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: 14 September 2018

Protesters call for political prisoners to be released. (Reuters)

Syria

On Friday, Russia and Iran declined coming to a truce about Idlib, even though there are international fears of a humanitarian disaster in the region. Further, the following Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that government helicopters released 19 barrel bombs and Russian warplanes carried out 68 strikes. In just 2 strikes, four civilians were killed in Southern Idlib.  

This weekend, the Russian government accused the United States of dropping white phosphorus bombs on the Syrian region of Deir al-Zor. Further, the alleged air strikes hit a major refuge of ISIS. The United States has firmly denied these accusations, claiming that their military units in that area are not equipped with white phosphorus.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, addressed Russia, Iran, and Turkey to avoid a full-scale battle for the sake of avoiding a potential humanitarian disaster. Guterres stated on Tuesday, “I understand that the present situation in Idlib is not sustainable and the presence of terrorist groups cannot be tolerated. But fighting terrorism does not absolve warring parties of their core obligations under international law,” making it very clear that there needs to be a different solution to targeting terrorist groups.

While Assad and the Russian Government claim to only be targeting rebel militant groups in their offenses, civilians are in fact at great risk in Idlib. Since the attacks in the region began last week, more than 30,000 civilians have fled the area with the only option of heading towards villages along the Turkish border.

Beginning Monday, the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militant group backed by the U.S launched an attack on the supposed ‘last pocket’ of ISIS fighters. US military suggests that ISIS has lost 98% of their land since their peak point of power. This last mission takes place in the Hajin area.

Bolivia

This week, opposition party leaders were informed that they may not form alliances after the internal primary elections in October 2019, only beforehand. There must be a request for alliance up to 75 days before the primaries. While this is a set back for opposition leaders, they may still have political agreements prior to the primaries which can be practiced after the elections in 2019.

This week, five candidates who were originally disqualified for running for the Attorney General position were reinstated. Those who may run again are: Juan Lanchipa, William Alave, Jorge Pérez Valenzuela, Silvano Arancibia Colque and Luciano Negrete.

As tensions continue to rise between Chile and Bolivia over their maritime dispute concerning sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean, it has been confirmed that an official verdict will be given on October 1st at 9:00 AM (Bolivian time) from the ICJ. There are three potential outcomes: Chile is obligated to negotiate with Bolivia and grants them full sovereignty, Chile is not obligated to negotiate with Bolivia, or the two countries fail to negotiate and are then suggested to continue resolving their differences in a friendly manner.

Nicaragua

On Friday, opposition leaders carried out a 24-hour strike across the country. Business owners of restaurants, stores, and banks closed down after being called upon my opposition leaders in the Civic Alliance. The purpose of the strike was to demand that student activists be released after being charged with terrorism earlier last week. While most small shops and businesses were closed in the main city, the closeby city of Boaco only had 7% of their businesses open.

On Sunday, the families of activists led a march through the capital city of Managua. According to human rights groups, at least 135 people are still in prison after being wrongly convicted of terrorism and have been illegally arrested. During the march, the organizers had to quickly change their routes due to pro-government supporters gathered at their starting point. Clashes between pro-government civilians and oppositionists of Ortega’s government continue to unfold, leaving hundreds of people dead.

On Wednesday, a Magnitude 5.3 Earthquake hit the western part of Nicaragua. While there is not any damage reported yet, major cities like Leon, Chinandega, and Managua felt the quake.

North Korea

This week, the DPRK celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding through a military parade this past Sunday, in addition to its infamous Mass Games – a rigorously choreographed spectacle that often brings patriotism to the forefront through its gymnastic and artistic displays.  In a break from the trends of past Mass Games and military parades, anti-Americanism and the DPRK’s nuclear capabilities were not showcased, with the parade instead focusing on the state’s goals with reference to economics, science, and inter-Korean relations.

Despite the lack of vitriolic rhetoric between the United States and DPRK currently, there is steady evidence that the DPRK is continuing to make nuclear weapons – something that has American policymakers concerned that the United States needs to take a more aggressive stance towards Pyongyang. Instead of de-escalating the North Korean nuclear program in the wake of the Singapore Summit with US president Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un has instead opted to focus government resources on better concealment of nuclear infrastructure. According to American intelligence assets, the DPRK could produce five to eight new nuclear weapons in 2018 alone, despite claims that Trump made stating that North Korea is “no longer…a threat.”

Although the United States has at least made efforts to continue undercutting the North Korean economy in order to put pressure on the Kim regime, China continues to steadily ease its restrictions on the DPRK, something that effectively cancels out measures put in place by other countries, as China is the DPRK’s closest ally and trading partner. Resultantly, gasoline prices have been steadily dropping, and the DPRK also appears to be defying UN sanctions from December 2017 that limited its fishing rights to specific waters. On Thursday morning, officials from the DPRK and South Korea met for working-level talks to discuss ways to ease military tension between the two Koreas. These talks are set to last the weekend.

Myanmar

The continued investigation into the role of Facebook posts into the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar has revealed that Facebook definitively had a “determining role” in creating anger against the Rohingya minority. The investigation, conducted by Reuters, Facebook, and other investigative bodies concluded that people who may be affiliated with the military would post content that is dehumanizing, comparing Rohingya to dogs and pigs and using racial slurs against Muslims. Facebook has admitted that it was “too slow to prevent misinformation and hate in Myanmar” and has pledged to keep an eye out in the future. This case is only one example of the way that technology can be misused to facilitate mass human rights violations.

On Tuesday, the United Nations human rights office called on Myanmar to end “a political campaign against independent journalism” after the latest in a series of cases through which the Myanmar government has routinely worked to suppress instances of independent journalism, most recently resulting in the jailing of two Reuters journalists last week for a period of seven years due to their reporting on the Rohingya genocide. In a 14 page report, the United Nations urged the Myanmar government to drop cases against reporters who were only carrying out their professional duties. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the government actions reported on made it clear that Myanmar’s future as a democratic state is in jeopardy.

