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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Photo: Women at the memorial of Winnie Madikizela Mandela. The Guardian.
Russia reports that Syrian forces have retaken Eastern Ghouta, the heavily besieged suburb of Damascus. This means that now, Assad’s power is the most secure it has been since the start of the Syrian civil war. Furthermore, while this is a victory against extreme rebel groups that have held the territory for years, it comes at an immensely high cost. The UN refugee agency reported this week that more than 133,000 have fled Eastern Ghouta since the escalation of this siege. Moreover, the Assad government is again accused of using chemical weapons in its attempts to retake this area. While the use is thus far unconfirmed officially, it is strongly substantiated. 500 people in Eastern Ghouta have demonstrated symptoms consistent with chemical attacks; residents reported hearing things falling from the sky, leaving strange smells; videos coming out show people sprawled on the floors of their homes, killed by apparent suffocation; of 70 killed while taking shelter in basements, 43 showed signs of “highly toxic chemicals” according to the World Health Organization. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international watchdog, is on its way to Syria to investigate and uncover whether chemical weapons were used, and if so, to find out what was the nature of the attack.
Many governments in the West have expressed abhorrence over the chemical attacks, generally agreeing on the need for action, and in some cases threatening a military response. Assad has, however, both denied the use of chemical weapons and warned these governments against intervention of any kind. “Any possible action will only cause more instability in the region and threaten international security and peace.” Russia has warned also of the risks of escalation, calling them a grave threat to the growing prospect of an end to the Syrian conflict and to peace between itself and the United States.
The “anti-fake news” bill has officially been passed, and as of Wednesday April 11 is now enforceable. It was fast-tracked through Parliament and includes provisions of harsh punishments of up to six years in prison and a maximum fine of $170,000. Activists, opposition groups, and rights advocates worry this bill will be used to restrict freedoms of speech and expression, despite government reassurances that it is purely to limit fake news.
Prime Minister Najib Razak is seeking a third term, despite accusations of corruption and embezzlement marring him and his administration, and recently the government engaged in gerrymandering just before announcing the elections.
Malaysians were surprised when the Election Commission declared May 9 would be polling day for the 14th general election, making this year the first time voting will take place on a weekday since 1999 and creating a shorter campaign period than in the past. Low voter turnout is expected to stifle the opposition support. Malaysian citizens are organizing massively across the country and internationally. A petition to make the day of the election, May 9, a national holiday was posted on Change.org by a university student and has gained over 100,000 signatures. Connecting over social media, many citizens are working together to help each other return home to vote. Over Twitter and Facebook they made plans for carpools and arranging free rides, some individuals even offering financial aid to their fellow countrymen. Private companies have joined the effort as well, some promising paid leave or offering to cover travel expenses. Political parties have made arrangements to ferry Malaysians home from Singapore for the election, while others in Singapore have chartered buses to bring them home. The hashtag “PulangMengundi” (“Go home to vote,” in English) trended on Twitter. These efforts yielded results when PM Najib’s office said May 9 will be a public holiday so that “Malaysians can fulfil their duties as voters.”
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced this week that he will not run for re-election in November. He plans instead to step down in January, at the end of this cycle. This news has shaken the US Capitol and upended the Republican party, who already fear a significant victory for the Democrats in the upcoming elections. Many feel that his intent is to leave of his own accord, before being eventually forced out by the nation’s shifting political tides. At only 48, however, the prospect of an eventual political re-entry remains great.
President Donald Trump has expressed a desire to re-enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This comes in response to complaints from his constituents that when Trump withdrew from the agreement just days after taking office, their businesses and industries were hurt. The TPP did and would again facilitate international trade with some of the world’s largest economies, especially China, if enacted. Trump’s announcement nevertheless shocked his cabinet and advisers, as he has previously called the TPP a “rape of our country” and made his pledge to leave it and NAFTA “bedrock promises of his populist campaign.” Members of the TPP have welcomed the rejoining, but warn that the terms of the agreement will not change from what was presented to Obama. In a wider reaction, stock markets saw growth after news broke of the prospect. This has the potential also to affect US foreign policy, especially in regard to the complicated state of present affairs between the nation and China.
The US news was filled with developments of Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony regarding both the privacy and security of users after more than 87 million had data taken and utilized by the firm Cambridge Analytica, and also the platform’s involvement in the scandalous fake news and foreign involvement in the 2016 US election. Before the testimony began, Creative protesters assembled a small army of cardboard figures to greet Zuckerberg at the Capitol. The activist organization Avaaz set up these Zuckerbergs, wearing shirts reading “fix fakebook”, in an awareness campaign about the danger of fake news and Facebook’s role in propagating it.
The head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, has warned that “encouraging people not to vote is prohibited by law.” This warning was issued after the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the main opposition coalition, called for a boycott of the upcoming election to avoid legitimizing what it has deemed to be a sham election. The UN has continued to refuse to send election observers, despite pleas from both Maduro and the opposition to do so. Former Prime Minister of Spain, Zapatero, who mediated talks between Maduro and the opposition for the past two years, has agreed to participate as an observer.
Henri Falco?n, running against Maduro, has been hitting the streets to drum up support and encourage citizens to participate in the election, in contrast with the main opposition’s stance. Recent polls show Falco?n as leading Maduro by 10 points, but also show many of his supporters do not plan to vote and that overall turnout is expected to be lower than in any other presidential vote since Chávez’s election two decades ago. While campaigning at a market, shaking hands with citizens, he was quoted saying “Let’s get the dirty men out of power. Please, if we vote, we win!” and that “Abstaining neutralizes people. Participating mobilizes them.”
Venezuelans abroad in Peru are using the Summit of the Americas as a platform to protest against the Maduro. Many opposition members, having fled the crisis, settled in Peru. Now, they are demanding the opportunity to return to a Venezuela free of the the “tyrant” Maduro, asking Latin America to take a harder stance against the regime. Some are handing out CD’s titled “Rock Against Dictatorship,” produced by Venezuelan rock bands, which are filled with songs that criticize human rights abuses and corruption within the Socialist Party.
On Wednesday, April 11, a Myanmar official visited a of Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, the first visit made since the military crackdown last year. There, he told around 50 refugees that beginning the repatriation process was a top priority for the government. He also reportedly told them that upon their return, they must accept national verification cards and announce they are migrants from Bangladesh, angering the refugees who say that they belong to Myanmar. The Rohingya have issued a list of 13 demands that must be met before they will return, including the official recognition of their citizenship, of Rohingya as an ethnicity, and the release of all Rohingya who have been unjustly imprisoned. The UNHCR maintains that conditions in Myanmar are not yet acceptable for the voluntary “safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees” and that the responsibility for making these conditions a reality is with the Myanmar government. Additionally, the UNHCR again requests full and unfettered access to Rakhine state, to assess and monitor the situation and the return of the Rohingya, if and when they voluntarily return.
The same day, a Myanmar court refused to dismiss the case against the two Reuters journalists. They had been arrested in December for violating the Official Secrets Act during their investigation of the massacre of 10 Rohingya in Rakhine state. The government is prosecuting them over documents, handed over by police at the time, that it now insists contain secret and sensitive government information. The judge decided there was enough evidence for a trial, despite the arguments made by the journalists’ lawyers, and the next hearing is set for April 20. The journalists will face up to 14 years in prison if convicted. The court decision came just hours after an announcement from the military saying that four army officers and three soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for their roles in a massacre — the very same one the journalists were investigating.
Civil rights advocates lauded Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to increase efforts to block hate speech on Facebook. They maintained, however, that more efforts would be necessary to block hate speech. Activists said they had found examples of Facebook “being used to incite real harm” and violence against Rohingya.
President Joko Widodo’s chief of staff Moeldoko said regional elections this year, followed by a presidential and parliamentary vote in 2019, should not deter foreign investment in the country. According to Moeldoko, the government is focusing on ensuring political and economic stability through the election period, which he called a “festival of democracy.”
Former special forces commander Prabowo Subianto has accepted his party’s, the Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement Party), nomination to run for president in next year’s elections. The controversial Prabowo has been connected to several alleged human rights abuses during bloody military operations in Timor-Leste, formerly known as East Timor, and Papua as well as in Jakarta in 1998, although he has denied all allegations. Prabowo ran as a presidential candidate in the 2014 elections, but lost to Joko Widodo. The Gerinda party and Prabowo are both closely affiliated with conservative religious groups, gaining increasing influence in the country.
Independent candidate Jaime Rodriguez Calderon has been added back onto the presidential ballot following a review by the National Electoral Institute (INE). He had been excluded from the race for failing to gain sufficient signatures in order to run as an independent when over half of his signatures were declared invalid. However, Mexico’s electoral tribunal ordered the INE to reinstate Rodriguez on the ballot because of a failure to double-check the invalidated signatures: a failure they contend constitutes a violation of Rodriguez’s due process rights. This has worried Margarita Zavala, the other independent candidate.
An electoral court ruled this week that the attorney-general’s office illegally used public funds to influence the election when they released a surveillance video depicting opposition Ricardo Anaya swearing. If Anaya were to lose popularity, it could allow ruling party PRI candidate Meade to replace him in second place during the elections, leaving Meade to directly contend with Lopez Obrador.
Mexico’s Green Candidate Maribel Barajas Cortes was reportedly found dead yards from her car. The cause of the homicide is yet unknown. This murder is the latest in a series of over 25 killings committed ahead of the elections. Most of the victims are local candidates, but have ranged across political alignments and movements. Many of the murders remain unsolved, despite police promises to fully investigate the crimes.
A draft law on minimum wage has been produced and is now being sent to the relevant ministries, including the Labour Ministry, for review. After it has been reviewed, it will be sent to the National Assembly for approval. The law was written by unions, employers, and the government, and applies only to the garment and footwear sectors. The garment sector will serve as an experiment and an example. The law is intended to benefit all workers and the state across sectors, since it will “promote a decent living, create job opportunities, increase worker productivity, and push for increased investment opportunities.” Labour Minister Samheng says he hopes to have the law approved by the end of June.
Sam Rainsy, former head of the dissolved opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has called for a boycott of the general election in July if the CNRP is not allowed to take part. It is unclear if he was speaking on behalf of the party. In response, a spokesperson for the ruling CPP proclaimed that the Cambodian people have lost faith in Rainsy and will be participating in the elections regardless of his plea. Cambodian expats added their voices to the boycott call during the World Khmer Conference in Australia. CNRP Vice President Mu Sochua, who attended the conference, stated that an opposition party presence is necessary, but did not clarify the CNRP’s position. The National Election Committee warned that anyone who urged for a boycott, or otherwise interfered with the election, could be subject to fines and criminal charges
The CPP also announced that it is considering a “fake news” bill, adding to a concerning trend of tightening spaces for media and civil society. Media and activists worry the law will be used to limit critical speech rather than target the spread of false information, particularly since the exact scope of “fake news” has not been detailed and is often used as a scapegoat to silence dissenting opinions.
In a statement to the Cambodian people, to wish them a happy new years, Prime Minister Hun Sen took the opportunity to congratulate the government for its prevention of a “color revolution.” He also accused the opposition of colluding with foreign powers to orchestrate the color revolution in an attempt to topple the government. Ou Chanrath, a former opposition lawmaker, said the attempt to associate the opposition with color revolution was intended to plant “confusion.” “The CNRP stands on principles of nonviolence . . . We have never thought of competing for power by using the colour revolution,” he said.
U.S. Senators Christopher Coons and Jeff Flake from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with president Mnangagwa over the weekend in an effort to strengthen the bilateral relationships between the countries, and to discuss the conditions for U.S. financial sanctions imposed in 2001 to be lifted, namely the holding of free and fair elections. Coons stated that the gradual lifting of the sanctions will depend on progress made during the next following months, such as non-interference in elections by the military, transparency, and the following of guidelines. Mnangagwa has stated that he is committed to holding free elections, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a statement explaining their intention to invite 46 countries, 15 organizations, and 2 eminent persons to observe the forthcoming elections. All former African Liberation Movements are also proposed to be invited. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha said that the government has decided to “re-engage with the West and the rest of the international community.”
The National Patriotic Front (NPF) linked to ex-president Mugabe and his wife, Grace, has said it will defeat the ruling party if polls are free and fair in the forthcoming elections. According to NPF acting chairperson Eunice Sandi Moyo, Zanu FB commissars have already started collecting BVR (Biometric Voter Registration) slips in villages, an action that has been deemed illegal by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the government.
In line with president Mnangagwa’s efforts to open up the country to foreign investors, the government is planning to set up a one-stop investment promotion agency, which will be a replica of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) model. Visits from the chief executive and CEO of RDB took place this week together with Mnangagwa.
A donor conference seeking to raise $1.7 billion to support humanitarian activities in DRC is being held in Geneva today, but without the presence of representatives from the country. Léonard She Okitundu, the DRC’s foreign minister had already said that they will not participate in the conference, denying there is a humanitarian crisis in the country.
The Electoral Commission Ceni has begun to test voting machines as part of a new system during the elections expected on December 23. The system was used during elections in Namibia 2014, although country has 1.2 million voters compared to DRC’s 46 million. Spokesperson of Civil-society group Agir pour les Elections Transparentes Gerard Bisambu said at a conference in Johannesburg that the system will allow for fraud, although the Electoral Commission has argued for the opposite. Civil society groups, as well as the Congo Research Group also expressed its concerns, “The way in which the Ceni introduced voting machines has undermined public trust in an already controversial electoral process,” saying that “The use of voting machines could foment chaos on election day.”
Five rangers and a driver were killed in an ambush in Virunga national park, and a sixth ranger was injured. The park, sometimes referred to as one of the most dangerous conservation projects in the world, has seen more than 170 rangers die over the last 20 years. The area, important to ecological diversity and natural resources, is also home to armed rebel groups, and “Mai Mai” militia, local bandits and poachers. A catholic priest was shot dead on Sunday, reportedly by Mai Mai Nyatura fighters.
Uganda and the DRC have agreed to remove non-tariff trade barriers in a bid to boost trade between the two African countries. The meeting took place on Wednesday.
