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: A Nicaraguan demonstrator stands next to graffiti reading “Ortega Out”. Reuters.
The Malaysian government seeks to receive reparations from companies like Goldman Sachs that contributed to the IMDB scandal resulting in enormous debt. Financial minister Lim Guan Eng stated that he intends to “seek some claims” from Goldman Sachs and eventually have the money returned.
In other news, Malaysia’s top two judges, Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal President Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin have resigned and will officially step down on July 31. Their resignations occurred amidst Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s ongoing removal of senior government officials with close ties to the previous administration. Muhammad bin Ibrahim, the Central Bank Governor, also resigned in June, having only completed two years of his five-year term.
After months of medicine shortages in the country, polio appears to have made a disturbing comeback in Venezuela nearly three decades after its eradication. A case was reported in a child from the state of Delta Amacuro: health care officials and the WHO are awaiting final confirmation from lab results. The case was allegedly reported over a month later than international health regulations require. The lack of basic vaccinations in the country has also sparked an increase in other formerly eradicated diseases such as diphtheria, tuberculosis, measles, and malaria: malnutrition from food shortages has only served to compound Venezuelans’ vulnerability to these diseases.
Annual inflation has reached 24550%, and Venezuelans are unable to buy a meal with one day’s salary. The country’s economic collapse continues to deepen as oil production deflates and Venezuela is unable to meet its contractual exports of crude oil. As output falls, the government of a country with the largest known crude reserves is now considering importing fuel. Workers at the state-run oil company PDVSA are abandoning their once-enviable positions as inflation renders their salaries nearly worthless, some taking equipment with them. The loss of both equipment and workers will likely stunt the industry’s already-dubious recovery.
The Supreme Court has rejected Henri Falcon’s case to challenge the May 20 election, citing a lack of evidence indicating electoral fraud.
As part of Maduro’s promised post-election national dialogue, another 43 prisoners are to be released, bringing the number to higher than 120. Many of those released are considered by civil rights groups to be illegally arrested political activists. The releases are conditional — the prisoners must agree not to speak to the press or travel internationally.
Maduro is replacing his vice president with a longtime loyalist, Delcy Rodriguez. Before her appointment, Rodriguez was at the head of the powerful National Constituent Assembly, which will convene to find her replacement, and gained her new position through years of loyalty to Maduro.
The US has frozen 800 million USD in assets allegedly belonging to Venezuelan official Diosdado Cabello — an amount that could cover two months of the country’s debt payments.
A draft law on new economic zones has sparked fears among Vietnamese citizens who claim their economic stature may be threatened by the encroachment of Chinese investors. As a result, nationwide protests erupted on Sunday, leading to multiple arrests. The government has stated that the “bill is designed to give a strong boost” to their economy, but because of the protests, the vote on the law has been delayed for further research.
Over a hundred protesters were taken into custody, including an American citizen named Will Nguyen, whom the United States is attempting to get released. Nguyen participated in a peaceful demonstration in Ho Chi Minh city. Police dragged Nguyen through the streets after accusing him of “disturbing the peace”. Nguyen has been detained but has not yet been charged.
Some protesters were subjected to police brutality, being dragged and beaten on the streets. Many took to social media to publicize the run-ins with the police. According to the Human Rights Watch, “A protester in Ho Chi Minh City told Radio Free Asia: ‘We were protesting peacefully and didn’t incite anyone. But they grabbed me and pushed me onto a bus on Le Duan Street, with five or six policemen beating me the whole time.’”
This protest is considered illegal under Vietnam’s restrictions on anti-government demonstrations and freedom of assembly.
Parents of disabled children occupied the Polish parliament to seek greater federal support. According to the protest spokesperson, Iwona Hartwich, an exact same protest happened outside the lower chamber of parliament four years ago but their demands have not been realized.
Former Polish President Lech Walesa—one of the key leaders in the Solidarity anti-communist movement—has come out fighting against the present judicial reform. He has asked the European Court of Justice to “investigate the dramatic changes in the judiciary” that have undermined the separation of powers and politicized the judiciary.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has formulated plans to address Poland’s relationship with the EU in a constitutional referendum for the first time since Poland joined the bloc. The list of questions is set to be finalized next Tuesday and among others, will question the primacy of the Polish Constitution over International and European Law.
Meanwhile, Poland’s Supreme Court has ruled against a print shop employee who refused to print banners for an LGBT business group. This “liberal” ruling comes amidst the list of accusations aimed at the Polish judiciary.
A recent government study estimates that approximately 1 million people have immigrated to Colombia from Venezuela in the last two years. The surge in immigrants comes amidst deteriorating economic conditions in the neighboring country. The Colombian government has announced that it is preparing measures to provide the migrants who participated in the census with temporary permits to stay, in effect giving them access to legal work, education and medical services.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that Colombia must investigate the 1998 death of journalist Nelson Carvajal Carvajal. The Court also condemned the Colombian government’s inaction, which marked the first time it ruled on a case regarding the murder of a journalist.
International groups, including a group of ASEAN MPs, continue to criticize Cambodia’s upcoming round of elections due to limitations on opposition participation. Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken several controversial steps to secure a victory including continuing his crackdown on possible sources of dissent including a major newspaper, arresting major opposition figures, and promising cash rewards at rallies.
The United States has enacted sanctions on the head of Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit in response to a 2015 attack on opposition politicians. The sanctions come as relations with western countries continue to fray, given that an Australian filmmaker is set to go on trial for espionage charges.
This Thursday, streets across the country emptied as the opposition called for a 24-hour national strike in rejection of President Ortega’s rule. With public transit shut down and banks and bakeries shuttered for the day, the country was in a state of economic standstill. Violent clashes continued despite the strike in several areas and at least 6 people were killed when pro-government forces continued to challenge activists’ blockades. These barricades were constructed on over two-thirds of the country’s roads in an effort by anti-government groups to halt government forces.
