April 5, 2018
Photo: Smoke rises while Palestinians protest on the Gaza side of the border with Israel. Reuters.
This week has seen a surge in direct conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, who have come out to protest for rights to their homeland in “the Great March of Return”. Already, the week has brought at least 21 deaths, including at least one Palestinian killed by an Israeli air attack at the border. The protests will continue until ‘Nabka Day’ on May 15. The date will mark 70 years since the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians by Zionist militias. Despite the violence being so actively committed against the Palestinians during these demonstrations, many have vowed to stay. Said one demonstrator, “We are here to deliver a message that we are resistant and we want to return to our land no matter what.” Last Friday, an estimated 1500 Palestinians were injured by Israeli snipers over the border. In advance of this Friday’s protest, protesters built large towers of tires to burn, hoping that the smoke will obscure the snipers’ view. Other Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails and stones over the border fence at Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces responded with tear gas and live fire, witnesses said, fearing the protesters would use the tire smoke as cover to try to breach the fence. Israel has accused Hamas of orchestrating the protest and border attacks, but both the March For Return organizers and a Hamas spokesperson deny that the march is for any escalation between Hamas and Israel, but rather for the people of Palestine. Hamas did urge its supporters to keep the protests peaceful, however, and to cover their faces, and maintains a strong presence in the camps and near the border. The United Nations has urged Israel to desist in their use of live ammunition against civilian protesters. Today 40 Palestinians are reported in critical condition, wounded by live fire and tear gas, and one man died this morning from gunshot wounds he sustained earlier in the week.
Across the country this week, teachers went on strike to protest low wages, out-of-date classroom resources, and an overwhelming lack of government support for public education in the US. The states of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have seen some of the largest crowds come out to demand better, more reasonable conditions for themselves and their students. The demands go much further than wage increases. In Oklahoma, for example, the government has already agreed to raise annual salaries. Rather than settle for this partial consolation, however, the teachers will continue to demonstrate until higher education funding is promised. Although their numbers are now more than 300,000 strong, the governor of Oklahoma has belittled and expressed annoyance at the protests, comparing the distraught teachers to “teenagers who want a better car.” Nevertheless, the tremendous power teachers hold as a pillar of society gives their movement serious credence. Many also expect the momentum to spread to further states.
President Donald Trump began a push this week to further tighten immigration laws. His goals include the toughening of applications and approvals for asylum seekers, stripping protections for children who arrive alone illegally, and allowing families to be detained for longer periods while they await decisions about their status and possible deportation from immigration authorities. Earlier in the week, Trump had taken to twitter to declare that “DACA is dead” and “Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!” His tirades, while not always followed by actualized legislation, appear to this time signal a worsening of conditions for those concerned.
The Supreme Court ordered police forces to turn over reports on their actions during the war on drugs, against the government’s wishes to keep the bloody affair secret. Human rights groups have applauded this action, hopeful this will help expose abuses and accompanying cover-ups committed in the name of Duterete’s war on drugs. Over 4,000 people have been killed by police, often described as “vigilantes or rival gang members” by police who deny involvement with the murders.
The son of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos lost an election for the vice presidency, and has demanded a recount, which has begun.
Duterte has called Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya muslims “genocide” and has offered to accept the Muslim refugees. He also ordered that officials begin a ceasefire deal with communist rebels to resume peace talks.
According to a new report published by the World Bank, South Africa is the most unequal country in the world. A total of 149 countries were analysed using the Gini Index. Inequality within the country has increased since the end of the apartheid, with high unemployment and poverty hitting exclusively black and coloured South Africans. More than half of the South African population is currently living below the national poverty line.
Thousands of supporters are expected to march to the Durban High Court on Thursday evening and Friday morning in support of former president Jacob Zuma, who is facing charges of corruption. Groups and religious organisations supporting former president Zuma argue that he has been targeted with political intentions. Zuma is planning to challenge the 16 charges involving fraud and money laundering during a 1990s arms deal. Such legal prosecutions rarely occur in South Africa, and protesters are expecting that outside attempts have been made to stage chaos during the protest with the objective of discrediting supporters of Zuma.
It has been revealed that opposition leader Moïse Katumbi held Italian citizenship for over 16 years, meaning he might not be eligible to run for presidency in the upcoming elections in December. According to Congo’s constitution, nationals are unable to hold dual citizenship, although this is also believed to be the case for several politicians in DRC.
The DRC’s foreign minister, Léonard She Okitundu, has announced that the country will not participate in the donor conference organised by the UN and the EU taking place in Geneva on April 13. Okitundu argues that the humanitarian community had exaggerated the crisis in some parts of the country, and said that the UN mission should leave the country in 2020. Okitundu also expressed that the DRC wants the UN mission MONUSCO to leave the country in 2020, a peacekeeping mission that the UN security council voted to extend the mandate to one year during last week. MONUSCO is the UN’s biggest peacekeeping force. The resolution, presented by France, emphasizes the mandate to protect civilians during the elections in December.
At has also been reported that journalist Eliezer Ntambwe, presenting on the privately owned news outlet and YouTube channel Tokomi Wapi , was arrested by Congolese police on April 2. Ntambwe was accused of defamation and extortion following an interview that accused governor of seizing a diamond from a miner with violence. Congolese journalists have since gathered in protest outside the prosecutor’s office.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on April 3rd. The goal of the state visit was to deepen ties with China and is part of President Mnangagwa’s efforts in the search for foreign investment before the upcoming elections later this year. China has been an ally to Zimbabwe since the 1960s; their relationship has involved diamond exports and various infrastructure initiatives such as railways, roads and mines. The country has also provided arms and military training to Zimbabwe, and lately invested the Kariba South Power Station Extension Project. However, China has recently received critique for creating dependency relationship with African countries, and trade agreements involving the exchange of loans for natural resources. The official meeting is thus also a symbolic gesture responding to the critique expressed by the Trump administration.
The former Vice-President and opposition People’s Rainbow Coalition (PRC) presidential candidate, Joice Mujuru, pledged in their coalition’s election manifesto in that if if she wins the upcoming general elections, she will continue the search for Itai Dzamara, the human rights activist abducted in 2015. Mujuru also made promises that she will launch a war against corruption, establish a productive, gender and age sensitive cabinet, free access to primary education, and establish long term student loans. Mujuru served as deputy to former President Robert Mugabe for 10 years before she was expelled in 2015 due to corruption allegations.
Last week, Zimbabwe also celebrated their newly gained freedom of expression, when a mock play to publicly process the memory of the oppressive former president Robert Mugabe was performed in Harare. The theatre is replacing fear with laughter by ridiculing him and the former first lady Grace Mugabe, with scenes that would have led to arrests during his rule just a few months ago.
Mexican politicians have united against Trump’s plan to deploy National Guard troops to the border until a wall is constructed. Sitting president Pena Nieto, the Mexican Senate, and presidential candidates Lopez Obrador and Anaya have set aside any political differences or ill-will to condemn Trump’s tactic. While the deployment is not expected to have much practical effect, since the guards are not to have weapons or immigration duties, politicians have called the move a populist intimidation tactic, and an insult to Mexicans. Lopez Obrador has declared the country will not accept the militarization of the border, while Anaya called for Mexico to limit its cooperation with the US on anti-terrorism until the Guard members are withdrawn. These statements come as a caravan of over 1000 migrants travel through Mexico, fleeing Central American violence. Hundreds of the members of the caravan have requested documents to stay in Mexico, while some others planned to make their way north to the United States.
In other news, Lopez Obrador holds an 18 point lead with 38% of the vote, according to Business Insider.
Social Welfare Minister Win Myat Aye hopes to visit Rohingya refugees in their camps when he visits Bangladesh this month. He will be the first to visit the Rohingya camps since hundreds of thousands began to flee the country in August. Win Myat Aye is in charge of overseeing the repatriation process, and says he wants to speak with the refugees to tell them that “we are ready to accept them back.” Rights groups still fear for the safety of any Rohingya repatriated to Myanmar, where many Rohingya villages have been razed and where they are still treated as stateless persons.
The Myanmar government has agreed to allow United Nations inspectors to monitor repatriation preparations in the country, a dramatic change from the government’s stance in past, which included repeatedly refusing to allow fact-finding missions. Officials plan to invite a delegation from the UN Security Council in approximately one month.
In other news, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic separatist militia, has advised civilians to leave Kachin State as KIA plans to launch an offensive on April 10. Unrelated, civil society organizations chastised Facebook for failing to properly limit hate speech in Myanmar, saying it often incites violence.
Members of the campaign team for the opposition candidate, Henri Falcon, were attacked. One member is under permanent observation in the hospital, having suffered a severe head wound. The attackers have been presented by media as supporters of Maduro, but the president has denounced them, saying any who attack in this way are not “chavistas”. Maduro announced that the government will not tolerate any violence in relation to the campaigns, and ordered an investigation into the attack. 17 people have been arrested so far.
Claudio Fermin, head of Henri Falcon’s campaign, has said the main opposition coalition, MUD, has agreed to support Henri Falcon in his bid for the presidency after weeks of insisting that it would abstain. He emphasizes that participation is the only way to ensure a peaceful transition.
Venezuelans abroad are angered after Maduro denies the tide of Venezuelans fleeing the country, saying the numbers are over-reported in an attempt to paint him in a bad light. He mocks those who have left, saying they must be cleaning toilets in the countries they have taken refuge in.
Venezuela’s exiled top prosecutor, Luisa Ortega, accused Maduro of “massive acts of corruption,” and presented her case to a symbolic court composed of exiled justices who presided over the case. Ortega presented the judges with her evidence, such as bank documents, immigration records and audio recordings. Maduro was assigned a public defender when he did not appear for this mock pre-trial hearing in Colombia. The court will decide if the case will continue to trial by April 9.
Brazil – The Supreme Court of Brazil has ruled that former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is to be imprisoned while he appeals a corruption investigation. Lula claims that this move is a politically motivated means to stop him for running for the presidency again in October. – BBC
Indonesia – Indonesia has declared a state of emergency when an oil spill caught fire and killed 5 fishermen. – Al Jazeera
Maldives – Although the state of emergency has ended, the Maldives remains this week in an oppressive political crisis. 31 of the nation’s 45 opposition lawmakers are under arrest, two supreme court justices and a former president are in indefinite detention, another former president is in exile, and “many citizens remain in jail for exercising their fundamental rights.” – World Politics Review
Syria – One year after a deadly gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun, and even though the Syrian government publicly denies it, chemical weapons are still in use in the country. Over the course of the civil war, hundreds have been killed and many thousands affected by chemical weapons, although the international community generally continues to turn a blind eye. – Al Jazeera
Slovakia – Protests continue in the wake of the assassination of a journalist last month. Having already succeeded in calling for the resignation of the nation’s prime minister, this week’s 45,000 demonstrators are now after the chief of police, another elite individual at the center of their corruption concerns. – Reuters
South Korea – Former president Park Geun-hye has been found guilty of abuse of power, corruption, and coercion. She has been sentenced to 24 years in prison. Park had become the first South Korean president to be ousted when she was forced from power in March 2017. – BBC
Cambodia – Foreign election observers have been invited to oversee the elections this July, after the main opposition party was dissolved, positioning sitting Prime Minister Hun Sen to win again. – Reuters
Vietnam – Six human rights activists were sentenced to between seven and fifteen years in jail in the midst of a harsh crackdown on activists in the country. They were charged with affiliating with the Brotherhood for Democracy, a group of peaceful advocates accused by the state of trying to overthrow the government. – Washington Post | CNN
India’s Dalit Protest Dilution of Act Protecting Them Against Class Crimes
The Supreme Court in India ruled to dilute the protections laid out in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, sparking protest across the country. The deaths of 10 protesters followed, and political leaders called for peace. The government filed a petition to have the court review their ruling, and the fight for human rights continues.