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 February, 2019

Migrants from Honduras, arrive at a migrant hostel hoping to be taken in as they wait to apply for asylum in to the United States in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Cuba

As Cuba nears the February 24th date of a final referendum to make changes to their constitution, the state has begun to crackdown on protesters who are arguing for a NO vote. On Monday, 20 members of the opposition group ‘Cuban Patriotic Union’ were detained. In the following days, a number of other activists had their homes raided and also faced arrests. The new constitution will change some government structures but keep the Communist Party as supreme.

Prince Charles is set to visit Cuba this spring, a first for any member of British royalty. Florida senator Rick Scott argues that the prince should visit Florida instead, saying that a visit to Cuba would “condone the Castro regime’s brutality”.

Gabon

President Ali Bongo Ondimba has been attempting to restore people’s confidence in the government of Gabon. This comes soon after the coup attempt on January 7. Bongo has reportedly strengthened his control on the government, and previously requested and received$350 million from the United States government.

Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales has slammed Juan Guaidó’s remarks about welcoming a US military intervention in Venezuela. After the US and EU-backed interim president Guaido stated that he would not rule out US intervention to remove Maduro from power, Morales tweeted that Bolivia rejects Guaido’s statements.He has also tweeted that the economic blockade threatened by the US will “threaten the human rights of the Venezuelan people”.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua has experienced political and social unrest since April 2018, when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega unleashed a violent crackdown on his opponents. Since this point, there have been at least 325 deaths, 550 arrests, and countless injuries related to the violence that erupted. Many living within Nicaragua are forced to make the extreme decisions of whether to stay in the country or figure out a way to leave, specifically business owners who are struggling with plummeting sales.

Economists in Nicaragua worry that a new and upcoming social security overhaul that wouldraise payroll taxes and cut pensions would cause a similar if not worse revolt than that of 2018.Mario Arana, who was the previous head of the Treasury and former President of Nicaragua’s Central Bank, stated, “This measure is absolutely much more drastic since it’s not gradual but instead immediate, and it will affect the nearly 800,000 insured in the country”. This package was approved in January and took effect in the beginning of February.

North Korea

With the upcoming Trump-Kim summit set to take place at the end of the month in Vietnam, both the US and North Korea are preparing for talks centered around denuclearization. However, one topic will likely not be discussed – human rights. Before the last summit, Trump promised to discuss human rights conditions within the country, but later said that the issue was barely discussed. With a clear focus on denuclearization this time around, it seems that human rights will once again be largely ignored. While the goal of the summit remains to be denuclearization, US national security officials have stated that North Korea has done little to work toward this, and that a nuclear declaration from the country will likely be incomplete.

Myanmar

This week, Myanmar saw action taken to demand justice for human rights violations committed against minority groups. Rohingya activists, alongside Rohingya refugees, international legal experts, and human rights activists, gathered in Colombia University in New York to hold discussions on seeking retribution for Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya ethnic group.

Myanmar is also being criticized by Amnesty International following reports that the military ispreventing civilians from getting food and humanitarian help. The United Nations reported that around 5,200 people have been actively forced from their homes for reasons related to the ongoing conflict.

On Tuesday, February 12th, around 3,000 demonstrators gathered at the capital of the state of Kayah, symbolically at the Loikaw Statue. Since its unveiling, 54 have been charged withdefamation and incitement, and unlawful assembly. Khun Thomas, a demonstrator at the site,said, “We are not objecting to the general’s statue itself – we are demanding to implement his promises first”. Myanmar police responded to the protest with the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons.

United States

A former US air force officer has been accused of spying for Iran. Monica Witt joined the Air Force in December 1997, and worked as a Persian-Farsi language specialist, and later a Special Agent. During her years with the Air Force, Ms. Witt was been privy to classified information that prosecutors now say she disclosed to Iranian officials. Ms. Witt reportedly had an “ideological” turn in the summer of 2013, after she had converted to Islam and was not respected by the US military for her decision to do so. It was then that she tried to defect to Iran through their embassy in Kabul.