Amid reports of riot police and paramilitary forces firing indiscriminately at groups, the NGO Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights has raised the death toll for the past two months to 162, many of whom were students, although the government reports a lower number. Students have led the cause since its inception in April, protesting the proposed cuts to social programs. Several universities have been converted into makeshift camps for anti-government students looking to tackle Ortega.
Nicaraguan Bishops, who have been at the forefront of negotiations between the two sides for the past two months, are to meet at 10 am to announce both their mediation offer from last week and Ortega’s response, an update the country has been anticipating for a week. Activists have been pushing to bring forward the next presidential election, currently scheduled for 2021, and reform electoral rules. However, the government has described their demand as on par with a coup and has shown no indication of acquiescence.
The government sent a report on Tuesday to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in which it accused opposition groups of violence resulting in the killing of two important Sandinista figures. The report also recounted incidents of roaming groups armed with firearms, mortar shells, and Molotov cocktails, committing “acts of terrorism” against Nicaraguans. The IACHR on Wednesday released a preliminary investigation report in which it condemned the use of force by the state and “grave human rights violations” during the government crackdown. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the report as “biased” and maintained its stance that the opposition is trying to undermine democracy.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila will not seek a third term in the upcoming December elections after promising to abide by constitutional term limits. Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala will attend the African leaders’ meeting next week in Luana to convey this message.
The International Criminal Court has directed the “interim release” of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a warlord and former Vice President of the DRC. Amnesty International has formally decried this acquittal and has called the ICC’s ruling a “huge blow to the many victims” who suffered during the wars waged in the Central African country.
After a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and Christine Schraner Burgener, visiting Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General, Myanmar agreed to cooperate with the UN to address the Rohingya crisis. However, the contents of the signed Memorandum of Understanding have not been publicly released. Additionally, there has been contention regarding whether the investigating commission should consist entirely of Myanmarese people or include international actors. Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen isolates three reasons international intervention is necessary. First, the issue has received international attention and grapples with ethnic identity and citizenship. Secondly, Myanmar’s own initiatives in the past have been extremely ineffective in bringing about significant progress and it is doubtful whether those commissions serve the best interests of the Rohingya people. Thirdly, past actions prove that international pressure is necessary to expedite the repatriation of refugees and make investigations more transparent.
Following a decrease in European tourists after press coverage of the Rohingya crisis, Myanmar is easing restrictions for travelers from Japan, South Korea, and China to strengthen its tourism industry. Also, there have been increased efforts to strengthen bilateral trade and investment between Myanmar and Thailand. Myanmar Insight 2018 is an event planned for July 20th in Bangkok to provide a platform for Myanmar’s policy makers to inform Thai business people about Myanmar’s economic policies, laws, and regulations. China continues to strengthen its regional powers through infrastructure investments in the China-Myanmar economic corridor. Additionally, Toyo Ink Group, a Japanese chemical maker, is investing in a $6.5 million facility in the Yangon Region to expand its productions into Myanmar.
The Singapore Summit resulted in North Korea’s promise of disarmament in exchange for the United States’ halting joint military exercises with South Korea and the lifting of sanctions. Although President Trump framed the meeting as a success, many remain skeptical, especially given the lack of details. The final document signed by Chairman Kim and Trump had no mention of a means for verification or the irreversibility of disarmament. It also does not stipulate a timetable for the objectives.
Trump’s post-summit claim that North Korea is “no longer a Nuclear Threat” is inconsistent with the history of North Korean policies and strategies. Furthermore, the scattered network of hundreds of hidden facilities will make inspection and verification extremely difficult—studies predict the process of disarmament could take anywhere between two and fifteen years. However, it is also possible that Kim regards the lifting of sanctions and rising quality of life within North Korea as a stronger safeguard for his power than military protection against the US, South Korea, and Japan.
On the other side, the United States offered security guarantees and the lifting of sanctions upon denuclearization–although there have been suggestions that sanctions may be lifted earlier. However, the agreement to end joint military drills with South Korea was met with concern from neighboring countries. For example, a text message from South Korea’s Ministry of Defense and a statement from the U.S. military command in South Korea suggested that they were not aware of Trump’s intentions to end the training exercises. Furthermore, a South Korean senior official pointed out that this matter concerns the U.S.-South Korean alliance and therefore cannot be negotiated between the US and North Korea. Taro Kono, Japanese Foreign Minister, sought to clarify whether the halting of US military drills in South Korea was “contingent on North Korean denuclearization.”
Overall, the situation requires more careful observations before conclusions are drawn as to whether the summit was indeed a “success.”
On June 14th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to justify Israel’s numerous attacks on Iran-backed Shi’ite militias in Syria. His speech at the International Homeland Security Forum conference capitalized on the growing concerns about the millions of displaced Syrians and religious tensions between the Sunni Syrian majority and Assad’s Shi’ite government. Netanyahu accused Iran for bringing Shi’ite fighters into Syria and causing the exodus of Syrian Sunni refugees into Europe. He claimed that this conflict will serve as the foundations of “a religious war . . . that would cause endless upheaval and terrorism” and “millions more that go into Europe.” He subsequently framed Israel’s bombing the militias in Syria as an action that ensured “the security of the world.”
In response to Bashar al-Assad’s brutal efforts to take back “every inch” of Syrian territory, the United States State Department released a statement noting that it “will take firm and appropriate measures” against the Syrian government’s military actions. It also stated that Russia is responsible for leveraging its influence to “cease further military offensives.” Furthermore, in the next few weeks, senior officials from the US, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and others will meet to discuss Syrian political reform, rewriting the constitution, and holding elections. These meetings will be facilitated by Staffan de Mistura, UN envoy to Syria.
There continue to be concerns among rights groups, refugees and international actors over Law 10, which gives the government the authority to seize and develop properties that belong to displaced Syrians. The government has claimed that Law 10 is necessary to rebuild areas that have been destroyed during the war and to regulate illegal settlements. However, countries like Turkey and Lebanon have argued that this will keep Syrian refugees from returning. Additionally, Russia and Germany’s concerns have placed this issue on the United Nations Security Council’s agenda.