In response to the above criticism, Myanmar government leader Aung San Suu Kyi stated that the jailing of the Reuters reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression, claiming that the journalists can feel free to appeal their convictions, but that it has nothing to do with the greater human rights situation in the region.

USA

This week, a major hurricane has been brewing off of the coast of North Carolina. Hurricane Florence is supposed to have a full impact on early Friday, and officials are warning more than 1 million people to flee the region. According to CNN, the storm may last for days, unleashing life-threatening amounts of rainfall and winds. The effects of the hurricane will be felt as far away as Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky, given it is a category 4 storm.

On Monday, the Trump administration closed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in D.C. While some U.S. officials see this as a move to force Palestine to come closer to peace negotiations with Israel, others see this step as causing extra tensions. Further, it may create greater distance in the relationship between Palestine and the U.S. A Palestinian official stated after the fact that, “We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to US threats and bullying…” which certainly echoes their distaste for the Trump administration’s move.

While there is not a set date or time, the United States invited China to further discuss trade talks this week. Before the Trump administration administers $200 billion worth of more tariffs on Chinese goods, they have decided that having proper communication will be in both parties best interest. There are hopes that this talk will conclude the ongoing dispute between the worlds two biggest economies.

Thursday, the Trump administration has done a large reversal on the well known, internationally condemned, family separation measure at the U.S-Mexico border. Accordingly, families separated from their children will, in fact, get a second chance at claiming asylum in the United States. Further, some parents who have already been deported may even get that second chance. The agreement must first be approved by federal judges. While this is a positive moment for separated families, it is only bringing circumstances back to what they would have been, had the government never separated parents and children in the first place.

Cambodia

After many critiques from foreign governments and international bodies alike, the Cambodian government has chosen to release former opposition leader Kem Sokha on bail this Monday. However, he will still be under investigation for treason – and may be convicted for up to thirty years in prison. Sokha is required to stay within a block radius of his home, cannot meet with foreigners or political leaders, and cannot host any rallies or political activities. Although it is clear that the release of Sokha in the first place was the result of international pressure, few international actors are satisfied with this development in the state of Cambodian democracy.

In order to create more administrative efficiency, the Cambodian government has announced that it will be creating two new provinces to better reflect geography and demographics of administrative management, something that the Minister of the Interior has claimed is vital to “local development.” The last time a new province was created in such a manner, it was in a province that was dominated by a then-opposition party, and some analysts believe instead that the move is to create more posts for officials who are loyal to the government.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch launched a new webpage called Political Prisoners Cambodia, which profiles 30 current and past political prisoners in Cambodia in an attempt to call attention to the unlawful detention of those who are considered dissidents to the ruling party. Although some political prisoners have been released at the time of the website’s creation, they are still facing other pending charges that may allow the government to imprison them for various amounts of time or pay exorbitant funds. Insulting government officials is illegal under Cambodia’s Criminal Code, and since 2017, the government has passed various new laws that have restricted the rights to freedom of expression and association.

Mexico

This week, authorities announced that they have found a mass grave site with more than 160 human skulls. This report comes after a report from last year when more than 250 human skulls were found in the city of Veracruz. This recent investigation will not release the whereabouts of the gravesite, but officials say that they also found more than 100 ID cards, meaning some of the victims will be identified.

A US $600 million construction project to install 100 wind turbines in Oaxaca has come to a halt this week. The 300-Megawatt project has been put on hold after local organizations called the federal government claiming that the wind farm is on the lands of indigenous people.

One year after the 8.2 magnitude earthquake which devastated Oaxaca, 50,000 people have yet to receive financial compensation which was originally promised to them. The mayor called on the federal government to supply more money so that families can rebuild their homes and finally receive the aid that they deserve.

As December is slowly approaching, meaning the swearing in of the newly elected president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, lawmakers from the new party presented a new bill concerning the salaries of government officials. The new bill will lower the salaries of politicians and public sector workers. The new plan would also cut remuneration by 28%. While the law will not take pesos directly from one’s base salary, it takes away medical and life insurance along with contributions to individuals savings funds. This means that all government officials will use the public social security system for all of their benefits rather than relying on private insurance benefits. After these measures, the legislation aims to produce 409 million pesos within the final 4 months of 2018.

The Maldives

With general elections coming up in a matter of weeks, the Maldives police have warned that people may be planning dangerous acts on election day to call attention to the fact that Maldivian elections are neither “free nor fair.” The police have specifically warned against arson and other, unspecified criminal activities. However, during past political events, it has been known that the police actually incited violence during protests – and the joint opposition claims that the police are simply attempting to create fear amongst voters as the general elections draw closer.

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen has continued to make development a cornerstone of his campaign, despite the previously reported evidence that many of the infrastructure projects that he takes credit for cannot actually be accredited to the actions of his regime. Local governments have accused Yameen of “abusing state resources” for his own campaign and attempting to buy votes with promises of infrastructure improvements on specific islands. The executive director of Transparency Maldives, Mariyam Shiuna, stated that “the Maldives has a history of vote buying, but this time we have seen an alarming trend of these types of incentives being offered.”

The Maldives election body has also made it clear that any foreign journalists wishing to attend must apply for a visa prior to entry, which includes a lengthy background check and the necessity of a Maldivian sponsor. Despite critics calling out these “restrictive, the government denies blocking entry to foreign journalists. These measures were implemented in the wake of an Al Jazeera expose in 2016 which uncovered the widespread scandal.

Zimbabwe

This week, Zimbabwe’s opposition party (The Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC) will hold a mock inauguration for its leader Nelson Chamisa in an attempt to call attention to its claims of election fraud, which was rejected by the constitutional court last week. MDC spokesperson Nkuleleko Sibanda told the Agence France Press that Chamisa “will be recognized as the legitimate president of Zimbabwe,” and has been denied his proper victory by “cheating.”

Zimbabwean police claim that they are being left out of ongoing investigations into a bombing that took place at a majority-party rally last June, which left two people dead and several others injured. Although the police reportedly have no knowledge of who the culprit is, the president has claimed that the suspects behind the bombing incident are now known. The police spokesperson, Charity Charamba, has claimed herself that the police are being left in the dark.

Public assembly has been banned in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, as part of ongoing efforts to contain a cholera outbreak that has killed 21 people so far. The government has declared this outbreak a state of emergency in Harare, and health officials have identified more than 3,000 suspected cases of cholera, which is spread through contaminated water. Although it can kill within hours if left untreated, it is considered to be “easily treatable” by the World Health Organization. The last outbreak in Zimbabwe, nearly a decade ago, killed a total of 4,000 people.

Laos

The Laos government has decided to continue its strategy of becoming a major producer of hydropower despite the results of a deadly dam collapse last month which killed dozens and displaced innumerable Lao citizens. Although the government has claimed that the death toll from this most recent disaster was at 35, it is suspected by locals that the toll might be much higher. The government claims that all future projects will be subjected to an increased level of scrutiny. One of the Korean firms involved in the project has pledged to help with investigating the cause of the dam break and will be donating $10 million USD in relief aid.

Vietnam

On Monday, five policemen were charged with the death of a detainee in southern Vietnam last year. Human Rights Watch has stated that police brutality is systematic in Vietnam, with this case being one of many that have never come to trial – even members of the Vietnamese government have admitted that at least 226 suspects and inmates have died in government custody between October 2010 and September 2014. Five police officers were last convicted in 2014 of the murder of a criminal suspect and were given sentences ranging from one and a half to five years.

Though Hanoi is hosting the World Economic Forum this week, not all observers are welcome. Leaders from Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights were barred from entry for the meeting, with personnel from both groups being accused of threatening the national security of Vietnam. Although Vietnam is increasingly trying to boost its reputation among the international community, it has increasingly been placing restrictions on free speech over the past year.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

As of this week, the World Health Organization has confirmed 90 deaths and 130 other infections due to the most recent Ebola outbreak. For the first time in the DRC’s history, the outbreak has spread to active conflict zones, making it far more difficult for response teams to keep Ebola from spreading even further.

Colombia

NBC News came out with an article this week discussing the battles of deforestation in Colombia. Since 2016 when civil conflicts came to an end and FARC signed a peace deal with the Colombian government, their jungle bases were disarmed and demobilized. Since, 984,888 acres of forest have been lost, which is nearly 40 soccer fields worth of forest daily. Further, species which thrive in these regions are threatened of going extinct. While deforestation is growing at a rapid rate, scientists and researchers see a chance to restore the forests by 2020 in a plan to reforest just under 50 million acres of land.  

 

In a recent report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), forced displacement in Colombia has gone up by 112% in the first half of 2018. Violence between illegal groups and the military along with violence against civilians has severely diminished human movement. While the peace agreement between FARC and the Colombian government in 2016 promoted a sense of peace in the country, the upsurge of regional powers and armed illegal groups has unveiled Colombia’s weak state. Seemingly, the state has failed to take full control of previous FARC controlled territories, allowing others to take control and therefore limiting civilian mobilization and allowing violence to unfold.

On Saturday, a former FARC leader by the name of David, who formed his own dissident group named the United Pacific Guerillas (GUP), was killed. Before his death, David was wanted for a variety of crimes including homicide, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and forced displacement. He has control over a major port city and cocaine hub. While control over this region has been a struggle between former FARC groups and Colombia’s state, the port may be taken over by a separate dissident group ‘Guacho,’ which is a rival of GUP.

Venezuela

After violence unfolded in the Brazilian city of Boa Vista against fleeing Venezuelans, hundreds are returning back to Venezuela out of fear. Many migrants have been living without proper sanitation necessities or water in the city. After a fight between a migrant and a group of Brazilian men, the Venezuelan man was beaten to death by the group. Because of the recent outbreak of violence and hostility, migrants are afraid.

Reports this week have suggested that various officials within the Trump administration have met with rebellious members of the Venezuelan military. The discussions have been about a coup to remove the current president of Venezuela, Maduro. When interviewed by the Time, American officials stated that they never agreed to help overthrow Maduro, and the White House has yet to confirm or deny this report. When the Venezuelan government found out about the secret meetings, they labeled them “unacceptable” and “unjustifiable,” claiming that Venezuelan democracy is being threatened by U.S. interference.

While Venezuela is continuously struggling under a hyperinflationary economy, the country recently agreed to give over at least 7 oil fields to small, inexperienced companies. Maduro stated that the new plan is a joint service agreement with PDVSA and the small companies. While details about their agreement are currently unknown, the main point of the deal includes PDVSA putting these small companies in charge of oil fields for six years in order to promote oil production. For it to work, $430 million in investment is necessary. Further, five of the firms are in fact Venezuelan, but it appears that they have little experience operating oil fields. In Reuters report, they called this plan between PDVSA and the 7 companies ‘disguised privatization.’Between Thursday to Saturday of this week, President Maduro will make a visit to China upon invitation from their ally, President Xi Jinping. Maduro plans to exchange future plans about economic agreements and hopes that China will “disburse fresh loans.”

Malaysia

In the most recent development of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 1MDB scandal, the lawyer representing Razak has been charged with money laundering and false income tax declaration in relation to the previous scandal. Allegedly, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah – the lawyer in question – received the equivalent of $2.3 million USD from Najib during the scandal. The government is more than halfway done with the investigation and is attempting to recoup at least half of the funds lost to Najib’s alleged corruption.

Cuba

Although there are not any official reports or ‘pointed fingers’ on the alleged sonic attacks of U.S. officials in the Embassy in Havana, Russia has become the most recent suspect. Investigators of the brain-damage-causing incidents have intercepted communication which apparently reveals Russian responsibility for the attacks. If this investigation is confirmed, the Trump administration would likely take actions against Cuba and Russia.