Mexican drug lord, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, also known as El Chapo, stood trial this week in New York for his charges of drug trafficking, being found guilty for all 10 counts. After already escaping from two prisons in Mexico, the United States will likely house El Chapo in the highest security prison in the country, in southern Colorado.

Cambodia

47 Malaysians were detained in Cambodia this week, and many of the detainees are believed to be innocent by the Foreign Ministry, and instead involved unknowingly in a job scam. Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah of Malaysia has said, “we have sought the help and cooperation of the Cambodian government to assist in the release of these innocent Malaysians as soon as possible”.

This week the European Union reminded Cambodia that the “clock is ticking” in terms ofreleasing trade privileges due to ongoing human rights concerns. The EU officially began the process of imposing sanctions, and these sanctions could be detrimental to Cambodia’s economy as the EU is Cambodia’s largest trade export. The current process undertaken by the EU will be ongoing for six months as the EU monitors the situation in Cambodia, and then a final decision will be made about permanent withdraw of trade preferences.

Mexico

As caravans of migrants continue to flow toward the United States, it is the Mexican towns on the border facing the biggest effects. While NGOs and churches in these towns are working to provide food and shelter to these large groups of migrants, community members remain suspicious and officials are feeling overwhelmed. In the town of Piedras Negas, only 15 asylum requests are handled per day, forcing 1700 migrants to stay in the makeshift shelter of an abandoned factory until their requests are processed – which could take 5-7 months. Those staying in the shelter say that conditions are good, but authorities’ fears continue to increase over an ever-growing number of refugees and a potential closure of the US border.

Maldives

Former Maldives President Abdullah Yameen was charged with money laundering, allegedly receiving one million dollars stolen from the state. He will face a sentence of up to 15 years, despite his denial of any misconduct. The Maldives government is now seeking international help to attempt to recover the millions of dollars that were lost during Yameen’s presidency.

Zimbabwe

The Trump administration issued a statement this week warning Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa to not use excessive force on the country’s citizens. As protests have been breaking out over the past few weeks, the army and police have responded violently, killing at least 17 and injuring 600 more. The Zimbabwe government has stated that they will not remove military force from the streets until the protests have been stopped.

Teachers unions have suspended their national strike, returning to work on Monday after meeting with the country’s Education Minister. Teachers warn though, that if the government does not meet their demands, they will go on strike again.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo continues to see the effects of the recent Ebola outbreak, that has taken 502 lives, while 271 have been effectively cured. While a vaccination program is ongoing, and has helped prevent deaths, there are now active allegations against health workers for using the vaccine in exchange for sexual favors, specifically targeting vulnerable locations resulting in further gender-based violence. The Ministry of Health stated that participants in focus groups had, “expressed concerns about women and girls being offered Ebola-related services in exchange for sexual favours”.

Martin Fayulu, the runner-up for the DRC presidential election in 2018, has called for a rematch. Fayulu has met with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and EU Foreign Relations Chief, Federica Mogherini regarding the potential rematch. Fayulu believes that the results had beenfabricated, and suggested setting up an African Union special committee upon receiving results.

Colombia

Colombia’s migration office has “cancelled over 300 daily entrance passes for Venezuelan politicians and their families who support President Nicolas Maduro” The head of Colombia’s migration agency issued a statement saying that it’s not fair for supporters of the dictatorship to freely enter the country and enjoy the benefits while 800,000 migrants have had to flee Venezuela for Colombia because of hunger and supply shortages.

Venezuela

The US is seeking a United Nations Security Council resolution that will call on Venezuela toconduct fair presidential elections with international observers present. Donald Trump’s Latin Advisor claimed this week that “there is not a single scenario” in which Nicolas Maduro and his “cronies” would retain and hold power in Venezuela. Russia continues to support Maduro, thus refusing to support a US-led campaign.

Guaido revealed on Monday, February 11th that he and his team had delivered the first shipmentof international humanitarian aid, although he did not state how he was able to deliver the aid or where it had come from. He did state the aid that was delivered was small in scale due to the Maduro’s blocking of the border last week.

This week Maduro threatened Juan Guaido, stating, “This person, who believes that politics is a game and he can violate the constitution and the law, sooner or later will have to answer before the courts”. This comes alongside news of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled Congress naming a new board of directors for the oil firm PDVSA in an effort to remove the oil revenue from Maduro’s control.

