Weekly Report: 29 June 2018

Nelson Gabriel Lorio Sandoval kisses the hand of his late baby son, Teiler, who was shot during clashes, in Managua, Nicaragua, June 24, 2018. Reuters, Andres Martinez Casares.

Cambodia

Cambodia’s National Electoral Council announced that over 50,000 international observers will monitor the election next month, including some from China, Singapore, and Myanmar. The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), who declined to participate in the election process, urged international actors to rethink their involvement in an election where the opposition party was dissolved and barred from running. The US and the EU have reiterated their threats to impose sanctions and cancel tariff-free deals on Cambodian imports if the country does not reinstate the dissolved opposition party CNRP before the election.

Five former lawmakers of CNRP were denied access to visit 15 political prisoners despite having filed the appropriate paperwork. According to Head Human Rights Investigator Am Sam Ath of the rights group LICADHO, there are no clauses in the Cambodian Prison Law that permit denying visits for political reasons. This dispute comes as Prime Minister Hun Sen cracks down on media and opposition leading up to the general election.

A report over 200 pages long from Human Rights Watch highlights the “Dirty Dozen,” 12 of Hun Sen’s generals who are deeply involved in rights denial and “form the backbone of an abusive and authoritarian political regime.” The report emphasizes Hun Sen’s need for loyal personnel who will support his power grabs, and that the international community must hold them all accountable for their actions. Cambodian officials dismissed the report for lack of evidence.

Mexico

As Mexico’s elections approach this Sunday, the country continues to reel from its bloodiest political year in history. On Tuesday, following the murder of mayoral candidate Fernando Ángeles Juárez in Ocampo, Michoacán federal police arrested the entire Ocampo police force for possible complicity in Juárez’s death. Juárez is now one of 132 politicians who have been killed during this year’s election cycle.

Mexican presidential candidate López Obrador is projected to win this year’s election, representing the National Regeneration Movement known as MORENA. This is Obrador’s third run for president; after his loss in 2006 Obrador refused to accept the election’s results and held his own inauguration ceremony (and several week-long protests) in Mexico City. Many of Obrador’s domestic and foreign policy stances are unclear and inconsistent; however, his populist approach to politics and anti-corruption centered campaign have resonated with people across Mexico. Ironically, corruption concerns have emerged regarding all three major presidential candidates, as none have declared the use of private campaign donations and have insisted that public funds sufficiently covered their expenses. However, critics argue that this is unlikely and that Mexico’s anti-corruption campaigning laws can be easily surpassed by wealthy donors looking to influence results.

Nicaragua

Violence in Nicaragua continued this week as government forces launched another attack on the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua on Saturday. As a result, two students died, dozens were wounded, and several went missing. Further violence in Managua ended with the highly publicized death of a one-year-old, whose mother claims that the police shot the child along with six adults.

Over 1,500 displaced Nicaraguans have arrived at the Costa Rican border to seek asylum in the last week, 80% of which have lived in Costa Rica for years prior while the remaining 20% applying for refuge are fleeing violence and repression, according to Costa Rica’s Ministry of Public Security.

On Tuesday, dialogue between government delegations and the Civil Alliance for Justice and Democracy (an opposition group) on how to stop the ensuing violence in Nicaragua resumed, as both groups presented proposals to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Government representatives asked for the removal of roadblocks and blockades and for protestors to vacate universities for classes to resume, while the Civil Alliance maintained that the blockades are a form of citizen self-defense. The government’s continued efforts to break down and remove blockades has led citizens to dig trenches around their neighborhoods to impede paramilitary vehicles.

On Tuesday afternoon, 22 hooded men carrying machetes raided La Cartuja religious retreat facility  which belongs to the Diocese of Matagalpa and is headed by Bishop Ronaldo Jose Alvarez, the lead mediator for national dialogue. It is believed that the break-in and robbery were a form of retaliation against Bishop Alvarez for siding with the Civil Alliance’s request for early presidential elections.

Student activist Lesther Aleman, who became the public face of the anti-Ortega revolt upon calling the President “murderer” on live broadcast for the government’s violent repression of student protests, continues to work with the opposition alliance for early presidential elections in March from a hiding place due to death threats received. Various members of news organizations also continue to receive death threats, forcing some journalists to leave their homes due to harassment.

Myanmar

A recent Reuters investigation revealed the brutal and hatred-motivated atrocities against the Rohingya conducted by the 33rd and 99th infantry of the Myanmar military, both of which are notorious for their “counter-insurgency” crackdowns that target Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. The investigation sheds light on the involvement of Myanmar’s commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who has not been held accountable so far despite his ultimate authority over the 33rd and 99th infantry. The entire process of demolishing village after village was circulated as Facebook posts, which included soldiers’ selfies and dehumanizing ethnic slurs. Referring to an Amnesty International report, Amnesty’s Senior Crisis Adviser Matthew Wells remarked, “What we know from this is that the atrocities committed against the Rohingya implicate every level of the Myanmar military.”

It was reported that Senior General Min Aung Hlaing threatened to stage a coup in response to the government’s decision to include a foreigner in the UN-led commission to investigate the human rights violations that occurred in the Rakhine state. Myanmar President Win Myint has since denied the allegations. However, the undeniable tension between the Myanmar military and the civilian government over the UN-initiated Memorandum of Understanding highlights the dysfunctionality of the Myanmar government. De facto ruler Aung San Suu Kyi has been complicit in the acts of ethnic cleansing through both her silence on this issue and her explicit denial of documented crimes against humanity, despite her past reputation as a staunch defender of democracy and human rights. This response is a testament to the negligence of the government in protecting the people of Myanmar as well as the structural problems built into the government that makes even the president essentially powerless against the military. A reform of the government structure is necessary to safeguard against the brutal abuses of power that have been seen in the military crackdown on Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities.

Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi stated “[he] strongly felt that the Myanmar side has already prepared to receive these people who have entered Bangladesh to take refuge” after meeting with the minister of Myanmar’s State Counsellor. China has close relations with Myanmar and seeks to maintain this through its “continued support in resolving this issue.” It must be noted, however, that China has also defended Myanmar’s “counter-insurgency operation” in Rakhine as legitimate.

North & South Korea

South Korea will now allow conscientious objectors to opt out of military service, which previously required all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 28 serve for approximately two years. South Korea has been the world’s largest jailer of conscientious military objectors for over 50 years, jailing more people on this front than the rest of the world combined. This decision, made by South Korea’s constitutional court, comes in the midst of international outcry over the potential forced-conscription of Korean soccer players, who, after failing to advance in the World Cup, feared they would not be exempted from military service.

Activists in South Korea have reported increased pressure from the government not to criticize North Korea in the wake of this month’s Singapore summit. The South Korean government recently closed their state-run foundation for North Korean human rights, and clashes between activists and police have hindered nonviolent activism, such as Lee Min-bok’s Balloon Campaign, within the region.

Despite Kim’s promise of rapid denuclearization in North Korea, recent satellite images show that serious improvements have been made to the infrastructure of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center which produces weapon-grade nuclear material. This development casts doubt on Kim’s already uncertain commitment to actual denuclearization the future of North Korea-U.S. relationship. However, North Korea’s annual “anti-U.S.-imperialism” rally will not be held this year, signifying a potential ease in national attitudes about global affairs despite continuing military concerns about the country.

USA

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of President Donald Trump’s September order to restrict travel from the countries of Iran, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, North Korea and Venezuela. While critics insist that this policy is based on anti-Muslim prejudice, the administration asserts that this measure is required to address  national security concerns. This ruling harks back to the landmark Korematsu vs. United States Supreme Court ruling concerning the constitutionality of an executive order which forced Japanese Americans into internment camps during the Second World War, regardless of citizenship. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement sparking fear within the Democratic Party. If Trump is successful in replacing the swing-vote judge with a far-right conservative, the Supreme Court will have majority conservative judges for the next decade.

Protests to #AbolishICE have continued all over the United States. One such protest included nearly 600 Women’s March protesters who were arrested on Capitol Hill. Social Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over veteran Representative Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District primary showcases how Democrats can run on progressive ideas and win despite significant monetary disadvantages. Among other promises, Ocasio-Cortez  has committed to abolishing ICE, and it remains to be seen what impact her election and platform will have on the Democratic Party and their fears of the socialist left.

On Thursday, suspect Jarrod Ramos fired a shotgun killing five people of the Capital-Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. Gavin Buckley, the mayor of Annapolis, expressed his concern that “[i]f this is an attack on journalism, it is a sad state of affairs.” The Baltimore Sun, parent newspaper of the Capital-Gazette, came up with an editorial which has forewarned of the hostility towards journalists in the starkly polarized news industry. This attack appears to be the deadliest of its kind involving journalists in the United States and victims are calling for greater attention from the White House.

Vice-President Mike Pence toured Latin America to encourage regional pressure on Venezuela to resolve its economic and humanitarian crisis. He has already labelled the country “a failed state” on account of rigged elections and has called out the Maduro regime for violent suppression of criticism. President Trump has also arranged a meeting with Russian Premier Vladimir Putin for mid-July.

Maldives

Police obstructed campaigning activities of the Maldivian Democratic Party on Friday as officers blocked activists from putting up posters around Malé and arrested activist Ahmed Maimoon and MP Ibrahim Rasheed. oth were released on Tuesday). MDP representatives have since boycotted attending the Election Commission’s national advisory committee in protest of this unfair restriction. MDP is one of the Maldives’ major opposition parties, and as such has faced serious opposition and oppression from the current government. Last month, the Election Commission threatened to dissolve the MDP, and crackdowns on protestors, and opposition campaigners, and activists have been rampant since 2016. International concern, particularly from Australia and India, has been voiced regarding the prospects of Maldives’ elections. Australia has stated that the Maldivian Government has increasingly taken action to “undermine democracy and democratic institutions and reduce the prospect that the presidential election in September can be free and fair.”

The UN also issued a statement about ongoing human rights abuses in the Maldives, including the government’s failure to review the conviction of two recently arrested judges. Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed were originally arrested on allegations of influencing court decisions in February. Concerns about the viability of Saeed and Hameed’s original convictions in May are also abound, as their trials were marked by irregularities and reports of interference.

Zimbabwe

An explosion at a rally for President Mnangagwa killed two people and injured several others, narrowly missing the campaigning President. The blast comes as elections near in the country, and it marks the first major act of violence in a campaign characterized by unexpected peace. No one has taken responsibility for the explosion. A gathering of minor candidates signed a peace pledge condemning the violence and calling for continued peace and fair elections. Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa expressed his concerns that Mnangagwa’s government will use the blast as a catalyst for oppression and intimidation towards opposition groups. He later stated that the event could also mark a period of poll and election violence.

Syria

A government-led assault in the southwest of Syria has displaced more than 50,000 civilians. As part of Assad’s efforts to “take back every inch,” the Syrian army battled rebels and conducted airstrikes that killed dozens in the Daraa province. It also bombarded the region with barrel bombs with the help of Russian air power. The joint effort between Assad’s regime and its foreign supporters has completely devastated the region, including its medical facilities. This comes after a similar campaign conducted in Eastern Ghouta earlier in the year which resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

The southwest region of Syria is contentious, due to  its close proximity to Jordan’s border and Israel-occupied Golan Heights. This Region was declared a “de-escalation zone” by the United States, Jordan, and Russia. Furthermore, the US warned that there would be “serious repercussions” if Assad violated this agreement. However, the United States has not responded to the attacks yet. Furthermore, Russia has said Assad’s offensives are necessary to fight terrorists since the southwest is an alleged stronghold of Al Qaeda. Notwithstanding, Israel continues its offensives against Iranian forces to stop what it has called Iran’s military “entrenchment” in Syria. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether Assad’s violation of the de-escalation zone will bring the United States and Israel further into or out of the Syrian war. On the other hand, recently-elected Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan claimed that it will continue its involvement to “liberate Syrian lands” in response to growing domestic xenophobia against refugees.  However, it is unclear whether this statement entails working with the rebels (as has been the case) or cooperating with Assad and his allies, which Erdogan has been working on.

A group of 400 refugees has started their journey back to Syria from Lebanon. They are headed for Qalamoun, in the southwest region of Syria. Lebanon’s Hezbollah has been heavily involved throughout the war as one of Assad’s strongest supporters and military powers. Repatriating refugees has been a central theme in Lebanese and Turkish politics. The recently passed Law 10, however, suggests that conditions back in Syria are not conducive to refugees’ returns.

