Weekly Report: 27 July 2018

Protestors marching against Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila on July 23rd,2018. Associated Press, Bullit Marquez

Syria

At least 215 people have been killed in a series of Islamic State attacks in Sweida, a Southern Syrian province, on Wednesday. A sickening combination of suicide vests and heavy artillery wounded an additional 180. Despite its significant loss of territory in recent years following heavy foreign intervention and combat, IS maintains a considerable amount of territory centered around Southern Syria next to the Jordanian border.

The Syrian government has begun confirming that hundreds of prisoners taken into their custody during the Civil War have died. At least 312 deaths have been confirmed so far, but as relatives continue to search for their loved ones the number is expected to rise. The government has detained more than 80,000 people in the last 10 years.

Independent researchers have found that civilian casualties in Syria have risen by 34% due to Russian air strikes, which are supported by and partnered with the offensive tactics of Assad’s government. Russian weapons have killed at least 2,882 people in 2018. The Kremlin has maintained key interest in the success of Assad’s government following the war and has stated that they plan to employ restoration tactics in Syria akin to those used in the construction of the Soviet Union following World War II.

The United States and France have implemented sanctions to combat the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s government, targeting 5 new manufactures in addition to renewing 24 previous sanctions. The new policy has heightened tensions between the US, France, and Russia, especially following the Trump-Putin summit last week.

Syrian Kurds, who secured control over large swaths of Northern Syria and served as key American allies in combats against IS, have expressed concern about the durability of American support following the conflict and have begun considering negotiations with Assad. While Kurds remained largely uninvolved in direct confrontations with Syria’s regime, they share a complicated history of oppression from the government. It is unclear whether Assad intends to allocate any autonomous territory to the Kurdish People following the war’s end, especially given the high degree of Kurdish influence within the region.

Bolivia

In response to the Ecuadorian Prime Minister’s announcement that he intended to donate the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) Headquarters in Quito to an indigenous university, the Bolivian foreign ministry has stated that there must be a bloc consensus among UNASUR before the building can be reappropriated by its host state. UNASUR is in the midst of an ongoing crisis, as they have been unable to elect a new secretary general and are presently losing six of their twelve nation-state members.

The government has announced that government-affiliated police will be deployed to Potosi, a major city, in anticipation of protesters on Bolivian Independence Day on August 6th. The protesters, who propagate the “Bolivia says no” slogan, were planning to protest the government for not recognizing the results of the 2016 constitutional referendum as politically binding. The failure of this referendum, which would have put a term limit of two terms on the president, has now removed any term limit of the presidency. According to the ruling Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, the protesters will not be allowed to march, but will be given space to chant their slogan during the Independence Day parade.

Nicaragua

Unrest continued in Nicaragua this week as did protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Family members of detained students and civil leaders who oppose the president were forced to flee to a cathedral following harassment from pro-government groups, which were ordered to clear the area around the detention center where these relatives had been waiting. Those detained are not allowed legal representation or visits, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH).

Ortega’s government recently passed a law allowing those who protest against the government to be arrested and designated as terrorists. Protesters have taken to hiding their faces in order to evade police. Supporters of Ortega have also begun to organize pro-government rallies and blame deaths on the opposition. Aside from shootings, insecticide attacks, sulphuric acid attacks, kidnappings, and torture have also been reported, primarily affecting students, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the religious community. The situation has a whole has caused 277 deaths, more than 2,000 injuries, and 215,000 job losses. 

North Korea

As outlined under the 2018 Singapore Summit conditions, the dismantlement of key North Korean nuclear facilities has begun at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The facility has been the DPRK ’s primary nuclear launch and intercontinental ballistic missile program center for the past six years. It includes buildings meant to prepare space vehicles for launch and develop specific engines for ballistic missiles and similar systems. Although some believe that this represents an important confidence-building measure, other analysts state that true denuclearization will not have begun until the DPRK begins to dispose of fissile materials and nuclear facilities.

On Monday, the United States released an advisory opinion detailing the measures that the North Korean government takes to evade the consequences of sanctions;  as a result, Taiwan has announced this Tuesday that it would cease employing North Korean workers. This is part of a larger trend of American policy targeting North Korean overseas workers, as they are estimated to provide $500 million USD to the North Korean regime annually. Despite continually enforced sanctions from the United States, South Korea continues making efforts to improve its relationship with its northern neighbor; this week, South Korean officials have both explored revitalizing the previously defunct railway system between the two and begun to consider reducing the number of troops stationed on the Demilitarized Zone.

The alleged path to peace between the United States and the DPRK remains strained. However, this Friday, the DPRK repatriated the remains of what is believed to be 55 American troops killed in the Korean War. The contents of these ashes remain to be seen, and some skeptics have noted that the DPRK government has given fabricated remains of foreign nationals to grieving relatives in the past.

Myanmar

After a landslide at a jade mine in the Kachin state and 27 subsequent casualties, questions about the jade industry’s regulation and corruption have risen again among members of the international community. As a result of heavy rains in the area, police, the Red Cross, and the fire brigade have been unable to locate any of the injured or deceased people at this time.

