Weekly Report: 13 October, 2017


October 13, 2017

Photo: On a Media Award Ceremony, RaajjeTV staff staged a silent protest against the Maldives Media Council Photograph: RaajjeTV

The Maldives

In a statement, UN Special Rapporteur Diego García-Sayán, part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, has condemned the indefinite suspension of 54 lawyers in the Maldives after The International Commission of Jurists had already done so two weeks ago (see Weekly Report: 29 September). Among other things, the Special Rapporteur expressed his concerns about the independence of the legal profession and access to justice in the Maldives, and called on the authorities to establish an independent bar association overseeing lawyers’ affairs in the country.

As the second hearing of the suspects charged with the murder of popular blogger and human rights defender Yameen Rasheed was held behind closed doors, some have called for public hearings of the case in the future. The Asian Tribune and other organizations such as the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Democracy (FORUM-ASIA) or the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) called on the Criminal Court of the Maldives to do so in order “to respect the Constitution […] [and] the interest of Yammen, his family and justice in the Maldives. Yameen had received several death threats which were ignored by the police and was stabbed to death in April this year. Besides criticizing prevailing issues in the Maldives such as pervasive injustice and human rights abuses, the blogger was a leading advocate of justice for his friend and journalist Ahmad Rilwan Adulla who had disappeared in 2014.

On Wednesday, Moosa Rasheed of Avas Online dedicated his award of “Most Promising Journalist Of The Year”, awarded by the Maldives Media Council (MCC), to the missing journalist. At the awards ceremony, RaajjeTV also staged a silent protest, criticizing the unfairness and bias of the Commission in panalizing the TV station. RaajjeTV was fined by the Commission, penalizing a statement made in July during a live program, which allegedly encouraged to overthrow the government and negatively impacted national security, among other things.



After the ruling Cambodian government has started dissolving the main opposition party, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia now warns about Cambodia’s rapidly deteriorating civil and political rights. According to a statement, current developments have “deeply worrying implications for forthcoming elections and the future of democracy in the country.”

The South China Morning Post referred to Cambodia as “Asia’s newest one-party state” and reported Mu Sochua, one of Cambodia’s top opposition leaders, had fled to Morocco. She is one of three vice-presidents of the opposition party and was one of the remaining senior leaders still left free in Cambodia. She had been involved in opposition politics since the mid 1990s, but did not feel safe in the country anymore.



After thousands of Rohingya were leaving Myanmar on Wednesday and Thursday last week, army chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing stated that the Rohingya ‘were not native’ to Myanmar. According to him, they were rather left in only by the colonialists and they were originally Bengali. In his accounts, the general – most powerful person in Bugghist-majority Myanmar – claims that Rohingya insurgents’ attacks had triggered the situation. According to the UN human rights office, the military has been violently forcing out Rohingya to Bangladesh in recent weeks, and the “U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein has described the government operations as ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’”. U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman is scheduled to visit the country today. In the meantime, the EU is reportedly considering sanctions and cutting ties with the country if the situation does not improve. EU ambassadors have approved an agreement calling for the violence to end.


Democratic Republic Congo

Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that the electoral commission of the DRC has announced that presidential elections are not to be held before April 2019, after they were already due to be held last year. President Joseph Kabila therein undermines the pact of him to step down in 2017, made with the political opposition. According to a senior opposition member “[t]he holding of elections has become a political tool of Mr. Kabila to distract the people,” and The Rassemblement opposition coalition “will ‘no longer recognize him as head of state’ after Dec. 31”.

On Tuesday, a Statement by the UN Security Council condemned the attacks by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) on 09 October in the North Kivu Province on a base of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). The attack had led to the death of two Tanzanian peacekeepers and 18 further peacekeepers injured. Besides the attacks on MONUSCO, presumed ADF forces have ambushed a group of motorbiker, reportedly killing 20 civilians earlier on Sunday. On Thursday, News24 further reported on Rwandan rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) killing 7 people including civilians and a police officer in the same province. At the same time, the International Committee of the Red Cross highlighted the urgent need for humanitarian assistance in the Kasai region.
Seven international and Congolese human rights organizations urged the United States and the European Union to increase targeted sanctions on President Joseph Kabila’s family and financial associates who benefit from unlawful activity, reported Human Rights Watch on Tuesday.



Upcoming Sunday, Venezuelans will participate in state elections to vote for governors. The opposition already claims that the government is using tactics of manipulation, confusion and fear. According to recent polls, Maduro is deeply unpopular, but support for the opposition has also gone down. Whatever Sunday’s elections’ outcome will be, governors are expected to be subordinated to the government-controlled assembly, leaving little risk when allowing clean votes, “while gaining much from the optics” – possibly hoping to defuse international pressure and appease domestic opposition. While demand for travel documents is at a record high, many Venezuelans have been waiting for their passports to be renewed since new ones cannot be issued due to a lack of material, and have not been able to travel in the meantime. President Maduro has now signed an emergency decree to extent those passports’ validity. At the same time, Colombian authorities have already stated that the number of foreigners coming in to Cucuta has more than doubled this summer, though it does not reflect dual nationals returning or those crossing without passing official checkpoints. More Venezuelans than ever have decided to leave the country, many using the Simon Bolivar International Bridge towards Colombia.



While calls for Catalan independence continue, others have made statements against independence the independence of Catalonia as happened on Sunday during a march organized by the Catalan Civil Society, when people were waving Spanish, Catalan and EU flags together. On Thursday, many Spaniards also crowded the streets and displayed flags in Madrid and Barcelona to demonstrate Spanish unity on a National Holiday. However, Sunday as well as Thursday were marked by extremism and violent escalation. Tension remains high between the central government and Catalonia after Catalan government chief Puigdemont signed a symbolic declaration of independence on Tuesday, citing the results of the referendum from 01 October which had been declared illegal by Madrid. Prime Minister Rajoy has now given Puigdemont eight days to drop his push for independence. If the latter does not do so, Rajoy could use Article 155 of the constitution and impose rule from Madrid. As the Article has never been used before, uncertainty remains about what that could mean in practice.



The Islamic State (IS) has seen its territories decline throughout the last year, now falling back on territories in the Euphrates valley southeast of Deir al-Zor, writes Reuters. While the US-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) have been preparing for “a final showdown with Islamic State”, the UN estimates up to 8,000 civilians to still be trapped in Raqqa. The Raqqa Civic Council has attempted to negotiate to release of civilians facing fear that the latter may be used as human shields. Raqqa is one of the IS’ last strongholds and has served as their de-facto Syrian capital since 2014. Reportedly, there has been a number of IS fighters surrendering in recent weeks. However, the SDF had already been predicted ahead of a major push in June, which has proven overly optimistic with militants holding out months until now.

On Thursday, IS suicide attackers staged a triple car bomb attack in Abu Fas, northeast Syria, killing at least 50 people among which were refugees fleeing the fighting in Deir-al Zor. On Wednesday, suicide bombers had detonated near the Damascus police headquarters, killing two people and leaving six wounded. Reuter reports of aid agencies warnings’ “the the fighting in eastern Syria is the worst in the country this year and that air strikes have caused hundreds of civilian casualties.”


The United States of America

The US announced its withdrawal from the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), accusing the body of an ‘anti-Israel bias’. Heather Nauert, US state department spokesperson, announced on Thursday that the US would replace its representation there with an ‘observer mission’. Israel has also declared to prepare a withdrawal from UNESCO alongside the US. Among other reactions, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the organization, lamented the US decision and stated that at times when “conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack,” she said.



Early this week, President Mugabe announced a Cabinet reshuffle where he dropped three ministers and reassigned ten others. The reconfiguration of Cabinet posts should be viewed in the light of ZANU-PF’s internal battle over Mugabe’s succession. President Mugabe “clipped under-fire Vice-President Mnangagwa’s wings” by taking away the Justice Ministry from him as well as demoting several of his affiliates. The post was re-administered to Happyton Bonyongwe, director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, which is still under strong hold of the President.

The Cabinet reshuffle included the creation of a new ‘Cyber-Ministry’, which pro-democracy groups and social media users fear will be used to suppress free speech following comments by Mugabe’s spokesperson. The new Ministry will “will help us in nailing those who do mischief using cyber space,” George Charamba told reporters at State House on Tuesday. The Presidential spokesperson also mentioned the fact that Mugabe learned a lot from Zimbabwe’s Eastern allies in this matter, such as China, Russia and Korea, as these countries “have done exceedingly well in terms of ensuring some kind of order and lawfulness in that area.”

Also this week, Zimbabwean activist and National Vendors Union leader Sten Zvorwadza was arrested for describing the ancient President of the country, Robert Mugabe as a dead man walking. Zvorwadza made the remark about the 93-year-old leader while he was commenting on the recent disturbance between authorities and vendors. Armed Zimbabwean police have arrested several vendors resisting moves by the government to remove them from the streets following an order by President Robert Mugabe to get rid of people selling various wares in public.



 On Thursday, The Iraqi government stated that it would not hold talks with the Kurdish autonomous region on reopening its airports and providing dollars for its banks, unless the Kurds commit to “Iraq’s unity”. The flight-ban was imposed immediately after the September 25th referendum, in which a landslide majority voted in favor of independence. Among other measures to isolate the Kurdish region, Baghdad stopped selling dollars to four Kurdish-owned banks and called for a halt to its independent crude oil sales. Although the Kurdish representatives have called for negotiations many times since the independence-vote, Baghdad sticks to their position that the Kurds must disavow the referendum result as a pre-condition for any talks. In coordination with the Bagdad-regime, Turkey this week committed to gradually closing border gates with northern Iraq in response to the independence referendum in Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Reacting to the rising tension in the region, the two main roads connecting Erbil and Dohuk to Mosul were cut off on Thursday with sand embankments as a precautionary measure after Kurdish forces detected an increase in deployments and movements of Iraqi forces near the front line with the Peshmerga. According to Al Jazeera, the move came after Kurdish authorities on Wednesday claimed they feared Iraqi government forces and allied paramilitary units were preparing to launch an assault on the autonomous northern region.


Other News

Bolivia: Thousands of protestors marched in several cities throughout Bolivia to make a statement against President Evo Morales newest attempt to clear the way to run for a fourth term in 2019. – https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bolivia-politics-protests/bolivians-protest-morales-new-bid-to-extend-term-limits-idUSKBN1CG0BR?utm_source=34553&utm_medium=partner
Morocco: Last Sunday, hundreds of people from all over Morocco protested in Casablanca and continued the wave of demonstrations which have been happening throughout the year. Protestors came out in support of jailed activists and in general solidarity with the Rif region, where protests had started last year. – https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2017/10/9/casablanca-protests-in-solidarity-with-jailed-rif-activists