A resolution was passed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons during their meeting in the Hague. It promises to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria and to Russia and China attempted to water down the resolution but failed. Assad is notorious for his use of chemical weapons against civilians throughout the seven-year war. On April 7th, Assad set off a chain of retributive air strikes after dropping a chemical bomb onto a building in Douma—an attack that killed 34 people.

Venezuela

American Vice President Mike Pence is making his third trip to Latin America, to focus on Venezuela. Pence, concerned about regional stability and security, met with Venezuelan refugees in Brazil where he described Maduro’s rule as “tyranny,” and urged other Latin American countries to take further steps to isolate the failing state. Maduro, in his turn, described Pence as a “poisonous viper.”

The EU has imposed sanctions on 11 Venezuelan officials — now including Delcy Rodriguez, the newly-nominated Vice President. It also targets Tareck El Aissami, Venezuela’s industry minister and former vice president, who has already been sanctioned by the United States for drug trafficking. The restrictions include travel bans and asset freezes and have been imposed on those the EU has determined to be  responsible for human rights violations and undermining democracy and the rule of law. President Maduro declared that the sanctions violate international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty, and accused the EU of “flagrant subordination” to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

A cup of coffee, according to Bloomberg’s Cafe Con Leche Index, now costs 1 million bolivars, compared to 450 bolivars just two years ago. A coffee costs a full one-fifth of the monthly minimum wage now, but if converted into dollars would only be around 29 cents.

Malaysia

Malaysia’s new government has no interest in creating regional conflict with Saudi Arabia.  Therefore, Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu of the new regime has stated that Malaysia will be pulling its troops from the area. Sabu has noted “Malaysia has always maintained its neutrality. It has never pursued an aggressive foreign policy,” and has no interest in being apart of a government that has the desire to change that. Malaysian troops were initially placed there in 2015 by former prime minister Najib Razak in aims to remove Malaysians from Yemen. However there is no longer a prominent use for troops in the region, and they plan to have them removed very soon.

Elections are coming up on June 30th, with the UMNO, Malaysia’s largest party, having the most participants in its history. Prior there was a “no-contest” culture within the UMNO party based on the belief that competition represents a disunity in the party. Presidential nominee Zahid Hamidi stated “Before this, they would unite behind the leader to the point where the president’s post is not contested at all. But now everybody wants to grab their position and whether you like it or not, when you have a contest, you divide. The members will be divided.”

The UMNO is said to have received funding from 1MDB, the state investment group involved in the largest corruption scandal in the country’s recent history, which has caused the Malaysian anti-graft agency to freeze the party’s bank accounts as they continue to investigate the allegations. The scandal is under investigation for money laundering in multiple countries The party’s acting president, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, was informed that two of the party’s bank accounts have been closed; one account closed from its headquarters and the other from its Selangor branch.

Due to Malaysia’s progress in combating human trafficking the United States State Department will record its success in its annual report, downgrading Malaysia’s human trafficking to a Tier 2 on their watch list.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Amnesty International has called on Congolese authorities to uphold the “right of all citizens to participate in the electoral process without fear of being killed, arrested or persecuted for their opinions.” The elections are scheduled for December 23, 2018, and Amnesty maintains that it is necessary for all police chiefs and security commanders to be held accountable in order to ensure free and fair elections.

At least 100 people have died from cholera in the past month in the South-Central Oriental province of Congo. Such outbreaks of cholera are common in the country, and provincial governor Alphonse Ngoyi Kasanji has appealed to the central government for adequate monetary and technological support. The World Health Organization is bringing Ebola treatment to some of the most remote communities in the country. The people have been receptive to this treatment, and health conditions are slowly improving in these areas.

Colombia

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reports over 1,500 indigenous Colombians trapped in the Choco Department due to a confrontation between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Gulf Clan paramilitary group. The estimated 331 families of Embera ethnicity are facing a food shortage as the territorial dispute continues.

On Saturday morning, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees tweeted to condemn the recent double homicide of social activists in Colombia, using the hashtag #NiUnoMas (NotASingleOneMore). The Institute of Study on Peace and Development (INDEPAZ) reports that at least 100 social leaders have been murdered since January, citing the expansion of paramilitary forces, an increase in narco-trafficking activities and lack of peace accord implementation as likely principle causes for these murders.

Coca production in Colombia has increased to the highest level in two decades, despite government eradication efforts in the past year. The current crop substitution and rural development program has proven unsuccessful due to violence by illegal crime groups in opposition to these policies, which involved the murder of over 200 former coca farmers who participated in the initiative. Failure to reduce production is putting pressure on president-elect Duque’s incoming administration to collaborate with the United States on bringing back controversial strategies, such as aerial spraying and reimplementing key policies from “Plan Colombia,” a bilateral counternarcotics strategy that costed many human lives.

Thailand

Thai authorities have arrested six senior members of the Thai Sangha Supreme Council, the highest body of Buddhists in the county. The crackdown comes amidst concerns of increasing corruption within the Buddhist community, and the government’s interest in cracking down on corruption in society.

The US State Department has upgraded Thailand’s status in its human trafficking report. Recent efforts to convict traffickers and officials involved in the large human trafficking industry in the country have been commended by the international community.

Rescue teams are continuing their search for 12 students and their soccer coach that have been missing since Saturday after floods trapped them in a cave they were visiting.

A Thai singer has been acquitted on charges of defamation against the crown. Tom Dundee is the second activist to be acquitted on charges of lese majeste, which are usually used to silence dissidents. However, a human rights lawyer has been charged with sedition and will be sentenced to 16 months in prison. The charges are a continuation of Thailand’s use of arrests and criminal charges to silence activist and opposition figures.

Poland

On Wednesday, Poland retracted the controversial law which made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in the Holocaust. This law, passed in February, was condemned as a threat to free speech and an act of historical revisionism. The Law and Justice Party (PiS) acknowledged that this law has considerably damaged Poland’s international reputation, especially with Israel. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling party, however, is still insistent that Germany should pay damages for the Second World War and has only watered down the law in an effort to placate Trump and prevent international isolation.

After a three-hour long discussion between Polish and European leaders in Luxembourg on Tuesday, Frans Timmermans, the European Commission Vice President, stated  that “the systemic threat for the rule of law persists and for us to be able to say it no longer persists, we will need more steps from the Polish side.” There appears to be little progress between the EU and Poland and there is an imminent danger of reduction in Polish funding by the Union.

The Polish Minister of Internal Affairs Joachim Brudzinski has asserted that his country, along with Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, was united “against the uncontrolled influx of migrants.” Although a comprehensive agreement has been reached by the EU leaders to control migrants, it remains to be seen whether the aforementioned countries will budge from their policies and consider taking in migrants in the future.

On Monday, Amnesty International called on Warsaw to “protect the right” to freedom of assembly. They have published an incriminating report which  accuses the Polish authorities of using “surveillance, harassment, and prosecution to disperse and prevent mass protest.” Hope exists, however, as people in Poland realize the power of peaceful protest and yearn for a society where freedom and liberties exist.

Other news:

Bolivia — A nuclear research center in Bolivia will be built with the help of a Russian nuclear power corporation at the end of July. — Tass News Agency

Vietnam — Police officials broke into the president’s office to announce an order regarding a new cybersecurity law which denotes anti-state propaganda. — Dan Lam Bao

Cuba – Cuba has released an environmental activist, Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, after he started a hunger strike protesting his own arrest and the continued censorship of protests against the state. – Washington Post

Togo – Togolese activists, despite continued threats of arrest and hate crimes, are protesting against Faure Gnassingbe’s existing government and are using social media to facilitate this change. – Economist

Saudi Arabia – Saudi women were allowed to drive for the first time on Sunday, marking the end of a long-standing ban. The repeal has led to increased calls for basic rights for women in the country. – Washington Post

England – Thousands of protestors gathered in London to protest Brexit and the current lack of an agreement with the European Union. – Washington Post

Morocco – Moroccan activist Nasser Zefzafi was sentenced to 20 years in prison for undermining public order. Zefzafi is one of several activists to be arrested and convicted for staging nonviolent protests. – NY Times

Laos – Despite having Tier 2 status for four consecutive years, Laos was downgraded by the U.S. State Department to Tier 3 in its annual report on human trafficking this week. The State Department cited the country’s failure to make significant efforts to combat the trade as the reason for the drop in ranking. – RFA

Weekly Report: 22 June 2018

Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo and his daughter are escorted by police during a court hearing in Yangon, Myanmar on June 18th. Reuters, Ann Wang.

Cambodia

Sam Rainsy, former president of the now-dissolved opposition party CNRP, has been summoned by a court for allegedly violating the country’s le?se majeste? law, which prohibits insulting the royal family. Sam Rainsy had posted on his Facebook that a letter recently published by the king endorsing the elections was either fabricated or written under duress: he is now the fourth person to be facing charges for violating the le?se majeste? law. The third arrest was made over the weekend when a citizen wrote an article making death threats. The court order directs the opposition member, who is living in self-exile to avoid ten other possibly politically motivated court cases, to appear “in a timely manner” before the court. Rainsy dismissed the summons in another Facebook post, reiterating his belief that the letter “has no legal value” and that “[the] present king is being held hostage by Hun Sen, who is forcing him to support an autocratic and traitorous regime.”

Mexico

Murders across Mexico this week continued the streak of killings that have been ongoing since May, which was the deadliest recorded month in Mexico’s history since 1998. Two mayoral candidates, Omar Gomez Lucatero (an independent from the state of Michoacan) and Fernando Angeles Juarez (a candidate of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party) were killed on Thursday, joining the ranks of 16 other candidates who have been murdered while campaigning for the July 1st election and 113 candidates murdered since September 2017.

The past week has been as difficult for Mexican protesters and activists as it has for politicians. On Wednesday, a truck plowed into a crowd of protesting teachers at Mexico’s southern border, killing at least seven. Three gay rights activists Ruben Estrada, Carlos Uriel Lopez, and Roberto Berga were also found dead on Wednesday after being shot and left on the side of a highway. Authorities suspect their deaths may be linked to extortion, but little information is available thus far.

In other news, harsh Mexican immigration policies barring South American immigrants from entering Mexico’s Southern border are expected to change following July’s election, according to foreign policy analysts. The immigration stances of Mexico’s forthcoming administration will also have a direct impact on the migrant policies of the United States (which has long worked with Mexico to limit migration from Central America), especially given international uproar over the US’ child-separation policies over the past several weeks.

Nicaragua

Negotiations in Nicaragua have come to a halt between the government and an alliance of opposition groups, despite mediation efforts by the Catholic Church. There is, however, consensus on both sides to invite international rights organizations to investigate the violence over the last two months, which lead to over 180 deaths. International groups have officially received approval to travel to Nicaragua for investigations.

April 19 Movement resistance fighters lost control of the city of Masaya to government-backed paramilitary forces and police this week when government forces breached the city to retrieve a police commander who was being held hostage. The violent conflict has left at least 3 dead and 30 injured. However, a Vatican ambassador and other Catholic mediaries were successful in persuading police to a cease-fire in the city.

Hate crimes, extortion, kidnappings and other crimes continue throughout the region while the government maintains that protesters are terrorists. Anyone who has participated in a protest is subject to imprisonment.

Myanmar

The unjust detention of two Reuters reporters Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone is in its sixth month. Last week, key police witness Major Tin Win Maung did not show up at court. This week, the same officer has been accused of being unreliable after it was discovered that he had violated police regulations. Tin Win Maung copied the statements made by other witnesses because “he wanted to know more about the case.” This is against regulations because a police officer acting as a witness could align his testimony with other witnesses if given access to their statements.

The press freedom case is important because it is part and parcel with Myanmar’s discursive persecution of the Rohingya people through censorship of media. In fact, Myanmar’s Ministry of Information stated that using the term “Rohingya” is “strictly prohibited.” They threatened both Radio Free Asia and the BBC by stating they would not be allowed to air their content on state channels. Regardless, both RFA and the BBC have refused the censorship and quit their partnership with state-run MRTV channel. They will make their content available in Myanmar via shortwave radio, social media and websites.

Myanmar’s government and local media address the Rohingya people as “Bengalis,” which is consistent with their continued efforts to deny the Rohingya people citizenship despite their generational legacies in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, formerly regarded as a champion of human rights and democracy and de facto leader of the country, has joined the rest of Myanmar’s government in suppressing speech. In 2016, she stated that the words “Rohingya” and “Bengali” are “emotive” terms that should not be used. On Thursday, a statement was posted on Aung San Suu Kyi’s Facebook page that condemned “hate narratives” for driving Myanmar communities further apart. This alarming statement comes after Myanmar’s continued denial to call the atrocities committed against the Rohingya acts of ethnic cleansing. The convergence of media censorship and the outrageous violence against the Rohingya people comes to show that this process of ethnic cleansing is intimately intertwined with a genocide of history and name.

Currently, there are more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, almost all of whom have settled in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district which is extremely vulnerable to monsoons, flooding, and landslides. The monsoons have already destroyed more than 3,000 shelters, resulting in deaths and displacement. The conditions of the refugee camps are especially destructive for Rohingya women and girls. They face discrimination and stigma and are denied mobility and access to education. In the face of these difficulties, Rohingya women and aid workers are working to create women-only healthcare and counseling centers, as well as communities for Rohingya women.

North & South Korea

Global tensions with North Korea continue to ease after the US-North Korea Summit last week. Japan has stopped simulating North Korean missile attack protocols and evacuations in local schools. China will allow North Korean airline Air Koryo to fly between Pyongyang and Xi’an starting in July, soon to be one of five Chinese cities with direct flights to North Korea’s capital. Similarly, Kim Jong Un visited China this week for the third time since March, speaking with president Xi Jinping who has publicly promised to uphold and support North Korea’s denuclearization. However, skeptics suspect that Kim’s increasingly positive relationship with China will be leveraged against the United States, especially given the recently escalated trade war between the US and China. This certainly casts some doubt on the long-term viability of positive US-North Korea relations. South Korea’s foreign minister also announced that sanctions against North Korea would remain until “complete denuclearization has been achieved.”

A demonstration of over 22,000 women took place in Seoul last weekend — marking the largest women’s march in the country’s history. The women were protesting against the growing use of spy cams across the country–secret cameras installed in public places such as bathrooms and changing rooms whose footage is recorded and distributed without individual consent. The presence of such cameras has become so prevalent that women frequently wear masks when using public restrooms or showers in order to hide their identity in case they are being filmed. This is the second major demonstration on the issue, following one in late May which included nearly 12,000 protestors; both marches were organized by Women March for Justice.

USA

After a great deal of criticism from Democrats, activists, and even his family, President Trump signed an executive order which would disallow the separation of families of illegal immigrants entering the United States. Though he maintained that strict border regulations will persist, he caved to enormous political pressure with this policy. By signing the order, Trump and his allies have abandoned the position that they held for weeks: that Democrats were to blame for the inhumane separation of immigrants and the administration had its hands tied on this issue. Additionally, Trump’s order might conflict with the 1997 Federal Court decision, which “strictly limits the ability to keep children in detention centers.”Correspondingly, the House of Representatives has rejected a hardline immigration bill. Furthermore, because the executive order lessened pressures on the legislature, the House has delayed a vote on a legislative compromise.  Activists in Portland, Oregon have vowed to shut down their local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices and end Trump’s zero-tolerance approach towards immigration. The group has called itself #OccupyICEPDX and this movement has spread to other cities with protestors setting up camp outside ICE offices in New York and Los Angeles.

The administration’s threat to impose an additional $200 billion tariff on Chinese imports if China retaliates against current US tariffs has sent shock-waves through stock markets across the world. The looming trade war has negatively affected the Shanghai composite and European stock markets and the Dow is predicted to have a loss as well. Trump’s tariffs are devised to hamper China’s program to promote high-tech industries and the 2025 “Made in China Program. However, the administration underestimates the loss by U.S firms that outsource production to China and China’s ability to easily substitute its trade partners.

Keeping up with their promises from the Sentosa Summit, the Pentagon has “suspended all planning” for joint military exercises with South Korea scheduled for August. A major challenge for General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, is to channel Trump’s broad intentions to limit “war games” into specific military guidance.

The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) citing discriminatory treatment of Israel. Along with Iran, Eritrea and North Korea, the United States is one of the few countries in the World to voluntarily refuse UNHRC membership. Considering that the United Nations human rights architecture was primarily built by the United States, it remains to be seen what impact the withdrawal will have on the conception and condemnation of human rights abuses.

Zimbabwe

As the July 30th elections approach, the international community continues to pressure the government, which took power in a coup in November, into holding free and fair elections without reverting to the coercion and violence of past elections. The international community has also questioned the role of military officials in the current government and the government’s commitment to democracy. Additionally, UN observers have criticized difficulties with the electoral commission and its delayed release of the voter rolls to opposition parties. Despite these complications, the elections have fostered optimism for the future of the country as a record-breaking 23 candidates have been declared for the presidency and violence has been at an all-time low.

Maldives

Three opposition lawmakers, Imthiyaz Fahmy, Mohamed Ameeth, and Faisal Naseem, are now allowed to travel after a three-month travel ban. The lawmakers were barred from leaving the country after urging the public to join nationwide demonstrations in March. This prevented Mohamed Ameeth from attending his grandfather’s funeral and Faisal Naseem from accompanying his son who received urgent medical treatment abroad.

Syria

After ruthlessly taking back Damascus and Homs from rebel troops, President Assad has focused his offensives in southwest Syria with the help of Russian and Iranian forces. Attacks have escalated and have endangered and displaced countless civilians. However, Assad’s military operations are complicated by the regional interests of Israel, Jordan, and the United States. Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the US State Department, claimed that Assad’s military and militia units “have violated the southwest de-escalation zone and initiated airstrikes, artillery, and rocket attacks.” She followed with a warning that the Russian and Syrian governments will face “serious repercussions.”

Meanwhile, in Northern Syria, Kurdish forces are being pushed into negotiating with the Syrian government due to concerning signals from Russia, Turkey, and the United States. Both Russia and the United States appear to be allying with Turkey against the Kurdish people. Russia approved Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch against the YPG (Kurdish People’s Protection Units) in Afrin. Despite the YPG’s instrumental role in helping fight the Islamic State, the United States and Turkey are co-planning a future for the city of Manbij that does not include a place for the Kurds. Therefore, the fight for Kurdish autonomy is shifting towards negotiating with Assad.

The meeting between Russia, Turkey, and Iran led by UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura took place on Tuesday. However, the meeting failed to produce definitive conclusions or make much progress on drafting a new Syrian constitution. For example, who will be included in the constitutional committee is still in question. There also continue to be concerns as to whether the new constitution will effectively curb the powers of the government.  

UN investigations in Eastern Ghouta have revealed a slew of war crimes committed by Assad’s regime. A leaked draft of the UN report details the use of bombardments, mass starvation, and chemical weapons against civilians, which violates the 2013 international treaty that bans chemical weapons in Syria. It also includes videos and testimonies of a deadly assault on April 7th of this year that killed 49 people, 11 of whom were children.  

Venezuela

Diosdado Cabello was appointed as head of the Constituent Assembly, taking over for Delcy Rodriguez after Maduro chose her as his vice president. The controversial and all-powerful legislative body will now be headed by a man under sanctions by the United States for alleged drug trafficking, embezzlement, and money laundering.

17 people died this week when a tear gas canister went off after a brief brawl inside a nightclub, triggering a stampede as people fled the building. At least 11 died of asphyxiation. It is unclear how a civilian acquired the canister, as only police and armed forces are intended to have them, and in fact, have used them against protesters in the past. Officials are conducting an investigation and have detained seven suspects based on eyewitness accounts, as well as the club owner for his failure to implement measures to block weapons from entering the space.

The country can breathe a sigh of relief after final test results confirmed for the World Health Organization that polio has not, in fact, returned to Venezuela.

Maduro announced he is raising the minimum wage for the fourth time this year, although the wage will still be below 2.00 USD a month by the black market exchange rate.

As inflation rises and Venezuelans go hungry, soldiers were deployed to Venezuelan food markets to check prices price-controlled items as a countermeasure in the “economic war” that Maduro says the international community is waging on his country through sanctions. The minister for industry and production, Tarek El Aissami, said they had found “fraudulent price manipulation” at the markets. Maduro claimed that the soldiers arrested “Mafiosi, wholesalers, thieves, and capitalists.”

Eight people were convicted of participating in a 2015 coup attempt this Wednesday. Three were civilians, five were members of the armed forces, and each was issued a sentence of between 3 and 6 years in prison by a military court according to the group Foro Penal. At the time of the coup, Maduro claimed the opposition was backed by the United States government, in keeping with the rhetoric he has used throughout his rule. Another rights organization has said that around a total of 150 members of the armed forces are in prison for “political reasons.”

Venezuela’s prosecutor-general, Tarek William Saab, ordered the arrests of 16 farmers who failed to meet their contractual obligations to deliver 38% of their harvest to DelAgro, a state-owned enterprise which had invested almost 1.4 million USD in the producers. Separately, Saab announced that 309 bank accounts were blocked for receiving illegal remittances from relatives abroad Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Honduras, and Uruguay. Saab insists that the only legal channels for remittances are through Western Union and MoneyGram.

Bolivia

The worst road accident of the year in Bolivia occurred in southern Potosi late Friday, killing 17 people and leaving over 30 injured. The driver was killed as the bus collided with a boulder at a very high speed. Investigations are being held to determine whether there was a possible mechanical error, or if the crash was simply the result of reckless driving.

On Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales stopped in China to continue his international tour to gain more investments for his country. During his visit, Morales met with Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping to sign an agreement to help foster and shape their international relationship. As a result of the signed agreement, Bolivia will be integrated into the New Silk Road initiative. Morales also met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to discuss Bolivian exports and make an agreement on Chinese investment in Bolivia’s infrastructure.

An armed assault on a Bolivian military base led to the arrest of three members of the Brazilian mafia. Two soldiers were wounded and many weapons were stolen during the assault, along with 1,200 rounds of ammunition. Bolivia’s Minister of Government Carlos Romero is concerned that the remaining Brazilian and Bolivian gang members who fled the scene are conspiring to commit violent action. Romero stated that “within the space of a few days they have attacked twice, so it seems like they are preparing something big.”

The tensions regarding the Silala dispute between Chile and Bolivia continue to fester as the case develops in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). President Morales decided not to present a countersuit against Chile this week, but will instead submit a counter-memorial to the ICJ before September of this year.

Colombia

On Sunday, Democratic Center candidate Iván Duque won the presidential run-off election with 54% of the vote, making him the second youngest president in the country’s history at age 41. In his victory speech to the nation, Duque emphasized that his party “does not want to tear the agreement to shreds” but rather “make it clear that a Colombia at peace is a Colombia where peace meets justice”.

According to the Attorney General, six legislative candidates are under investigation for vote buying in the March legislative elections, including elected senators Margarita Restrepo, Fabian Castillo, Lilbeth Llinas, Julian Besoya, and Maria Fernanda Cabal.

On Thursday, the three bodies of missing Ecuadorian press workers were found. The workers had disappeared in March while investigating an uptick in drug-related violence along the Colombia-Ecuador border and were believed to be kidnapped after gruesome photos of them surfaced in April, though the authenticity of the photos could not be proved.

Vietnam

During last week’s protests in Ho Chi Minh City, an American citizen named Will Nguyen was arrested for disturbing the peace. This week, a confession video of Nguyen was released where he stated “I understand that my acts violated the law. I regret that I caused trouble for people heading to the airport.” Speculations of forced confession circulate due to Vietnam’s history of suppressing free speech as a part of their communist regime. Nguyen still has not yet been released. His older sister Victoria Nguyen and classmate Mary Alice Daniel are both fighting for his liberation with United States congress.

Thailand

Thailand has resumed its use of the death penalty after a nine year moratorium. The shift in policy has drawn concerns from human rights groups as hundreds of people remain on death row; the end of the moratorium comes as authorities continue to reform the criminal justice system in the country leading to concerns about fair sentencing and human rights.

Peace talks in the southern province of Pattani have been delayed by a transition in the Malaysian government. Thai authorities emphasized their commitment to the talks to end the insurgency with the ethnic-Malay group, MARA Patini.

A recent statement by Prime Minister Chan-o-cha announced that the government will not hold elections until after the coronation of King Vajiralongkorn, who assumed the throne in 2016. The announcement has cast doubts on whether the government will uphold the promise of elections by February since no date for the coronation has been set.

Poland

Three high-profile Polish judges have complained of a “state-led campaign of intimidation and harassment.” Polish judges are increasingly reluctant to handle political cases and are under insurmountable pressure to align with the policies and attitudes of the Duda Government. The Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights has noted that even state prosecutors who have expressed concerns about political interference have had disciplinary proceedings initiated against them.

The Law and Justice Party’s (PiS) disputed law, which will force 40% of the current Polish judiciary to retire, is set to motion on the third of July. Since the executive holds more sway in the appointment of judges, a massive exodus of judges at this point would make for a more politicized judiciary.  

Law and Justice Party leader Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski, who had not made a public appearance since April, returned to work this week. Though he does not hold any public office, he is the founder of the PiS and exercises control over “handpicking ministers and strategic decisions about the economy.” Concerns over his health were paramount as many Polish scholars feel that his departure could result in a substantive realignment in Polish right-wing politics.

Singapore

A video from 2014 resurfaced this week in social media circles showing a Singaporean man yelling at a Mandarin-speaking worker to “go back to your country.” This video has reignited a conversation in both China and Singapore about treatment of ethnic Chinese in Singapore.

Five South Korean protestors were arrested outside the St. Regis Hotel in Singapore, where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stayed during his summit meeting with US President Donald Trump. The five women were told to cease all protesting activities and were arrested upon their refusal.

Other news:

Laos – Locals and officials gathered in Vientiane on Saturday to raise awareness of the high rate of dengue fever present in the country. Separately, a proposed hydropower dam is under review to investigate its environmental impact. – Vientiane Times | Khmer Times

Malaysia –This week Malaysia announces Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus as Central Bank official two weeks after Muhammad Ibrahim resigned. – Bloomberg

Togo – Togolese activists, despite continued threats of arrest and hate crimes, are protesting against Faure Gnassingbe’s existing government and are using social media to facilitate this change. – Economist

Cuba – President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s new government policies have relaxed some rules on state-run media. Media outlets may now report on some news before official statements by the Communist Party. However, state and independent outlets still face strong restrictions on how they can reporting the government’s activity, and these reforms remain far from the norm for freedom of the press. – Washington Post

CANVAS News
Hypocritical (Non-)Commitment to Human Rights Plagues White House

Jun 20, 2018

Avi Selk, Washington Post The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) on Tuesday amidst growing criticisms against Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policies.

Increasing Hate Crimes against Journalists threaten Indian Democracy

Jun 18, 2018

A rising tide of intolerance threatens journalists in India. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, journalists have been facing greater threats from an increasingly polarized environment in India.

Hypocritical (Non-)Commitment to Human Rights Plagues White House

Avi Selk, Washington Post

The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) on Tuesday amidst growing criticisms against Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policies. This move, which US UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has defended as an act of support for global human rights, has aligned the United States with Eritrea, Iran and North Korea, three of the world’s worst human rights offenders and the only other countries that have refused UNHCR membership.

In the past six weeks, American customs officials have separated more than 2000 children from their asylum-seeking parents at America’s southern border. Many of these children are now housed in tent cities and converted warehouses, unable to see or communicate with their parents. In early June, the UN deemed these separations illegal under international law and called for their immediate halt. The US has since accused the UN of political corruption and incompetence and has withdrawn their membership from the Human Rights Council (HCR) as a whole. This decision is just the latest of many by the Trump Administration which disregard international treaties and human rights standards, setting an alarming precedent for the remaining years of Trump’s presidency.

Ambassador Haley endorsed the withdrawal, stating “the United States will not sit quietly while this body, supposedly dedicated to human rights, continues to damage the cause of human rights. In the end, no speech and no structural reforms will save the members of the Human Rights Council from themselves.” However, the US’ departure from the world’s leading humanitarian organization arguably limits, rather than enables, the country’s ability to positively impact human rights.

In her speech, Ambassador Haley cited unwarranted bias against Israel as a major reason for America’s departure from the HCR. However, this excuse is flat and unconvincing. The HCR’s programme agenda is made up of ten items, only one of which focuses on conflicts between Israel and Palestine. The remaining nine items cover a plethora of topics including xenophobia, racism, capacity building, and action. Therefore, the role of the HCR cannot be diminished to one of their agenda items, nor should its reports of a country’s human rights abuse necessarily be construed as political bias. In fact, attempting to reconcile one of the globe’s oldest and bloodiest conflicts is arguably the essence, and not a detractor, of a human rights organization. Furthermore, there are many countries that have maintained their membership in the UNHCR despite being politically-invested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a testament to the insufficiency of the one-conflict rationale.

This is not the first controversial decision to have cast doubt on the Trump Administration’s commitment to protecting human rights. At the Singapore Summit last week, many activists were astonished to see that President Trump did not once mention Kim Jong Un’s atrocious human rights record; in fact, he praised Kim’s authoritative command of the Korean people, stating that when “he speaks his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” Indeed, in showing complete disregard for human rights, the Trump Administration has aligned itself with the likes of Kim Jong Un, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Eritrean Dictator Isaias Afwerki in an unflattering reflection on the state of American dignity.

Increasing Hate Crimes against Journalists threaten Indian Democracy

Photo: Translation: ‘The government’s hand on the common man’s face’, Aseem Trivedi

A rising tide of intolerance threatens journalists in India. The killing of a journalist is not just a crime but also a human rights abuse as it stifles free speech and freedom of expression. Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014, journalists have been facing greater threats from an increasingly polarized environment in India. From the death of Gauri Lankesh, a known critic of Hindu right-wing extremism, last September to the recent hate crimes against Barkha Dutt and Ravish Kumar, there is a lack of press freedom and a growing assault on constitutional and democratic values.

Complementing the death threats are increased instances of online abuse. In the case of journalist Rana Ayyub, a pornographic video with her face superimposed on one of the actors was sent to her. The case reflects on the problem of sexism in Indian society where threats of sexual nature are used to shame and silence female journalists. “Islamist”, “Jihadi Jane,” and “ISIS sex slave” are some of the epithets which have been hurled at Ayyub as she is one of the few female Muslims who speaks out against an alleged Hindu nationalist government.

While some journalists, like Barkha Dutt, have been able to afford enhanced security and get their houses debugged, many local and less affluent journalists face increased death threats while uncovering cases of corruption and local crime. Correspondingly, India’s ranking in the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2018 has fallen two places since last year to 138th, augmenting the problem is the increased impunity of these murders and harassment. A Committee to Protect Journalists report has ranked India 13th in the Global Impunity Index, a list highlighting countries where the murders of the journalists are least likely to get justice.

Considering that academics hope that India will be the salvage of democracy, stifling free speech and providing impunity to murderers is threatening the very foundation of the country’s values. While members of the ruling government have not been afraid to showcase their disdain towards media outlets, what remains to be seen is whether the opposition holds the ability to capitalize on the many candle-light protests, demand better protection against hate crimes, and protect India’s democratic values.

 

Weekly Report: 15 June 2018

Photo: A Nicaraguan demonstrator stands next to graffiti reading “Ortega Out”. Reuters.

Malaysia

The Malaysian government seeks to receive reparations from companies like Goldman Sachs that contributed to the IMDB scandal resulting in enormous debt. Financial minister Lim Guan Eng stated that he intends to “seek some claims” from Goldman Sachs and eventually have the money returned.

In other news, Malaysia’s top two judges, Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal President Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin have resigned and will officially step down on July 31. Their resignations occurred amidst Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s ongoing removal of senior government officials with close ties to the previous administration. Muhammad bin Ibrahim, the Central Bank Governor, also resigned in June, having only completed two years of his five-year term.

Venezuela

After months of medicine shortages in the country, polio appears to have made a disturbing comeback in Venezuela nearly three decades after its eradication. A case was reported in a child from the state of Delta Amacuro: health care officials and the WHO are awaiting final confirmation from lab results. The case was allegedly reported over a month later than international health regulations require. The lack of basic vaccinations in the country has also sparked an increase in other formerly eradicated diseases such as diphtheria, tuberculosis, measles, and malaria: malnutrition from food shortages has only served to compound Venezuelans’ vulnerability to these diseases.

Annual inflation has reached 24550%, and Venezuelans are unable to buy a meal with one day’s salary. The country’s economic collapse continues to deepen as oil production deflates and Venezuela is unable to meet its contractual exports of crude oil. As output falls, the government of a country with the largest known crude reserves is now considering importing fuel. Workers at the state-run oil company PDVSA are abandoning their once-enviable positions as inflation renders their salaries nearly worthless, some taking equipment with them. The loss of both equipment and workers will likely stunt the industry’s already-dubious recovery.

The Supreme Court has rejected Henri Falcon’s case to challenge the May 20 election, citing a lack of evidence indicating electoral fraud.

As part of Maduro’s promised post-election national dialogue, another 43 prisoners are to be released, bringing the number to higher than 120. Many of those released are considered by civil rights groups to be illegally arrested political activists. The releases are conditional — the prisoners must agree not to speak to the press or travel internationally.

Maduro is replacing his vice president with a longtime loyalist, Delcy Rodriguez. Before her appointment, Rodriguez was at the head of the powerful National Constituent Assembly, which will convene to find her replacement, and gained her new position through years of loyalty to Maduro.

The US has frozen 800 million USD in assets allegedly belonging to Venezuelan official Diosdado Cabello — an amount that could cover two months of the country’s debt payments.

Vietnam

A draft law on new economic zones has sparked fears among Vietnamese citizens who claim their economic stature may be threatened by the encroachment of Chinese investors. As a result, nationwide protests erupted on Sunday, leading to multiple arrests. The government has stated that the “bill is designed to give a strong boost” to their economy, but because of the protests, the vote on the law has been delayed for further research.

Over a hundred protesters were taken into custody, including an American citizen named Will Nguyen, whom the United States is attempting to get released. Nguyen participated in a peaceful demonstration in Ho Chi Minh city. Police dragged Nguyen through the streets after accusing him of “disturbing the peace”. Nguyen has been detained but has not yet been charged.

Some protesters were subjected to police brutality, being dragged and beaten on the streets. Many took to social media to publicize the run-ins with the police. According to the Human Rights Watch, “A protester in Ho Chi Minh City told Radio Free Asia: ‘We were protesting peacefully and didn’t incite anyone. But they grabbed me and pushed me onto a bus on Le Duan Street, with five or six policemen beating me the whole time.’”

This protest is considered illegal under Vietnam’s restrictions on anti-government demonstrations and freedom of assembly.  

Poland

Parents of disabled children occupied the Polish parliament to seek greater federal support. According to the protest spokesperson, Iwona Hartwich, an exact same protest happened outside the lower chamber of parliament four years ago but their demands have not been realized.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa—one of the key leaders in the Solidarity anti-communist movement—has come out fighting against the present judicial reform. He has asked the European Court of Justice to “investigate the dramatic changes in the judiciary” that have undermined the separation of powers and politicized the judiciary.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has formulated plans to address Poland’s relationship with the EU in a constitutional referendum for the first time since Poland joined the bloc. The list of questions is set to be finalized next Tuesday and among others, will question the primacy of the Polish Constitution over International and European Law.

Meanwhile, Poland’s Supreme Court has ruled against a print shop employee who refused to print banners for an LGBT business group. This “liberal” ruling comes amidst the list of accusations aimed at the Polish judiciary.

Colombia

A recent government study estimates that approximately 1 million people have immigrated to Colombia from Venezuela in the last two years. The surge in immigrants comes amidst deteriorating economic conditions in the neighboring country. The Colombian government has announced that it is preparing measures to provide the migrants who participated in the census with temporary permits to stay, in effect giving them access to legal work, education and medical services.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that Colombia must investigate the 1998 death of journalist Nelson Carvajal Carvajal. The Court also condemned the Colombian government’s inaction, which marked the first time it ruled on a case regarding the murder of a journalist.

Cambodia

International groups, including a group of ASEAN MPs, continue to criticize Cambodia’s upcoming round of elections due to limitations on opposition participation. Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken several controversial steps to secure a victory including continuing his crackdown on possible sources of dissent including a major newspaper, arresting major opposition figures, and promising cash rewards at rallies.

