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: 24 August 2018

Venezuelans walking along the Pan-American Highway in hopes of reaching Peru, fleeing the crisis at home. (Luis Robayo / AFP / Getty) 

Syria

This week, the northwestern region of Syria called Idlib is fearfully awaiting an offensive from Assad’s government. While Assad has won back most of Syria from previous rebel-held areas, the town of Idlib accordingly holds the “last pockets of resistance.” While the region is rebel-held, there are also upwards of 3 million people living there, most of whom reside there after fleeing their hometowns throughout the Syrian civil war. Last Friday night, a small town outside of Idlib was attacked by warplanes, killing forty people under thirty minutes time. The head of the UN task force for Syria is fearful of further attacks from Assad, labeling the future humanitarian crisis a possible “bloodbath.”

This past weekend, the US announced a plan to cut funding worth $230 million, originally intended to support humanitarian aid and reconstruction in Syria. While Washington intends to allocate those resources elsewhere, they are going to continue their fight against ISIS until ISIS is defeated in Syria. While the US is cutting financing, they are still Syria’s largest humanitarian aid supplier.  

This week, the UK decided to stop its funding to the Syrian opposition. The plan to end financial support to the free Syrian police force will take effect this September. The UK government claims that their Access to Justice and Community Service (Ajacs) operation had been too difficult to deliver due to the upcoming and forceful attacks from Bashar Al-Assad. While Britain has backed the Syrian opposition since the start of conflicts in 2012, this step to cut funding suggests that Britain has accepted defeat against the duality of the Assad government and Russian airstrikes. The Ajacs program has come to an end, but Britain still continues to deliver humanitarian support.

Bolivia

On Monday, the residents of Sica Sica and Luribay formed a blockade at the La Paz-Oruro highway. They demanded road construction and asphalting for the Luribay-Salla highway. The community members accused the Department Legislative Assembly because they did not approve an agreement allowing the construction of the highway. During the protest, about 200 police officers were deployed to gas and repress the human blockade. The group dispersed and regrouped later in the afternoon. A protester admitted that they will regroup and block the highway until it has proper construction financing.

This week, President Morales proposed a law against authorities and the media. The proposed law would forbid lying. Independent journalists, the National Association of Journalists of Bolivia and the National Association of the Press all dismiss the measure. They claim that it could be used to limit freedoms of speech and freedoms of the press, given there are already rules and regulations for the work produced by journalists and the press. Further regulations could lead to unnecessary censorships within the media given that regulations of lying is a subjective matter.

Nicaragua

In recent news, Nicaragua’s tourism industry has substantially decreased due to civil unrest and protest against their government. According to The Nicaraguan National Chamber of Tourism (CANATUR), nearly a third of all restaurants have closed down. Tourist operators admit that in order for trust to be regained with visitors and locals, there needs to be more harmony within the city.  

North Korea

On Monday, a select group of families that were separated by the Korean War were able to meet in the DPRK at the Mount Kumgang tourist resort. These families were chosen by a lottery in South Korea; the oldest recipient of this honor is a 101-year-old woman. This is only the latest in a series of familial reunions that have been held over the past couple of decades as tensions between the DPRK and RoK continue to lower.

The United States Department of the Treasury on Tuesday approved sanctions on individuals and entities alike over their violation of previous sanctions placed on the DPRK. These individuals and vessels were accused of violating UN Security Council sanctions on the transfer of refined petroleum products. On Wednesday, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency reported that the DPRK has made no positive steps towards nuclear disarmament, something that IAEA claims is “a cause for grave concern.”

Myanmar

Over the weekend, the United States imposed sanctions on four military and police officers, as well as two army units, for alleged crimes against Rohingya Muslims and widespread human rights violations. These allegations include ethnic cleansing, massacres, sexual assault, and extrajudicial killings, among other things. To date, this is the harshest action that the US has taken against Myanmar authorities; however, it still does not target the top echelons of those responsible, something that has been criticized by many.

On Monday, it was reported that a judge in Myanmar will issue a verdict next week in the case of two Reuters journalists, Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone. The two journalists were accused of breaking the secrecy laws of Myanmar by their role in reporting on the Rohingya crisis, although they claim to have been framed by the police. If they are convicted, they face up to 14 years in prison.

