Weekly Report: 6 October


October 6, 2017

Photo:  Efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit. While various authorities in Europe have opened investigations of serious international crimes committed in Syria, Sweden and Germany are the first two countries that have prosecuted and convicted people for these crimes. Photograph: Human Rights Watch


In a report released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said that efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Syria before European courts are starting to bear fruit, notably in Sweden and Germany. In the 66-page report, the countries efforts to investigate and prosecute people implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria are outlined. The report emphasizes that Syrian refugees consistently stressed to Human Rights Watch the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for atrocities committed in Syria. 

On this same Wednesday, ISIS claims responsibility for bombing in Damascus on which happened two days before. Killing 17 people in the central and famous al-Midan neighborhood of the city, the attack was the first of its kind in the capital since July this year. Midan is a predominantly Sunni Muslim area that witnessed some of the biggest peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad at the start of the civil war. 


Democratic Republic Congo

On Tuesday, Al Jazeera covers the UNHCR reporting of Congolese refugees fleeing towards Zambia. More than 3,000 people have fled to that country from DRC in the past month to escape escalating violence, according to the United Nations. UNHCR stated that unrest in parts of southeastern Congo since 30 August has driven these numbers into northern Zambia – the largest influx of its kind in the past five years. People “are escaping inter-ethnic clashes, as well as fighting between Congolese security forces and militia groups”, Andrej Mahecic, UNHCR spokesman, told reporters in Geneva. 

In the meantime, opposition leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have mobilized for a new effort to oust President Joseph Kabila, calling for civil disobedience by citizens. The Guardian reports on these new efforts under the banner of ‘Go Kabila Go’. Protests, however, have proven to not be without a risk. “The government shut down protests in December. Its message is simple: if you demonstrate, we will shoot you. And it has done that in the past … Fayulu [Martin Fayulu, an opposition member of parliament] is a brave man, but when was he last able to get more than 500 people on to the streets? The opposition has not put a ding in the Congolese government,” said Jason Stearns, director of the Congo Research Group at New York University. 



Late on Friday last week, Zimbabwean police fired teargas to break up protests in Harare. Led by the anti-government social movement #Tajamuka, demonstrators demanded the resignation of central bank chief John Mangudya, over severe cash shortages. Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is visibly worsening since early this year, as rising prices fuel opposition to President Robert Mugabe’s regime. 

Towards the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe, the battle for succession of Robert Mugabe is heating up. On Wednesday, one of Zimbabwe’s vice presidents accused the other of “using lies” over an allegation of poisoning, fueling political tensions within ZANU-PF. Emerson Mnangagwa, 75, was flown to South Africa for emergency treatment after falling ill at the ZANU-PF party rally in the southern town of Gwanda on August 12. The Vice-President claimed he had been given poisoned ice cream in an attempt to kill him. After Mugabe later said that Mnangagwa was not poisoned, Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko   of making a “calculated” challenge to the president’s account of the incident. “There appears to be an agenda to undermine the authority of President Mugabe and to destabilize the country by using lies,” Mphoko said in a statement. “This must stop.” 

Meanwhile, the ‘tribal’- discussion fired up in Zimbabwe again this week. The tribal divide between Shona and Ndebele within the country came to a head when MDC-T deputy president, Thokozani Khupe strongly opposed the formation of MDC Alliance, arguing some of the coalition parties do not bring anything to the table. Khupe was then accused of being a tribalist. When Tendai Biti fell out with his colleagues in the People’s Democratic Party later that week, he also accused his secretary general, Gorden Moyo and everyone supporting him, of tribalism. NewsDay reporter Nqaba Matshazi wrote an interesting article about how “labelling someone a tribalist could be meant to deflect from substantial issues, […] and is quite a lazy way to avoid political debate.” 



On the weekend, the South China Morning Post reports on the Cambodian government cracking down on dissenting voices. Around half the opposition members of Cambodia’s parliament have allegedly left the country in fear of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s repressive regime, a deputy party leader said. After the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha early September, the government has said there could be more arrests linked to the alleged plot, which the opposition has dismissed as a ploy to ensure Hun Sen keeps his more than three-decade hold on power in next year’s general election. Where the ruling party accuses the United States to be behind a plot to democratically remove the prime minister in next year’s elections, the opposition says it is evidence of an election strategy, not a coup plot. 

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch released a statement in which it calls on UN Rights bodies to ensure pre-election reporting on Cambodia. Summing up the main human- and civil rights violations, HRW concludes that “the Cambodian government’s actions amount to a comprehensive campaign of intimidation, violence, and misuse of legal mechanisms in the lead-up to next year’s national election. In view of this campaign, pre-election reporting, followed by Council discussion, should be a red line in the resolution currently under consideration,” according to the statement.  


The United States of America

This week, the United States news was completely dominated by the Las Vegas shooting. After a man opened fire at a crowd, killing 59 people and injuring several hundred others, the bitter debate about gun rights is moved back to the center of Washington politics. Despite the fact that support for stricter gun laws spikes after mass-shootings, that shift in public opinion largely fades over time. “Gun owners are too powerful of an interest group and anybody who crosses them will pay a steep political price,” according to Andy Sullivan for Reuters. Jimmy Kimmel on Monday delivered an emotional monologue after the mass shooting, imploring Congress to act. Kimmel focused on the contrast between the aggressive US response to terror-threats, and the countries in-action concerning gun violence, which has a far larger death-tole.  