Other News:

Russia — An activist with the Russian group, Pussy Riot, has reportedly been poisoned. Staff at the Moscow hospital say that he is under intensive care. (BBC)

Hungary European Union legislators have overwhelmingly voted to launch punitive action against the Hungarian government for ignoring democratic rules and growing authoritarianism, which has been particularly pronounced in regards to refugee policy. (Al Jazeera)

Poland — After European Parliament voted to sanction Hungary for neglecting Democracy norms, Poland stated that they will block any sanctions imposed by the EU. (Reuters)

The Philippines — 10 million people are reportedly in the path of “super typhoon” Mangkhut, set to make land in the Northeast of the Philippines on Saturday. (New York Times)

Thailand — The deadline for the first Thai elections to be held since the military takeover in 2014 has been set for May 2019 by the current government. (Al Jazeera)

Pakistan This week, the new government of Pakistan removed one member of the countries EAC after a right-winged religious group forced the government to do so. The reason for his removal is because of his Ahmadi faith. (The Diplomat).

Weekly Report: 7 September 2018

In Malaysia, two women cover their faces following their caning for the ‘crime’ of homosexual activity. (AFP)

Syria

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Monday that an airstrike near a US base killed 8 pro-regime fighters. The fighters include four Syrians, one Iranian National, and three other non-Syrian casualties. There is no confirmation on who led the attack.

Under a new decree established by the Assad Government, Syrian students must finish their degree in a time allotted by the government. This means that students must finish their bachelor’s degree within 3 years, and a student cannot stay in a university past the age of 25. Further, students who have put off their degree and who have not finished courses in the appointed amount of time must be deployed in the army. Because of the new decree, there have been protests from students who wish to retain the right to postpone their military service. By law, every Syrian male must serve in the army when he turns 18, but the service only lasted between 18 months and two years prior to the Syrian war. Once the war began, there was not an end date for service, and some men have been serving for 7 years.

On Tuesday, Israeli air strikes were carried out against Iranian forces in Syria. Over the past year and a half, the Israeli Defense Force has struck more than 200 targets with the end goal of finding Iranian weapons convoys in Syria.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Russian and Syrian warplanes struck a region right outside of the northwestern part of Idlib. The attack killed 13 civilians and no rebel fighters. This came just days before Iran, Russia, and Turkey were to hold talks about the potential humanitarian disaster to occur in Idlib if the Assad regime strikes the region. The Trump administration has strongly warned that if Assad carries out a chemical weapon attack on Idlib, Washington will interfere militarily. While there is evidence of the preparation of chemical weapons, the final outcome of the future attack lays in the fate of a meeting on Friday between Assad’s allies and the rebels’ ally.

Bolivia

This weekend, collectives in opposition of Morales 2016 re-election held an eight-hour debate in order to call for a power alternative in the upcoming elections. The debate concluded with the group calling for a nationwide march as to reject Morales in the 2019 general elections. On October 25th, they will march in unity. Further, there is a call to march on October 10th to reject the Law on Political Organizations. In mobilization, they seek to have respect for the Political Constitution of the State. This was all sparked due to the MAS persistence to nominate Evo Morales again in 2019. While Morales blames the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) for the change of elections, the TSE deny being in charge of the change from 2024 elections to 2019 elections.

In response to Evo Morales’s statement, alluding that the National Association of the Press (ANP) should justify their reasoning for rejecting the bill against lying, the ANP claims that freedom of expression, press, and opinion are human rights. They claim that their crucial and elementary rights to think and express would be restricted if the bill were to pass. In the coming weeks, the Hague will make a final decision on the maritime demands between Chile and Bolivia. This week, tensions rose between the two countries after Morales accused La Moneda of canceling a meeting with the Border Committee which was supposed to be held on the 5th and 6th of this month. La Moneda stated that he stopped the meeting because he did not see it as a productive use of time.

Nicaragua

As protests continue to unfold throughout Nicaragua, Ortega’s government claims that life has begun to normalize. While President Ortega and his Vice President are making a case of a normalized society again, interviews with locals from CNN tell a different story. Reportedly, many locals still feel fearful and avoid leaving their homes at night. Further, protesters are still being treated poorly by the police. In only four months, at least 322 people have been killed due to the violent protests. 21 of the deaths have been police officers, and 23 were teenagers or children.

This Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley seeks to impose sanctions on Nicaragua due to the recent crackdown on citizens and political opponents from Ortega’s government. Haley argued before the UN Security Council that the body should involve itself in the crisis before there is further economic, security, and humanitarian disaster. So far, the governments of Russia, Bolivia, and China have blocked the Trump administration’s move.

North Korea

This Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and United States President Donald Trump confirmed their plans to discuss the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea during this month’s UN General Assembly meeting. As Moon and Trump have had vastly different reactions to the DPRK since the shift in both presidencies over 2016 and 2017, with Moon taking a more conciliatory stance and Trump taking an overwhelmingly more hostile one. It remains to be seen if the two leaders will be able to compromise strategically on their viewpoints towards North Korea.

South Korean and North Korean leadership have agreed to hold a summit on September 18th through 20th in Pyongyang, where both sides will discuss measures towards denuclearization in addition to other issues affecting the Korean peninsula. They will be reviewing the implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration and discussing its practicality, as well as methods of ensuring “joint prosperity on the Korean Peninsula,” according to South Korean official Chung Eui-yong, who lead a day-trip to Pyongyang to hold discussions regarding the summit on Wednesday.

Myanmar

The wives of two Reuters journalists, previously sentenced to prison for their role in reporting on the Rohingya genocide, appealed on Wednesday for the release of their husbands.  The two men were sentenced this past Monday to seven years of hard labor for breaking the Official Secrets Act. The women appealed directly to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar head of state, a Nobel laureate who has been lauded for her role as a human rights figure in the past. The journalists’ lawyer has stated that they are planning an appeal within the next sixty days.

In a statement to Radio Free Asia, several armed groups along with government peace commission will be meeting in southwest China to discuss potential ends to the decades of civil war that have been plaguing Malaysia. Despite these attempts, there are still ongoing ethnic clashes in the Shan and Kachin states, which has led to delays in scheduling meetings for comprehensive peace talks.