The United States has enacted sanctions on the head of Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit in response to a 2015 attack on opposition politicians. The sanctions come as relations with western countries continue to fray, given that an Australian filmmaker is set to go on trial for espionage charges.  

Nicaragua

This Thursday, streets across the country emptied as the opposition called for a 24-hour national strike in rejection of President Ortega’s rule. With public transit shut down and banks and bakeries shuttered for the day, the country was in a state of economic standstill. Violent clashes continued despite the strike in several areas and at least 6 people were killed when pro-government forces continued to challenge activists’ blockades. These barricades were constructed on over two-thirds of the country’s roads in an effort by anti-government groups to halt government forces.

Amid reports of riot police and paramilitary forces firing indiscriminately at groups, the NGO Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights has raised the death toll for the past two months to 162, many of whom were students, although the government reports a lower number. Students have led the cause since its inception in April, protesting the proposed cuts to social programs. Several universities have been converted into makeshift camps for anti-government students looking to tackle Ortega.

Nicaraguan Bishops, who have been at the forefront of negotiations between the two sides for the past two months, are to meet at 10 am to announce both their mediation offer from last week and Ortega’s response, an update the country has been anticipating for a week. Activists have been pushing to bring forward the next presidential election, currently scheduled for 2021, and reform electoral rules. However,  the government has described their demand as on par with a coup and has shown no indication of acquiescence.

The government sent a report on Tuesday to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in which it accused opposition groups of violence resulting in the killing of two important Sandinista figures. The report also recounted incidents of roaming groups armed with firearms, mortar shells, and Molotov cocktails, committing “acts of terrorism” against Nicaraguans. The IACHR on Wednesday released a preliminary investigation report in which it condemned the use of force by the state and “grave human rights violations” during the government crackdown. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the report as “biased” and maintained its stance that the opposition is trying to undermine democracy.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese President Joseph Kabila will not seek a third term in the upcoming December elections after promising to abide by constitutional term limits. Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala will attend the African leaders’ meeting next week in Luana to convey this message.

The International Criminal Court has directed the “interim release” of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a warlord and former Vice President of the DRC. Amnesty International has formally decried this acquittal and has called the ICC’s ruling a “huge blow to the many victims” who suffered during the wars waged in the Central African country.

Myanmar

After a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and Christine Schraner Burgener, visiting Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General, Myanmar agreed to cooperate with the UN to address the Rohingya crisis. However, the contents of the signed Memorandum of Understanding have not been publicly released. Additionally, there has been contention regarding whether the investigating commission should consist entirely of Myanmarese people or include international actors. Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen isolates three reasons international intervention is necessary. First, the issue has received international attention and grapples with ethnic identity and citizenship. Secondly, Myanmar’s own initiatives in the past have been extremely ineffective in bringing about significant progress and it is doubtful whether those commissions serve the best interests of the Rohingya people. Thirdly, past actions prove that international pressure is necessary to expedite the repatriation of refugees and make investigations more transparent.

Following a decrease in European tourists after press coverage of the Rohingya crisis, Myanmar is easing restrictions for travelers from Japan, South Korea, and China to strengthen its tourism industry. Also, there have been increased efforts to strengthen bilateral trade and investment between Myanmar and Thailand. Myanmar Insight 2018 is an event planned for July 20th in Bangkok to provide a platform for Myanmar’s policy makers to inform Thai business people about Myanmar’s economic policies, laws, and regulations. China continues to strengthen its regional powers through infrastructure investments in the China-Myanmar economic corridor. Additionally, Toyo Ink Group, a Japanese chemical maker, is investing in a $6.5 million facility in the Yangon Region to expand its productions into Myanmar.

North & South Korea

The Singapore Summit resulted in North Korea’s promise of disarmament in exchange for the United States’ halting joint military exercises with South Korea and the lifting of sanctions. Although President Trump framed the meeting as a success, many remain skeptical, especially given the lack of details. The final document signed by Chairman Kim and Trump had no mention of a means for verification or the irreversibility of disarmament. It also does not stipulate a timetable for the objectives.

Trump’s post-summit claim that North Korea is “no longer a Nuclear Threat” is inconsistent with the history of North Korean policies and strategies. Furthermore, the scattered network of hundreds of hidden facilities will make inspection and verification extremely difficult—studies predict the process of disarmament could take anywhere between two and fifteen years. However, it is also possible that Kim regards the lifting of sanctions and rising quality of life within North Korea as a stronger safeguard for his power than military protection against the US, South Korea, and Japan.

On the other side, the United States offered security guarantees and the lifting of sanctions upon denuclearization–although there have been suggestions that sanctions may be lifted earlier. However, the agreement to end joint military drills with South Korea was met with concern from neighboring countries. For example, a text message from South Korea’s Ministry of Defense and a statement from the U.S. military command in South Korea suggested that they were not aware of Trump’s intentions to end the training exercises. Furthermore, a South Korean senior official pointed out that this matter concerns the U.S.-South Korean alliance and therefore cannot be negotiated between the US and North Korea. Taro Kono, Japanese Foreign Minister, sought to clarify whether the halting of US military drills in South Korea was “contingent on North Korean denuclearization.”

Overall, the situation requires more careful observations before conclusions are drawn as to whether the summit was indeed a “success.”

Syria

On June 14th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to justify Israel’s numerous attacks on Iran-backed Shi’ite militias in Syria. His speech at the International Homeland Security Forum conference capitalized on the growing concerns about the millions of displaced Syrians and religious tensions between the Sunni Syrian majority and Assad’s Shi’ite government. Netanyahu accused Iran for bringing Shi’ite fighters into Syria and causing the exodus of Syrian Sunni refugees into Europe. He claimed that this conflict will serve as the foundations of “a religious war . . . that would cause endless upheaval and terrorism” and “millions more that go into Europe.” He subsequently framed Israel’s bombing the militias in Syria as an action that ensured “the security of the world.”

In response to Bashar al-Assad’s brutal efforts to take back “every inch” of Syrian territory, the United States State Department released a statement noting that it “will take firm and appropriate measures” against the Syrian government’s military actions. It also stated that Russia is responsible for leveraging its influence to “cease further military offensives.” Furthermore, in the next few weeks, senior officials from the US, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and others will meet to discuss Syrian political reform, rewriting the constitution, and holding elections. These meetings will be facilitated by Staffan de Mistura, UN envoy to Syria.

There continue to be concerns among rights groups, refugees and international actors over Law 10, which gives the government the authority to seize and develop properties that belong to displaced Syrians. The government has claimed that Law 10 is necessary to rebuild areas that have been destroyed during the war and to regulate illegal settlements. However, countries like Turkey and Lebanon have argued that this will keep Syrian refugees from returning. Additionally, Russia and Germany’s concerns have placed this issue on the United Nations Security Council’s agenda.

USA

The much-awaited Kim-Trump summit took place in Sentosa, Singapore this week. Both the leaders agreed to a “freeze-for-freeze” policy wherein the US would stop its war games- joint military exercises with South Korea- on the peninsula while Kim promised to stop his ICBM and nuclear tests.

The G-7 meeting in Canada only increased discord between the United States and its allies. The EU has already retaliated with tariffs, which will be implemented either in late June or early July. Import duties will be $3.3bn worth of US products. Trump is also ready to stage another trade war with $50 billion in tariffs against Chinese goods, which aligns with his campaign promises. It remains to be seen how this will impact  the US economy.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has raised the interest rate to two percent. The last time the federal rate exceeded two percent was in the late summer of 2008, just before the financial crisis. However, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, is increasingly confident and optimistic about the economy’s ability to sustain growth.

Zimbabwe

American diplomats in Harare condemned the death of a two year old as a “senseless and horrific act,” warning of repercussions if the death is found to be politically motivated or related to the upcoming elections. Tensions are high in the country before the first elections held without President Robert Mugabe. However, the general election environment has been lauded as more peaceful and open than ever before.

Maldives

On Wednesday, the Maldivian Supreme Court sentenced former President Abdul Gayoom, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, and Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed to 19 months in prison without a fair trial. The three men, charged with obstruction of justice, allegedly refused to provide their cellphones for a police investigation; however, they have denied these accusations.

This is not the first time Maldivian authorities have detained Gayoom, Saeed, and Hameed. In February, the men were arrested on charges of plotting a coup after current President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency. These charges have yet to be tried in court.

The international community has widely condemned the trial. On Thursday, US State Department official Heather Nauert stated that the United States was “deeply dismayed” by the court’s lack of fair process and that the sentencing “casts serious doubt on the commitment of the Government of the Maldives to the rule of law.” Furthermore, this court decision has called the Maldives’ “willingness to permit a free and fair presidential election” into question.

Other news:

Argentina – After 22 hours of debate, the Argentine Chamber of Deputies has passed a groundbreaking bill allowing abortions before 14 weeks of pregnancy. Protests in favor of the bill rocked Buenos Aires this week. – National Public Radio

Laos – Over 19,000 teachers are needed across the country, according to a survey of 12,744 schools, but only 1,850 teachers will be enlisted for public schools for the next twelve months. – Lao News Agency

Mexico – Since the start of the election season in September, 113 politicians have been killed in Mexico. The number continues to rise as the July 1st election date approaches, with two more deaths reported on Thursday. – Vox | Reuters

Bolivia –Bolivian president Evo Morales has set out on an international tour this week seeking out investors who may make financial ventures in Bolivia. On Wednesday Morales met with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss economic and political issues.” Morales hopes to secure over 1 billion dollars in investments; he will also make stops in Holland and China. – TeleSur

CANVAS News

Georgian Prime Minister Resigns Amidst Protests Against Corruption

Jun 14, 2018

Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned on Wednesday following several weeks of popular protest and political disagreements with Georgia’s ruling party. Kvirikashvili’s resignation accompanies several other step-downs by major government officials following popular outcry and protests against corruption.

Georgian Prime Minister Resigns Amidst Protests Against Corruption

Photo: Protest leader Zaza Saralidze speaks to demonstrators and journalists. Source: RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty

Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned on Wednesday following several weeks of popular protest and political disagreements with Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream. Kvirikashvili has been prime minister since 2015.

Kvirikashvili stepped down in the midst of other resignations by global officials following protests condemning government corruption. On April 23 Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned after 11 days of popular protest, as did Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki on June 4.

The protests began on May 31st in reaction to the killing of two teenagers in December and the allegedly improper sentencing of their killers. According to protest leader Zaza Saralidze, whose son was one of December’s victims, the two subjects put on trial for his son’s death were not the real culprits, and those truly responsible escaped prosecution because of their relatives who worked in the Prosecutor-General’s Office. Protesters originally called for the resignation of chief prosecutor Irakli Shotadze; however, their demands grew into broader calls against government corruption after Shotadze’s resignation. On June 11, police dismantled protestor tents and detained several members of the political opposition.

Saralidze’s protests follow earlier demonstrations in May against excessive force used by police in anti-drug raids at nightclubs in Tbilisi.

In his resignation speech, Kvirikashvili stated that “we had a number of fundamental disagreements with the party’s leader” Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is the richest man in Georgia.  

Kvirikashvili went on to state that “today is the moment when the party’s chairman should have the opportunity to form a team on the basis of his own views.”

According to Georgia’s Constitution, Kvirikashvili’s resignation necessitates the resignation of his entire cabinet. The ruling party now has a week to nominate a new prime minister who will then be officially appointed by Georgia’s President, Giorgi Margvelashvili.

Weekly Report: 8 June 2018

Photo: Protesters outside the prime minister’s office in Amman, Jordan. Raad Adayleh, Associated Press

Malaysia

Malaysian Central Bank Governor Muhammad Ibrahim officially resigned from his position this week after speculations of a multi-million dollar scandal. The scandal involves the 1MDB, a strategic development company,  that has been under investigation since 2015. Ibrahim’s resignation was announced by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on June 6. Ibrahim denies any relation to the scandal, however, claiming “…Bank Negara Malaysia will never be party to any such activities that would betray the public trust in us”. The new administration’s Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng, has suggested that a land sale made by the recent Prime Minister Najib Razak to the Negara Bank is being used to pay off debts to 1MDB. Bank Negara states that the transaction made with Najib Razak was “fair” and in alignment with “relevant laws.”