On Monday, Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher Tamara Taraciuk Broner puts out a small summary on the attention the profound human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela got at the UN Human Rights Council session that ended last week. Although member states, including from Latin America, spoke up clearly and forcefully about the countries increasingly brutal crackdown on dissent, “the challenge now is to keep up the multilateral pressure on the Venezuelan government,” according to Taraciuk Broner.  

The Atlantic featured a great long read on Wednesday, addressing a central question in the countries deteriorating situation. “Given Maduro’s deep unpopularity and the widespread chaos, hunger, violence, and scarcity of basic goods under his rule, an obvious question arises: After three years of determined, ceaseless efforts, why has the opposition failed to unseat him?” About the importance of image, small victories, and how high-profile failure has generated a pessimism among the public about the oppositions’ chances for success. 

On Thursday, the Washington Post features a story on the Venezuelan government’s anti-crime campaign. A new report, by the local news site RunRun.es in partnership with a Colombian-based journalism nonprofit called Connectas, alleges that instead of pacifying the country, the operation has left more than 500 people dead. Very worrying, then, is that the report concludes that the operations led to the installation of pro-government armed groups in slums, replacing organized-crime groups with violent pro-government gangs known as “colectivos”. The report relied on official figures, media reports from around Venezuela, and interviews with people in five states to document the impact of the anti-crime program, known as Operation for the Liberation and Protection of the People, or OLP.



With 90 percent in favor of independence on a turnout of 42 percent at the independence-referendum on Sunday, the Catalans gave of a strong statement to their federal government in Madrid. After the vote on Sunday, separatist parties and unions urged Catalans to stop working and join a general strike on Wednesday, to put pressure on Spanish national authorities to take note of their referendum vote in favor of independence. After an earlier pledge to engage parliament on a unilateral declaration of independence within 48 hours of the vote, Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has meanwhile pulled back, saying he wants the European Union to help mediate what he calls “a new understanding” with the Spanish state. Puigdemont called on Europe to step in to make sure fundamental rights were fully respected but for now Brussels is maintaining a determined silence. 

Spain’s constitutional crisis deepened Wednesday after the nation’s king lashed out at Catalan’s secessionist leaders in a TV address. King Felipe’s rare TV speech was unexpectedly hard; he accused pro-independence leaders of “unacceptable disloyalty” and made no mention of the nearly 900 people injured in clashes with Spain’s national security forces. Instead, the king blamed the referendum’s organizers for the strife. Catalan President Puigdemont vowed to declare independence within days; late this week or early next week, his government will act to split from Spain. According to CNN, declaring independence would be a huge gamble for Puigdemont. While there was broad support for holding the referendum, support for independence is not overwhelming in Catalonia.  



On Thursday, the Guardian publishes a worrying article about the role of the UN in the run up to the current Rohingya-crisis in Myanmar. Based on information provided by inside-sources, Guardian claims that the highest UN-authorities commissioned and then “suppressed” a report that criticized its strategy in Myanmar and warned it was ill-prepared to deal with the impending Rohingya-crisis. The report, which was released in May this year, accurately predicted a “serious deterioration” in the six months following its submission and urged the UN to undertake “serious contingency planning”. However, sources within the UN and humanitarian community claimed the recommendations were ignored and the report was suppressed. The BBC also wrote about the UN failing the Rohingya last week.  

Some days earlier on Tuesday, Reuters reports on the skepticism among the Muslim minority, on the chances of ever going home. The Rohingya in Bangladesh are skeptical about their chances of ever going back to Myanmar, even though the government there has given an assurance it would accept people verified as refugees. At the root of the problem is the refusal by Buddhist-majority Myanmar to grant citizenship to members of a Muslim minority seen by a mostly unsympathetic, if not hostile, society as interlopers from Bangladesh, according to Reuters.  


The Maldives

In the second half of this week, The Maldives have announced to suspend all trade activities and relations with Myanmar, said the Maldivian government. The Maldivian effort is part of an outcry by mainly Muslim countries in Asia, representing a growing chorus of criticism aimed at Myanmar and its civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority. Resolutions were passed today in provincial assemblies of Pakistan condemning the brutal killing of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. 

On Friday, the news platform TRT-World published an article on the current aggravating situation in the Maldives. Basing their information on interviews with several activists opposing the regime, the article sketches a good macro-level understanding of the current circumstances. The spread of Salafism through new found partner Saudi Arabia and the developing relationship with China make the short analysis into a good introductory read. 


Other News

Hong Kong – Popular protest continues in Hong Kong on Sunday, as thousands of protesters call for justice secretary’s resignation in aftermath of prominent activists being sent to jail. Organisers claimed 40,000 people took part. They had projected a turnout of 20,000. Police put the figure at 4,300. – https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/2113583/national-day-protest-hong-kong-draws-40000-streets?utm_content=buffereda52&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer  

Uganda – On Wednesday, Reuters reports on attacks that were committed against MP’s who opposed the scrapping of the presidential age limit and thereby extending President Yoweri Museveni’s more than 31 years in power – https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-politics/grenades-thrown-at-homes-of-ugandan-mps-opposed-to-extending-presidents-rule-idUSKCN1C81LM?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews&utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Reuters%2FworldNews+%28Reuters+World+News%29  

West Papua – The UN decolonization-committee, responsible for monitoring the progress of former colonies towards independence, will not accept a petition signed by 1.8 million West Papuans calling for independence. On Tuesday, the exiled West Papuan leader Benny Wenda presented the petition, but the committee claims that West Papua’s cause is outside the it’s mandate – https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/southeast-asia/article/2113504/united-nations-refuses-accept-west-papua-independence?utm_content=buffer900f2&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer