December 22, 2017
As a sign of solidarity and support, residents of eastern Ghouta, but also politicians and activists elsewhere have posted pictures of themselves covering one eye, in tribute to a baby who lost an eye and had his skull crushed during government attacks on his besieged hometown. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
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On Wednesday, Venezuela’s Constituant Assembly ruled that parties who boycotted this month’s local elections had lost legitimacy. By doing so, the pro-government body potentially eliminated the main opposition groups from the 2018 presidential race, as main opposition parties Justice First, Democratic Action and Popular Will did not run candidates in this month’s mayoral polls in protest against what they said was a „biased election system designed to perpetuate leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship,” according to Reuters. By doing so, the Assembly ruled, the parties have lost their legal status and should re-apply to the National Election Board.
As Venezuela sees more and more of the worlds nations turning against it, the Maduro-regime is looking towards other nations to support their regime. On Thursday, Venezuela’s foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza stated: “Thank God humanity can count on the People’s Republic of China to guarantee peace or at least less conflict,” according to South China Morning Post. The statement came after Arreaza lashed out at Donald Trump, US and EU sanctions, and American interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs at the Venezuelan embassy in Beijing during a three-day official visit. The foreign minister blamed the US for his country’s spiralling debt crisis on Thursday, saying Washington’s “permanent attack” had left the economy crippled. In this same week, Venezuela has awarded the Russian energy giant Rosneft with licences to develop two offshore gas fields.
Early this week, former President Mohamed Nasheed stated that “the actions of the present administration pose Maldives to risk of war“. Raajje reports that in a tweet on Monday, the former President noted that the Parliament was hijacked and the Yameen government was engaging in activities that harmed bilateral relations with neighbors. The statement came after Maldives and China signed a controversial China Maldives Free Trade Agreement, on which CANVAS reported last week, much to the concern of regional partners, such as India. In line with Nasheed’s accusations, a pro-Yameen newspaper has kicked up a fresh political storm in the this week by describing PM Narendra Modi as a Hindu extremist who is also anti-Muslim. The editorial went on to describe India as the biggest enemy nation and said that a “new best friend” for Maldives would be China.
A week after the Maldives government announced new regulations under which local officials can no longer meet diplomats and NGOs without government permission from the home, three opposition party councilers have been suspended. The government suspended the members of a local body on charges of meeting with the Indian ambassador, Akhilesh Mishra, without seeking prior permission. All three suspended councillors belonged to the principal opposition party, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). On Monday, British ambassador to the Maldives James Dauris tweeted that this was the latest in a number of “unfortunate steps” taken by the government.
On Monday, the UN Security Council failed to adopt a draft resolution which would have voiced the regret among its members about the US’ controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, after a veto by the US itself. The resolution would have called on the US to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in the city and reiterated the member states’ stance on the status of Jerusalem. In a briefing, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace process had highlighted the lack of significant positive progress towards peace in the recent reporting period and stated that “developments on the ground [cannot] be divorced from the broader context in which they are happening”, underlining the current uncertainty about the future of the peace process. Following the earlier decision by the United States to recognize the Holy City as the capital of Israel, the UN called for an Emergency Special Session on the issue. Happening on Thursday, Member States in the United Nations General Assembly “demanded” that all countries comply with Security Council resolutions regarding the status of Jerusalem, by an overwhelming majority.
On Wednesday afternoon, the House of Representatives approved the new GOP tax reform for the second time, sending it off to be signed in by President Trump. The House had to vote again on changes made to the bill by the Senate which had approved the bill earlier that day. While this has been described as Donald Trump’s first ‘major legislative victory’ and largely backed by Republicans, no Democrats – neither in the House nor in Senate – had voted in favor. The bill has earned widespread criticism for disproportionately favoring corporations and the US’ wealthy, as well as likely driving up state debt, besides seemingly having been a rushed endeavor before the year’s end. The Guardian reported of the bill being “deeply unpopular” and wrote that during the Senate vote, activists have reportedly shouted “Kill the bill, don’t kill us” in the press gallery. This has been the most drastic changes to the US tax system for 30 years.
