Weekly report: July 28th, 2017

Police block the road leading to the Parliament building in Male, Maldives, Monday, July 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Ahmed Shurau).

Cambodia launched a free mobile application with the comprehensive history of the Khmer Rouge. Since seventy percent of Cambodia’s population is under thirty, developers felt it was imperative to educate the younger generations about the development of the Pol Pot-led regime, which started as a guerilla group in the 1950s. Thanks to funding by the EU and the Rei Foundation, the app will be introduced in 80 schools and 20 universities in October.

These efforts coincide with the trials of the last two surviving top leaders of the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodia Tribunal. One is the second-in-command and chief ideologist of the regime, Nuon Chea, and the other is its former head of State, Khieu Samphan — both were sentenced to life imprisonment during the first part of the trial in 2014


ISIS is losing more and more territory in Syria. The Islamic State is struggling to mount an effective defense of the city of Raqqa, its headquarters, as local forces make rapid headway in ousting the militants, the U.S. military said. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they have captured 40% of the city since June 6, when a ground assault began.

Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri held a joint press conference on Tuesday. Trump mentioned that the US will support “the humanitarian needs of displaced Syrian citizens as close to their home country as possible”, thus allocating new funding to Lebanon, in support of Syrian refugees there.


The Maldives:
In the Maldives, an ongoing political crisis is unfolding after President Abdulla Yameen ordered troops to barricade Parliament on July 24. Opposition lawmakers have been physically barred from entering and assaulted with pepper spray. This comes after the unified opposition declared a no-confidence vote for July 24 against the Speaker Abdulla Maseeh; the Opposition claims it has support from 45 out of 85 MPs.  The situation escalated after last week, when Yameen arrested and jailed the son of Abdul Maumoon Gayoom. Gayoom is the former authoritarian leader who has now joined the opposition against Yameen.


Democratic Republic of the Congo 
This week, the UN issued two declarations related to the DRC. The first focused on the mass graves found in the insurrection-ravaged Kasai region: for the first time, the UN has directly suggested that government forces dug most of these graves. Congo’s authorities, however, have repeatedly denied this accusation. The second declaration urged Congo’s government to hold presidential elections by the end of the year. Current president Kabila has been trying to postpone these elections, blaming the lack of funds and voter registration.

Meanwhile, as the conflict in Congo continues, the Congo Central Bank predicted a steep rise in 2017 inflation, from a previous forecast of 33.12% to 44%. Moreover, Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka, the founder and leader of a Congo rebel group who is wanted for crimes against humanity surrendered Wednesday in the country’s North Kivu province, the United Nations mission in Congo said.


The United States of America
As republicans failed to once again pass a successful health care reform bill, President Trump shifted tactics and has now set his sights on repealing Obamacare. The so-called “skinny repeal” that republicans attempted to pass would have stripped 16 million people of healthcare insurance by 2026 and eliminated the mandate requiring all Americans to have health care coverage. Although Trump secured a victory Monday after John McCain flew in to cast a yes vote, allowing for debate to begin health care legislation reform, republicans were dealt a major blow after the skinny repeal failed to pass in a 49-51 vote. As a result, all three Obamacare repeal bills have now failed to pass.

Meanwhile, President Trump also announced Wednesday that Transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the military, citing costs of gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy. Soon after, hundreds of protestors took to the streets of New York, D.C. and San Francisco to speak out. Protestors held signs saying such things as “Resist” and “Trans is not a burden.” Although the military has yet to act upon Trump’s announcement, many currently out service men and women fear for their future in the military. Trump’s announcement is seen as a significant reversal in White Policy, after previous President Barack Obama had earlier declared that Transgender people would be allowed to freely serve in the military.


On Thursday, the Venezuelan government banned protests and said violators would be punished with 5-10 years in prison. This came on the second day of a 48-hour national strike, organized by the opposition, in an attempt to thwart the upcoming vote on Sunday that would give President Maduro’s government power to rewrite the constitution. Thousands are fleeing the country leading up to the vote, and the protest ban demonstrates an escalation of repression by the Maduro government.


This week, it is reported that Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe, has urged her husband, President Robert Mugabe, to appoint an heir. Over the past year, President Mugabe has flown to Singapore at least three times in order to receive medical treatment. Although the government has attempted to downplay the severity of Mugabe’s health problems, many are starting to think that Mugabe may not survive until even the next president presidential election.

In other news, almost 100 Zimbabwean civil rights groups are protesting a recent ruling that would alter Zimbabwe’s current constitution. The previous constitution had been amended twenty times, and people fear that Zimbabwe’s current constitution might go the same way. This has only cemented fears that the government has no intention to undergo reform.