On April 5th, six human rights activists were sentenced to lengthy imprisonment following accusations of advocating a multiparty democracy and attempting to overthrow the government. Among the activists were Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years under house arrest whereas his fellow activists were sentenced to seven to 12 years. The activists were also charged for affiliation with the outlawed group ‘Brotherhood for Democracy’, advocating for a multiparty system.
On Tuesday activist Nguyen Van Tuc was convicted to a 13-year prison sentence on the same charges. A third trial for activists Nguyen Viet Dung and Tran Th? Xuan on April 12th resulted in both being jailed and given nine- and seven-year sentences respectively, convicted of spreading anti-state propaganda and attempting to overthrow the government. Dung, accused of and confessing to distorting government policies and defaming leaders of the country in blog posts and on his Facebook page, was also sentenced to five years of house arrest upon completing his seven-year prison sentence. Xuan was sentenced to nine years in prison and five years of house arrest for instigating protests to pollution, affiliating with the Brotherhood of Democracy, and for attempting to overthrow the government. International organizations Amnesty International and Human rights Watch have called for Dung’s release. According to new research by Amnesty, there are at least 97 prisoners of conscience in the country, facing deploring conditions and torture.
On April 7, an aftershock 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the highlands of Papua New Guinea, killing 132 people and injuring 500. The region is still struggling to recover from a 7.5 quake only two months ago, leading to the death of 125 people and leaving hundreds of people homeless, as well as damaging mining and power infrastructure in the region. The United Nations had estimated that around 270,000 people were in need of immediate assistance and 43,116 people had been displaced in 44 locations and care centers, but nevertheless decided to withdraw its aid workers just two days before the last quake due to outbreaks of violence from residents. On Thursday, the UN aid was still blocked as the relief has been stalled due to landslides and the remoteness of affected areas, and ongoing violence. A military officer working to coordinate relief has said that mediators from the authorities are establishing dialogues for peace between warring tribes in the Hela Province.
Maldives – The hearings of Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and top-court judge Ali Hameed, both arrested during the recent state of emergency, are proceeding discreetly in Malé. A reason for such strong secrecy around the trials has not been given, but bodes poorly for both facing very serious anti-constitutional and terrorism charges. – AVAS
Cuba – A travel ban was applied recently to two more outspoken opponents to the regime. Ileana Alvarez, director of the feminist magazine Alas Tensas, and Pedro Manuel Gonzalez Reinoso of CubaNet, which is censored on the island, were forbidden from leaving the country. They join recently banned activists Adonis Milian, Gorki Avila, and Berta Soler. – Havana Times
Hungary – Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has won another term in office after sweeping the election with his right-wing, populist party Fidesz. International observers have expressed concern that the election and campaigning were not fair, heavily manipulating voters and in some ways abusing the electoral system. – NYTimes
Russia – The city of Yekaterinburg has canceled its mayoral elections after the current mayor, a vocal social activist, expressed opposition to the re-election of Vladimir Putin. An appointee system will replace the direct elections in this fourth-largest Russian city. – The Guardian
South Africa – The memorial service for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was attended by thousands of mourners. – Al Jazeera
Uganda – Uganda plans to introduce a new tax on social media users from July, which human rights activists have denounced as another attempt by President Yoweri Museveni to limit freedom of expression and quash dissent to his 32-year-rule. The proposal, which will charge each mobile phone subscriber using platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook with a tax of 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.027) per day, has been sent to parliament for approval. – Reuters
Thailand – A group called the Future Forward Party is in the process of applying to be a political party. It was created by a billionaire and former student activist named Thanathorn Juangroong-ruangkit who aims to install a stable civilian government and “send the military back to the barracks” and has been seen as a champion for the advancement of women’s and LGBTQ issues. It is one of only 15 parties that have been approved out of the 98 parties that requested to be registered as a political party. It dropped its campaign to reform the lese majeste law, which prohibits critical speech against the royal family, in an attempt to gain a political foothold and perhaps earning it a spot among the 15. – Khao Sod | Nation
Approximately 60,000 Pashtun and Pakistani activists rallied recently in the city of Peshawar, demanding an end to decades of political mistreatment, the removal of military checkpoints in tribal areas, and the release of their friends and relatives who have been taken as political prisoners by the Pakistani government.
A Native American artist/activist is creating a large-scale portrait out of 4,000 beads. Each bead is to represent an indigenous woman who has gone missing or been murdered, and was hand-rolled by community members across the US. The portrait will honor the sister of a victim, and promote awareness of this issue through socially engaged art.