UN News Centre
This week, CANVAS’ executive director Srdja Popovic and Greg Satell wrote about the worrying direction of the Polish democratic movement for RealClearWorld. After two waves of democratic movement in the last four decades, we are now seeing that same democratic process moves in reverse. However, almost as soon as PiS assumed power, activists have been able to mobilize civil society outside the sphere of party politics. They have extended the battlefield by strongly emphasizing the involvement of the international community, and effectively combined mass mobilization for street protests with concrete actions. Thus, this years’ developments in Poland cause both worries and hope. Can Poland become a model once again and point the way to defeating authoritarianism and protecting civil society?
On Wednesday, the European Commission has triggered Article 7, which serves as a warning but could lead to sanctions and suspension of voting rights in the EU.The Commission accuses the Polish government of having increasingly undermined the independence of the judiciary, common European values and the rule of law, despite repeated warnings and efforts for dialogue. The Commission’s recommendation now has to be accepted by a two-third majority of the member states in order to pass. When agreed upon, the Polish government also would receive a three-month period for adopting recommendations to restore judicial legitimacy by the Commission. PiS spokeswoman dismissed the decision and said it “‘had no merit’ and […] it was ‘solely a political decision’”, while Justice Minister Zbingniew Ziobro stated that his government “’must continue the reforms’”, wrote Deutsche Welle.
This coincides with the final signing in of two bills overhauling the judiciary, as Polish President Andrzej Duda declared also on Wednesday. Earlier this week, Poland’s upper house had approved the controversial judicial reform criticized for undermining the rule of law. Additionally, Poland’s lower house of parliament approved a different law admitting wide-ranging political power over the electoral commission as well. The latter, together with opposition politicians, criticized the move.
Late last week, the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva designed to end the Syrian civil war collapsed. UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura claimed that “a golden big opportunity” had been missed. He openly blamed the Syrian government delegation, stating that those who represent Assad are “unwilling to meet anyone with a different opinion,“ according to the Guardian. The Syrian government delegation had allegedly refused to discuss two of the major agenda items – a constitutional process and presidential elections – insisting instead it would only discuss terrorism. De Mistura urged the government’s long time ally Russie to save the peacetalks. With implausible change on the battlefield, and under-resourced opposition, this might be the only way out to keep the peace-process moving. On Tuesday, however, the United Nations proposed a timeline for elections and guidance on constitutional reform to Syria’s warring parties, in a bid to revive stalled peace talks.
While President Vladimir Putin has said he will convene a Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in February, delegations from the Syrian government and some opposition groups are already arriving in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, for the eight round of Astana-talks on Thursday and Friday. Talks spearheaded by Russia, Turkey, and Iran are expected to address the functioning of de-escalation zones, the release of detainees, transfer of bodies, and the search for missing civilians. While the talking continious abroad, the fighting continious inside Syria. In Eastern Ghouta – on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus – hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped as government bombings proceed. BBC writes about air-strikes on rebel held Idlib, which killed at least 19 people on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the Independent writes about a symbolic act of defiance. In eastern-Ghouta, Syrians have launched a campaign in support of a baby who lost an eye and had his skull crushed during government attacks on his besieged hometown. As a sign of solidarity and support, residents of eastern Ghouta, but also politicians and activists elsewhere have posted pictures of themselves covering one eye, in tribute to the three-month-old child. The campaign, also known as the „Solidarity with Karim“ campaign is the latest effort to draw international attention to the government siege that has been going on for almost four years now. The area is suffering from severe food-shortages and is in need of dire medicle aid.
On Monday, the Zimbabwean army announced that “Operation Restore Legacy” – the military take over officially ended. National Army commander Phillip Sibanda released a statement that affirmed claimes made on the 13 of November, syaing that the operation was launched by the security services “to remove criminals that had surrounded former president, resulting in anxiety and despondency amongst our people.” The official end of what is claimed to have definitely been a coup has not freed former G-40 senior faction members from prosecution. IOL writes about several renowned officials that have fled the country, remain in detention, or have been charged with corruption.
Late last week, we could see the signs of a new Zimbabwean Cabinet trying to re-engaged with the international community. As Mnangagwa administration has made economic recovery a priority, this means a need for reconciliation with that community. Newly installed Foreign Minister Sibusiso Moyo state on the weekend that the newly installed Cabinet “is focusing on reassuring our friends and creating new friends, reengagement with those who were sitting on the fence before.” In reaction to critical testimonies made at the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations last week, Moyo said its important for Zimbabweans to show unity at this time, specially on the issue of sanctions, which he said must be lifted. VOA expressed a particular scepsis towards the proclaimed „new agenda for the country“, mostly because those using this frame were part of the same party and government which held back this agenda for the past 37-years.
Another strongly expressed agenda-priority for Mnangagwa is corruption. On Wednesday, during his first state-of-the-nation address, the Zimbabwean President promised zero tolerance in his government’s push to punish corruption that stifled political freedom and economic growth under Robert Mugabe. Last week, Mnangagwa already claimed to have a list of key officials that violated the exchange-controle law, by illegally stashing money abroad. Those were given until March to return the stolen cash, in return for amnesty. The President stated that “corruption remains the major source of some of the problems we face as a country and its retarding impact on national development cannot be overemphasized,” according to Reuters. In what still looks like a focused attack on former G-40 faction-members, the government is also pursuing corruption charges against former finance minister Ignatius Chombo. Chombo, whose allegedly commited crimes date back over two decades, faces trial early next year.
UN chief peacekeeper Jean-Pierre Lacroix met President Joseph Kabila on Sunday, following an attack which killed 14 peacekeepers in the country’s east. Kabila and Lacroix discussed the attack as well as DRC’s need of greater security, according to sources who talked to Agence France Press. AFP further wrote that the UN official stated that “the violence in eastern DRC was ‘a collective problem that needs to be tackled collectively’.” DRC’s east has long been plagued by violence, but fighting and clashes have increased especially this year, between government soldiers and militia groups, as well as among ethnic groups. In a period of about three years, the hardline Allied Democratic Forces have killed more than 700 people in the Beni region, where UN peacekeepers had also been killed last week.
As it has now been one year since President Kabila’s second term in office has officially expired and new elections are only set for a year from now, the opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) had called for protests throughout the country on Tuesday. However, AFP reported of low turnouts and only “a few dozen people” at the demonstrations, due to rain and a lack of coordination, said Felix Tshisekedi from the “Rassemblement” opposition coalition. According to a police spokesman, Tshisekedi himself had been stopped from leaving his house, and at least 30 people were arrested in the context of the protests. Though not many people reportedly attended them, witnesses said traffic and economic activity seemed lower than normal and more police were in the streets. Despite low attendance of the demonstrations, the opposition vowed to continue its campaign to push for Kabila to step down. So far, its protest campaign had been met with a police crackdown leading to deaths and arrests. On Tuesday, LUCHA – a citizen’s movement for change in Congo – had reported on their twitter that their peaceful protest had been repressed by the police in Kindu and has now called for ‘non-stop demonstrations’ from December 29 onwards until Kabila resigned.
After HRW had released a report revealing the recruitment of M23 Rebels to suppress protests in the DRC, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organizations in the DRC have released a report on Wednesday addressing the “slaughter” and “crimes against humanity” perpetrated in Congo’s Kasai region. The report, only available in French, reveals “the scale and seriousness of the crimes committed against the civilian population by the Congolese defence and security forces and their auxiliaries, the militia known as Bana Mura.” After FIDH and its partners had conducted a fact finding mission in Angola, talking to Congolese refugees in July this year, the organizations concluded among other things, that “[w]ith the elections repeatedly being postponed in the DRC, the atrocities committed in Kasai are part of a recurring scheme of Joseph Kabila’s regime to mobilise tension and violence in order to retain power through chaos and diversion.”