Attorney General Tommy Thomas highlighted the importance of the case, stating his number one priority is to “nab the culprits responsible for the 1MDB scandal.”  Thomas has announced that his department is requesting help from United States, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Singapore to ensure that the money involved in the scandal is rightfully returned to Malaysia.

Cambodia

Cambodia’s ruling party announced official plans to monitor and control online content intended to “cause instability” leading up to the July election. Cambodia’s Ministries of Information, Interior, and Posts and Telecommunications will work jointly on “controlling all dissemination of information.” Following a recommendation from the National Electoral Council, the regulation also bans journalists from including personal opinion or bias in their reporting. Violations will be punishable with fines of 5 million to 30 million riels ($1,225 to $7,355 USD). Moreover, the articles written in the notice were “loosely termed,” according to a political analyst in Cambodia, and could be interpreted by the government and courts in such a way as to unjustly charge the authors of content that “leads to the destruction of national defense, security and relationships with other countries, public order, discrimination and culture, and national tradition.” Rights and advocacy groups have decried this notice as a violation of freedom of expression. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, called the notice “a core part of the pre-election censorship,” and said the new measures were sure to result in the arrest and prosecution of opposition activists and NGO campaigners who “still dare to speak truth to the CPP’s power.”

Opposition leader Kem Sokha was denied bail again in an appeals court as he faces trial for charges of treason, which many view as simply a pretense under the recent crackdown on dissent and government opponents to remove him from politics. This is the fourth time he has been denied bail since his arrest in September 2017.

200 Cambodians in the US, supporting dissolved opposition party CNRP, held a  protest over the weekend in front of the Japanese consulate in New York City to demand that Tokyo withdraw aid from the upcoming elections until Prime Minister Hun Sen “reinstates democracy” and allows the CNRP to participate in the election. “Without the CNRP, the election will be a joke,” said Meas Chea, a CNRP activist from Philadelphia.

Venezuela

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called for the Organization of American States to suspend Venezuela for causing a humanitarian crisis and for Maduro’s “dismantling of democracy.” The US has already announced that it will not recognize the results of the May 20 elections. Venezuela had announced plans last year to leave the OAS, claiming that the group infringed on its sovereignty. Following Pompeo’s call, Maduro appeared on Venezuelan TV to denounce the OAS and reiterate that the country is leaving it. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza vowed not to submit to the international pressure, saying “no imperialist will intervene in our country and hinder our people from voting for their own authorities and having their own democracy.”

Venezuela freed 40 political prisoners and opponents of Maduro on Saturday, bringing the number of those released to 79. The prisoners were each admonished for their alleged violent crimes against the government and then released in a gesture of goodwill. They were barred from speaking to press or on social media, and from travelling abroad. Politicians Wilmer Azuaje and Gilber Caro, plus Raul Baduel, the son of a dissident former general, were among the prisoners released this weekend. Opposition sources say that around 300 activists remain in jail on charges designed to suppress dissent.

Joshua Holt, the US citizen who was held in Venezuelan prison for nearly two years, met with President Trump and described the deplorable conditions in which he and his wife were held.

Colombia

Both of the main presidential candidates, conservative Ivan Duque and leftist Gustavo Petro, have asked the Prosecutor General to show evidence supporting his claims of widespread electoral fraud in March’s legislative elections. Their responses come after Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez stated that he knew of election irregularities but would not release evidence until after the presidential elections are held. Electoral observers have claimed that almost 3% of first-round ballots have been altered.

A recent wave of killings targeting demobilized FARC rebels is threatening the peace process. Former FARC commander Juan Vicente Carvajal was killed near his home in May, as killings of former militants have increased. Their deaths have incited fear and a distrust of the security forces that have been deployed to ensure their protection as part of the peace treaty.

The latest round of peace talks with another guerilla group, the ELN, has been further complicated by insecurity about the implementation of the FARC agreement. Members of the ELN have emphasized that they will only agree to disarmament if their security can be guaranteed and their vision for a fairer society is implemented.

Three community leaders were killed on Saturday as violence against activists continues. The recent uptick in violence comes as the country prepares for contentious presidential elections, with more than 200 activists killed since January 2017, according to the government.

According to the first poll after the first round of the presidential elections, Duque is ahead by 20 points. The second round will occur in two weeks, when Duque faces Petro for the presidency. Both presidential candidates have chosen women as their vice presidential candidates. Marta Lucia Ramirez, the former Minister of Defense and Foreign Trade, is frontrunner Duque’s running mate. She faces Petro’s candidate Angela Maria Robledo, the Director of the Department of Social Welfare in Bogota.

President Santos has finalized the process to become as a “global partner” of NATO, allowing Colombia to take advantage of NATO resources and protocols. It’s status as a partner would not require engagement in NATO’s military operations.

Mexico

Mexico is responding to the latest round of tariffs from the United States. Their retaliatory tariffs mainly focus on American agricultural products like apples, whiskey, potatoes, and pork. Mexico’s exports to the United States account for more than 80% of total exports, limiting Mexico’s ability to win an all-out trade war. These retaliatory tariffs are mainly targeted to key sectors of President Trump’s support base.

Four years after 43 students went missing in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, a federal court has ruled that a special investigation commission must be created for the case. International organizations and local activists are lauding the move as a step forward in an investigation that has been blocked by the Attorney General’s office.

On Saturday, three female candidates for office were killed across Mexico. Several others including a photographer, a body guard, and a city councilor were found dead along with the candidates. Mexico has seen a surge of political killings, especially of women, as elections on July 1st near.

Mexican businessmen met with presidential frontrunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to discuss development and NAFTA. They agreed to work together to ensure an investment-friendly climate for Mexico after concerns about the left-wing candidate.

On Monday, a peaceful protest in the state of Jalisco turned violent when a group of protestors attacked Navy officers that were surrounding the protest. The violence notably came after recent scrutiny of Mexico’s use of military forces in internal conflicts as a national police force.

Nicaragua

The unrest in Nicaragua, initially triggered by cuts to social funding but now in opposition of President Ortega, has resulted in at least 110 killed and many more wounded as demonstrators are met with police repression. Incidents of snipers in the streets were reported and citizens have been warned not to leave their homes. Between Sunday night and Monday morning, another five were added to the death toll. A preliminary investigation by The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights characterized the protests “by the excessive use of force by the security forces of the State and armed third persons.” Some of these third persons are civilian pro-government forces who opened fire last week on a peaceful march to commemorate the lives lost in this conflict. Amnesty International released a statement calling on the Organization of American States to not abandon the Nicaraguan people as they face harsh repression. As protesters erect makeshift medical clinics to treat victims, civilian government supporters have been “taking potshots” at the clinics and attempting to “create panic,” according to one of the protest organizers.

Pope Francis called for end to the violence in an address to thousands at St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. He said the Church is always a proponent of dialogue and that this situation “requires an active commitment to respect freedom and above all life.” In fact, the Nicaraguan Catholic Church had been facilitating peace talks before last week’s violence resulted in serious setbacks, calling the violence “organized and systematic aggression.”

Business leaders in the country are threatening to withhold taxes from the government until it puts an end to the bloodshed in the country.

Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales denounced alleged coup attempts in Venezuela, citing that they violated “principles of sovereignty and non-interference.” Furthermore, Morales framed the Democratic Charter of the OAS as a means for the United States to garner regional support for its interventions. This comes after American Vice President Mike Pence’s request for the OAS to act against Venezuela.

The Bolivian government announced that it would hold talks with the Public University of El Alto (UPEA) to discuss budgetary demands, which sparked protests that escalated in the death of student Jonathan Quispe. Bolivian Presidency Minister Alfredo Rada denounced the protests as “blocking and obstructing … the city of El Alto” and remarked that the demanded resignation of government authorities is inconsistent with the broader requests of the UPEA. Rada also stated that an investigation into Quipse’s death is being conducted.

Myanmar

Last week, the UNHCR and UNDP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Myanmar government to initiate the process for ensuring safe and voluntary repatriation of the some 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The agreement represents a drastic shift from 6 months ago, when the Myanmar government refused to permit the United Nations to assess human rights violations in Rakhine State. Although this represents an “important and necessary” step towards further cooperation between Myanmar and the UN, many remain pessimistic about the creation of favorable conditions for the return of the Rohingya people. The agreement has not been publicly released, and a statement released on Wednesday had no mention of “Rohingya” or a path to citizenship for them. Kyaw Win, the executive director of Burma Human Rights Network, remarked, “It is very politically convenient for the Burmese government to sign this agreement, and also never commit.”

Refugees and activists also continue to express concerns. They believe the 11 settlements designated for the Rohingya people in Myanmar will become “open air prisons.” Rohingya political activist Ko Ko Linn emphasizes that Myanmar’s dedication to repatriation cannot be genuine when Rohingya people in Myanmar continue to face violent and discriminatory acts. Additionally, the Myanmar government still does not consider the Rohingya people to be citizens. Official documents refer to them rather as “Bengalis,” portraying them as illegal immigrants without acknowledging their generational roots in Myanmar. The National Verification Cards, continuously referred to by the government as proof of active repatriation efforts, only register the Rohingya people, without offering citizenship.

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh continue to face the imminent threat of the upcoming monsoon season, which would devastate makeshift homes and cause widespread mudslides. Bangladesh is ill-equipped to help the refugees prepare for the monsoons. The International Rescue Committee has been trying to set up healthcare units and distribe “tie-down kits” to stabilize makeshift homes. IRC President David Miliband expressed his frustrations with politics: “humanitarian aid can staunch the dying but it takes politics to stop the killing.”

Chinese conglomerate Citic Group has been leading the construction of a deep water port in Rakhine State. This port is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative that would give China direct access to the Indian Ocean without having to go through the Malacca Straits. However, the enormous cost of this project at $9 Billion has pressured Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to reevaluate. If the financial costs of this project proves too burdensome and Myanmar defaults on its debt, the port will come under Beijing’s control and threaten Myanmar’s economic sovereignty. Therefore, officials are trying to negotiate the costs down. This situation is uncannily similar to Sri Lanka’s in December of last year. The government was unable to pay its debts to state-backed Chinese firms and formally handing over the port of Hambantota to China. Chinese investments in Malaysia have also induced concerns about the economic power balances in Southeast Asia among Malaysian politicians.

North & South Korea

On June 1st, President Trump hosted North Korean General Kim Yong Chol at the White House. After a 90-minute meeting, it was announced that the June 12th summit in Singapore is reinstated. The meeting, however, did not include US National Security Adviser John Bolton, who had mentioned on a televised interview that the Trump Administration would take a Libya-style approach to North Korean denuclearization. The Libya model refers to the 2003 deal with Muammar Gaddafi to exchange Libya’s weapons of mass destruction for the easing of sanctions. He was eventually killed by US-backed Libyan rebels. Therefore, this reference understandably threatened the June 12 summit. Kim Jong Un’s approach to the Singapore summit represents a notable shift away from the political priorities of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, who emphasized nuclear development.

Despite the reinstatement of the summit, there remain significant differences between North Korea and the United States’ approach to the possible denuclearization deal. The United States is calling for a “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the peninsula, which may entail prohibiting missile and nuclear testing, limiting North Korea’s supply of fissile material, and closing the Yongbyon nuclear plant.

North Korea’s three neighboring countries have notably high stakes in the Singapore summit. Shinzo Abe of Japan is prioritizing the destruction of long and short-range missiles and reckoning over Japanese abductees. On the other hand, Xi Jinping of China has been supportive of the direct talks between the United States and North Korea, but there is an implicit anxiety that it would negatively affect the diplomatic leverage that China has over North Korea. Furthermore, Xi is interested in managing, as opposed to eliminating, North Korea’s nuclear program. In sharp contrast, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in is the most avid champion of the upcoming talks, since his long-held personal and political priority has been to end the Korean War and ensure peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Thailand

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha reaffirmed his commitment to enforce his political activities ban, which strictly limits the ability of opposition parties to campaign and recruit candidates. This move effectively ensures that upcoming elections, tentatively scheduled for February, will not be free and fair, since opposition parties will not be able to organize under the same mechanisms as the ruling party. The National Council for Peace and Order has shown a weak commitment to fully repealing the rule, despite statements requesting negotiations over rule modifications before the elections.

A controversial thirty billion baht satellite program is up in the air after Prime Minister Chan-o-cha described it as a work in progress. The program drew outrage this week due to its costs. A Defense Ministry source later described the program as an early-stage proposal that requires multinational support and debate within the cabinet.