Malaysia

The trial for former Malaysian Prime Minister has been postponed with no new date set. Najib Razak is on trial for nearly 40 counts of corruption, stemming from the 1MDB deal launched in 2009 as a “multibillion dollar investment by a Saudi oil firm” which was supposed to be used to create jobs within Malaysia. Suspicions emerged when Najib’s family was suddenly seen flaunting huge amounts of wealth, and an investigation found “hundreds of millions of dollars” placed in Najib’s bank account in 2013.

Philippines

Maria Ressa, Philippine journalist arrested Wednesday, February 15 on charges of “cyber-libel”was freed on bail following international condemnation. Maria Ressa is recognized in her field as being named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018, having a career with CNN, and eventually becoming co-founder of Rappler, one of the most hard-hitting investigatory news outlets based in the Philippines. Activists were almost immediately vocal in their discouraging of treatment of Ressa, including former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who called Ressa’s arrest “outrageous”. Amnesty International had previously called out President Rodrigo Duterte’s government for “relentlessly intimidating and harassing” journalists.

Thailand

Thailand’s Princess has been disqualified from running for Prime Minister. Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya announced just last week that she would run as the Thai Save the Nation party’s candidate for prime minister, but was shut down after her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, said that her running would be “inappropriate.” Soon after the king made his announcement, the Election Commission announced that “monarchy must remain above politics” and that the princess would be officially disqualified from running.

Other news:

Iran – Following the wave of protests that occurred in Iran in 2018, there remain unanswered questions regarding the deaths of nine protesters who died under “suspicious circumstances”, and a lack of acknowledgment for protesters that were killed in the streets while protesting. The Worldwide Threat Assessment for 2019 was released on January 29, where the US Director of National Intelligence stated, “we assess that Tehran is prepared to take more aggressive security measures in response to renewed unrest”. (CNN)

Nigeria – With the upcoming February 16 presidential and legislative elections, many have fears of significant violence erupting following the elections. On Sunday, February 10, five members of the All Progressive Congress (APC) were shot and killed, leading authorities to believe it to be a targeted attack by the opposition. This week, two electoral offices were burned down, sparking suspicion and general concern. Nigerian elections have resulted in violence in the past, instilling fear that Saturday will be “no different from previous polls”. (Al Jazeera)

Spain – Eight leaders from the Catalonia separatist movement are set to go to trial next week in Madrid, where they could face up to 25 years in prison. Also in Madrid, 45,000 people have taken to the streets to protest Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s plan to have talks with secessionists. Conservatives in the country say that the offering of these talks is grounds for treason, while separatists rejected the offer, saying they want a new independence vote. (BBC)

Weekly Report: 8 February, 2019

Venezuelan soldiers erected blockades on the Tienditas Bridge at a border crossing between Colombia and Venezuela. (Edinson Estupinan / AFP/Getty Images)

Cuba

Cuba is now in the middle of the ongoing tensions between Colombia’s ELN rebel group and the Colombian government, as leaders from the rebel group have said that they will not leave Cubawithout confirmation from Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez that he will adhere to conditions agreed to by the previous president of Colombia. The conditions set by Marquez’s predecessor agree to: “guarantee guerrilla commanders safe return to Colombia or Venezuela within 15 days of peace talks, and to bar military offensives for 72 hours”. President Marquez has asked Cuba to extradite those representing the group. Cuba has been the previous site of peace talks between the group and the Colombian government, and have openly stated that while they denounce the car bombings confirmed to be caused by the rebel group, they will still follow the protocol of the conditions as it has been previously established.

Gabon

An anti-government activist has been released after being held 17 months for creating videos deemed hostile to President Ali Bongo. Herve Mombo Kinga was initially charged with spreading propaganda and insulting the president, and faced 8 years in prison. Mombo Kinga was released on Tuesday after the judge threw out the case.

Bolivia

A devastating mudslide in Bolivia has caused significant damage, resulting in at least 14 people killed and around 50 injured. The mudslide comes amidst economic concern, as Brazil and Argentina, Bolivia’s biggest natural gas export customers, have announced that they plan to boost their own economies by becoming their own outputs and work to further access the global market. As the 2019 presidential elections approach, Bolivia remains in a debt thatsteadily increased during Evo Morales’s presidency.

Nicaragua

The wave of oppression launched by Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua continues to restrict freedoms and force the regime’s opponents to flee. The crackdown began soon after a huge number of protests in April calling for Ortega’s resignation. Since the crackdown began, 324 people have been killed and thousands more have either been arrested or forced to flee the country. One of the greatest targets has been the media, with many journalists being arrested, and opposition media sources being shut down. Despite sanctions from the U.S., Ortega says he will not step down. As long as he stays in power, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans will continue to flee to nearby Costa Rica.

North Korea

A confirmed second summit meeting between North Korea and the United States is set to take place February 27th and 28th in Vietnam. President Trump has said that “the meeting is set” and that he sees a “good chance” of reaching a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Last week, Trump even praised North Korea on their “tremendous progress” in denuclearization negotiations.

Despite Trump’s praise and optimism, a report was recently released showing that North Korea is attempting to hide and protect its weapons. The report was submitted to the UN Security Council sanctions committee on Friday, February 1. In this report submitted to the UN Security Council, sanctions monitors stated that, “The North Korean nuclear and missile program remains intact and shows no change in North Korea’s behavior”.

Myanmar

Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry has begun to protest the number of Rakhine Buddhist and tribal groups that are fleeing from the violence in Myanmar. Bangladesh has already taken in over 1,000,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees, and are struggling to keep up with new refugees trying to escape violence between the military and insurgent groups. Bangladesh has reached out to Myanmar’s government, asking them to take “effective and urgent steps” to stop the violence. The protest comes shortly after Angelina Jolie addressed a group of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, calling for improved conditions and a commitment to ending the violence.

United States

President Donald Trump delivered his much-anticipated State of the Union Address on Tuesday, February 5, touching on both his infamous wall and upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February. Trump confirmed that he plans to send another 3,750 troops to the southern border with Mexico, and again mentioned his desire for building a wall by stating: “In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall – but the proper wall never got built. I’ll get it built”. In this State of the Union Address, he confirmed his second meeting with Kim Jong-un, while adding, “If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea”.

Protestors gathered at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Virginia on Monday, February 4th to challenge Governor Ralph Northam’s position of power after racist photos of him were released. The photos date back to his medical school career, showing two people, one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan mask and robe, and another in blackface. Northam announced that he was still going to continue serving the remainder of his term, which would be until 2022. Around 100 protesterswere present in Richmond, carrying signs both calling for Northam’s resignation and advocating for him to step down.

Cambodia

A new report shows that 17 survivors of recent acid attacks in Cambodia did not receive free government treatment – a right they are supposedly entitled to. Legislation introduced in 2012 was meant to stop the crime by holding attackers responsible and providing the necessary recovery aid for free. While the number of attacks has gone down since the legislation was introduced, acid is still readily available for purchase on the streets, and many attacks still go unreported. Additionally, doctors interviewed had no idea that acid attack survivors should be treated free of charge.

Sam Rainsy, an opposition leader and acting president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party currently living in exile, has said that his return to Cambodia this year is “imminent”. He hopes that his return to the country will encourage Cambodians to rise up against the current prime minister, Hun Sen. In response, the General Immigration Department has ordered his immediate arrest, should he return to the country.

Mexico

This week the massive border strikes in Mexican border city Matamoros are potentially coming to a close. The uproar began in mid-January, following President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s announcement of his plans to double the minimum wage in Mexico’s border zones, responding to shockingly low wages as some laborers make less than $1 an hour. The President was supposedly unaware that some union contracts at the plants are indexed to minimum wage increases. At this point in the mass strike, 44 of the 48 factories have compromised with 20%pay increases.

President Donald Trump announced his plan to send 3,750 troops to the southern border with Mexico during his State of the Union Address given on Wednesday, February 5. The soldiers jobs while at the border will be to be help border-patrol agents, install miles of razor wire, and continue surveillance work in the area.