AFP/News24 (Lacroix meets Kabila)
On Monday, Cambodia shut down 330 what it says to be “inactive” print media outlets, reported the Bangkok Post. The Cambodian government stated the prevention of such outlets misusing their press passes for different purposes as the reason for closure. Information Ministry representative Phos Sovann added that so far, none of the affected media companies had complained and many had already turned into online media. This move comes at a time of rising concerns about a government crackdown on opposition and independent media in Cambodia, ahead of next year’s general election.
Deputy President of the recently resolved CNRP Eng Chhay Eang, who lives in self-imposed exile, rejected a suggestion by Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen to “form a new party” this week. Speaking to garment workers in the country’s capital, Hun Sen stated that those CNRP members who have not been banned from politics should give up hope for the CNRP to be reinstated and go on to form a new party ahead of the elections. Eng Chhay Eang said the Prime Minister was therein trying to give next year’s elections new legitimacy in the midst of international criticism.
Radio Free Asia
Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on Tuesday, revealing details about abuses by security forces in the Rohingya Tula Toli village. “Massacre by the River: Burmese Army Crimes against Humanity in Tula Toli” is partly based on interviews with survivors and supports that abuses against the Rohingya “amount to crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, persecution, and force deportation.” HRW calls on the Burmese government to stop its “campaign of ethnic cleansing” and allow access for aid organizations and the UN fact-finding mission to Rakhine State, and also on the UN and concerned governments to impose targeted sanctions.
Meanwhile, amidst increasing international condemnation, Myanmar blacklisted and barred UN investigator and special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, from entering the country as she was due to visit in January. The country’s government also said to withdraw “any government cooperation for the rest of her tenure”, wrote TIME. Lee’s assessment of human rights abuses and criticism in Myanmar had sparked backlash within the country before. According to the media outlet, the decision “comes as an escalation of Myanmar’s crackdown, but is not necessarily surprising.” Another UN fact finding mission has not been able to secure visas for the country and Lee had experience increasing resistance on the Myanmar side.
South Africa – The ruling but decreasingly popular ANC party voted on Monday in South Africa, to eventually elect Cyril Ramaphosa to replace incumbent President Jacob Zuma as the party’s leader. This makes the “anti-apartheid hero and business tycoon” likely to become South Africa’s next president in 2019. While he raises hope of improving the current ANC position again, others are more sceptic about his ability to change something in the system. – NY Times
Israel – Last weekend, thousands of people went out to protest Israel’s Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu. This makes it the third week in a row for demonstrators to protest over the PM’s alleged corruption. Though he is subject of criminal investigations into two separate corruption cases, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoings. – Middle East Monitor
Argentina – Early on Tuesday, the Argentinian Congress passed a reform to the country’s pension system, following days of demonstrations and violent clashes between protestors and police. The latter had led to the re-schedule of the debate in Congress from last Thursday to Monday, after the Senate had already approved the bill last month. Critics say the bill will hurt retirees while President Mauricio Macri wants to push efforts to slash fiscal deficit and attract investment. – Reuters
Uganda – On Tuesday, Uganda’s parliament abruptly adjourned a debate over the Presidential age limit after a lawmaker said soldiers had entered the building and members of parliament scuffled with police. The debate was suspended after opposition MPs protested alleged presence of the soldiers – The Nation
Honduras – On Wednesday, Honduras’s leftwing opposition urged days of intensified protests to challenge President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s claims that he won a new mandate in the November elections, that were allegedly marred by fraud – News 24
CANVAS’ Daily News
Music as a Tool in Protest and Nonviolence? – Yes!
Inauguration Day Protesters’ Trial Could Set Dangerous Precedent For Government’s Handling of Civil Disobedience
REAL CLEAR POLITICS – How Poland Can Be an Example Again, by Srdja Popovic and Greg Satell