Poland

The United Nations report on the criticism of Polish judiciary has been called a “cynical political game” by Deputy Minister of Justice Marcin Warchol. He called the report a “mockery of human rights” as he advocated that the law in Poland ensures a democratically-elected parliament, and that greater parliamentary control of the judiciary makes for a more democratic and accountable system.

There are continued protests by students and employees of the University of Warsaw against Act 2.0 -being deliberated by parliament- calling for more democratic universities. The organizers of the protests have a set of 11 demands regarding university reform.

The motion to censure against Deputy Prime Minister Beata Syzdlo, the minister who instituted judiciary reform and is under scrutiny for her social welfare schemes, has been rejected and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieki has strongly come out in her support.

Syria

On June 3rd, an Iranian senior military official stated that Iran would not remove its military advisers from Syria. Iran’s presence- unlike that of other military forces, was requested by Damascus. General Massoud Jazayeri, spokesman of the Iranian Armed Forces, stated “Iran and Syria enjoy deep relations that would not be influenced by the propaganda of anyone.”  Nevertheless, due to tensions between Israel and Iran, the US and Israel are pursuing efforts to push Iranian forces out of Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu- threatened to conduct- military strikes on Syria, targeting the posts of Iranian militias and Hezbollah, if Iran does not remove its forces from Syria.

Furthermore, Russia has made an agreement with Israel regarding Iran’s military presence in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced “all the forces that are not Syrian should withdraw, and there must be a situation in which only the forces of the Syrian army will be stationed on the Syrian side of the border with Israel.” As Syria’s biggest ally, Russia is eager to use its influence to ensure the stability of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

 USA

The Trump administration has delivered a blow to its closest allies-the EU, Canada, and Mexico– by introducing tariffs on metals, citing national security concerns, and leading to immediate vows of retaliation. With Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s failure of a “Maple syrup strategy”, even the closest and the most conciliatory of Trump allies, including French President Macron, are moving further from Trump. Correspondingly, Wall Street has slumped as the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down more than 250 points on the 31st of May, as investors sold off shares in manufactures and corporations affected by the tariffs. The 44th G7 meeting is underway in Quebec, Canada, and as a consequent of these recent decisions,, Trump is likely to face a chilly response.

In defiance of the United States’ withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, the European Union is seeking to shield EU companies doing business with Iran and recover damages caused due by US sanctions. Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a last-ditch effort to negotiate, requesting not to punish EU companies in Iran.

Zimbabwe

Opposition supporters marched through Harare on Tuesday to call for a free and fair presidential election on June 30th. President Mnangagwa, appointed after the removal of Robert Mugabe, has invited international observers for the upcoming elections. Opposition peaceful protests also included delivering petitions to the presidential office and the electoral commission. Protesters were energized by opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa, the head of the MDC-T party.

The following day, a small group of supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party marched in Harare in response. Both protests were observed by police without interference.

Chamisa promised on Friday to generate a $100 billion economy within a decade, as part of his new election manifesto. He also affirmed his commitment to re-establish ties with Israel, despite a strong existing relationship with Palestine.

Other news:

Maldives – After police interference in the MDP opposition primary that chose Nasheed as its presidential candidate, a group of western nations, including the European Union, have urged the country to hold a “credible, transparent presidential poll.” – Reuters

Armenia – Newly appointed Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that Armenia should hold elections within a year. – Reuters

Jordan – Jordan’s Prime Minister resigned on Tuesday after mounting peaceful protests over a bill that would increase taxes on the working and middle classes. His replacement, Omar Razzaz, has said he will reverse action on the bill after the formation of a government. – Washington Post

Democratic Republic of Congo: Experimental Ebola treatments have been approved by the DRC amidst the growing number of people affected by the Ebola virus in the country. These treatments could bring a major change in the world’s response to Ebola, and responses to this outbreak could help lead a treatment for future generations-Wall Street Journal

CANVAS News
Death of Palestinian Medic Sparks Outrage and Investigations

The death of a medic in Gaza has prompted outcry and an investigation by Israeli officials. She was shot by Israeli Security forces as she approached the Gaza border fence.  Her death comes as hundreds of Palestinian protesters have been killed by the Israeli military near the border in a recent protests.

Death of Palestinian Medic Sparks Outrage and Investigations

Photo: Razan al-Najar’s blood-stained white tunic was carried by mourners. Source: AFP.

 

The death of 21-year-old Palestinian medic Razan al-Najar in Gaza has prompted international outcry and an investigation by Israeli officials. Al-Najar had been shot by Israeli Security forces as she approached the border fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel on June 1st.  Her death comes as hundreds of Palestinian protesters have been killed by the Israeli military near the border in a recent round of protests.

Al-Najar’s funeral procession on June 2nd drew thousands of Palestinians, including uniformed medical workers, who are in high demand after thousands have been injured or killed since protests began in March.

On Saturday, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator released a statement condemning the death of al-Najar. Three days later, Israel’s military issued a statement on Twitter calling her death unintentional and stating that “no shots were deliberately aimed at her”. A follow-up tweet stated that there will be an additional investigation.

The current series of protests in Palestine began in March, pushing for the end of an 11-year blockade of Gaza. Israel claims that these protests are staged by members of the Islamist group Hamas as a way to promote attacks against Israel by using women and children to storm the border fence.

As of June 5th, Israeli Security forces along the border have killed more than 115 Palestinian protesters. Although the international community has decried this excessive use of force, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution on June 1st  that condemns Israel’s actions. The Trump Administration blames the protests on Hamas.

Furthermore, Al-Najar’s death comes more than a week after the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israeli responses to protests in Gaza. The power of the ICC investigations are limited, however, because Israel refuses to recognize the Court’s authority.

Despite Israeli and American allegations accusing Hamas of inciting violence, most protesters are unarmed. The rising number of casualties at these Friday protests therefore shows a concerning response from Israeli forces against widely peaceful protests.This excessive use of force at the border is part of a continuing trend against both Gaza and the West Bank. Despite a recent decrease in the total number of protestors due to Ramadan, the number of casualties has continued to rise.

Statements by the Israeli military also continue to equivocate peaceful protestors, small groups of non-peaceful protesters, and extremist groups. These mischaracterizations have been used to justify violent responses towards nonviolent protesters, resulting in unjust casualties. Nonviolent organizers should continue to promote non-violent methods in these protests and continue to condemn any violent response.

Weekly Report: 1 June 2018

Photo: Nicaraguan mothers protest the killings of their children at demonstrations over past months. The Guardian.

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Maldives

In a primary election labeled illegal by the ruling government, members of the country’s largest opposition, the Main Democratic Party (MDP), voted resoundingly in favor of Mohamed Nasheed as their candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. Police attempted to halt all “illegal” voting this week, seizing many of the party’s ballot boxes, but their attempts were largely unsuccessful. Creative MDP supporters used an assortment of bins, plastic containers, and cement mixing tubs to make sure people were able to vote. Thanks to these efforts, reports show that Nasheed was able to secure approximately 44,000 votes, or about 85% of the MDP’s support (99.8% among those who voted). Nevertheless, there remain immense obstacles to his candidacy.

The Maldivian government has not only condemned this election as illegal, but has pointed out that Nasheed is an invalid candidate for the presidency. After he was ousted from leadership in 2012, the implemented government followed up his case with a politically-motivated terrorism charge. Nasheed is currently still serving the resulting 13-year sentence, and as a convicted criminal, he is ineligible to be president as per the Maldivian Constitution. The MDP has vowed to fight for the reversal or otherwise elimination of this obstacle, but the future of the election remains to be seen.

Cambodia

Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken up the garment workers’ ongoing dispute with their employer over severance wages and back pay. He has agreed to have the government pay the workers and encouraged the Labour Ministry to amend legislation to ensure that workers are protected from similar situations in the future.

The National Election Committee has randomly assigned numbers for the 20 political parties registered to appear on the ballot. The ruling party, the Cambodian People’s Party, was given number 20 and will appear last. In past elections, the parties have used their number and location while campaigning to help voters recognize them. Hun Sen said on his Facebook page that the CPP’s number 20, at the very bottom of the ballot, would be easy to identify. The election will take place on July 29, 2018, following a three-week campaign period that begins on July 7.

Venezuela

Henri Falcon, who ran against Maduro in the presidential race, is calling for a new election. His entire bid for the presidency went against the main opposition, who thought that his participation would only create a pretense of legitimacy for Maduro’s bid for power. Falcon and his supporters are taking the case to the country’s Supreme Court of Justice, claiming that the electoral process was invalid and that the result must be declared “null and void.” His calls draw attention to the support Maduro’s campaign had received from state media and the alleged bribery that took place when the ruling party set up stands near polling stations to give “bonuses” to poor residents. The Supreme Court is not considered independent, and it is unlikely it will rule in Falcon’s favor.

The EU is preparing sanctions, and has also called for a new election. The bloc clarified that its sanctions will be both targeted and reversible, to limit the impact on the general Venezuelan public, and are expected to be formally adopted at a June 25 meeting in Luxembourg.  

The Organization of American States hired a panel of experts to investigate Venezuela’s situation: the group accused the state of crimes against humanity and opened the possibility of a referral to the International Criminal Court. In their report, the panel described a “massive assault on the rule of law” in the country, accompanied by attacks on the judiciary that have resulted in a complete inability of the state to investigate its own crimes. The report outlined many of the crimes allegedly committed by the regime, including multiple murders, at least 12,000 cases of imprisonment and arbitrary detention, torture, rape, political persecution, and enforced disappearances. Following the report, which will be sent to the ICC for follow-up, the OAS secretary-general says he expects tougher sanctions on the country.

On Wednesday May 30, Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel flew into Caracas for the first time since becoming president in April, to discuss how to strengthen relations. He congratulated Maduro on his re-election and admonished the international community for not supporting the results of the election. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also congratulated Maduro on his win and Venezuela on its “successful, peaceful and sound” elections.

Joshua Holt, the American who was imprisoned in Venezuela for nearly two years, has returned to the US.

North & South Korea

On May 30th, a top-secret meeting was held between a top aide to Kim Jong Un and a top US official in Singapore. This meeting is one of three between North Korea and the United States to reinstate the summit between Kim and Trump, which was called off last week. Despite the lack of information available to reporters, this meeting is deemed to have been about the logistics for the June 12th summit.

Cho Myoung-gyon, the South Korean Unification Minister, recognizes that there are still significant differences between Pyongyang and Washington but remains hopeful. This comes amidst continued South Korean efforts to reconcile the tension between Pyongyang and Washington while navigating between peace and political alliance. For example, North and South Korea agreed to establish a joint liaison office in Kaesong, North Korea as soon as possible and to hold a meeting later this month to discuss the reunion of separated families. Despite the United States and China’s continued involvement on the issue concerning North and South Korea, the progress made so far is a testament to the divided peninsula’s potential for self-determination and leadership in ensuring global peace.

Colombia

On May 27, Colombia held its first presidential election since the landmark peace deal with FARC that ended a 50-year-long guerilla war. Right-wing candidate Ivan Duque earned 39% of the vote, while leftist, former guerilla Gustavo Petro won 25% and Sergio Fajardo won 24% — none gained the 50% majority needed to win in just one round. Consequently, the country is moving into runoff elections that will pit Duque and Petro against each other. Fajardo supporters will likely be the decisive bloc in this next vote. Fajardo himself has not yet declared which candidate he supports, although his supports seem to be leaning toward Petro. Both Petro and Duque are courting Fajardo, along with the country’s major parties and coalitions.

The Sunday elections had one of the highest turnouts in the country’s recent history, at 53.37 percent, although marred by irregularities. Petro himself decried the pre-marked ballots filled out by his opposition in the political elite. More than 1,239 complaints over electoral offences were registered during the voting day, and all must be addressed by the June 17 runoff election.

Myanmar

On Wednesday, prosecutors submitted a request for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to intervene in the deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. The document was signed by 400 Rohingya women and girls’ fingerprints. Since Myanmar is not a signatory of the Court, prosecutors are considering using Bangladesh, which is a member of the ICC and a country that has been receiving a huge influx of Rohingya refugees, as the actor through which this request will come to fruition. This has two implications: first, it casts the ICC as one of the few means to hold Myanmar accountable for the atrocities committed; second, this ruling could set the precedent for the Court’s extending its jurisdiction over Syria (which is a not a member ICC) through Jordan.