At a speech in Singapore this Wednesday, leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended the actions of her government in the Rakhine state which led to the Rohingya crisis in the first place. Despite the United Nations’ description of the military campaign as “textbook ethnic cleansing,” Aung San Suu Kyi repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the situation and even refuses to refer to the Rohingya by name. She says that there is no timeline for the potential return, instead placing the onus on the government of Bangladesh.

Residents of towns and villages in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, where the majority of the Rohingya crisis has taken place, have stated that they will leave the area if Rohingya refugees are returned to their villages. The two centers created to handle repatriation in the northern Rakhine state have not handled and repatriations from Bangladesh, as claimed, but have been processing Rohingya who have not yet left the area but have been arrested on accusations of being “illegal” immigrants.

USA

This past Tuesday, Trump’s previous campaign chief, Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud, and the failure to reveal foreign bank accounts. During the trial, Manafort’s previous colleague, Rick Gates testified against him. Gates claimed that he helped Manafort file false tax returns and report overseas earnings as loans. While Manafort is guilty of multiple charges, none of the charges involve the alleged Russian interference on Trump’s campaign in 2016.

On Tuesday, President Trump’s ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on eight counts of federal crime. he admitted to both tax and bank fraud, along with the $130,000 pay-off of Trump’s former mistress. In court, Cohen admitted that he had been told by a “candidate for federal office” to break the laws of the federal election. Cohen now holds up to 65 years in prison, although he agreed to a compromise of only three to five years total.

This week, Microsoft admitted to finding an online hacking group who are associated with the Russian government. The group is called APT28, and according to Microsoft, they created six counterfeit websites which resembled five politically affiliated sites and one non-politically affiliated site. It is believed that APT28 was using a “spear-phishing” email tactic which does not directly attack a computer but can carry malware which automatically downloads onto users computers unexpectedly. The malware can then eventually hack onto and gain control of a computer and steal: documents, emails, and contact lists. A court order last week gave Microsoft permission to close down the sites. Microsoft did not directly blame Russian intelligence, but they explicitly named their affiliated group, APT28 in an interview.

Since Thursday, the US-China trade war continues as the US tariffs $16 billion worth on Chinese imports. China reciprocated with their own tariffs on American imports, worth the same amount. The main products that will be hit include chemicals, semiconductors, plastics, motorbikes and electric scooters. The levies that China imposed will affect fuel, steel products, medical equipment and autos. If trade wars advance further, many prices on products will increase.

Cambodia

On Monday, character witnesses presented personal stories in favor of an Australian documentarian who is accused of spying for a foreign government during his time in Cambodia from 1995 to 2017. There is no way of knowing how long the trial will last; James Ricketson, the alleged spy, has been behind bars in Cambodia for just over a year. The trial is set to continue on Thursday and Friday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

This week, prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny was pardoned and two journalists previously in the employ of US-backed publication Radio Free Asia were released on bail ten months after they were detained on espionage charges. Additionally, three activists who were already on bail have been pardoned by the government. Though this appears to be a reversal from the crackdown on activists and state-unaffiliated news in Cambodia of the past year, it is uncertain whether the Cambodian People’s Party will continue along this trend – or is simply trying to help its reputation internationally since its devolution into a one-party state last month.

This Wednesday, the Cambodian Supreme Court denied bail to former opposition leader Kem Sokha, who has been held in solitary confinement without trial for nearly a year. This decision came despite appeals from both Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Journalists were barred from attending the hearing. Kem Sokha’s family is concerned, particularly as he is being held with no care for his health problems, including diabetes and high blood pressure. His daughter said on Tuesday that his health has been deteriorating.

Mexico

This week, the U.S and Mexico hope to come to a final resolution about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The disputes come from President Trump’s ongoing criticism of NAFTA’s allowance to hollow out U.S manufacturing, benefiting Mexico. Trump’s main goal is to gain back jobs in the automotive industry and reduce the U.S trade deficit. Meanwhile, both Mexico and Canada are hesitant towards Trump’s proposed “sunset” clause which could hurt their long-term investments. Canada continues to wait for Mexico and the U.S to come to a conclusion before rejoining negotiations.

