August 4, 2017
Photo: Anti-government lawmakers shout ‘fraud’ during a session of Venezuela’s National Assembly in Caracas Wednesday. Photograph: Ariana Cubillos/AP.
A series of marches took place across the DRC to demand that President Joseph Kabila leaves office and organizes elections by the end of the year. They were organized by pro-democracy group Lucha, and backed by opposition politicians. The Congolese authorities, which banned opposition demonstrations last September, arrested several protesters. Amnesty International reported that more than 100 people had been arrested, while the UN condemned the ‘arbitrary arrests’.
A UN report based on interviews with almost 100 victims says that more than 250 people, including 62 children, have been killed in attacks in the DRC’s Kasai region that are “taking on an increasing and disturbing ethnic dimension”. It also reported that the DRC government might be complicit in the massacres.
As measles sweeps across the DRC, more than one million children have been vaccinated against the disease in a nine-month campaign by Médecins Sans Frontières, led in different regions across the country.
Fears over the events taking place in the Maldives have only continued to escalate since July 24th, on which day the Maldivian military blockaded parliament and expelled Members of Parliament from the building in order to protect a successful impeachment vote against a close ally of the president. Now, the government is planning to follow through with the execution of three men “in the next few days.” Amnesty International reports that the executions are also a way for the government to divert attention away from its other troubles. In response to the mounting threat, the British Foreign office has updated its travel advice for those traveling to the area, urging tourists to avoid any large gatherings.
US-based foundation Human Rights First published a troubling new report on the ruling party’s assail on Poland’s journalists, activists and NGO workers. Using state controlled media, the PiS has launched a smear-campaign on organizations whose advocacy focuses on the rule of law and human rights, insinuating their funding was only the result of “corruption” and would soon be eliminated. While independent groups are facing cuts and declines in public support due to malicious propaganda, the government is actively surrounding itself with organizations which share its conservative worldview – and largely focus on promoting Catholic family values, the rights of Christian refugees and nationalist Poles. In July, it even announced plans to create a new entity which would centralize EU and state funding for NGO’s, a move local activists fear would deal the final blow to Poland’s fragile civil society.
After a suspect election, the Venezuelan government announced it will go ahead with the creation of its “Constitutional Assembly”, a new, 545-member body tasked with re-writing the constitution, an objective many observers equate with effectively destroying all outlets for dissent. Members of the opposition, which has gained majority in the National Assembly for the first time in years, have already announced they will continue holding plenary sessions, irrespective of the restrictions the CA will likely impose on their political activities.
A day after the results came out, the software company contracted to set up and support the country’s electronic voting system, announced that the government had reported a false turnout rate, inflating the figure by more than 1 million votes. Amidst mounting concerns for the near-irreversible erosion of democracy in Venezuela and growing evidence of fraud, other state actors have already denounced the elections as illegitimate. The US State Department will respond by placing Nicolas Maduro on its sanctions list, while the EU signaled it would undertake similar measures in the case of further assaults on democracy by the Venezuelan government.
On Thursday, Zimbabwean soldiers reportedly clashed with police in the capital Harare. Armed with sjamboks, logs and sticks, soldiers are reported to have chased the police down Robert Mugabe road. Zimbabwean police have come under increasing fire in the last year for using unconventional methods of dealing with the public causing uproar amongst many. Although the reasoning behind the attack remains unclear, some believe that the soldiers were retaliating after the police had placed spikes under the tires of military vehicles. However, others fear that this may be a sign of the factional fights taking place within the Zanu-PF. With President Mugabe’s health in decline, there has been increased fighting over who might take over in the event of his death. Indeed, last week President Mugabe made accusations against the military, suggesting that they were plotting a coup against him. Some speculate that Mugabe is fearful the military may choose to support one of its own generals in a bid for the presidency instead of President Mugabe’s Wife Grace should he die.
In other news, there has been reports uncertainty in the country as many worry about how the Trump administration may cut some or all foreign aid to Zimbabwe in the coming year. Currently, the country receives $150 million from the United States to help fight food insecurity and the effects of climate change.
This week, Bassel Khartabil Safadi, an internet entrepreneur and an enthusiastic participant in the 2011 uprising in Syria, was confirmed dead by an undisclosed source in Damascus. He was detained in March 2012 after his participation in the Syrian uprising and was later executed by the government in October 2015. Amnesty International has reported thousands of such secret executions of political prisoners at the prison of Sednaya outside Damascus.
Meanwhile, in a letter to UN’s special envoy Staffan de Mistura, 160 Syrian civil society groups complain that peace talks are failing due to external interference. They urge the UN to focus more on the political transition and to give less time and space to external players with their own agenda, such as Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Gulf States. The letter is understood to be specially aimed at Russian interference.
Furthermore, a ceasefire between Syrian forces and rebels north of Homs has been agreed and will come into effect on Thursday, announces Russia’s defence ministry. It would be the third “de-escalation zone” put in place after talks between powers backing and opposing the Syrian government.
On Wednesday, President Trump supported a new bill in the Senate that would aim to slash illegal immigration levels by half in the next decade. Modified since its initial version in February, the bill would seek to create a ‘merit-based’ immigration system, favoring those with skills over those with family connections. The bill would reduce the yearly award of permanent legal residence (or green-cards) to 500,000 from the original figure of over 1 million. Moreover, the bill would work on a point based system, similar to systems already in place in Australia and Canada, looking at factors such as English ability, education levels and job skills. The bill is titled the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment act (RAISE).
It was also revealed Tuesday that the Trump administration will now begin investigating the use of Affirmative Action policies in college admissions procedures. It is believe that the investigation by the Justice department will specifically target those policies that give typically disadvantaged groups such as African-Americans and Latinos a slight edge over other applicants from more privileged backgrounds who may have higher test scores.
In other news, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been continuing to pursue the Russia probe and is now using a Washington D.C. based grand jury to further investigate claims. Mueller has likewise begun issuing a series of subpoenas and it is even reported that Mueller’s investigation has extended beyond 2016 election and may potentially even be looking at the entirety of Trump’s financial and business history. Matters have only become more troubling for President Trump as it was recently revealed that Trump deliberately dictated his son to release a misleading statement about his meeting with a Russian lawyer earlier last year.
It was also reported last Friday that Trump appeared to be encouraging police to treat suspects with more brutality as he spoke to law enforcement officers in Suffolk county, New York.
Finally, the last week has seen a serious reshuffling of White House staff as Trump swore in retired four star Marine general John F. Kelly as his new Chief of Staff, a move that was immediately followed by the dismissal of Anthony Scarmucci, the former White House Communications Director who had only held the job for a grand total of 10 days.