USA

As midterm elections are coming up on November 6th, President Trump accused Attorney General Jeff Sessions, along with the justice department of jeopardizing the chances of two Republican representatives. The justice department accused one of inside trading and the other of campaign violations. These accusations are seen as damaging, given there is a wrestle for control over the House of Representatives between Democrats and Republicans.

This week, the Trump administration proposed a new law which would allow US authorities to keep immigrant children detained for longer than the current 20-day limit. This comes after Trump implemented a “zero-tolerance policy” when prosecuting anybody crossing the border into the United States. Since then, more than 2,900 children have been separated from their families. The new regulations would stop the Flores settlement, enacted in 1997 which limits the amount of time that minors can be detained.

Cambodia

This Wednesday, Cambodia held its first parliamentary session since its July’s virtually uncontested general elections last month. Thanks to the dissolution of the major opposition party, the major Cambodian People’s Party holds all of the 125 parliamentary seats that were up for election in July. Representatives of democratically elected states such as Australia, the European Union, and the United States refused to attend, something that the deputy president of the forcibly dissolved CNRP opposition party Mu Sochua referred to as “significant and alarming.”

 

The daughter of James Ricketson, an Australian filmmaker sentenced to six years in jail for espionage in a trial that was internationally decried for showing no actual evidence of his crimes, has created a petition to call upon the Australian government to advocate for his release. Roxanne Holmes, Ricketson’s adopted daughter, is reportedly concerned for her father’s health – he is almost 70 years old and is sharing a small cell with over a hundred other people. According to Holmes, the new foreign affairs minister of Australia Marise Payne has yet to make up her mind about the handling of the case. It is expected that Ricketson’s lawyer will be lodging an appeal over the next thirty days before his window is up.

Youk Chhang, the executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam)  – the country’s only genocide research center – spoke with Time Magazine this week after receiving the Ramon Magsaysay award, known as Asia’s “Nobel Prize,” for his work “preserving the memory” of genocide last Friday. Chhang discussed the challenges of running DC-Cam his dreams of creating an affiliated institute to further education about genocide and his desire to seek justice, even in a country where discourse is often focused on reconciliation.

Mexico

On Tuesday, the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, pressed Canada to join Mexico in the new NAFTA deal with the United States. In his statement, he spoke of the two countries working together in order to confront President Trump.

 

On the 50th anniversary of the massacre of students during a pro-democracy movement, students at Mexico’s largest university went on strike for a separate reason. On Wednesday, two students were seriously injured after marching to end violence on campus from groups of “thugs” who are often registered on campus but do not attend classes. Further, the Monday before the march, protesters from a university-affiliated high school who were campaigning for free speech were attacked.

The Maldives

On Monday, Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, released a report alleging that a company owned by a former Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) was conducting illegal fuel sales to the North Korean regime, which is currently under a series of US-led sanctions. In this dossier, the MDP also released a report that had been leaked by the MNDF, which connected the oil smuggling as high up as Maldivian President Yameen.

After the Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen claimed last month that every island making up the archipelago nation has a development project, a Maldives Independent investigation found that out of 107 island councils contacted, various projects were host to a variety of problems – including 20 projects that were discovered to be completely nonexistent. Other projects have had work stop on them entirely, and over half of the projects that did exist are currently experiencing massive delays. It was discovered that Yameen’s government is also taking responsibility for projects that were completed before he entered office, in many cases by the island’s local council.

Early on Wednesday morning, the MDP meeting hall was burnt down in a suspected arson attack barely a week after it was first built. A council member told a local media outlet that gasoline appears to have been thrown at the building from the outside, although these reports have been unconfirmed as of yet by the police investigation. This is only the latest in a series of vandalism of campaign halls and offices belonging to the opposition over the past few weeks.

Zimbabwe

This Wednesday, Zimbabwe’s new parliament was sworn in after the controversial July elections. The Zanu-PF ruling party won 145 out of 210 seats in the lower house national assembly, which is more than the two-thirds majority amount required to amend the constitution. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, took 63 seats, and just 2 seats went to independents. This comes as Zimbabwe is in the midst of a worsening economic crisis with rising unemployment and prices for basic goods.

Despite the fact that many fuel stations in Zimbabwe were found to be completely without fuel on Thursday, Zimbabwe’s reserve bank governor claimed that there is  “no fuel crisis” in Zimbabwe. The government increased fuel funds this last May to prevent another shortage, the latest of which has driven black market prices up exponentially. The increasing crisis appears to be another symptom of the current state of a faltering economy, spelling economic uncertainty for the beginning of the new presidential term. On Wednesday, it was also reported by groups such as the Grain Millers’ Association of Zimbabwe that Zimbabwe is facing an impending grain crisis, with its stock having fallen to less than a month’s supply of the usual standard of three months’ worth of grain, which analysts fear may be a beginning sign of an incoming food crisis.

Laos

Despite flooding as a result of poor dam construction last month, many of the hydroelectric dam projects in Laos have continued, particularly as hydropower has become Laos’ major national industry. Unfortunately, the construction of the dams has left many fishing villages without a sustainable source of income, as the construction of various dam projects has been notably causing the fish stock to dwindle since 2016. Laotian NGOs, such as Mekong Watch, have also warned that the hydroelectric dams are negatively impacting the flora and fauna of Laos, citing examples such as the Irrawaddy dolphin, which is endangered.

Vietnam

Due to large demonstrations, the Vietnamese government’s plans to open one of three special economic zones have been stalled until 2019. Protests against the special economic zones (SEZs) have been widespread since early June, and over 1,000 people have been arrested in cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city. The public is concerned that the SEZs represent growing Chinese influence in Vietnam; although the  SEZs do not deliberately favor Chinese investment, foreign direct investment from China has been quite widespread in recent years, and Chinese buyers have already begun to buy property and begin Chinatowns in several areas of Vietnam.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

 

This week, the government has a plan to end the ban on industrial logging concessions. The allowance of industrial logging would risk the safety of the world’s second largest rainforest which is the size of France.