The Maldives

This past weekend, the election body of the Maldives denied allegations of voter registration fraud after citizens who did not apply for registration found themselves registered in places as far away as the United Kingdom. The organization Transparency Maldives believes that the widespread complaints of voters’ expired identification cards being renewed without the knowledge of the people owning the cards can lead to widespread disenfranchisement in the Maldives.  

European lawmakers, including the Members of European Parliament, threatened on Wednesday to impose economic and various other sanctions if the upcoming elections on September 23rd do not prove to be free and fair. After a visit from several representatives of European Parliament with the opposition government, the officials expressed the concern that they had discovered both attacks on democratic principles and evidence of close ties to Islamist groups.

Zimbabwe

War veterans in Zimbabwe have resolved to march on Harare’s international airport, named after former leader Robert Mugabe, who was forced out of office last November after a nearly forty years long reign. These veterans claim that Mugabe has joined the list of traitors of Zimbabwean ideals and development, and represent a group of veterans supporting recently-elected president Emmerson Mnangagwa of the former president’s Zanu-PF party.

The opposition MDC party’s allegations of tampering have come to Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court with the goal of determining whether there has been any tampering with the outcome of last month’s elections. However, one of the major questions among observers is whether the court would be able to rule against the government, should the evidence point in the direction of fraud.

Laos

After last month’s dam collapse in southeastern Laos, 6,000 people are still relying on relief supplies according to the New Zealand Red Cross, one of the only outside organizations that has been allowed inside by the secretive Lao government. These people, living in temporary evacuation camps, in many cases have no idea as to whether their homes are still standing or alive.

The Lao government has proceeded to give the equivalent of $200 USD to the families of individuals who died in last month’s flooding. According to an anonymous retired government official (who refused to be named for fear of retribution), this funding is nowhere near enough to ameliorate the situations for the families that have lost loved ones. They further stated that they believe that companies involved in the construction of the dam should be held accountable, in addition to the government. However, the companies have yet to offer any kind of aid.

Vietnam

Vietnam is making an effort to get a handle on inflation that runs a risk of impacting its relatively high economic growth. The price of important commodities, such as crude oil, is contributing highly to inflation. Additionally, foreign direct investment has fallen, something that is potentially dangerous for one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia.

Vietnam began a trial of 12 people on Tuesday, including two American citizens, on charges of subversion and attempting to overthrow the government by recruiting for a US-based exile group called the Provisional Central Government of Vietnam. According to the Vietnamese government, this group is a terrorist organization. Among the alleged activities of the group is the distribution of anti-state leaflets, the planned takeover of state radio stations, and participation in anti-government protests. The Vietnamese government has previously convicted members of this group of a failed airport bombing in January.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

The most recent death toll caused by the Ebola outbreak is estimated at 59 people. while the death toll continues to rise weekly, the Congo has approved four more experimental Ebola treatments in an effort to contain the virus. The four drugs include Remdesivir, ZMapp, Favipiravir and Regn3450-3471-3479. Remdesivir was given out on Tuesday to one patient, who is accordingly doing well.

Colombia

Due to the large influx of Venezuelan migrants entering Colombia’s borders (nearly 5 thousand per day),  US Defense Secretary James Mattis has decided to send over a US Navy hospital ship to Colombia. Colombia’s President Duque asked the US for medical aid in order to alleviate the significant stress put on Colombia’s healthcare system.

Further, at the beginning of next week, officials from Colombia will host a meeting with Ecuador and Peru to discuss next steps concerning Venezuela’s migrant crisis.

On Monday, President Duque made the call to begin using drones in order to eliminate cocaine crops. The drones will be used to pinpoint coca plants from a birds-eye view and deploy plant-killing chemicals. Duques intent is to abolish Coca plants and better enforce the laws against Cocaine in Colombia.

Venezuela

On Monday, President Maduro created a bank holiday to introduce the new currency. The sovereign bolivar was introduced to the public on Tuesday, but many people were restricted to 10 sovereign bolivar via cash machines in the capital. Out of opposition, Anti-Maduro groups held a strike. This included 60 percent of private sector people. Reportedly, this was only the beginning of a series of general strikes against the new currency. Maduro plans to add other measures in his best effort to avoid a complete economic collapse. Starting Sep. 1st, the minimum wage will be increased by 34 times and even further, the new Bolivar will be associated with new cryptocurrency. The “petro” is supposedly linked the country’s oil reserves.

