and 215,000 job losses. 

 

North Korea

As outlined under the 2018 Singapore Summit conditions, the dismantlement of key North Korean nuclear facilities has begun at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The facility has been the DPRK ’s primary nuclear launch and intercontinental ballistic missile program center for the past six years. It includes buildings meant to prepare space vehicles for launch and develop specific engines for ballistic missiles and similar systems. Although some believe that this represents an important confidence-building measure, other analysts state that true denuclearization will not have begun until the DPRK begins to dispose of fissile materials and nuclear facilities.

On Monday, the United States released an advisory opinion detailing the measures that the North Korean government takes to evade the consequences of sanctions;  as a result, Taiwan has announced this Tuesday that it would cease employing North Korean workers. This is part of a larger trend of American policy targeting North Korean overseas workers, as they are estimated to provide $500 million USD to the North Korean regime annually. Despite continually enforced sanctions from the United States, South Korea continues making efforts to improve its relationship with its northern neighbor; this week, South Korean officials have both explored revitalizing the previously defunct railway system between the two and begun to consider reducing the number of troops stationed on the Demilitarized Zone.

The alleged path to peace between the United States and the DPRK remains strained. However, this Friday, the DPRK repatriated the remains of what is believed to be 55 American troops killed in the Korean War. The contents of these ashes remain to be seen, and some skeptics have noted that the DPRK government has given fabricated remains of foreign nationals to grieving relatives in the past.

 

Myanmar

After a landslide at a jade mine in the Kachin state and 27 subsequent casualties, questions about the jade industry’s regulation and corruption have risen again among members of the international community. As a result of heavy rains in the area, police, the Red Cross, and the fire brigade have been unable to locate any of the injured or deceased people at this time.

On Monday, the United Nations Security Council strongly advised Myanmar’s government to create conditions which enable the return of Rohingya refugees currently in Bangladesh. Despite continued scrutiny over the government’s role in the Rohingya crisis following last week’s report by Fortify Rights, Laos has vowed this Wednesday to promote bilateral relations and cooperation with Myanmar.

Also concerning is the recent revelation that two Reuters reporters detained last year have been subject to severe interrogation techniques, including forced sleep deprivation. The two were originally arrested over their work on a story regarding the murder of 10 Rohingya Muslims by government soldiers.

 

USA

Facing bipartisan pushback against tariffs, the White House has announced a $12 billion USD aid package for farmers struggling due to the escalating trade war. This stopgap solution is designed to help assuage Republican fears that Trump’s trade policy is harming their constituents and weakening their chances of faring well in the 2018 midterm elections. President Trump also met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss the trade war. While no definitive agreement was reached, both parties demonstrated a willingness to work together and remove trade barriers.

Student protesters from March for Our Lives, an advocacy group led by student survivors of the Parkland shooting, continued their fight for gun reform in Gainesville, Florida this week. Inaction by politicians since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February has only incensed students and their supporters who seek to “register more young people to vote” and end gun violence through gun control reform.

The United States aims to forge a closer relationship with Taiwan through a new Congressional defense spending bill intended to push back against Beijing. This bill, if passed, would expand military-to-military engagement between the countries and sell US military equipment to Taiwan.

After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted that Trump’s hostile policies could lead his country to “the mother of all wars,” President Trump lashed back with an equally volatile tweet, inciting increasingly poor relations between the two nations.  Similarly, the apparent camaraderie between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin has not directly translated into improved US-Russia relations as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a “Crimea Declaration” condemning Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. The White House has also threatened sanctions on Turkey over their refusal to free Andrew Craig Brunson, an American pastor who was charged with converting Kurds to Christianity and “radicalizing” them towards independence. 

 

Cambodia

Cambodia’s elections, set for this Sunday, have been globally discredited due to the government’s removal of opposition groups. Human Rights Watch has called the election “not genuine,” and the United States, EU, and Japan, the main supporters of Cambodian elections, have refused to send observers to the country. Exiled opposition party leader Sam Rainsy called for a boycott of the election, however, this is expected to have little to no effect on the outcome or the legitimacy of the fraudulent election.

More than 25,000 people will be evacuated in Northern Cambodia after the collapse of a dam in neighboring Laos causing a surge in the Mekong river.