The much-awaited Kim-Trump summit took place in Sentosa, Singapore this week. Both the leaders agreed to a “freeze-for-freeze” policy wherein the US would stop its war games- joint military exercises with South Korea- on the peninsula while Kim promised to stop his ICBM and nuclear tests.
The G-7 meeting in Canada only increased discord between the United States and its allies. The EU has already retaliated with tariffs, which will be implemented either in late June or early July. Import duties will be $3.3bn worth of US products. Trump is also ready to stage another trade war with $50 billion in tariffs against Chinese goods, which aligns with his campaign promises. It remains to be seen how this will impact the US economy.
Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has raised the interest rate to two percent. The last time the federal rate exceeded two percent was in the late summer of 2008, just before the financial crisis. However, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, is increasingly confident and optimistic about the economy’s ability to sustain growth.
American diplomats in Harare condemned the death of a two year old as a “senseless and horrific act,” warning of repercussions if the death is found to be politically motivated or related to the upcoming elections. Tensions are high in the country before the first elections held without President Robert Mugabe. However, the general election environment has been lauded as more peaceful and open than ever before.
On Wednesday, the Maldivian Supreme Court sentenced former President Abdul Gayoom, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, and Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed to 19 months in prison without a fair trial. The three men, charged with obstruction of justice, allegedly refused to provide their cellphones for a police investigation; however, they have denied these accusations.
This is not the first time Maldivian authorities have detained Gayoom, Saeed, and Hameed. In February, the men were arrested on charges of plotting a coup after current President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency. These charges have yet to be tried in court.
The international community has widely condemned the trial. On Thursday, US State Department official Heather Nauert stated that the United States was “deeply dismayed” by the court’s lack of fair process and that the sentencing “casts serious doubt on the commitment of the Government of the Maldives to the rule of law.” Furthermore, this court decision has called the Maldives’ “willingness to permit a free and fair presidential election” into question.
Argentina – After 22 hours of debate, the Argentine Chamber of Deputies has passed a groundbreaking bill allowing abortions before 14 weeks of pregnancy. Protests in favor of the bill rocked Buenos Aires this week. – National Public Radio
Laos – Over 19,000 teachers are needed across the country, according to a survey of 12,744 schools, but only 1,850 teachers will be enlisted for public schools for the next twelve months. – Lao News Agency
Mexico – Since the start of the election season in September, 113 politicians have been killed in Mexico. The number continues to rise as the July 1st election date approaches, with two more deaths reported on Thursday. – Vox | Reuters
Bolivia –Bolivian president Evo Morales has set out on an international tour this week seeking out investors who may make financial ventures in Bolivia. On Wednesday Morales met with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss economic and political issues.” Morales hopes to secure over 1 billion dollars in investments; he will also make stops in Holland and China. – TeleSur
Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned on Wednesday following several weeks of popular protest and political disagreements with Georgia’s ruling party. Kvirikashvili’s resignation accompanies several other step-downs by major government officials following popular outcry and protests against corruption.
Photo: Protesters outside the prime minister’s office in Amman, Jordan. Raad Adayleh, Associated Press
Malaysian Central Bank Governor Muhammad Ibrahim officially resigned from his position this week after speculations of a multi-million dollar scandal. The scandal involves the 1MDB, a strategic development company, that has been under investigation since 2015. Ibrahim’s resignation was announced by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on June 6. Ibrahim denies any relation to the scandal, however, claiming “…Bank Negara Malaysia will never be party to any such activities that would betray the public trust in us”. The new administration’s Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng, has suggested that a land sale made by the recent Prime Minister Najib Razak to the Negara Bank is being used to pay off debts to 1MDB. Bank Negara states that the transaction made with Najib Razak was “fair” and in alignment with “relevant laws.”
Attorney General Tommy Thomas highlighted the importance of the case, stating his number one priority is to “nab the culprits responsible for the 1MDB scandal.” Thomas has announced that his department is requesting help from United States, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Singapore to ensure that the money involved in the scandal is rightfully returned to Malaysia.
Cambodia’s ruling party announced official plans to monitor and control online content intended to “cause instability” leading up to the July election. Cambodia’s Ministries of Information, Interior, and Posts and Telecommunications will work jointly on “controlling all dissemination of information.” Following a recommendation from the National Electoral Council, the regulation also bans journalists from including personal opinion or bias in their reporting. Violations will be punishable with fines of 5 million to 30 million riels ($1,225 to $7,355 USD). Moreover, the articles written in the notice were “loosely termed,” according to a political analyst in Cambodia, and could be interpreted by the government and courts in such a way as to unjustly charge the authors of content that “leads to the destruction of national defense, security and relationships with other countries, public order, discrimination and culture, and national tradition.” Rights and advocacy groups have decried this notice as a violation of freedom of expression. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, called the notice “a core part of the pre-election censorship,” and said the new measures were sure to result in the arrest and prosecution of opposition activists and NGO campaigners who “still dare to speak truth to the CPP’s power.”
Opposition leader Kem Sokha was denied bail again in an appeals court as he faces trial for charges of treason, which many view as simply a pretense under the recent crackdown on dissent and government opponents to remove him from politics. This is the fourth time he has been denied bail since his arrest in September 2017.
200 Cambodians in the US, supporting dissolved opposition party CNRP, held a protest over the weekend in front of the Japanese consulate in New York City to demand that Tokyo withdraw aid from the upcoming elections until Prime Minister Hun Sen “reinstates democracy” and allows the CNRP to participate in the election. “Without the CNRP, the election will be a joke,” said Meas Chea, a CNRP activist from Philadelphia.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for the Organization of American States to suspend Venezuela for causing a humanitarian crisis and for Maduro’s “dismantling of democracy.” The US has already announced that it will not recognize the results of the May 20 elections. Venezuela had announced plans last year to leave the OAS, claiming that the group infringed on its sovereignty. Following Pompeo’s call, Maduro appeared on Venezuelan TV to denounce the OAS and reiterate that the country is leaving it. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza vowed not to submit to the international pressure, saying “no imperialist will intervene in our country and hinder our people from voting for their own authorities and having their own democracy.”