Due to the economic collapse and the introduction to the sovereign bolivar, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing the country. People are crossing the borders by foot into neighboring countries including Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. Although, they are quickly tightening restrictions, only allowing Venezuelans with proper passports and documentation to cross.

On Tuesday, Venezuela’s northeast coast was struck by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake. This has been the largest earthquake to strike the region since 1900, and thus forced residents to evacuate their homes. It also interrupted a pro-government rally that was in support of the economic reforms. There are no reports of fatalities or extreme destruction.

Malaysia

Human Rights Watch condemned Malaysian authorities for convicting two-women of same-sex relations, which in Malaysia is a crime punishable by a fine of approximately $800 USD and a public caning. The two women have been sentenced to six strokes of a cane each on August 28th, something that HRW has appealed to the government in hopes of stopping. HRW’s committee on LGBT+ people, as well as the United Nations Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, have condemned these actions and appealed to Malaysia to reconsider these discriminatory laws.

Malaysian authorities are searching for radioactive device that went missing earlier this month. The device was being carried on the back of a truck to Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, and went missing somewhere between the outskirts of the city and the intended location. However, Deputy Home Minister Azis Jamman insists that “everything is under control.”

Following through on promises to reevaluate several Chinese-backed infrastructure projects, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad confirmed the cancellation of two major infrastructure projects. Mohamad has claimed that continuing with these cancellations has been a purely financial decision, and that it will not impact the two countries – as he reiterated that Malaysia will be unable to pay back the loans required to complete the projects.

Cuba

In an effort to change Cuba’s constitution from a once Soviet-style economy, the government has voted in favor of privatized land. Before the constitution change, the government-owned 80 percent of farmland and leased it to farmers. While the change would allow citizens to own their own farm and grow their own crops, some locals are fearful that those rights alone will not be enough to produce an agriculture boost. Given, reform does not provide the necessary fuel or soil needed to cultivate land. The end goal of the reform is to both cut dependency on foreign food imports, and to create growth.

 

 

Poland

This week, Ukrainian human rights activist Lyudmyla Kozlovska was banned from all 26 countries in Europe’s Schengen area. The Polish government used its power through the EU to ban her, claiming that she is a threat and that she is secretly working for the Russian interests. Kozlovska denies these allegations, stating that she believes the Polish government is punishing her for being openly opposed to Poland’s conservative and nationalist government which came into power from the 2015 election. Kozlovska and her Polish husband Bartosz Kramek must either live separately or be forced to live outside of the Schengen area. This act on Poland’s behalf raises ethical questions from other governments, given the misuse of their system.

 

Other News:

The Philippines — After a tropical storm hit the northernmost islands of the country, more than 50,000 people have been forced from their homes. (Al Jazeera)

 

Thailand — After more than four years of military rule, Thailand may have a general election on February 24th, according to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha. (Bloomberg)

 

Pakistan After a phone call between new Prime Minister Imran Khan and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the American State Department claimed that Pompeo discussed the eradication of terrorism within Pakistan; something that the Pakistani government has denied. (Channel News Asia)

 

Bangladesh – Due to an increase in media focus on Bangladesh since the start of the Rohingya crisis and protests against corruption in traffic regulations, organizations such as Human Rights Watch have called attention to the recent restrictions on journalists. (Al Jazeera)

 

Weekly Report: 17 August 2018

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

Syria

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

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

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

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

Bolivia

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

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

Nicaragua

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

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

North Korea

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

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

Myanmar

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

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

USA

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

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

Cambodia

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

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

Mexico

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

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

The Maldives

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

Zimbabwe

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

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

Laos

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

Vietnam

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

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

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

 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

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

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

Colombia

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

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

Venezuela

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

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

 

Malaysia

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

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

Cuba

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

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

Other News:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Weekly Report: 3 August 2018

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

Syria

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

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

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

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

Bolivia

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

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

Nicaragua

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

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

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

North Korea

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

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

 

Myanmar

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

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

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

 

USA

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

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

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

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

Cambodia

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

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

 

Mexico

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

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

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

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

 

The Maldives

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

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

 

Zimbabwe

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

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

Laos

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

 

Vietnam

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

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

 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

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

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

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

 

Colombia

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

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

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

 

Venezuela

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

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

Malaysia

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

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

 

Cuba

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

Other News:

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

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

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

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