 

Mexico

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is set to become Mexico City’s first female mayor in December. Mexico has one of the highest female election rates in the world, and many suspect Pardo’s mayoral win is the first of many steps to her eventual candidacy for Mexico’s presidency.

Six people were killed and four wounded when a gunman opened fire at a funeral in Western Mexico. Official police statements have yet to be released on the subject; however, the shooting occurred in Michoacan State where many drug trafficking routes are located. Homicides in Mexico have increased by 16% so far in 2018, with a total of 15,973 murders in the last six months.

Ruben Pat, the director of a Mexican news website, was killed this week, the second member of the Semanario Playa News outlet to be killed in a month. It is widely suspected that Pat’s murder occurred in relation to his journalism, which was critical of drug cartels and police impunity.

Families of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students have continued the search for their children by pursuing a court case with Mexico’s Supreme Court. The group has requested that the court create a truth commission that works impartially to find the responsible culprits, as impunity and corruption have stalled independent investigations into the matter for 46 months.

President Trump’s intended US-Mexico border wall will spark serious repercussions for animals, including limited movement, habitat, and disrupted environmental patterns according to a new study. Subsequently, animal rights activists have joined human rights activists in petitioning the US Congress to implement more sustainable and less harmful border control measures in the region

 

The Maldives

The Maldivian Supreme Court completely overturned its watershed February ruling which had ordered the release of political prisoners and the reinstatement of 12 opposition lawmakers. Following February’s court ruling, President Abdullah Yameen had declared a state of emergency and began to imprison top judges and opposition leaders on charges of terrorism. The newly appointed set of judges are heavily politically biased in favor of the current government and have drawn condemnation from international groups who are shocked by the degradation of the independence of the judiciary in the Maldives.

 

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s first election without Robert Mugabe is to be held on Monday after a mostly peaceful electoral season. Campaigns and candidates were able to freely and openly oppose the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa without major threats of intimidation. International observers arrived in the country for the first time in decades, showing additional signs of progress. However, both main candidates, Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, have used dangerous rhetoric against each other in the campaign, and their commitment to democracy is yet to be fully tested. Chamisa continues to claim that the elections will be fraudulent. The United Nations has also warned of increasing voter and candidate intimidation as the elections approach. Polls have so far been unable to predict a clear winner, and the race may continue into a run-off election.  

Business in the country has grown as the election season has brought both international interests and increased consumer spending in the country. The prospects of a more open economy have also bolstered preparations for increased foreign investment.

 

Laos

Following several days of heavy rain, a dam collapsed in Laos on Monday night leaving at least half a dozen villages destroyed, 27 people dead, 131 missing, and 7,000 people homeless. Roughly two hours before the dam collapsed an evacuation warning was issued; however, few evacuation efforts were actually attempted. The impact of the dam break spread into Cambodia where roughly 25,000 Cambodians have had to relocate to higher ground. Water levels are only expected to rise in coming days, as is the death toll. Singapore has pledged 50,000 USD in aid to Laos following the collapse, South Korea has sent several relief teams for search efforts, and the Thai army has also pledged its support to the flood victims in the coming weeks.

 

Vietnam

Human Rights Watch has urged the Vietnamese government to drop charges against environmental activist Le Dinh Luong. Mr. Luong was charged with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under the Vietnamese penal court.  

With its growing exports and moderate imports, the Council of Foreign Relations has called Vietnam “the next China”. Vietnam’s foreign reserves have nearly doubled in the past two years. While there are indications that the US-China trade war might negatively affect Vietnam, the economy has not been affected yet.

 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

In his state-of-the-nation address last week, President Kabila declined to state whether he would run for another term this December. While promising that he would “unequivocally respect the constitution,” his track record indicates the opposite and critics fear he will register to run before the August 8th deadline for candidates.

Fortunately, DRC’s Ebola outbreak has finally ended.

 

Colombia

The former President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe has stepped down from his seat in the  Senate after the Supreme Court disclosed it was conducting a criminal investigation against him, including charges “bribery and procedural fraud.” Considering that his protégé Ivan Duque is soon to take office, Uribe’s resignation might offer Duque more maneuvering space in the Senate, especially as he is considered to be more moderate than his predecessor with regards with the FARC deal Uribe has long been accused of supporting right-wing paramilitaries to fight against the FARC forces in Colombia’s civil war.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated  that the greatest challenge for the incoming Colombian government is bringing development, security, and the rule of law “to vast expanses of the country that continue to be prey to violence.” He has expressed hope that the achievements of incumbent President Santos must be preserved to “consolidate peace.”