Venezuela freed 40 political prisoners and opponents of Maduro on Saturday, bringing the number of those released to 79. The prisoners were each admonished for their alleged violent crimes against the government and then released in a gesture of goodwill. They were barred from speaking to press or on social media, and from travelling abroad. Politicians Wilmer Azuaje and Gilber Caro, plus Raul Baduel, the son of a dissident former general, were among the prisoners released this weekend. Opposition sources say that around 300 activists remain in jail on charges designed to suppress dissent.
Joshua Holt, the US citizen who was held in Venezuelan prison for nearly two years, met with President Trump and described the deplorable conditions in which he and his wife were held.
Both of the main presidential candidates, conservative Ivan Duque and leftist Gustavo Petro, have asked the Prosecutor General to show evidence supporting his claims of widespread electoral fraud in March’s legislative elections. Their responses come after Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez stated that he knew of election irregularities but would not release evidence until after the presidential elections are held. Electoral observers have claimed that almost 3% of first-round ballots have been altered.
A recent wave of killings targeting demobilized FARC rebels is threatening the peace process. Former FARC commander Juan Vicente Carvajal was killed near his home in May, as killings of former militants have increased. Their deaths have incited fear and a distrust of the security forces that have been deployed to ensure their protection as part of the peace treaty.
The latest round of peace talks with another guerilla group, the ELN, has been further complicated by insecurity about the implementation of the FARC agreement. Members of the ELN have emphasized that they will only agree to disarmament if their security can be guaranteed and their vision for a fairer society is implemented.
Three community leaders were killed on Saturday as violence against activists continues. The recent uptick in violence comes as the country prepares for contentious presidential elections, with more than 200 activists killed since January 2017, according to the government.
According to the first poll after the first round of the presidential elections, Duque is ahead by 20 points. The second round will occur in two weeks, when Duque faces Petro for the presidency. Both presidential candidates have chosen women as their vice presidential candidates. Marta Lucia Ramirez, the former Minister of Defense and Foreign Trade, is frontrunner Duque’s running mate. She faces Petro’s candidate Angela Maria Robledo, the Director of the Department of Social Welfare in Bogota.
President Santos has finalized the process to become as a “global partner” of NATO, allowing Colombia to take advantage of NATO resources and protocols. It’s status as a partner would not require engagement in NATO’s military operations.
Mexico is responding to the latest round of tariffs from the United States. Their retaliatory tariffs mainly focus on American agricultural products like apples, whiskey, potatoes, and pork. Mexico’s exports to the United States account for more than 80% of total exports, limiting Mexico’s ability to win an all-out trade war. These retaliatory tariffs are mainly targeted to key sectors of President Trump’s support base.
Four years after 43 students went missing in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, a federal court has ruled that a special investigation commission must be created for the case. International organizations and local activists are lauding the move as a step forward in an investigation that has been blocked by the Attorney General’s office.
On Saturday, three female candidates for office were killed across Mexico. Several others including a photographer, a body guard, and a city councilor were found dead along with the candidates. Mexico has seen a surge of political killings, especially of women, as elections on July 1st near.
Mexican businessmen met with presidential frontrunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to discuss development and NAFTA. They agreed to work together to ensure an investment-friendly climate for Mexico after concerns about the left-wing candidate.
On Monday, a peaceful protest in the state of Jalisco turned violent when a group of protestors attacked Navy officers that were surrounding the protest. The violence notably came after recent scrutiny of Mexico’s use of military forces in internal conflicts as a national police force.
The unrest in Nicaragua, initially triggered by cuts to social funding but now in opposition of President Ortega, has resulted in at least 110 killed and many more wounded as demonstrators are met with police repression. Incidents of snipers in the streets were reported and citizens have been warned not to leave their homes. Between Sunday night and Monday morning, another five were added to the death toll. A preliminary investigation by The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized the protests “by the excessive use of force by the security forces of the State and armed third persons.” Some of these third persons are civilian pro-government forces who opened fire last week on a peaceful march to commemorate the lives lost in this conflict. Amnesty International released a statement calling on the Organization of American States to not abandon the Nicaraguan people as they face harsh repression. As protesters erect makeshift medical clinics to treat victims, civilian government supporters have been “taking potshots” at the clinics and attempting to “create panic,” according to one of the protest organizers.
Pope Francis called for end to the violence in an address to thousands at St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. He said the Church is always a proponent of dialogue and that this situation “requires an active commitment to respect freedom and above all life.” In fact, the Nicaraguan Catholic Church had been facilitating peace talks before last week’s violence resulted in serious setbacks, calling the violence “organized and systematic aggression.”
Business leaders in the country are threatening to withhold taxes from the government until it puts an end to the bloodshed in the country.
Bolivian President Evo Morales denounced alleged coup attempts in Venezuela, citing that they violated “principles of sovereignty and non-interference.” Furthermore, Morales framed the Democratic Charter of the OAS as a means for the United States to garner regional support for its interventions. This comes after American Vice President Mike Pence’s request for the OAS to act against Venezuela.
The Bolivian government announced that it would hold talks with the Public University of El Alto (UPEA) to discuss budgetary demands, which sparked protests that escalated in the death of student Jonathan Quispe. Bolivian Presidency Minister Alfredo Rada denounced the protests as “blocking and obstructing … the city of El Alto” and remarked that the demanded resignation of government authorities is inconsistent with the broader requests of the UPEA. Rada also stated that an investigation into Quipse’s death is being conducted.