Weekly Report: July 21st, 2017

Photo: Protests in Poland/ CNN.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

This Thursday, a research group at New York University published a new report, which revealed a vast network of businesses owned by President Joseph Kabila and his family which pervades virtually all sectors of the economy. While the Congolese constitution does not bar government officials from owning private enterprises, it remains far from clear how the family amassed its wealth – apart from lucrative state contracts, disproportionately awarded to firms owned and operated by the President’s close relatives.

Observers note that further enrichment is a powerful incentives for Kabila, who has  been receiving approval ratings in the single digits and recently declined the public’s appeals to hold elections on the grounds that DRC could not afford them, to cling to power. The President and his family continue to invest large sums in real estate around the country and assets which are not easy to liquidate – a further troubling sign that they do not intend to relinquish the presidency.



The Mexican government has routinely undermined a national anti-corruption system put in place by President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose approval ratings have dwindled to the teens after he was caught in a conflict of interest scandal last year. The mechanism has not had the promised effect of tackling corruption, which still costs Mexico between 2%-10% of GDP annually, but rather given the appearance of reform while harassment and suppression of anti-graft activists continues.



Tens of thousands of Poles demonstrated in from of the Warsaw palace on Thursday, after the lower house of Parliament passed a bill which would gravely curtail the freedom of the judiciary. If approved by the government- controlled upper house, the new bill would allow the president to dismiss all current Supreme Court Justices and hand-pick replacements. Since coming the power, the PiS, which sponsored the new legislation, has eroded other liberties as well: freedom of expression, through new media laws, and freedom of assembly.

In response to the vote in the lower house, a top EU official threatened the use, for the very first time in EU history, of Article Seven –which would even provide for sanctions or a suspension of Poland´s voting rights if the political onslaught on the judiciary persists. European Parliament president Donald Tusk has taken a more conciliatory stance and requested a meeting with President Duda to seek ways out of a situation which, the former stated, goes against Eropean values and tarnishes Poland’s international image.



President Trump has decided to end the CIA’a covert program to train moderate rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad. The program was a central measure undertaken by the Obama Administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad. US’s involvement in Syria now consists of air strikes on Isil and the Pentagon-run train-and-equip program supporting Kurdish forces currently battling to capture Isil strongholds in Raqqa.

Many observers worry that the discontinuation of the program will not only disparage and undermine moderate opponents of the regime, but advantage radical rebel groups, since the USA will have even less opportunity to control the flow of sophisticated weapons from Turkey and Persian Gulf allies.



Millions of people are taking part in a general strike called by the opposition in an effort to pressure President Maduro to cancel the July 30 vote for a new constituent assembly. Protesters barricaded roads in the capital and other cities across the country during the country-wide strike. Hundreds have been arrested and at least three killed.

This comes after a referendum on Sunday in which nearly 7.2 million Venezuelans rejected the upcoming vote, which could lead to a rewriting of the country’s constitution and a further consolidation of Maduro’s power. The referendum was non-binding and organized by the country’s main opposition parties; it has been condemned as illegal by the Maduro regime.

A Venezuelan diplomat at the UN broke with the government on Thursday and is calling for Maduro’s resignation. Several influential countries have called for Maduro to cancel the vote, including the US, France, Spain, Colombia, and EU leaders.



Human Rights Watch has recently reported that as political violence is on the rise in the face of the 2018 elections, police are failing to investigate reports or attacks. Recent examples of violence include the destruction of house of an MDC-T (Zimbabwe’s main opposition party) local councilor as well as reports of unidentified men burning down a bar in Harare owned by Elias Mudzuri, the deputy president of the MDC-T. Although activists have accused ZANU-PF of orchestrating these attacks, ZANU-PF has struck back by stating that these were merely inside-jobs conducted by the MDC-T itself. Regardless though, no arrests have taken place in response to the events, and it is feared that such on-going examples of impunity will only further fuel fire in Zimbabwe.


United States of America

On Sunday July 19th protestors gathered at the U.S. Women’s Open bath the Trump National Golf Club to protest against Donald Trump. Activists held pink umbrellas and spelt out messages on their white tee-shirts as they stood in front of the Trump National clubhouse. Other protestors wore shirts encouraging the US Golfing Association to “Dump Sexist Trump.”

Later, on Wednesday, police arrested 155 demonstrators holding a sit-in inside three senate office buildings. Earlier on Monday, the US Republican party, having yet again failed to pass a healthcare replacement bill, began to push for the repeal of the American Care Act. Republican efforts have not been aided by the fact that two additional Republican senators also early voiced their opposition to the proposed bill.

More recently, activists across the states have just commenced a week of protests, recalling the 230 protestors that were arrested 6 months ago for rallying against President Trump’s administration on January 20th. The “Week of Solidarity” is set to take place in Washington D.C. as well as several other cities such as Pittsburgh and New York City. Protestors anticipate to rally around a DC court at the end of the week on July 27th as a hearing is held over dismissing felony chargers against the January arrestees.