A small Arizona town that borders Mexico has called the recently installed wall of razor wire along the border fence inhuman, fueled further with information that US troops installed more wire this past weekend. The city council is scheduled to vote on a proclamation condemning the wire. Mayor of the small town of Nogales, Arturo Garino said, “That wire is lethal, and I really don’t know what they’re thinking by putting it all the way down to the ground”.

Maldives

Former Maldives president Yameen Abdul Gayoom, and a former Cabinet minister have been charged with money laundering. The case comes from a “shady deal” to develop certain islands for tourism, and a mysterious 1 million dollars in Yameen’s account. The president was elected out of office last year, and the Maldives’ new president has vowed to investigate corruption charges surrounding Yameen’s presidency.

Zimbabwe

This week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe has blamed the violently escalating protests on western countries and “rogue NGOs”. Mnangagwa specifically mentioned the United States, stating: “the west does not care about human rights…I’m (certain that) the US is more worried about their interests in the region than anything else. They would accept a dictator as long as they are pliable and do their bidding”. Violence has continued since mid-January, and at this point in the protests there are at least 12 deaths of citizens and several cases of beatings, torture, and arrests being monitored by the Human Rights Watch.

The Zimbabwe Teachers Union and the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) planned to strike earlier this week, demanding a raise in wages amidst the economic crisis that sparked the previous protests. Despite their anger and desire for immediate change, thereremained a poor turnout as many were fearful of response from security forces; video footage of police response to protestors last month was alarming and clearly deterring to many. Some children were reportedly sent home on Tuesday morning, while others attended school but werenot taught lessons due to the strike.

In the midst of chaos, Mnangagwa invited opposition candidates from the 2018 elections to further discuss the post-election dialogue, perhaps in a final effort to bring some calm and cooperation to Zimbabwe.

Laos

Victims of July’s dam collapse in southern Laos are still suffering from the effects of this disaster. Those who lost their homes were forced to move into temporary housing, and still haven’t been relocated 6 months later. Though better than the tents they initially were sent to, the houses they are in now are overpacked and unsanitary, causing many cases of dengue fever and malnutrition. Compensation for those who lost family members has been disbursed, but thecompensation for those who lost their homes has yet to be approved by the government.

Vietnam

Vietnam is the official host country of the second summit meeting for denuclearization talks between United States President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, set to take place February 27 and February 28. Vietnam is a prime location, clearly well thought out as it offers some advantage to both countries. For Kim Jong-un, Vietnam is relatively close to North Korea, and certainly a shorter travel distance than potential other options for location. For the United States, the choice of Vietnam is symbolic, telling of the history of the previously warring United States and Vietnam that today are able to have positive relations since the end of the war.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Recently elected president Tshisekedi has begun to face some of the first challenges of his presidency, including a number of strikes, as well as calls for “peaceful resistance” coming from his rival candidate Martin Fayulu. The stikes began last week, coming from a variety of sectors, including firefighters, maritime transport workers, and private sector employees. Most of the workers are suffering from many months of back-pay and are taking the opportunity of new leadership to demand changes.

Colombia

Colombia has been opening their borders to millions of people, so many that numbers are beingcompared by the United Nations to the movement of migrants across the Mediterranean in 2015. Colombia has specifically opened its borders to Venezuelan migrants; the UN has estimated that around 5,000 Venezuelans have been leaving their country each day as the economic crisis worsens. Along the border, aid workers and volunteers have noted the sudden and somewhat recent rise of Venezuelan migrants in the area. “I’ve never seen a government trying this hard to register people and leave the borders open”, said deputy director for the International Rescue Committee, Trisha Bury.

The United States is attempting to send aid to Venezuela as the crisis steadily worsens; United States trucks with aid, food, and medicine is headed for Cucuta, a border city between Colombia and Venezuela. US-supported leader Juan Guaido has been attempting to receive humanitarian aid, but opposition leader Nicolas Maduro has been clear about his rejection of any help from the United States.

Venezuela

Tensions continue to rise both within Venezuela and worldwide as more and more countries begin to weigh in and take sides regarding the presidential crisis. As of February 4th, most EU member states, including the U.K., France, Germany, and Spain have joined the United States in backing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president. On February 5th, eleven of the fourteen members of the Lima Group, which includes Canada and Latin American countries, also announced their support for Guaidó. The support for Guaidó coming from outside countries has angered Maduro, who said when asked about the possibility of war that it “depends on the level of madness and aggressiveness of the northern empire and its Western allies”. Many fear that this statement means that Maduro could be warning of a civil war within the country, also stating that President Trump could “repeat a Vietnam in Latin America” by sending military intervention. The EU remains that they will recognize Guaidó as interim president until Maduro calls for a new election.

The people of Venezuela have also become vocal in their calls for a new election, taking to the streets to protest Maduro’s presidency. On February 2nd, tens of thousands of protesters gathered, hoping to give Maduro the final push to step down, though their efforts were unsuccessful. Maduro remains insistent that he will hold his position, and also remains unwilling to accept any foreign aid. Years of food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation have led to the current crisis, forcing thousands of Venezuelans to flee across the Colombian border every day. Many countries, including Canada and Germany, have pledged to send almost 50 million dollars in aid, but most efforts have been blocked by Maduro. On February 8th, two US trucks carrying food and medicine supplies were stopped at the border by a blockade. While Guaidó has called on the country’s armed forces to let the aid in, the military remains loyal to Maduró, who fears that the aid could be a cover for an invasion to oust him.

Malaysia

The recent clearing of Ipoh’s Kledang Hill is causing concern in Malaysia, as the reasons for clearing and stripping of the hill remain completely unknown. There has been a loss of hundreds of trees at this point in the clearing process, despite the hill being a part of Kledang-Saiong Forest Reserve, making it part of a protected and preserved region. Field officer Sahabat Alam Malaysia Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman has stated that the “lack of information about the project invited suspicions that the clearing activity was illegal”.

Philippines

An award-winning journalist, Maria Ressa, has been arrested on tax evasion charges, but now faces libel charges for an allegedly defamatory article published in 2012. The charges carry up to 12 years of jail time. The charges have been criticized by both Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International, who have called them absurd and demanded an end to her harassment.

The Philippines has declared a measles outbreak following 1,813 measles cases and 26 deaths from the disease as of January 26th, which is a 74% increase since 2018. There is now concern for the 2.4 million children who have not been vaccinated. While the country has tried to encourage vaccinations, many parents fear that there may be complications related to a dengue vaccine. As a result, vaccination rates have dropped to 60% in 2017, well below the target goal of 95%.

Thailand

Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya has announced that she will run for Prime Minister with the Thai Raksa Chart Party. The move comes as a surprise to many, as the Thai royal family has not been involved in politics for years, and the era of absolute monarchy ended 86 years ago. If she were to win the position, she and her brother, who is set to be coronated as king in May, would hold two major power positions in the country. Many hope that if the princess is elected as prime minister, she will bring democracy and development back to the country, and force the junta rule to finally end.

Other news:

Sudan – There have been ongoing protests in Sudan, actively threatening the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir, who has previously been accused of war crimes. Protests initially began in December of 2018 when the government tripled the price of bread. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, and pharmacists were all involved in the protests taking place in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. Bashir delivered a speech following the ongoing protests, promising growth and action to be taken within the country, saying, “The youth, for whom we have built universities, have to be ready to continue with the mission of building a new Sudan”. The Human Rights Watch has reported that at least 51 people have been killed in protest-related violence. (Al Jazeera)

Weekly Report: 1 February, 2019

Demonstrators hold banner that reads “Justice” during a rally of the opposition with the self-proclaimed interim president Guaido in Caracas, January 25, 2018. Marco Bello

 

Cuba

As the Cuban government makes the decision to push for legalization of gay marriage, Evangelical churches and their members have made their lack of support clear, causing concern that the reform will be rejected. The legalization of gay marriage will appear sometime this month in a state-proposed constitutional reform in a nationwide referendum. Pastors have been encouraging widespread “no” votes.

This vocal rejection of gay marriage is not new from the Cuban evangelical churches; in December of 2018 as the conversation began in favor of changing the language for the description of marriage to the union of “two people”, protests broke out from members of evangelical churches.