Last week, the UNHCR and UNDP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Myanmar government to initiate the process for ensuring safe and voluntary repatriation of the some 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The agreement represents a drastic shift from 6 months ago, when the Myanmar government refused to permit the United Nations to assess human rights violations in Rakhine State. Although this represents an “important and necessary” step towards further cooperation between Myanmar and the UN, many remain pessimistic about the creation of favorable conditions for the return of the Rohingya people. The agreement has not been publicly released, and a statement released on Wednesday had no mention of “Rohingya” or a path to citizenship for them. Kyaw Win, the executive director of Burma Human Rights Network, remarked, “It is very politically convenient for the Burmese government to sign this agreement, and also never commit.”
Refugees and activists also continue to express concerns. They believe the 11 settlements designated for the Rohingya people in Myanmar will become “open air prisons.” Rohingya political activist Ko Ko Linn emphasizes that Myanmar’s dedication to repatriation cannot be genuine when Rohingya people in Myanmar continue to face violent and discriminatory acts. Additionally, the Myanmar government still does not consider the Rohingya people to be citizens. Official documents refer to them rather as “Bengalis,” portraying them as illegal immigrants without acknowledging their generational roots in Myanmar. The National Verification Cards, continuously referred to by the government as proof of active repatriation efforts, only register the Rohingya people, without offering citizenship.
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh continue to face the imminent threat of the upcoming monsoon season, which would devastate makeshift homes and cause widespread mudslides. Bangladesh is ill-equipped to help the refugees prepare for the monsoons. The International Rescue Committee has been trying to set up healthcare units and distribe “tie-down kits” to stabilize makeshift homes. IRC President David Miliband expressed his frustrations with politics: “humanitarian aid can staunch the dying but it takes politics to stop the killing.”
Chinese conglomerate Citic Group has been leading the construction of a deep water port in Rakhine State. This port is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative that would give China direct access to the Indian Ocean without having to go through the Malacca Straits. However, the enormous cost of this project at $9 Billion has pressured Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to reevaluate. If the financial costs of this project proves too burdensome and Myanmar defaults on its debt, the port will come under Beijing’s control and threaten Myanmar’s economic sovereignty. Therefore, officials are trying to negotiate the costs down. This situation is uncannily similar to Sri Lanka’s in December of last year. The government was unable to pay its debts to state-backed Chinese firms and formally handing over the port of Hambantota to China. Chinese investments in Malaysia have also induced concerns about the economic power balances in Southeast Asia among Malaysian politicians.
On June 1st, President Trump hosted North Korean General Kim Yong Chol at the White House. After a 90-minute meeting, it was announced that the June 12th summit in Singapore is reinstated. The meeting, however, did not include US National Security Adviser John Bolton, who had mentioned on a televised interview that the Trump Administration would take a Libya-style approach to North Korean denuclearization. The Libya model refers to the 2003 deal with Muammar Gaddafi to exchange Libya’s weapons of mass destruction for the easing of sanctions. He was eventually killed by US-backed Libyan rebels. Therefore, this reference understandably threatened the June 12 summit. Kim Jong Un’s approach to the Singapore summit represents a notable shift away from the political priorities of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, who emphasized nuclear development.
Despite the reinstatement of the summit, there remain significant differences between North Korea and the United States’ approach to the possible denuclearization deal. The United States is calling for a “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the peninsula, which may entail prohibiting missile and nuclear testing, limiting North Korea’s supply of fissile material, and closing the Yongbyon nuclear plant.
North Korea’s three neighboring countries have notably high stakes in the Singapore summit. Shinzo Abe of Japan is prioritizing the destruction of long and short-range missiles and reckoning over Japanese abductees. On the other hand, Xi Jinping of China has been supportive of the direct talks between the United States and North Korea, but there is an implicit anxiety that it would negatively affect the diplomatic leverage that China has over North Korea. Furthermore, Xi is interested in managing, as opposed to eliminating, North Korea’s nuclear program. In sharp contrast, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in is the most avid champion of the upcoming talks, since his long-held personal and political priority has been to end the Korean War and ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha reaffirmed his commitment to enforce his political activities ban, which strictly limits the ability of opposition parties to campaign and recruit candidates. This move effectively ensures that upcoming elections, tentatively scheduled for February, will not be free and fair, since opposition parties will not be able to organize under the same mechanisms as the ruling party. The National Council for Peace and Order has shown a weak commitment to fully repealing the rule, despite statements requesting negotiations over rule modifications before the elections.
A controversial thirty billion baht satellite program is up in the air after Prime Minister Chan-o-cha described it as a work in progress. The program drew outrage this week due to its costs. A Defense Ministry source later described the program as an early-stage proposal that requires multinational support and debate within the cabinet.
The United Nations report on the criticism of Polish judiciary has been called a “cynical political game” by Deputy Minister of Justice Marcin Warchol. He called the report a “mockery of human rights” as he advocated that the law in Poland ensures a democratically-elected parliament, and that greater parliamentary control of the judiciary makes for a more democratic and accountable system.
There are continued protests by students and employees of the University of Warsaw against Act 2.0 -being deliberated by parliament- calling for more democratic universities. The organizers of the protests have a set of 11 demands regarding university reform.
The motion to censure against Deputy Prime Minister Beata Syzdlo, the minister who instituted judiciary reform and is under scrutiny for her social welfare schemes, has been rejected and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieki has strongly come out in her support.
On June 3rd, an Iranian senior military official stated that Iran would not remove its military advisers from Syria. Iran’s presence- unlike that of other military forces, was requested by Damascus. General Massoud Jazayeri, spokesman of the Iranian Armed Forces, stated “Iran and Syria enjoy deep relations that would not be influenced by the propaganda of anyone.” Nevertheless, due to tensions between Israel and Iran, the US and Israel are pursuing efforts to push Iranian forces out of Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu- threatened to conduct- military strikes on Syria, targeting the posts of Iranian militias and Hezbollah, if Iran does not remove its forces from Syria.