With regards to the March 6th Travel Ban, the Supreme Court also recently ruled that anyone with a “bona fide relationship” to a US person would not be barred entry, therefore allowing for family members such as grandparents to visit from the six countries mentioned in the ban.


Weekly Report: July 14th, 2017

Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters


July 12th, marked the one year anniversary of the murder of leading political activist and government critic Kem Ley. Colleagues and friends Cambodians held memorial services in Phnom Penh and elsewhere to pay tribute to his courageous investigative journalism and service to truth. Other observers reiterated their concerns about the inadequacy of the criminal investigation and the suspect claims of Oeuth Ang, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murderer, that he acted alone. Phil Robertson, the head of Human Rights Watch- Asia, reports that at least 160 NGO’s from around the globe continue to demand that Cambodia establish an independent and impartial commission of inquiry, in line with the UN Principles of Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.

In a darkly ironic twist, on the very same date, the Cambodia government issued a new bill which prohibits political parties from being affiliated with convicted criminals, a move many observers have described as another covert attempt to stifle political opposition. Considering that many opposition members and outspoken critics of the government have already been convicted for breaking some of Cambodia´s more recent laws which curtail freedom of expression, the bill will surely impact the leadership of the opposition and its efficacy in the 2018 general election campaign.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

The DRC’s president, Joseph Kabila, might once be trying to prolong his mandate. Although elections were initially announced in December, his electoral commission now mentions that holding the elections in 2017 might “not be possible” due to voter registration, and that voting might be postponed for next year.  Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi responded that, with this declaration, Kabila “had declared war on the Congolese people”. The current president has been accused of violating the DRC’s constitution by being in power for more than two terms.

As the violent conflict within the country continues, the U.N. identified 38 more mass graves in Congo’s Kasai region, bringing the total to at least 80 such graves since the outbreak of the insurrection last August. The Congolese government blamed the Kamuina Nsapu militia for the graves, yet witnesses claim they saw army trucks dumping bodies in these graves. In an effort to help the people of Congo, the EU and Canada have  recently announced that they will send more humanitarian aid to the region.



US and Russia have reached agreement on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, after a meeting between Trump and Putin in Hamburg. The agreement is open-ended, with no set end date. US officials have described it is as being part of a broader US effort to lower violence in Syria. After the cease-fire agreement started, U.N. officials have confirmed that the deal was “generally holding”.

The potential defeat of ISIS sparks more and more discussions about Syria’s political future. Last week, US-backed forces advanced significantly in Raqqa, ISIS self-proclaimed capital. Moreover, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights recently claimed that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed.

Meanwhile, Syria’s Central Bank announced the introduction of a new banknote- a 2000-pound bill (worth around $4), featuring the portrait of President Bashar al-Assad on it. The note is the highest denomination yet for the Syrian pound, as the value of the currency has dropped significantly during the war. Some have called putting al-Assad’s portrait on the bill a way of reasserting his power and the authority of the state.



Looking forward to the Presidential election in 2018, Mexico’s largest political party  may consider supporting a candidate from outside its own ranks, according to the party’s President Enrique Ochoa. The Institutional Revolutionary Part or PRI will decide in August whether to use non-PRI candidates for the July 2018 election, a decision that will be taken in the national assembly. The move would seek to distance PRI from a number of governors and former governors who have been caught up in corruption allegations during the Presidency of Enrique Pena Nieto. The candidate they put forward will compete against the leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.



Tuesday July 11th saw Maldives President Abdulla Yameen lose his majority in parliament after 10 lawmakers from his own party defected to the opposition, before presenting an impeachment motion against Yameen’s aly, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed. The opposition coalition now holds 45 seats in the 85-seat parliament. Many, including exiled former leader Mohamed Nasheed, are encouraging the President, who is hoping to campaign for a second five-year term in 2018, to resign.



Robert Mugabe’s health continues to decline, having made his third visit to Singapore this year on July 7th. Many are beginning to claim that Mugabe is “running the show from his hospital bed.” His wife, Grace Mugabe, has remarked that were he to die before the next election, she would have him run as a corpse. No doubt, this presents Zimbabwe’s political future as increasingly unclear.

On July 13th, police fired tear gas and water cannon on opposition supporters from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Protestors gathered on the streets of Harare in response to supposed plans written by the country’s electoral committee to ensure a victory for Mugabe in the next election.



Leopoldo López, the most prominent political prisoner in Venezuela, was released on Saturday in an unexpected move by President Maduro’s government, in a possible sign that the Maduro regime is giving into pressure after 100 days of protests and riots in the streets. López was imprisoned for three years after a demonstration in the capital of Caracas left three people dead in February 2015. The Maduro government claimed López was suffering from health concerns and that his release was a humanitarian act, although López’s political supporters say this indicates a weakening of the Maduro regime after diplomatic isolation and months of popular unrest.