Gabon

Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, returned to the country on January 15th, about one week after a failed coup attempt. The visit was short-lived, as the president returned to Morocco for further treatment just one day after his arrival. Bongo has been president since 2009, but after suffering a stroke in October, doubts of his ability to lead became evident. The coup attempt was executed by a group of soldiers seizing control, but was shut down quickly by those loyal to the president.

Bolivia

Bolivian president, Evo Morales, has secured the position as official candidate of his Movement for Socialism party after winning the primary election this week. This means that Morales will be able to run for a fourth presidential term, a move rejected by 51.3 percent of voters in a referendum in 2016, but approved by the Bolivian Supreme Court in December.

Nicaragua

There has been an ongoing closure of human rights organizations both local and internationally based in Nicaragua, prompting investigations of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government, questioning its oppressive and potentially harsh nature. Alvaro Leiva, secretary of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) has called this a “crisis of repression”,stating that Ortega’s government is repressing fundamental rights.

The staff of the ANPDH previously received a number of threats, forcing the closure of their offices in Central America for safety reasons.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and two members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also been forced out by Ortega, signaling significant and further concern.

This week, the European parliament openly denounced Nicaragua’s tactics, calling the situation a “democratic crisis”.

North Korea

US Intelligence has released a report stating that North Korea is unlikely to give up their nuclear weapons. In June of 2018, President Trump met with Kim Jong-un to agree upon a path todenuclearization, but this report shows that little has been done to actually remove nuclear threats from either country.

Myanmar

Myanmar has experienced a resurgence of violence between security forces and the Arakan Army, resulting in a total of 26 deaths total from both sides. Myanmar officially classified the Arakan Army as a terrorist organization on January 18.

The Rakhine state founded the Arakan Army in 2009 with a primary goal of self-governance. The increasingly tense relations between the Arakan Army and the security forces continues to negatively affect the ongoing goal of achieving peace in the region.

United States

On January 26th, President Trump announced that he would back a deal to temporarily end the 35 day government shutdown, providing funding for federal agencies until February 15th. Despite making a concession on temporarily reopening the government, Mr. Trump still insists that the border wall will still be built.

Cambodia

Cambodia has been under the public eye since the release of the EU threat, warning the country that they would impose significant sanctions and remove trading preferences if the country did not actively address and investigate a number of human rights concerns occurring within the country.

Sam Rainsy, a member of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is involved in similar negative relations with Cambodia, as the country has renewed calls for Rainsy’s arrest under charges of defamation. Rainsy will reportedly return to Cambodia by March of 2019, despite threats of his arrest.

Mexico

A pipeline explosion in central Mexico last week has now killed 114 people, with another 33 people still hospitalized. The explosion was caused by oil thieves illegally tapping into the pipeline, creating a gasoline spill, which quickly caught fire.

Teacher protests in the western state of Michoacan have blocked railways for over two weeks, creating growing fears of a food shortage in the area. Because of the block, trains have not been able to deliver important staples such as corn flour and wheat flour since January 14. As many as 252 trains carrying 2.1 million tons of goods have been unable to operate during this time.

Maldives

There is significant concern over threat to personal freedoms in the Maldives after news of a young woman in Narifuri, an island north of the Maldives, was sentenced to death by stoning on charges of adultery on January 7, 2019. Despite the Maldives Supreme Court overturning the ruling within a day, many continued to take to social media to debate the religious undertone existing behind the ruling. Ibrahim Ismail, a chairman of Mandhu College in the Maldives,challenged posts from Islamic clerics, arguing the young woman’s sentence was defensible. The tense debate over social media eventually escalated to open threats being made towards Ismail from Islamist groups, and signs of an assailant breaking the glass of his office window.

This news is somewhat shocking, as it was reported that there have been notable human rights improvements in the Maldives since the election of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in 2018.

Zimbabwe

Women in Zimbabwe gathered on Wednesday to protest the recent allegations of sexual violence by military forces in the country. Police have claimed that there was only one report of rape, though many women’s rights groups have argued otherwise. These allegations, along with the deaths of at least 12 people and ransacking of people’s homes are all part of the government’s violent response to a 3-day shutdown caused by protests regarding rising fuel prices a few weeks ago.

Over the past few weeks, living costs have more than doubled, and the salaries people are receiving aren’t even enough to afford the transport to and from work. Zimbabweans fear that the government crackdown could lead them back to levels of suppression last seen during the era of President Mugabe, who was ousted in November 2017.

Laos

Shortly after the news of three Thai political activists being reported missing had reached human rights organizations,  two bodies were found along the Mekong River prompting concern in late December. On January 22, 2019, it was reported that the bodies matched the DNA to two of the political activists that had previously been reported missing. The Human Rights Watch has urged the Lao government to further investigate the disappearance of the activists.

Vietnam

Five former top public security officers have been sentenced to jail for “abusing position and power while performing duties”. Three have also been charged with disclosing state secrets, facing a sentence of 11 to 12 years.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is feeling hopeful with the newly elected president, Felix Tshisekedi. In January 2019, Tshisekedi gave a speech stating that the DRC will not be a country of “division, hate, or tribalism”. The nation post-Kabila is one that exists with deep distrust in the government, perhaps one of Tshisekedi’s most difficult jobs to perform relatively quickly in his new leadership position.

Tshisekedi has already inspired monumental change within the country; this week around 50 rebel recruiters from the Kasai region, out of respect and recognition for Tshisekedi as their new president, made the decision to surrender; authorities estimated nearly 1700 militia fighters in the region.

Columbia

Since Maduro’s inauguration in Venezuela, the number of people crossing into Columbia to escape food shortages and hyperinflation has dramatically increased. Human rights groups on the border hope that this influx of migrants will draw enough attention to bring necessary support for aid groups. The IRC showed a 21 percent increase in migration to Columbia between late 2018 and January 2019, with over 1000 people per day crossing the border in January.

Venezuela

Early this week, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela accused Guaido of “violating the constitution and laws”, and alleged that the United States was staging a coup to remove him from a power position. Both actions prompted officials from the UK, Spain, Germany, and France to intervene on Saturday, January 26, threatening Maduro to hold elections within 8 days of their message, or they would be forced to recognize Guaido as the presidential power.

The escalating tensions in Venezuela reached the United Nations, as the UN Human Rights chief, Michelle Bachelet’s office released reports stating that “security forces and pro-government armed groups have shot at least 20 people during protests taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday”.

On Tuesday, January 29, Venezuela’s attorney general announced Guaido was under investigation, and would be both banned from the country and subject to frozen bank accounts. The United States has been active in support for Guaido; John Bolton, the US National Security Advisor, tweeted: “Let me reiterate – there will be serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaido”.  Guaido’s team has made it clear that their future plans are nonviolent; a Guaido-appointed diplomat, Carlos Vecchio, has been meeting with USofficials in the hopes of beginning the process of a legitimate election.

While the United States has been a strong supporter of Guaido, the most notable nations supporting Maduro include Russia, China, Cuba, and Turkey.

Malaysia

Malaysia crowned their 16th king, Sultan Abdullah, on Thursday – about a month after the former king, Sultan Muhammad V suddenly stepped down. Sultan Muhammad V had only held the position for 2 years, and the palace gave no reason for his resignation.

Malaysia has been stripped of hosting the world para swimming championships after their decision to ban Israeli athletes from competing. Malaysia stated that they stand with their decision, on the ‘ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight.”

Philippines

At least 21 people have been killed in a double bombing on a Catholic church on Jolo Island. The attack, executed during Sunday mass, has been claimed by the Islamic State. The attack comes just a week after a successful vote for the majority Muslim region to be ruled autonomously – part of a peace deal between the national government and the rebel group ‘Moro Islamic Liberation Front.’ While overall the vote passed in an overwhelming victory, Jolo Island voted not to pass the deal.

Other news:

Brazil – 65 people are dead and 300 more are missing following the collapse of a dam in southeastern Brazil. The dam burst on January 25th, and residents in the surrounding area had little to no warning. Search and rescue efforts were hampered and 3000 people were forced to evacuate on January 27th when fear of another dam collapsing became evident. On Monday, 2 engineers and 3 employees of the mining company Vale SA were arrested as a result of the disaster.