Furthermore, Russia has made an agreement with Israel regarding Iran’s military presence in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced “all the forces that are not Syrian should withdraw, and there must be a situation in which only the forces of the Syrian army will be stationed on the Syrian side of the border with Israel.” As Syria’s biggest ally, Russia is eager to use its influence to ensure the stability of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The Trump administration has delivered a blow to its closest allies-the EU, Canada, and Mexico– by introducing tariffs on metals, citing national security concerns, and leading to immediate vows of retaliation. With Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s failure of a “Maple syrup strategy”, even the closest and the most conciliatory of Trump allies, including French President Macron, are moving further from Trump. Correspondingly, Wall Street has slumped as the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down more than 250 points on the 31st of May, as investors sold off shares in manufactures and corporations affected by the tariffs. The 44th G7 meeting is underway in Quebec, Canada, and as a consequent of these recent decisions,, Trump is likely to face a chilly response.
In defiance of the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, the European Union is seeking to shield EU companies doing business with Iran and recover damages caused due by US sanctions. Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a last-ditch effort to negotiate, requesting not to punish EU companies in Iran.
Opposition supporters marched through Harare on Tuesday to call for a free and fair presidential election on June 30th. President Mnangagwa, appointed after the removal of Robert Mugabe, has invited international observers for the upcoming elections. Opposition peaceful protests also included delivering petitions to the presidential office and the electoral commission. Protesters were energized by opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa, the head of the MDC-T party.
The following day, a small group of supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party marched in Harare in response. Both protests were observed by police without interference.
Chamisa promised on Friday to generate a $100 billion economy within a decade, as part of his new election manifesto. He also affirmed his commitment to re-establish ties with Israel, despite a strong existing relationship with Palestine.
Maldives – After police interference in the MDP opposition primary that chose Nasheed as its presidential candidate, a group of western nations, including the European Union, have urged the country to hold a “credible, transparent presidential poll.” – Reuters
Armenia – Newly appointed Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Armenia should hold elections within a year. – Reuters
Jordan – Jordan’s Prime Minister resigned on Tuesday after mounting peaceful protests over a bill that would increase taxes on the working and middle classes. His replacement, Omar Razzaz, has said he will reverse action on the bill after the formation of a government. – Washington Post
Democratic Republic of Congo: Experimental Ebola treatments have been approved by the DRC amidst the growing number of people affected by the Ebola virus in the country. These treatments could bring a major change in the world’s response to Ebola, and responses to this outbreak could help lead a treatment for future generations-Wall Street Journal
The death of a medic in Gaza has prompted outcry and an investigation by Israeli officials. She was shot by Israeli Security forces as she approached the Gaza border fence. Her death comes as hundreds of Palestinian protesters have been killed by the Israeli military near the border in a recent protests.
In a primary election labeled illegal by the ruling government, members of the country’s largest opposition, the Main Democratic Party (MDP), voted resoundingly in favor of Mohamed Nasheed as their candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. Police attempted to halt all “illegal” voting this week, seizing many of the party’s ballot boxes, but their attempts were largely unsuccessful. Creative MDP supporters used an assortment of bins, plastic containers, and cement mixing tubs to make sure people were able to vote. Thanks to these efforts, reports show that Nasheed was able to secure approximately 44,000 votes, or about 85% of the MDP’s support (99.8% among those who voted). Nevertheless, there remain immense obstacles to his candidacy.
The Maldivian government has not only condemned this election as illegal, but has pointed out that Nasheed is an invalid candidate for the presidency. After he was ousted from leadership in 2012, the implemented government followed up his case with a politically-motivated terrorism charge. Nasheed is currently still serving the resulting 13-year sentence, and as a convicted criminal, he is ineligible to be president as per the Maldivian Constitution. The MDP has vowed to fight for the reversal or otherwise elimination of this obstacle, but the future of the election remains to be seen.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken up the garment workers’ ongoing dispute with their employer over severance wages and back pay. He has agreed to have the government pay the workers and encouraged the Labour Ministry to amend legislation to ensure that workers are protected from similar situations in the future.
The National Election Committee has randomly assigned numbers for the 20 political parties registered to appear on the ballot. The ruling party, the Cambodian People’s Party, was given number 20 and will appear last. In past elections, the parties have used their number and location while campaigning to help voters recognize them. Hun Sen said on his Facebook page that the CPP’s number 20, at the very bottom of the ballot, would be easy to identify. The election will take place on July 29, 2018, following a three-week campaign period that begins on July 7.
Henri Falcon, who ran against Maduro in the presidential race, is calling for a new election. His entire bid for the presidency went against the main opposition, who thought that his participation would only create a pretense of legitimacy for Maduro’s bid for power. Falcon and his supporters are taking the case to the country’s Supreme Court of Justice, claiming that the electoral process was invalid and that the result must be declared “null and void.” His calls draw attention to the support Maduro’s campaign had received from state media and the alleged bribery that took place when the ruling party set up stands near polling stations to give “bonuses” to poor residents. The Supreme Court is not considered independent, and it is unlikely it will rule in Falcon’s favor.
The EU is preparing sanctions, and has also called for a new election. The bloc clarified that its sanctions will be both targeted and reversible, to limit the impact on the general Venezuelan public, and are expected to be formally adopted at a June 25 meeting in Luxembourg.
The Organization of American States hired a panel of experts to investigate Venezuela’s situation: the group accused the state of crimes against humanity and opened the possibility of a referral to the International Criminal Court. In their report, the panel described a “massive assault on the rule of law” in the country, accompanied by attacks on the judiciary that have resulted in a complete inability of the state to investigate its own crimes. The report outlined many of the crimes allegedly committed by the regime, including multiple murders, at least 12,000 cases of imprisonment and arbitrary detention, torture, rape, political persecution, and enforced disappearances. Following the report, which will be sent to the ICC for follow-up, the OAS secretary-general says he expects tougher sanctions on the country.