On Monday, the United Nations Security Council strongly advised Myanmar’s government to create conditions which enable the return of Rohingya refugees currently in Bangladesh. Despite continued scrutiny over the government’s role in the Rohingya crisis following last week’s report by Fortify Rights, Laos has vowed this Wednesday to promote bilateral relations and cooperation with Myanmar.

Also concerning is the recent revelation that two Reuters reporters detained last year have been subject to severe interrogation techniques, including forced sleep deprivation. The two were originally arrested over their work on a story regarding the murder of 10 Rohingya Muslims by government soldiers.

USA

Facing bipartisan pushback against tariffs, the White House has announced a $12 billion USD aid package for farmers struggling due to the escalating trade war. This stopgap solution is designed to help assuage Republican fears that Trump’s trade policy is harming their constituents and weakening their chances of faring well in the 2018 midterm elections. President Trump also met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss the trade war. While no definitive agreement was reached, both parties demonstrated a willingness to work together and remove trade barriers.

Student protesters from March for Our Lives, an advocacy group led by student survivors of the Parkland shooting, continued their fight for gun reform in Gainesville, Florida this week. Inaction by politicians since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February has only incensed students and their supporters who seek to “register more young people to vote” and end gun violence through gun control reform.

The United States aims to forge a closer relationship with Taiwan through a new Congressional defense spending bill intended to push back against Beijing. This bill, if passed, would expand military-to-military engagement between the countries and sell US military equipment to Taiwan.

After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted that Trump’s hostile policies could lead his country to “the mother of all wars,” President Trump lashed back with an equally volatile tweet, inciting increasingly poor relations between the two nations.  Similarly, the apparent camaraderie between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin has not directly translated into improved US-Russia relations as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a “Crimea Declaration” condemning Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. The White House has also threatened sanctions on Turkey over their refusal to free Andrew Craig Brunson, an American pastor who was charged with converting Kurds to Christianity and “radicalizing” them towards independence. 

Cambodia

Cambodia’s elections, set for this Sunday, have been globally discredited due to the government’s removal of opposition groups. Human Rights Watch has called the election “not genuine,” and the United States, EU, and Japan, the main supporters of Cambodian elections, have refused to send observers to the country. Exiled opposition party leader Sam Rainsy called for a boycott of the election, however, this is expected to have little to no effect on the outcome or the legitimacy of the fraudulent election.

More than 25,000 people will be evacuated in Northern Cambodia after the collapse of a dam in neighboring Laos causing a surge in the Mekong river.

Mexico

Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is set to become Mexico City’s first female mayor in December. Mexico has one of the highest female election rates in the world, and many suspect Pardo’s mayoral win is the first of many steps to her eventual candidacy for Mexico’s presidency.

Six people were killed and four wounded when a gunman opened fire at a funeral in Western Mexico. Official police statements have yet to be released on the subject; however, the shooting occurred in Michoacan State where many drug trafficking routes are located. Homicides in Mexico have increased by 16% so far in 2018, with a total of 15,973 murders in the last six months.

Ruben Pat, the director of a Mexican news website, was killed this week, the second member of the Semanario Playa News outlet to be killed in a month. It is widely suspected that Pat’s murder occurred in relation to his journalism, which was critical of drug cartels and police impunity.

Families of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students have continued the search for their children by pursuing a court case with Mexico’s Supreme Court. The group has requested that the court create a truth commission that works impartially to find the responsible culprits, as impunity and corruption have stalled independent investigations into the matter for 46 months.

President Trump’s intended US-Mexico border wall will spark serious repercussions for animals, including limited movement, habitat, and disrupted environmental patterns according to a new study. Subsequently, animal rights activists have joined human rights activists in petitioning the US Congress to implement more sustainable and less harmful border control measures in the region

The Maldives

The Maldivian Supreme Court completely overturned its watershed February ruling which had ordered the release of political prisoners and the reinstatement of 12 opposition lawmakers. Following February’s court ruling, President Abdullah Yameen had declared a state of emergency and began to imprison top judges and opposition leaders on charges of terrorism. The newly appointed set of judges are heavily politically biased in favor of the current government and have drawn condemnation from international groups who are shocked by the degradation of the independence of the judiciary in the Maldives.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s first election without Robert Mugabe is to be held on Monday after a mostly peaceful electoral season. Campaigns and candidates were able to freely and openly oppose the incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa without major threats of intimidation. International observers arrived in the country for the first time in decades, showing additional signs of progress. However, both main candidates, Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, have used dangerous rhetoric against each other in the campaign, and their commitment to democracy is yet to be fully tested. Chamisa continues to claim that the elections will be fraudulent. The United Nations has also warned of increasing voter and candidate intimidation as the elections approach. Polls have so far been unable to predict a clear winner, and the race may continue into a run-off election.  

Business in the country has grown as the election season has brought both international interests and increased consumer spending in the country. The prospects of a more open economy have also bolstered preparations for increased foreign investment.