This week has seen a surge in direct conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, who have come out to protest for rights to their homeland in “the Great March of Return”. Already, the week has brought at least 21 deaths, including at least one Palestinian killed by an Israeli air attack at the border. The protests will continue until ‘Nabka Day’ on May 15. The date will mark 70 years since the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians by Zionist militias. Despite the violence being so actively committed against the Palestinians during these demonstrations, many have vowed to stay. Said one demonstrator, “We are here to deliver a message that we are resistant and we want to return to our land no matter what.” Last Friday, an estimated 1500 Palestinians were injured by Israeli snipers over the border. In advance of this Friday’s protest, protesters built large towers of tires to burn, hoping that the smoke will obscure the snipers’ view. Other Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails and stones over the border fence at Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces responded with tear gas and live fire, witnesses said, fearing the protesters would use the tire smoke as cover to try to breach the fence. Israel has accused Hamas of orchestrating the protest and border attacks, but both the March For Return organizers and a Hamas spokesperson deny that the march is for any escalation between Hamas and Israel, but rather for the people of Palestine. Hamas did urge its supporters to keep the protests peaceful, however, and to cover their faces, and maintains a strong presence in the camps and near the border. The United Nations has urged Israel to desist in their use of live ammunition against civilian protesters. Today 40 Palestinians are reported in critical condition, wounded by live fire and tear gas, and one man died this morning from gunshot wounds he sustained earlier in the week.
Across the country this week, teachers went on strike to protest low wages, out-of-date classroom resources, and an overwhelming lack of government support for public education in the US. The states of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have seen some of the largest crowds come out to demand better, more reasonable conditions for themselves and their students. The demands go much further than wage increases. In Oklahoma, for example, the government has already agreed to raise annual salaries. Rather than settle for this partial consolation, however, the teachers will continue to demonstrate until higher education funding is promised. Although their numbers are now more than 300,000 strong, the governor of Oklahoma has belittled and expressed annoyance at the protests, comparing the distraught teachers to “teenagers who want a better car.” Nevertheless, the tremendous power teachers hold as a pillar of society gives their movement serious credence. Many also expect the momentum to spread to further states.
President Donald Trump began a push this week to further tighten immigration laws. His goals include the toughening of applications and approvals for asylum seekers, stripping protections for children who arrive alone illegally, and allowing families to be detained for longer periods while they await decisions about their status and possible deportation from immigration authorities. Earlier in the week, Trump had taken to twitter to declare that “DACA is dead” and “Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!” His tirades, while not always followed by actualized legislation, appear to this time signal a worsening of conditions for those concerned.
The Supreme Court ordered police forces to turn over reports on their actions during the war on drugs, against the government’s wishes to keep the bloody affair secret. Human rights groups have applauded this action, hopeful this will help expose abuses and accompanying cover-ups committed in the name of Duterete’s war on drugs. Over 4,000 people have been killed by police, often described as “vigilantes or rival gang members” by police who deny involvement with the murders.
The son of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos lost an election for the vice presidency, and has demanded a recount, which has begun.
Duterte has called Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya muslims “genocide” and has offered to accept the Muslim refugees. He also ordered that officials begin a ceasefire deal with communist rebels to resume peace talks.
According to a new report published by the World Bank, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. A total of 149 countries were analysed using the Gini Index. Inequality within the country has increased since the end of the apartheid, with high unemployment and poverty hitting exclusively black and coloured South Africans. More than half of the South African population is currently living below the national poverty line.
Thousands of supporters are expected to march to the Durban High Court on Thursday evening and Friday morning in support of former president Jacob Zuma, who is facing charges of corruption. Groups and religious organisations supporting former president Zuma argue that he has been targeted with political intentions. Zuma is planning to challenge the 16 charges involving fraud and money laundering during a 1990s arms deal. Such legal prosecutions rarely occur in South Africa, and protesters are expecting that outside attempts have been made to stage chaos during the protest with the objective of discrediting supporters of Zuma.
It has been revealed that opposition leader Moïse Katumbi held Italian citizenship for over 16 years, meaning he might not be eligible to run for presidency in the upcoming elections in December. According to Congo’s constitution, nationals are unable to hold dual citizenship, although this is also believed to be the case for several politicians in DRC.
The DRC’s foreign minister, Léonard She Okitundu, has announced that the country will not participate in the donor conference organised by the UN and the EU taking place in Geneva on April 13. Okitundu argues that the humanitarian community had exaggerated the crisis in some parts of the country, and said that the UN mission should leave the country in 2020. Okitundu also expressed that the DRC wants the UN mission MONUSCO to leave the country in 2020, a peacekeeping mission that the UN security council voted to extend the mandate to one year during last week. MONUSCO is the UN’s biggest peacekeeping force. The resolution, presented by France, emphasizes the mandate to protect civilians during the elections in December.