 

Venezuela

As Venezuela’s inflation crisis continues, the government will remove five zeroes from the currency and tie it to the state-backed cryptocurrency, the Petro. The move is seen as a last-resort attempt to stabilize inflation that is expected to reach 1,000,000% by the end of the year according to the IMF. Maduro has also given a large oil concession bloc to the Central Bank as a means to boost lackluster currency reserves and ease economic tensions. Both plans are expected to be part of a broader economic recovery plan.

The country’s last anti-Maduro newspaper is struggling to survive amidst the inflation crisis and a new defamation lawsuit by the government. The newspaper’s survival remains one of the greatest oppositions to the consolidation of Maduro authoritarian government.

American authorities have arrested two people engaged in a $1.2 billion USD currency scam through Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. Two more Venezuelan nationals have been indicted in the United States for the scam. The American government has continued the use of sanctions to weaken top Venezuelan officials and sow doubts about their allegiances to Maduro.

A group of farmers has been marching across the country to protest weak and inefficient agrarian policy in the country. They are expected to reach Caracas in the coming days to present a series of proposals to President Maduro. The protest represents discontent in a major pillar of support for Maduro’s party– the rural campesinos.

Major strikes have also occurred in the electrical sector causing major power outages. The workers are protesting low wages and poor economic conditions by showing up to work but refusing to conduct any maintenance work. The electrical workers union has often been a supporter of both Chavez and Maduro, but recent problems in the outdated electrical grid, a shortage of skilled technicians, and poor wages have led to the strike.

 

Malaysia

Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, recently stated that the government he inherited has been ravaged by corruption. In a recent interview with CNN, he stated that “most of the top echelons in the government are corrupt.” Mohamad also spoke strongly against the escalating trade war between the United States and China, stating that there is no benefit to be had from a potentially destabilizing trade war.

Despite the ongoing scandal led by former prime minister Najib Razak and the 1MDB fund, construction of the 1MDB-affiliated Exchange 106 tower in Kuala Lumpur is still underway. Prime Minister Mohamad has continued to fund this project which is being marketed as the “world’s most luxurious” office building.

Mohamad has continued to honor the 1692 Water Agreement with Singapore despite having discussed reneging it during his electoral campaign.  Additionally, top-level Malay politicians are attempting to refocus discourse between the two countries on the renegotiation of the High-Speed Railway project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The Malaysian government stated in May that this project would be scrapped, but signals have been incredibly mixed over the past few weeks as to what the future of the joint project will be.

 

Cuba

Cuba’s new constitutional reforms have been preliminarily released to the public as the legislature approved the first steps for amending the constitution last week. Among the changes is the possibility for a referendum allowing same-sex marriage. However, the changes have faced criticism from around the world and human rights organizations for not going far enough as the country continues to violate basic human rights and repress activists.

 

Other News:

The Philippines: As a result of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s history of violently misogynistic remarks, 40,000 women’s rights supporters protested him on Monday using the hashtag #BabaeAko, which translates to “I Am Woman.” – Time

Poland  — The judicial crisis in Poland continues as legislators push to remove Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gelsdorf from office from office. The lower chamber of Parliament pushed for a new law that would allow the appointment of her replacement to be expedited. — Reuters

Thailand — Thai nurse and activist, Natthida “Waen” Meewangpa, continues to be held on lese majeste (blasphemy to the monarchy) charges. She has been held since 2015 without trial and is expected to face charges in military court soon. Her involvement in anti-coup protests in 2010 led to her arrest by the military junta. — Human Rights Watch

Bahrain A United Nations Report released this week calls for increased freedoms of expression and human rights in the country amidst the incarceration of several activists, increasing use of police violence, expanding anti-terror laws, and discrimination against women. — Channel News Asia

Pakistan Imran Khan, the chief of the Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Party, won the recent general elections in Pakistan. However,  Khan will need to form a coalition with the Independents before he can establish his government. This year too, electoral violence plagued the Baluchistan and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan.— AlJazeera