Near the epicenter of the most recent outbreak of Ebola, two U.N. peacekeepers were wounded after being attacked in a rebel ambush. The U.N. faces challenges in containing the outbreak of Ebola, but since the disease has spread to rebel-held areas, they are finding it difficult to keep the situation under control. It is reported that 81 people have died from Ebola since July, and another 40 have been infected. 19 of these cases come from the area of Beni which is an active conflict zone and is also a border of Uganda.

Colombia

After two more social leaders were reported murdered this week, the death toll of Colombian activists and leaders has reached 158 people. The most recent victims were Oliver Herrera Camacho and Alirio Antonio Arenas Gómez, who were both presidents of their local action boards. Because murders against social leaders are continuing, the Patriotic Union Party has requested an emergency meeting with President Duque in order to confront the issue at hand.

After nearly one month of being held hostage by the National Liberation Army which follows a Marxist ideology, three soldiers have been released. The rebel group is supposedly keeping 6 other members of the security force, along with 10 civilians. Duque stated that in order to continue dialogue with the rebel group about suspending military activity in the region of Choco, as requested by ELN, they must release 19 hostages.

Venezuela

This week, President Maduro stated that he intends to increase oil prices by October. Even with the crisis in Venezuela, fuel prices are incredibly low at $1 for 400,000 gallons of fuel. This allows for an advantageous smuggling trade. Maduro says that in the meantime, he will implement a new payment system at state borders which uses state-backed identification cards when crossing into border states. This is intended to limit the smuggling. The increase in fuel prices will be the first time in 20 years that Venezuela will substantially hike prices.

ConocoPhillips, a U.S. oil producer is still waiting for Venezuela to pay the $2 billion settlement which was reached last month. CEO of Conoco, Ryan Lance suspects that Venezuela will follow through with the payment, given they have 2 further arbitration decisions with the country. This deal comes from Conoco’s deal last month to suspend legal attachments, which in turn cut Venezuela’s oil exports.

According to Business Insider, the new cryptocurrency, which President Maduro recently created has shown to be nearly worthless. The currency is supposedly backed by Venezuelan oil reserves in the Atapirire area, yet the region seems to be lacking any effort in developing said oil. There is also very little to show for a flourishing Petro trade. This evidence shows that Maduros plan to save Venezuela’s economy is failing.

Malaysia

On Monday, the two Malaysian women accused and convicted of “sexual relations between women” were caned at the Shariah High Court, despite widespread outcry from various international human rights groups – such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Within Malaysia, opinions were split – some groups claimed that under Shariah law, caning does not constitute a particularly severe punishment; the Malaysian Bar, on the other hand, claimed that caning is a “harsh and barbaric” practice. Charles Santiago, a governing-coalition lawmaker, called the punishment “outrageous,” and stated that Malaysians “need to stop targeting the LGBT community.” He would go on to call upon the Malaysian government to repeal all forms of institutional discrimination against LGBT people.

 

In a stark contrast to the actions of the previous regime, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has pushed back against Chinese influences and investment within Malaysia. Mahathir has been notably critical of the infrastructure projects of his predecessor, Najib Razak, who is currently awaiting trial for his involvement in the 1MDB scandal. Mahathir is reportedly considering Chinese infrastructure investments worth close to forty billion USD over the fear that these deals, conducted under Najib’s leadership, are also suspect. Mahathir is now seen as someone who is turning to the West and Japan for potential allies, something that is a stark turnabout from his first stint as Prime Minister from 1981-2003.

After a series of talks between Singapore and Malaysia, the plan to build a high-speed rail link has been delayed by two years after Prime Minister Mahathir threatened to scrap the railway completely earlier in May. It has been confirmed that Malaysia will not pay any compensation to Singapore, but instead that the two states have amicably agreed to postpone the project.

Cuba

There has been an ongoing investigation into the 26 Americans working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. It has now been medically confirmed that each American has symptoms consistent with mild traumatic brain injury. Symptoms include cognitive difficulties such as memory loss or lack of concentration, headaches, tinnitus, and trouble sleeping. While there is not a definite answer in the cause of these symptoms, but researchers and scientists are arguing that it may be from microwave radiation. Because of the health risks, there has been a decrease in employment at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Other News:

Brazil — This Friday, the frontrunner for Brazil’s presidential election, Jair Bolsonaro, was stabbed during a campaign rally in Juiz de Fora. (BBC)

The Philippines — Families of eight of the victims of President Duterte’s war on drugs have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing the government of crimes against humanity and murder. (Al Jazeera)

Thailand — Thai officials arrested 12 Facebook users for sharing information related to the alleged rape of a British tourist last June. (Human Rights Watch)

Pakistan On Wednesday, U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo visited Pakistan with a goal to “reset” relations with the former ally. (Times of India)

India — This week, India’s supreme court decriminalized gay sex. The 160-year-old ban was finally lifted; a huge upturn for the LGBTQ community. (The Guardian)

Weekly Report: 31 August 2018

Nicaraguan Refugees sleep in a San Jose church in Costa Rica. (Reuters)

Syria

This weekend, Iran and Syria signed a deal for Iran to continue military action within Syria in support of Assad’s government. Although the U.S government strongly advised Iran to withdraw last week, Iranian officials say that they do not have any future plans to disengage.

 

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, it is estimated that just under 100,000 Syrians have been disappeared. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, Assad’s Regime is responsible for just under 90 percent of those disappeared while the other 10 percent of people have gone missing due to rebel and Kurdish militants. This has left many families in distress as they are unaware of the whereabouts of their loved ones. Although, starting this past April, families have been requesting records from register offices and rights groups in hopes of receiving news about their family.

Bolivia

Over the weekend, the applicant registrations for Attorney General closed. Among the applicants, there are a total of forty-seven men and six women including former government minister Jorge Perez Valenzuela, and ex-judge Cusi. Cusi was formally dismissed from his position as a judge at the Constitutional Court due to being guilty of crimes contrary to the constitution.