On Wednesday May 30, Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel flew into Caracas for the first time since becoming president in April, to discuss how to strengthen relations. He congratulated Maduro on his re-election and admonished the international community for not supporting the results of the election. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also congratulated Maduro on his win and Venezuela on its “successful, peaceful and sound” elections.
Joshua Holt, the American who was imprisoned in Venezuela for nearly two years, has returned to the US.
On May 30th, a top-secret meeting was held between a top aide to Kim Jong Un and a top US official in Singapore. This meeting is one of three between North Korea and the United States to reinstate the summit between Kim and Trump, which was called off last week. Despite the lack of information available to reporters, this meeting is deemed to have been about the logistics for the June 12th summit.
Cho Myoung-gyon, the South Korean Unification Minister, recognizes that there are still significant differences between Pyongyang and Washington but remains hopeful. This comes amidst continued South Korean efforts to reconcile the tension between Pyongyang and Washington while navigating between peace and political alliance. For example, North and South Korea agreed to establish a joint liaison office in Kaesong, North Korea as soon as possible and to hold a meeting later this month to discuss the reunion of separated families. Despite the United States and China’s continued involvement on the issue concerning North and South Korea, the progress made so far is a testament to the divided peninsula’s potential for self-determination and leadership in ensuring global peace.
On May 27, Colombia held its first presidential election since the landmark peace deal with FARC that ended a 50-year-long guerilla war. Right-wing candidate Ivan Duque earned 39% of the vote, while leftist, former guerilla Gustavo Petro won 25% and Sergio Fajardo won 24% — none gained the 50% majority needed to win in just one round. Consequently, the country is moving into runoff elections that will pit Duque and Petro against each other. Fajardo supporters will likely be the decisive bloc in this next vote. Fajardo himself has not yet declared which candidate he supports, although his supports seem to be leaning toward Petro. Both Petro and Duque are courting Fajardo, along with the country’s major parties and coalitions.
The Sunday elections had one of the highest turnouts in the country’s recent history, at 53.37 percent, although marred by irregularities. Petro himself decried the pre-marked ballots filled out by his opposition in the political elite. More than 1,239 complaints over electoral offences were registered during the voting day, and all must be addressed by the June 17 runoff election.
On Wednesday, prosecutors submitted a request for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to intervene in the deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. The document was signed by 400 Rohingya women and girls’ fingerprints. Since Myanmar is not a signatory of the Court, prosecutors are considering using Bangladesh, which is a member of the ICC and a country that has been receiving a huge influx of Rohingya refugees, as the actor through which this request will come to fruition. This has two implications: first, it casts the ICC as one of the few means to hold Myanmar accountable for the atrocities committed; second, this ruling could set the precedent for the Court’s extending its jurisdiction over Syria (which is a not a member ICC) through Jordan.
The United Nations expects 25,000 babies to be born in May and June in Bangladeshi refugee camps housing Rohingya refugees, which is a testament to the large-scale rape and sexual abuse committed against Rohingya women last year in the Rakhine State. Currently, the camps lack the healthcare infrastructure and funding necessary to ensure adequate and sanitary conditions for the refugees and their newborn babies.
The conditions at Bangladeshi refugee camps continue to be threatened by the coming monsoon season. Myanmar’s government claims that it is ready for the refugees to return, but three factors indicate that their return may not be “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable.” Firstly, the Rohingya people that remain in Myanmar continue to be internally-displaced in internment camps. Secondly, military acquisition of Rohingya land and property may make the return to original homes impossible. Thirdly, many Rohingya people argue that the National Verification Cards frame them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which relegates them to second-class citizenship and does not recognize their family histories in Myanmar.
Hearings on the charges against Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo continue. A defense lawyer claims that evidence collected from the two reporters’ mobile phones raises suspicions because some messages were sent from unverifiable sources or were sent after the phones were confiscated. This comes after defense lawyers’ arguing that the documents obtained from their phones were collected without a warrant. Overall, this raises questions regarding the possible involvement of the Myanmar Police in the charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
Border control has had a prominent presence in US headlines this week. This was sparked by a push from President Donald Trump to change existing immigration laws. He wants to make it easier for border control agents to jail and quickly deport children crossing the border, and to toughen the process to pursue asylum. The fact that these aspects of immigration are not already in accordance with the president’s wishes is due to what he calls “loopholes” left in the legislation by Congress. “These are not loopholes,” retorted democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “They are laws that Congress passed to address the documented injustices facing children in our immigration system.”
In other dangerous developments inspired by the president’s “America First” policy, Trump announced this week that he would be imposing new tariffs on metal imported from the EU, Canada, and Mexico – three among the US’s closest allies. All diplomatic partners have condemned the action and announced retaliatory measures that are targeted to most strongly affect Trump’s bases of support.
Financial irresponsibility did not stop in the international realm this week. The US also announced a softening of the Volcker Rule, which in 2010 had been implemented to prevent another major financial crisis by reining in risky or dangerous trading. Although these reforms are intended to streamline, rather than undermine the legislation, concerns are rampant that this process will not be carried out in the best interests of the general population, but rather in those of the banking elites. “What is critical is that simplification not undermine the core principle at stake — that taxpayer-supported banking groups, of any size, not participate in proprietary trading at odds with the basic public and customers’ interests,” read Paul Volcker himself, the former Fed chairman behind the original legislation.
After much anticipation, the date of the Zimbabwean election has been announced for July 30. “I am delighted to proclaim July 30 as the date for the 2018 harmonised elections. These elections will be free, fair and transparent, and the voice of the people will be heard,” read the announcement from President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa, who took over leadership of the country after the ousting of Robert Mugabe six months ago, has thereby finally delivered on his promise that new elections would be held sometime this year. Mugabe meanwhile finds himself absent from the ballot for the first time since the commencement of his 37-year autocratic rule.