The United Nations expects 25,000 babies to be born in May and June in Bangladeshi refugee camps housing Rohingya refugees, which is a testament to the large-scale rape and sexual abuse committed against Rohingya women last year in the Rakhine State. Currently, the camps lack the healthcare infrastructure and funding necessary to ensure adequate and sanitary conditions for the refugees and their newborn babies.

The conditions at Bangladeshi refugee camps continue to be threatened by the coming monsoon season. Myanmar’s government claims that it is ready for the refugees to return, but three factors indicate that their return may not be “voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable.” Firstly, the Rohingya people that remain in Myanmar continue to be internally-displaced in internment camps. Secondly, military acquisition of Rohingya land and property may make the return to original homes impossible. Thirdly, many Rohingya people argue that the National Verification Cards frame them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which relegates them to second-class citizenship and does not recognize their family histories in Myanmar.

Hearings on the charges against Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo continue. A defense lawyer claims that evidence collected from the two reporters’ mobile phones raises suspicions because some messages were sent from unverifiable sources or were sent after the phones were confiscated. This comes after defense lawyers’ arguing that the documents obtained from their phones were collected without a warrant. Overall, this raises questions regarding the possible involvement of the Myanmar Police in the charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

USA

Border control has had a prominent presence in US headlines this week. This was sparked by a push from President Donald Trump to change existing immigration laws. He wants to make it easier for border control agents to jail and quickly deport children crossing the border, and to toughen the process to pursue asylum. The fact that these aspects of immigration are not already in accordance with the president’s wishes is due to what he calls “loopholes” left in the legislation by Congress. “These are not loopholes,” retorted democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “They are laws that Congress passed to address the documented injustices facing children in our immigration system.”

In other dangerous developments inspired by the president’s “America First” policy, Trump announced this week that he would be imposing new tariffs on metal imported from the EU, Canada, and Mexico – three among the US’s closest allies. All diplomatic partners have condemned the action and announced retaliatory measures that are targeted to most strongly affect Trump’s bases of support.

Financial irresponsibility did not stop in the international realm this week. The US also announced a softening of the Volcker Rule, which in 2010 had been implemented to prevent another major financial crisis by reining in risky or dangerous trading. Although these reforms are intended to streamline, rather than undermine the legislation, concerns are rampant that this process will not be carried out in the best interests of the general population, but rather in those of the banking elites. “What is critical is that simplification not undermine the core principle at stake — that taxpayer-supported banking groups, of any size, not participate in proprietary trading at odds with the basic public and customers’ interests,” read Paul Volcker himself, the former Fed chairman behind the original legislation.

Zimbabwe

After much anticipation, the date of the Zimbabwean election has been announced for July 30. “I am delighted to proclaim July 30 as the date for the 2018 harmonised elections. These elections will be free, fair and transparent, and the voice of the people will be heard,” read the announcement from President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa, who took over leadership of the country after the ousting of Robert Mugabe six months ago, has thereby finally delivered on his promise that new elections would be held sometime this year. Mugabe meanwhile finds himself absent from the ballot for the first time since the commencement of his 37-year autocratic rule.

In other news concerning the former leader, he failed for the second time this week to show up to a parliamentary hearing concerning the country’s alleged $15 loss in diamond revenue. Mugabe had initially presented this problem in 2016, blaming corruption and foreign involvement for the nation’s losses. Consequently, this parliamentary hearing had been called for lawmakers to hear Mugabe’s evidence. The assembly this week had been organized after Mugabe was absent from first meeting, on May 23. After this second refusal to attend, he has raised a huge red flag about the nature of the scandal. Mugabe is being given one more chance to attend a hearing, now scheduled for June 11, or else he will be charged with contempt and possibly face jail time.

Bolivia

A US judge has absolved the former Bolivian president and his defense minister of any responsibility in the 2003 massacre, in which the military was used on protesters, overturning a previous verdict by a jury in 2017. 67 were killed and at least 400 injured when soldiers fired live rounds into the crowd. Thomas Becker, the U.S. lawyer that filed the lawsuit, said he plans to appeal to the decision.

Last week, a student was killed during a demonstration that called for increased funding for the public university El Alto. The government claims that the death was caused by another demonstrator, but the university denies this and blames the police. Following the death, thousands took to the streets in protest on May 28, where some clashed with police. Economy Minister Mario Guillen has called for talks with the administrations of Bolivia’s 15 public universities, where an estimated 440,000 students study, to resolve the funding issue.

Syria

In an interview with Russia Today, President Bashar al-Assad called on the United States to withdraw from the region given its support of the Syrian Democratic Forces in northern Syria. He reinforced his demand with the threat of using military force if the United States does not withdraw soon. Kino Gabriel, an SDF spokesperson, cautioned Assad when he claimed that Syria’s militaristic response to US intervention would “lead to more losses and destruction and difficulties for the Syrian people.” Furthermore, the US Department of State responded by stating that its intentions are to defend the US and its partners against ISIS and that it does not plan on using force against Syria or Iran. These statements come after inconsistent signals from Washington regarding the US’s plans in Syria.

Commenting on Trump’s calling him an “animal” in April, Assad stated, “what you say is what you are” and declined to offer a nickname for Trump in response. In the same interview, Assad commended Russia’s leadership in its intervention over the proxy battles between Israel and Iran. Moreover, he stated that in response to Israeli air strikes, Syria has been working on strengthening its air defenses with help from Russia.

Russia, on the other hand, has been striking a delicate diplomatic balance between relations with Israel, communication with the United States, and partnership with Iran in supporting the Assad regime. It is not surprising, then, that Israel has been working on developing good relations with Russia in hopes that interest convergence will convince Russia to help Israel contain Iran’s expanding military presence in Syria.

The new Law No. 10 has been established in Syria. Although this law would purportedly allow the government to seize all unclaimed properties and develop them, it functionally prevents those who oppose the regime from regaining their property that was lost during the Civil War and leaves Syrian refugees permanently displaced from their homes. It is also seen as a means of ethnic cleansing, since the regime will dispossess Sunni Muslim opponents while allowing Shia Muslim supporters to live in the newly developed areas.

Nicaragua

A Mother’s Day protest against Ortega and his government took place this Wednesday, led by the mothers of 83 victims killed in previous protests. It had been planned as a peaceful demonstration, but devolved into violence when pro-government forces opened fire. Eleven were killed and 79 wounded. Senior members of Nicaragua’s Catholic church had begun mediating peace talks between Ortega and the student-led opposition in mid-May, but called off negotiations after this latest deadly protest. Calls for Ortega’s resignation continue.

Thailand

On May 23rd, the Constitutional Court declared that the controversial organic bill was constitutional. Following this verdict, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Kreangam, has announced that the next election will happen 11 months from now, perhaps even earlier.

Thailand will be the first country in which China and Japan implement their economic platform to develop the regional economy. Thailand expects this foreign investment to generate $43 billion USD by 2023. China seeks to use Thailand to further its aims under the One Belt One Road Initiative while Japan plans to invest in the ten targeted industries and Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) infrastructure projects. Thailand’s EEC initiative aims to attract high-technology investment and shift Thailand away from a labor-intensive economy.

After China’s banning imports of electronic waste due to the chronic health problems in the recycling industry, Thailand has faced a huge influx of global e-waste. It is suspected that this waste has been illegally imported by companies. In response to concerns that this could harm the environment and people’s health, the Department of Industrial Works is considering banning certain types of e-waste and strengthening its enforcement of existing laws.

Other news:

Cuba – Parliamentarian Mariela Castro, daughter of former president Raul, has announced the government’s plan to legalize gay marriage in the country by eliminating a stipulation in the constitution that specifies marriage as between a man and a woman. – ABC News

Spain – Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been forced out of office by a parliamentary no-confidence vote. He will be replaced by socialist leader Pedro Sánchez. – BBC

Hungary – In the latest of the government’s series of “Stop Soros” bills, Orbán has decided to target those who distribute food, informational leaflets, or legal advice to asylum-seekers. Offenders could face prison sentences and heavy fines. – Al Jazeera

Ukraine – Dissident Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who was believed to have been assassinated earlier this week, revealed that his staged killing was actually part of an elaborate operation by the Ukrainian secret services. The hoax concerns many international observers, however, who worry now that future Russian killings may be dismissed as illegitimate as well. – NYTimes

Ireland – The nation has voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing abortion. 66% of voters chose ‘yes’ to repealing the constitutional amendment that banned abortion in all but the most extreme circumstances. – The Guardian

Laos – Laos and China have reinforced their partnership in a range of issues, including traffic infrastructure, agriculture, and tourism. Furthermore, Chinese President Xi Jinping cited the importance of the China-Laos partnership in furthering the Belt and Road Initiative, environmental protection, and cooperation in international affairs. – XinhuaNet

CANVAS News
What you need to know about Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections

On Wednesday, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that the country is to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on July 30th. In less than two months, Zimbabwean citizens will have the opportunity to vote, in the first elections since the ousting of Robert Mugabe in November last year. What do you need to know about the upcoming elections?

What you need to know about Zimbabwe’s upcoming elections

Photo: Opposition MDC supporters wave flags at a rally to launch their election campaign in Harare, Zimbabwe, Jan. 21, 2018. VoA. Associated Press.

On Wednesday, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced that the country is to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on July 30th. In less than two months, Zimbabwean citizens will have the opportunity to vote, in the first elections since the ousting of Robert Mugabe in November last year. What do you need to know about the upcoming elections?

 

Legitimacy

For current President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the 2018 elections are mostly about legitimizing his presidency. Following the November 2018 coup, in which the military leadership installed the former vice-President as the country’s new leader, Mnangagwa needs democratic confirmation through the ballot. Mnangagwa has invited Commonwealth election personnel to monitor voting in Zimbabwe for the first time since 2002, when Harare was suspended from the group over accusations of rigged elections. Experts claim that, if qualified as free and fair, the July-elections could be an important step in bringing foreign investors back to the southern African country after a decade of economic decline.

Nevertheless, there are grave concerns about several aspects of the upcoming elections. Despite Mnangagwa’s narrative of free and fair elections, many still fear rigging. This is not without a reason. A little over a week ago, deputy Minister of Finance Terrence Mukupe made a controversial statement during a ZANU-PF meeting, claiming that those who were behind the military intervention to oust Mugabe will never let MDC-T leader Chamisa take over if he wins the elections.

The electoral Act still does not allow Zimbabweans who live outside the country to vote. Most recently, the refusal of Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi to have an open tender for the procurement of ballot papers and other related material sparked outrage among opposition and civil society, who believe this poses a serious threat to the credibility of the elections.

 

Main Competitors

The upcoming elections are also to be seen as a clash between old and new. The old political generation is represented by a 75-year-old former ally of Robert Mugabe. Emmerson Mnangagwa still rides the narrative of the independence war like Mugabe did, and is strongly supported by the current upper echelon of the military and by former military leaders who have taken their places in government.

A younger generation of political life is being represented by Nelson Chamisa. The 40-year-old was put forward by the MDC after long time opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai died of cancer in February this year. Chamisa has prioritized the reform of the country’s social systems as part of his bid to win the Presidency, and has also promised to return land to dispossessed white farmers. Nevertheless, the MDC-party is still fractured, with several party members still not fully supporting Chamisa’s race.

Finally, the G-40 faction, who lost the battle against the Crocodile last November, seem set to mobilize once again. Under the name National Patriotic Front, the Mugabe clan is backing Ambrose Mutinhiri – a man who served nearly four decades under Mugabe and had fought alongside him for liberation.

 

Election Prospects

Will any of these competitors be able to defeat ZANU-PF in the upcoming elections? In the view of many experts, no opposition party is in a position to challenge the ruling party. ZANU-PF is happy to hold these elections simply because they’re confident of victory, rather than for commitment to a new dawn of democracy. “Though the election looks like it will go to the wire, the greater likelihood, based on cold-blooded analysis, is that experience, depth and state incumbency will triumph over youthfulness,” said Eldred Masunungure, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe.

What role could civil-society and social movements play in the upcoming elections? For an in-depth analysis of the situation in Zimbabwe, check our recently update ZIMBABWE COUNTRY ANALYSIS online.