 

On Sunday, President Evo Morales gave a speech in Cochabamba where he suggested a plan to advocate for maritime disputes at the Hague sometime between October and December. Morales has issues with the violation of Bolivia’s sovereignty, given the ongoing dispute between Bolivia and Chile. The conflict stems from Chile’s lack of recognition that Bolivia has an outlet into the Pacific Ocean. In his speech, Morales recalled that more than one Constitution of Bolivia’s neighboring states recognizes their right to the Pacific Ocean. Rodríguez Veltzé, former Bolivian president and head of the maritime conference, hopes the decision will be heard by December in front of the International Court of Justice.

Nicaragua

Since anti-Ortega protests have erupted across the country beginning in mid-April and the government began cracking down on them, more than 23,000 people have fled the country, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. An estimated 200 Nicaraguans are trying to seek asylum daily in Costa Rica. Further, there is a camp nearly a mile outside of the Costa Rican town of La Cruz where up to 2,000 people are able to stay.

This week, the UN Human Rights office in Central America received a letter from Nicaragua’s foreign ministry asking the UN to conclude its support in Nicaragua. The expulsion of UN human rights aid came after they published a report with details on the abuses and repression towards protesters from the government and from president Ortega. The UN security council plans to discuss this situation further in early September.

North Korea

This morning, the DPRK chose to release a previously detained Japanese tourist, Tomoyuki Sugimoto, who had been detained for an unspecified crime earlier this month. The Japanese government has made it clear that this would be an issue moving forward, particularly as it brings to mind past situations in which Japanese citizens have been kidnapped by the DPRK government and have yet to resurface.

According to an expert in discussion with CNBC, the United States is in a weaker place in its negotiations with the DPRK than it had been prior to the historic meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore at the beginning of the summer. Resulting from the agreements set in place, joint military exercises between the American and South Korean governments have stopped, and states have begun to exude less pressure on the DPRK.

Despite high tensions continuing between the DPRK and United States, South Korea has continued to make conciliatory gestures towards its northern counterpart. Recently, the American government stated that it would condemn attempts by South Korea to send a joint train across the border to the DPRK as part of an exploratory mission, and explicitly forbade its ally from doing so.

Myanmar

United Nations officials stated last Monday that Myanmar military leaders must face investigation for the genocide against the Rohingya in the northern Rakhine state. The United Nations report released names six different officials who it claims should be prosecuted specifically, all of whom are senior military officials. The United Nations has called upon the International Criminal Court to refer to this case, claiming that the Myanmar government’s actions in no way could ever constitute military necessity, as has been claimed by government officials. This will make it considerably more difficult for the Myanmar government to ignore the international allegations of genocide, as it has been doing for the last year.

An investigation by Facebook has revealed a covert Myanmar military propaganda campaign hosted on the social media platform, aimed at spreading information that targeted the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority. A Facebook representative confirmed that pro-military propaganda was spread alongside false and sometimes intentionally angering content regarding the Rohingya. Facebook is currently in the process of banning the accounts, which have been definitively linked to the government.

USA

On Monday, the U.S and Mexico reached a trade deal on NAFTA. While the deal does not include the Sunset clause, which president Trump was aiming for, the negotiations ended favorably for Trump with a breakthrough allowing a raise in North American content requirement from 62.5 percent to 75 percent. While the U.S and Mexico have come to an agreement, Canada has yet to reach a deal and will not sign a new NAFTA unless it is good for Canada and its middle class.

On Friday, The Trump Administration announced that it will end all funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Previously, the US has given about one-third of the annual budget, providing more than $350 million. UNRWA has allocated these fundings into a variety of resources which run schools and clinics for Palestinian refugees in occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, and in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

Cambodia

An outspoken opposition lawmaker was pardoned by royal decree over the last weekend, the first member of the now-dissolved opposition party to be freed nearly a month after premier Hun Sen won a virtually uncontested election. The opposition lawmaker, Um Sam An, is a dual Cambodian-American national, who had been charged with “inciting crime and racism” as a result of his political opinions. Despite his early release, fourteen politicians remain behind bars, and many more former opposition lawmakers have fled the country for fear of imprisonment.

This week, Cambodian officials met with the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to discuss bilateral, multilateral, and key international issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh. Recently, India has been seeking to improve relations with Southeast Asian nations in an attempt to counter the rising regional influence of China.

Australian filmmaker James Ricketson has been sentenced to six years in jail for espionage in Cambodia, despite the fact that the prosecution did not even identify the country for which he was allegedly spying. In a pre-election video, the Cambodian government claimed that Ricketson was part of a vast international conspiracy, backed by Americans, to overthrow the government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen. Human Rights Watch has condemned the sentencing, and Ricketson’s lawyer has stated that he will be appealing the decision.

Mexico

Mexico’s Congress has opened up their first session under the new president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez. The new Congress plans to make some changes, including tackling new policies against corruption and creating policies towards energy reform. The new Congress is different than its predecessors given its left-wing majority and an equal number of men and women. This is the first time in Mexico’s history where there is the same number of men and women in Congress.

This week, Mexico and the U.S came to a conclusion on their NAFTA deal. While the U.S and Canada continue to discuss bilateral agreements, Mexico will wait to participate in any necessary trilateral deals.

The Maldives

After floats seeming to depict the 9/11 attacks in New York City in a tongue-in-cheek manner were displayed during Eid festivities, an event organizer claimed that the display was predominantly “educational.” This is another concerning event given the trend of radicalization in the Maldives, which has been on an upward trend in recent years and caused concern among members of the international community. One US-based security and risk management firm claims that there are at least 200-250 radicals from the Maldives are known to be fighting in Syria and Iraq at this time.