In other news concerning the former leader, he failed for the second time this week to show up to a parliamentary hearing concerning the country’s alleged $15 loss in diamond revenue. Mugabe had initially presented this problem in 2016, blaming corruption and foreign involvement for the nation’s losses. Consequently, this parliamentary hearing had been called for lawmakers to hear Mugabe’s evidence. The assembly this week had been organized after Mugabe was absent from first meeting, on May 23. After this second refusal to attend, he has raised a huge red flag about the nature of the scandal. Mugabe is being given one more chance to attend a hearing, now scheduled for June 11, or else he will be charged with contempt and possibly face jail time.
A US judge has absolved the former Bolivian president and his defense minister of any responsibility in the 2003 massacre, in which the military was used on protesters, overturning a previous verdict by a jury in 2017. 67 were killed and at least 400 injured when soldiers fired live rounds into the crowd. Thomas Becker, the U.S. lawyer that filed the lawsuit, said he plans to appeal to the decision.
Last week, a student was killed during a demonstration that called for increased funding for the public university El Alto. The government claims that the death was caused by another demonstrator, but the university denies this and blames the police. Following the death, thousands took to the streets in protest on May 28, where some clashed with police. Economy Minister Mario Guillen has called for talks with the administrations of Bolivia’s 15 public universities, where an estimated 440,000 students study, to resolve the funding issue.
In an interview with Russia Today, President Bashar al-Assad called on the United States to withdraw from the region given its support of the Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria. He reinforced his demand with the threat of using military force if the United States does not withdraw soon. Kino Gabriel, an SDF spokesperson, cautioned Assad when he claimed that Syria’s militaristic response to US intervention would “lead to more losses and destruction and difficulties for the Syrian people.” Furthermore, the US Department of State responded by stating that its intentions are to defend the US and its partners against ISIS and that it does not plan on using force against Syria or Iran. These statements come after inconsistent signals from Washington regarding the US’s plans in Syria.
Commenting on Trump’s calling him an “animal” in April, Assad stated, “what you say is what you are” and declined to offer a nickname for Trump in response. In the same interview, Assad commended Russia’s leadership in its intervention over the proxy battles between Israel and Iran. Moreover, he stated that in response to Israeli air strikes, Syria has been working on strengthening its air defenses with help from Russia.
Russia, on the other hand, has been striking a delicate diplomatic balance between relations with Israel, communication with the United States, and partnership with Iran in supporting the Assad regime. It is not surprising, then, that Israel has been working on developing good relations with Russia in hopes that interest convergence will convince Russia to help Israel contain Iran’s expanding military presence in Syria.
The new Law No. 10 has been established in Syria. Although this law would purportedly allow the government to seize all unclaimed properties and develop them, it functionally prevents those who oppose the regime from regaining their property that was lost during the Civil War and leaves Syrian refugees permanently displaced from their homes. It is also seen as a means of ethnic cleansing, since the regime will dispossess Sunni Muslim opponents while allowing Shia Muslim supporters to live in the newly developed areas.
A Mother’s Day protest against Ortega and his government took place this Wednesday, led by the mothers of 83 victims killed in previous protests. It had been planned as a peaceful demonstration, but devolved into violence when pro-government forces opened fire. Eleven were killed and 79 wounded. Senior members of Nicaragua’s Catholic church had begun mediating peace talks between Ortega and the student-led opposition in mid-May, but called off negotiations after this latest deadly protest. Calls for Ortega’s resignation continue.
On May 23rd, the Constitutional Court declared that the controversial organic bill was constitutional. Following this verdict, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Kreangam, has announced that the next election will happen 11 months from now, perhaps even earlier.
Thailand will be the first country in which China and Japan implement their economic platform to develop the regional economy. Thailand expects this foreign investment to generate $43 billion USD by 2023. China seeks to use Thailand to further its aims under the One Belt One Road Initiative while Japan plans to invest in the ten targeted industries and Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) infrastructure projects. Thailand’s EEC initiative aims to attract high-technology investment and shift Thailand away from a labor-intensive economy.
After China’s banning imports of electronic waste due to the chronic health problems in the recycling industry, Thailand has faced a huge influx of global e-waste. It is suspected that this waste has been illegally imported by companies. In response to concerns that this could harm the environment and people’s health, the Department of Industrial Works is considering banning certain types of e-waste and strengthening its enforcement of existing laws.
Cuba – Parliamentarian Mariela Castro, daughter of former president Raul, has announced the government’s plan to legalize gay marriage in the country by eliminating a stipulation in the constitution that specifies marriage as between a man and a woman. – ABC News
Spain – Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been forced out of office by a parliamentary no-confidence vote. He will be replaced by socialist leader Pedro Sánchez. – BBC
Hungary – In the latest of the government’s series of “Stop Soros” bills, Orbán has decided to target those who distribute food, informational leaflets, or legal advice to asylum-seekers. Offenders could face prison sentences and heavy fines. – Al Jazeera
Ukraine – Dissident Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who was believed to have been assassinated earlier this week, revealed that his staged killing was actually part of an elaborate operation by the Ukrainian secret services. The hoax concerns many international observers, however, who worry now that future Russian killings may be dismissed as illegitimate as well. – NYTimes
Ireland – The nation has voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing abortion. 66% of voters chose ‘yes’ to repealing the constitutional amendment that banned abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances. – The Guardian
Laos – Laos and China have reinforced their partnership in a range of issues, including traffic infrastructure, agriculture, and tourism. Furthermore, Chinese President Xi Jinping cited the importance of the China-Laos partnership in furthering the Belt and Road Initiative, environmental protection, and cooperation in international affairs. – XinhuaNet
On Wednesday, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that the country is to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on July 30th. In less than two months, Zimbabwean citizens will have the opportunity to vote, in the first elections since the ousting of Robert Mugabe in November last year. What do you need to know about the upcoming elections?