At has also been reported that journalist Eliezer Ntambwe, presenting on the privately owned news outlet and YouTube channel Tokomi Wapi , was arrested by Congolese police on April 2. Ntambwe was accused of defamation and extortion following an interview that accused governor of seizing a diamond from a miner with violence. Congolese journalists have since gathered in protest outside the prosecutor’s office.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on April 3rd. The goal of the state visit was to deepen ties with China and is part of President Mnangagwa’s efforts in the search for foreign investment before the upcoming elections later this year. China has been an ally to Zimbabwe since the 1960s; their relationship has involved diamond exports and various infrastructure initiatives such as railways, roads and mines. The country has also provided arms and military training to Zimbabwe, and lately invested the Kariba South Power Station Extension Project. However, China has recently received critique for creating dependency relationship with African countries, and trade agreements involving the exchange of loans for natural resources. The official meeting is thus also a symbolic gesture responding to the critique expressed by the Trump administration.
The former Vice-President and opposition People’s Rainbow Coalition (PRC) presidential candidate, Joice Mujuru, pledged in their coalition’s election manifesto in that if if she wins the upcoming general elections, she will continue the search for Itai Dzamara, the human rights activist abducted in 2015. Mujuru also made promises that she will launch a war against corruption, establish a productive, gender and age sensitive cabinet, free access to primary education, and establish long term student loans. Mujuru served as deputy to former President Robert Mugabe for 10 years before she was expelled in 2015 due to corruption allegations.
Last week, Zimbabwe also celebrated their newly gained freedom of expression, when a mock play to publicly process the memory of the oppressive former president Robert Mugabe was performed in Harare. The theatre is replacing fear with laughter by ridiculing him and the former first lady Grace Mugabe, with scenes that would have led to arrests during his rule just a few months ago.
Mexican politicians have united against Trump’s plan to deploy National Guard troops to the border until a wall is constructed. Sitting president Pena Nieto, the Mexican Senate, and presidential candidates Lopez Obrador and Anaya have set aside any political differences or ill-will to condemn Trump’s tactic. While the deployment is not expected to have much practical effect, since the guards are not to have weapons or immigration duties, politicians have called the move a populist intimidation tactic, and an insult to Mexicans. Lopez Obrador has declared the country will not accept the militarization of the border, while Anaya called for Mexico to limit its cooperation with the US on anti-terrorism until the Guard members are withdrawn. These statements come as a caravan of over 1000 migrants travel through Mexico, fleeing Central American violence. Hundreds of the members of the caravan have requested documents to stay in Mexico, while some others planned to make their way north to the United States.
In other news, Lopez Obrador holds an 18 point lead with 38% of the vote, according to Business Insider.
Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye hopes to visit Rohingya refugees in their camps when he visits Bangladesh this month. He will be the first to visit the Rohingya camps since hundreds of thousands began to flee the country in August. Win Myat Aye is in charge of overseeing the repatriation process, and says he wants to speak with the refugees to tell them that “we are ready to accept them back.” Rights groups still fear for the safety of any Rohingya repatriated to Myanmar, where many Rohingya villages have been razed and where they are still treated as stateless persons.
The Myanmar government has agreed to allow United Nations inspectors to monitor repatriation preparations in the country, a dramatic change from the government’s stance in past, which included repeatedly refusing to allow fact-finding missions. Officials plan to invite a delegation from the UN Security Council in approximately one month.
In other news, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic separatist militia, has advised civilians to leave Kachin State as KIA plans to launch an offensive on April 10. Unrelated, civil society organizations chastised Facebook for failing to properly limit hate speech in Myanmar, saying it often incites violence.
Members of the campaign team for the opposition candidate, Henri Falcon, were attacked. One member is under permanent observation in the hospital, having suffered a severe head wound. The attackers have been presented by media as supporters of Maduro, but the president has denounced them, saying any who attack in this way are not “chavistas”. Maduro announced that the government will not tolerate any violence in relation to the campaigns, and ordered an investigation into the attack. 17 people have been arrested so far.
Claudio Fermin, head of Henri Falcon’s campaign, has said the main opposition coalition, MUD, has agreed to support Henri Falcon in his bid for the presidency after weeks of insisting that it would abstain. He emphasizes that participation is the only way to ensure a peaceful transition.
Venezuelans abroad are angered after Maduro denies the tide of Venezuelans fleeing the country, saying the numbers are over-reported in an attempt to paint him in a bad light. He mocks those who have left, saying they must be cleaning toilets in the countries they have taken refuge in.
Venezuela’s exiled top prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, accused Maduro of “massive acts of corruption,” and presented her case to a symbolic court composed of exiled justices who presided over the case. Ortega presented the judges with her evidence, such as bank documents, immigration records and audio recordings. Maduro was assigned a public defender when he did not appear for this mock pre-trial hearing in Colombia. The court will decide if the case will continue to trial by April 9.