The opposition presidential candidate in the upcoming elections has raised concerns regarding corruption and embezzlement in relation to infrastructure championed by the current government regime. Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said that the government is refusing to look at the “dark” side of the projects, specifically as it appears that firms are bidding far more than the actual market value of the construction itself – and the proposals were in many cases given to the most expensive bids on the construction contracts.

Zimbabwe

This Monday, Emmerson Mnangagwa was officially sworn in as the President of Zimbabwe, claiming that he hoped to act as a servant to the citizens of the state. Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has been protesting the results of the election, claiming with his supporters that the results had been doctored. After the Constitutional Court threw out Chamisa’s challenge, however, protests calmed, with many Zimbabwean citizens fearing a return of violence and instead hoping to move on with their lives.

Despite having been sworn in without much incident, Mnangagwa is facing his first challenge as president as he is under pressure to select a new cabinet. Party officials are reportedly trying to gain the president’s favor in hopes of being appointed, and others are attempting to pressure the president to take on people who provide skills that the new regime desperately needs. One of the election promises made by Mnangagwa was to ax underperforming ministers, something that he has yet to follow through on.   

Laos

In the Luang Prabang province of Laos, flooding has killed at least 6 people after heavy rainfall over the past weekend. Other northern provinces have been faced with torrential rains, and many worry that residents of these provinces will soon be running out of food and potable water if the situation is to continue. Sources claim that many primary and secondary schools across the country have also been flooded, and will be unable to open for the start of the school year.

Vietnam

Amid a crackdown on political prisoners and free speech, Human Rights Watch has called upon the Australian government to press Vietnamese officials to cease the systematic abuses of the public as the 15th Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue approached. Over the past few months, Vietnamese officials have arrested and sentenced dissidents, religious activists, and protesters over perceived opposition to the government.

Despite the fact that freedom of assembly is completely legal in Vietnam, little dissent is tolerated; Vietnam has begun to prepare for the upcoming National Day by sending police and military forces to the capital, in an effort to prevent big gatherings and protests during the holiday next week. Vietnam also demanded this week that Monsanto pay compensation to victims of Agent Orange, which was used by the United States military during the Vietnam War.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

This weekend, former vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba was banned from entering the presidential election. Bemba submitted his application in early August. Prior, he had spent 11 years in exile after being guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the early 2000’s. Now, Bemba has been formally banned for upcoming elections due to his conviction of bribing witnesses at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. According to Congolese law, people declared guilty of corruption are not able to run for office.

On Tuesday, a former Congolese militant leader was put on trial in the Hague. Named “the Terminator”, Bosco Ntaganda faced 18 charges of crimes against humanity including murder, rape, sexual slavery, and conscripting child soldiers, all during his time with the Union of Congolese Patriots  (UPC) in 2002-2003. Given the amount of case material, there is not yet a date set for Ntagandas final verdict.

Colombia

On Sunday, August 26th, an electoral vote campaigning for anti-corruption within the Colombian government came up just shy of one-third of all voters. In order for the seven proposals for referendums to pass, the vote cast nationwide needed 12.1 million votes, but only 11.7 million ballots were in favor of the change. Changes would include more transparency within the government and penalties committed by white-collar criminals. While the votes were not enough, it came incredibly close. This showed to be a positive step forward, showing a clear and popular message that citizens want to see laws promoting anti-corruption. In response, president Duque urged lawmakers to move forward with reforms.

 

This week, Colombian President Duque has followed up with a decision made by Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Paraguay in April to temporarily suspend their involvement in the pan-South American UNASUR bloc. In 2008, the 12 member group was created in order to promote political and economic union, but since Venezuela is a member of the bloc, Duque is attempting to use this diplomatic approach by exiting in order to isolate the Venezuela regime. The ballooning influx of Venezuelans in Colombia is stretching social services and creating fears of unrest. Duque states that “if the dictatorship does not end, the migration will not stop.”

Venezuela

The UN reports that the Venezuelan migration crisis is beginning to look similar to the Mediterranean crisis situation seen in 2015. Due to its neighboring countries creating stricter border regulations in an effort to stop the fleeing migration, there are fears that this situation could become further catastrophic. More than 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2014, with thousands trying to cross borders every single day.

Malaysia

On Monday, Malaysia made the decision to disallow foreigners from buying residential units in the costly Forest City infrastructure project, which was revived after the shock victory of Mahathir Mohamad in presidential elections this past May. Under the previous corrupt regime, the building had been hugely attractive to Chinese investors; however, it has been made clear that this infrastructure project is now for Malaysians themselves.

On Wednesday, a former spy chief was taken into custody over the alleged theft of funds that had meant to be used for May’s general elections. The man in question, Hashanah Abdul Hamid, was an ally of the former president who is now under suspicion for corruption. He is under investigation for misuse of power.

Cuba

This weekend, Cuban artists held a protest against a new law that allows censorship. As seen in Decree 349 in the Official Gazette, the Culture Ministry tries to regulate art that is not sponsored by the government. This bars independent artists from displaying their work in private and public areas and stops them from being paid for their work. Further, the Decree allows artists to be fined for displaying their art if they do not have government permission. The law will come into effect in December, although the Culture Ministry has not given an explanation for their new sanction. The artists who protested this weekend were arrested, meanwhile others are signing online petitions and creating open letters in order to advocate against Decree 349.

Other News:

Poland — Polish President Duda stated this week that the countries Supreme Court needs a new president, even though her term is not yet over. President Duda is searching for someone to replace 65-year-old Gersdorf. (FoxNews)

The Philippines — Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte came under fire once again for his offensive statements about sexual assault this Thursday, stating that “As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases.” (Independent)

Thailand — Human Rights Watch called upon Thai authorities to release recently arrested refugees and asylum speakers, many of whom have officially recognized UN refugee status. (Human Rights Watch)

Pakistan This weekend, the US ended $300 million worth of funding towards Pakistan. Washington claims that Pakistan has failed to hold militant groups accountable for their actions. (The Guardian)

Bangladesh — On Tuesday, the leader of the UN along with diplomats from major Western countries called for action against generals in Myanmar for genocide charges. (New York Times)