On Sunday, Venezuelans will vote on whether they support the government’s plan to elect a National Constituent Assembly to overhaul the 1999 constitution. President Maduro does not recognize the legitimacy of the referendum, and intends to move forward with the July 30 vote to elect the assembly, or ANC. The opposition hopes the vote will prove the popular opposition to the ANC and pressure Maduro to drop the plan altogether, although this seems unlikely.

Oscar Pérez, the former policeman who piloted the helicopter that attacked government buildings, was seen at a vigil on Thursday mourning those killed in anti-government demonstrations. Pérez called for a general strike against the government on July 18 – calling the day “zero hour” – and urged people in Venezuela to support a symbolic vote against the government’s proposed plan to rewrite the constitution.


United States 

On July 10th 80 Americans (32 men and 48 women) were arrested whilst protesting the new healthcare bill. Protestors had gathered in the hallways and offices of both the Senate and the House, chanting slogans such as “Trumpcare=death,” “Kill the bill, don’t kill me,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Trumpcare has got to go.” It is estimated that if passed, the bill would result in an additional 22 million people losing insurance by 2026.

In other news, over a dozen states have refused to comply with Trump’s voter commission, the equivalent of 1/3 of the population. Besides the fact that the goals of the commission remain unclear, many states are hesitant to hand over sensitive voter data, which includes social security numbers and voter history since 2005.

It was also revealed that Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian officials during his father’s campaign less than a week before the Democratic National Committee hack that exposed several thousand emails. Emin Aglarov, whose father worked with Donald Trump in 2013 to organize the Moscow Ms. Universe pageant, brokered the meeting between Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Supposedly, Ms. Veselnitskaya had access to damaging information on Clinton, but Trump Jr. has claimed that the meeting concerned Russian adoption.


ABC News: Poland: Protest held of monthly memorial for late president

Read full article here. By the Associated Press. Photo Credits: AP.

Hundreds of government critics held a peaceful protest of the monthly observances Poland’s ruling party holds in memory of President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others killed in a 2010 plane crash.

The critics say the observances are being used for political purposes by Kaczynski’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, who is the ruling Law and Justice party’s leader. They say that Kaczynski uses his mourning to rally supporters for his policies that threaten democracy.

The Guardian: Arrests and injuries as Hamburg gripped by mass anti-G20 protests. By Philip Oltermann

Read full article here. Photo credits: Steffi Loos/AFP/Getty.

A day of violent clashes between police and protesters culminated on Friday evening with the bizarre spectacle of the heads of the world’s 20 leading economies listening to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy at the top of a shiny high-rise building while police used water cannon, teargas and speed boats to keep at bay an angry crowd of thousands. Germany’s second-largest city had been eager to showcase its recently opened Elbphilharmonie concert hall to the rest of the world, but it may come to rue its ivory-tower symbolism after a week of chaotic scenes on the edges of the conference hall.

Rising tensions between protesters and police had escalated with clashes in Hamburg’s historic harbour area on Thursday night, and escalated further when masked anti-capitalist protesters torched cars and smashed shop windows in the Altona district on Friday morning.

Masked protesters in black clothes used flares to set fire to at least 20 cars and pelted rocks at the windows of banks and smaller shops as they made their way through Altona and along the Elbchaussee road along the river at about 7.30 am on Friday morning.

Many shops and cafes in the area, including a local Ikea, boarded up their windows in anticipation of further rioting.



The Power of Laughtivism TEDxBG Talk by Srdja Popovic

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Srdja Popovic uses stories about activists in Serbia, the US and Syria to illustrate the power of laughtivism: using humour in nonviolent action and activism.

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Can humor hold the key to mobilizing people and changing the world? BBC World News

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Srdja Popovic discusses the role of humour in nonviolent action, along with his book, Blueprint for Revolution, at BBC World News (June 3rd, 2015).

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Nonviolent Struggle: Zeitgeist Americas 2013

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“If people do not obey, rulers cannot rule”- Gene Sharp. Is his talk to Zeitgeist Americas 2013, Srdja Popovic elaborates on nonviolent action, comparing its results with violent action, drawing on international examples and studies.

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Revolution 101: Oslo Freedom Forum

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Srdja Popovic gives his talk “Revolution 101″ at the Oslo Freedom Forum, drawing from historical examples and theoretical studies.

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Beyond the Revolution: Google Zeitgeist 2012

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Srdja Popovic talks about CANVAS, nonviolent protest training, people power and dictators, giving lots of examples from Serbia, Russia and the Arab Spring.

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