Brazil – The Supreme Court of Brazil has ruled that former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is to be imprisoned while he appeals a corruption investigation. Lula claims that this move is a politically motivated means to stop him for running for the presidency again in October. – BBC
Indonesia – Indonesia has declared a state of emergency when an oil spill caught fire and killed 5 fishermen. – Al Jazeera
Maldives – Although the state of emergency has ended, the Maldives remains this week in an oppressive political crisis. 31 of the nation’s 45 opposition lawmakers are under arrest, two supreme court justices and a former president are in indefinite detention, another former president is in exile, and “many citizens remain in jail for exercising their fundamental rights.” – World Politics Review
Syria – One year after a deadly gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, and even though the Syrian government publicly denies it, chemical weapons are still in use in the country. Over the course of the civil war, hundreds have been killed and many thousands affected by chemical weapons, although the international community generally continues to turn a blind eye. – Al Jazeera
Slovakia – Protests continue in the wake of the assassination of a journalist last month. Having already succeeded in calling for the resignation of the nation’s prime minister, this week’s 45,000 demonstrators are now after the chief of police, another elite individual at the center of their corruption concerns. – Reuters
South Korea – Former president Park Geun-hye has been found guilty of abuse of power, corruption, and coercion. She has been sentenced to 24 years in prison. Park had become the first South Korean president to be ousted when she was forced from power in March 2017. – BBC
Cambodia – Foreign election observers have been invited to oversee the elections this July, after the main opposition party was dissolved, positioning sitting Prime Minister Hun Sen to win again. – Reuters
Vietnam – Six human rights activists were sentenced to between seven and fifteen years in jail in the midst of a harsh crackdown on activists in the country. They were charged with affiliating with the Brotherhood for Democracy, a group of peaceful advocates accused by the state of trying to overthrow the government. – Washington Post | CNN
The Supreme Court in India ruled to dilute the protections laid out in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, sparking protest across the country. The deaths of 10 protesters followed, and political leaders called for peace. The government filed a petition to have the court review their ruling, and the fight for human rights continues.
President Mnangagwa was slammed by opposition groups this week after ruling out possible election reforms. The decision was announced after negotiations with the US this week, where Zimbabwe was given a set of conditions that, if met, would lead to the restoration of good trade relations between the countries. The move not to reform was one of these given conditions. Critics are furious over this development, citing the dire state of civic freedom in Zimbabwe at present. “Villagers are being commandeered and coerced to attend Zanu PF political rallies and other functions. No less than 5 000 soldiers in civilian attire have since been deployed into rural Zimbabwe to clandestinely campaign for the ruling party,” said Obert Gutu, spokesperson of the MDC.
Also this week, Mnangagwa is launching five anti-corruption courts around Zimbabwe. This is to combat the pervasive corruption in the country, which Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks extremely poorly, at 157 of 180 countries in the world. It’s also no coincidence that these courts are being launched right as Grace Mugabe faces game poaching and smuggling charges.
In other recent news from Zimbabwe, some activists in the village of Kadoma came up with a clever way to address the problem of potholes in their roads. They planted banana trees in the holes, an action that the government was definitely not pleased by. Like many creative and especially strategic protests, however, this had the exact intended effect, and the government moved quickly to fix the roads.
A fire was set in a police station in the city of Valencia, leading to the deaths of 68 people. Two of those killed were women who were visiting the station; the other 66 were inmates. The deaths were mostly a result of smoke asphyxiation, while others were of burns. The fire is believed to have been started by inmates attempting a prison break by setting their mattresses alight. According to a local opposition lawmaker, Juan Matheus, the detention center was holding three times its maximum capacity of 60 inmates. Venezuela’s head prosecutor assured the nation that a full investigation will be launched. Families of the inmates gathered outside the station, demanding answers about their loved ones. The crowd grew angry as officials refused to provide answers, even hours after the fire was extinguished, kicking riot shields, throwing stones, and leading the police to use tear gas to disperse the crowd.
This tragedy highlights the state of Venezuela’s atrocious prison system, one plagued with overcrowding and lawlessness. Over 230 current inmates are classified as political prisoners, and Human Rights Watch has reported that more than 6,600 people died in the country’s prisons between 1999 and 2015.
Controversy erupted in the US this week over President Trump’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the national census. Opponents to this change immediately called it politically motivated, and at least twelve states have threatened to sue the Trump administration to block the change. The United States Constitution calls for an accurate census to be conducted every ten years that counts every individual living in the country, not just citizens, so that the results can be used to allot a wide range of government functions, including redistributing national representation and setting voting districts. The addition of a question about citizenship will discourage participation in the count, skewing these results. For the Trump administration, with its distinct war on aliens and immigrants raging, this could be the exact intended effect.
In this week’s update on chaos in the president’s cabinet, there has been one new replacement and innumerable bad decisions. President Trump moved to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin with his own personal physician. Dr. Ronny L. Jackson is now to be faced with the serious challenges of the department, including its completely insufficient personnel and infrastructure. Dr. Johnson will still need to be approved by the US legislature before officially taking on the position, and this process could be problematic due to his sheer lack of relevant experience. Meanwhile, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson worked this week to scale back protections for fair housing, and the EPA is planning to roll back pollution requirements for cars in the US.
International news from the US this week saw a tensing of relations between the US and Russia. In response to the Russian attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK earlier this month, Trump decided to expel 60 Russian officials from the US and to close the country’s consulate in Seattle. In retaliation, Russia expelled 60 US diplomats and closed the US consulate in St. Petersburg. Relations between the countries appear to be at their worst since the Cold War, presenting a serious concern to the international community.
Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, a defender of indigenous rights and a special advisor to the UN on the subject, has been branded a terrorist by the government of the Philippines. This was officially over alleged connections to Maoist rebels in the country, with about 600 others also facing this terrorism charge. Tauli-Corpuz and many activists attest, however, that the label is merely a means for the government to target perceived political threats. In this case, the threat is the international attention that she has worked to draw to human rights violations by the government against indigenous peoples. An op-ed by Tauli-Corpuz for the Financial times warns that “You can keep shooting the messenger, but you will run out of bullets before we run out of messengers and, at the end of the day, the message will be heard.”
Separately in the Philippines this week, the first public hearings by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines have begun into whether citizens’ human rights have been violated by fossil fuel companies. Testimonies at this trial so far have consisted of accounts of the tragic effects of climate disasters on livelihoods and ecosystems in the country. Many climate action groups see this trial as a huge and critical step for the environmental movement around the world. These hearings are expected to last a year.
The landscape of candidates for the presidency has been relatively settled, but today the official campaigning begins. Concerns over fake news in the country are growing, and rumors of meddling by Russian agents are leading the National Electoral Institute (INE) to take steps to protect the country and its elections from foreign influence. The INE has signed deals with both Facebook and Twitter, and is expected to sign a third with Google. These deals are to limit the impact of bots and trolls, which digital experts warn are being used by political parties at higher rates than have been seen before in the country.
Myanmar’s parliament officially elected Win Myint to the presidency, succeeding Htin Kyaw who retired last week. Myint has been a longtime Suu Kyi loyalist, and that is not expected to change. Some analysts fear that he will be unwilling to put the country’s interests first, before Suu Kyi’s or the military’s wishes, and that this will be a nominal change at best.
In other news, the defense lawyers for the two jailed Reuters journalists have filed a motion to dismiss their case. They say that there is not any legally sufficient evidence that could be presented against the reporters. One of the reporters, Wa Lone, petitioned the new president, asking for freedom of the press in Myanmar and saying that he and other imprisoned journalists were there to report the injustices happening in the country. The police and prosecution maintain that they were arrested for violating the Officials Secrets Act by possessing confidential state documents illegally.
Syria – Russia has announced that the massive military offensive in Eastern Ghouta is almost over. Rebels have been cornered to just one town in the region, and tens of thousands of civilians have now been given safe passage out of the area. – Reuters
Egypt – President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is poised to stay on for a second term after the elections this week, with polls showing a victory of 92% from the 25 million votes counted so far. Many lament the backsliding, finding this election reminiscent of those that were taking place before the Arab Spring in 2011. – CNBC
Belarus – At least 70 people, but possibly many more, were arrested in Minsk for attempting to hold an opposition protest while attempting to hold a march. They had come out on the 100th anniversary of Belarus’ 1918 proclamation of independence from Russia to oppose Lukashenko’s authoritarian government. – ABC News
Honduras – Protests in the country continue against the re-election of President Hernandez and the continued detention of 26 political prisoners. Since these protests began in late January, hundreds of people have been arrested and at least 38 people have died. – teleSUR
Hungary – Recent numbers from Hungary have shown that a majority of voters want far-right Prime Minister Orban out of office. Their failure to unify the nation’s many opposition parties, however, effectively ensure that he and his party will maintain their huge majority of seats and power in the upcoming elections. – NYTimes
Guatemala – A judge in Boston has ordered that a Guatemalan man accused of war crimes and human rights violations be returned to his home country. He served as a paramilitary commander during Guatemala’s civil war, and the government claims he was involved in murders and other crimes against indigenous Mayans. – ABC News
Cambodia – Opposition members gathered in Phnom Penh this week, in a rare public demonstration since last year’s government crackdown. They came out on the 21st anniversary of a deadly grenade attack on an opposition rally that killed at least 16 people and left hundreds injured. – Reuters
It’s no secret that in this modern age of fast and easy communication, fake news has become a serious threat to justice and democracy. Malaysia caught the world’s attention this week, however, after introducing a controversial bill that effectively worsens the very crisis it’s trying to solve.
Singer and activist Mai Khoi Do Nguyen was detained upon returning from Europe, where she was promoting her most recent album titled “Dissent.” Her fame has so far kept her relatively safe from the harassment many Vietnamese activists experience. But, as the regime grows more comfortable exerting its power and the international community turns a blind eye to human rights violations, even those above the fray are subject to the whims of the government.