Laos

Following several days of heavy rain, a dam collapsed in Laos on Monday night leaving at least half a dozen villages destroyed, 27 people dead, 131 missing, and 7,000 people homeless. Roughly two hours before the dam collapsed an evacuation warning was issued; however, few evacuation efforts were actually attempted. The impact of the dam break spread into Cambodia where roughly 25,000 Cambodians have had to relocate to higher ground. Water levels are only expected to rise in coming days, as is the death toll. Singapore has pledged 50,000 USD in aid to Laos following the collapse, South Korea has sent several relief teams for search efforts, and the Thai army has also pledged its support to the flood victims in the coming weeks.

Vietnam

Human Rights Watch has urged the Vietnamese government to drop charges against environmental activist Le Dinh Luong. Mr. Luong was charged with “carrying out activities that aim to overthrow the people’s administration” under the Vietnamese penal court.  

With its growing exports and moderate imports, the Council of Foreign Relations has called Vietnam “the next China”. Vietnam’s foreign reserves have nearly doubled in the past two years. While there are indications that the US-China trade war might negatively affect Vietnam, the economy has not been affected yet.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

In his state-of-the-nation address last week, President Kabila declined to state whether he would run for another term this December. While promising that he would “unequivocally respect the constitution,” his track record indicates the opposite and critics fear he will register to run before the August 8th deadline for candidates.

Fortunately, DRC’s Ebola outbreak has finally ended.

Colombia

The former President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe has stepped down from his seat in the  Senate after the Supreme Court disclosed it was conducting a criminal investigation against him, including charges “bribery and procedural fraud.” Considering that his protégé Ivan Duque is soon to take office, Uribe’s resignation might offer Duque more maneuvering space in the Senate, especially as he is considered to be more moderate than his predecessor with regards with the FARC deal Uribe has long been accused of supporting right-wing paramilitaries to fight against the FARC forces in Colombia’s civil war.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated  that the greatest challenge for the incoming Colombian government is bringing development, security, and the rule of law “to vast expanses of the country that continue to be prey to violence.” He has expressed hope that the achievements of incumbent President Santos must be preserved to “consolidate peace.”

Venezuela

As Venezuela’s inflation crisis continues, the government will remove five zeroes from the currency and tie it to the state-backed cryptocurrency, the Petro. The move is seen as a last-resort attempt to stabilize inflation that is expected to reach 1,000,000% by the end of the year according to the IMF. Maduro has also given a large oil concession bloc to the Central Bank as a means to boost lackluster currency reserves and ease economic tensions. Both plans are expected to be part of a broader economic recovery plan.

The country’s last anti-Maduro newspaper is struggling to survive amidst the inflation crisis and a new defamation lawsuit by the government. The newspaper’s survival remains one of the greatest oppositions to the consolidation of Maduro authoritarian government.

American authorities have arrested two people engaged in a $1.2 billion USD currency scam through Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. Two more Venezuelan nationals have been indicted in the United States for the scam. The American government has continued the use of sanctions to weaken top Venezuelan officials and sow doubts about their allegiances to Maduro.

A group of farmers has been marching across the country to protest weak and inefficient agrarian policy in the country. They are expected to reach Caracas in the coming days to present a series of proposals to President Maduro. The protest represents discontent in a major pillar of support for Maduro’s party– the rural campesinos.

Major strikes have also occurred in the electrical sector causing major power outages. The workers are protesting low wages and poor economic conditions by showing up to work but refusing to conduct any maintenance work. The electrical workers union has often been a supporter of both Chavez and Maduro, but recent problems in the outdated electrical grid, a shortage of skilled technicians, and poor wages have led to the strike.

Malaysia

Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, recently stated that the government he inherited has been ravaged by corruption. In a recent interview with CNN, he stated that “most of the top echelons in the government are corrupt.” Mohamad also spoke strongly against the escalating trade war between the United States and China, stating that there is no benefit to be had from a potentially destabilizing trade war.

Despite the ongoing scandal led by former prime minister Najib Razak and the 1MDB fund, construction of the 1MDB-affiliated Exchange 106 tower in Kuala Lumpur is still underway. Prime Minister Mohamad has continued to fund this project which is being marketed as the “world’s most luxurious” office building.

Mohamad has continued to honor the 1692 Water Agreement with Singapore despite having discussed reneging it during his electoral campaign.  Additionally, top-level Malay politicians are attempting to refocus discourse between the two countries on the renegotiation of the High-Speed Railway project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The Malaysian government stated in May that this project would be scrapped, but signals have been incredibly mixed over the past few weeks as to what the future of the joint project will be.

Cuba

Cuba’s new constitutional reforms have been preliminarily released to the public as the legislature approved the first steps for amending the constitution last week. Among the changes is the possibility for a referendum allowing same-sex marriage. However, the changes have faced criticism from around the world and human rights organizations for not going far enough as the country continues to violate basic human rights and repress activists.

Other News:

The Philippines: As a result of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s history of violently misogynistic remarks, 40,000 women’s rights supporters protested him on Monday using the hashtag #BabaeAko, which translates to “I Am Woman.” – Time

Poland  — The judicial crisis in Poland continues as legislators push to remove Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gelsdorf from office from office. The lower chamber of Parliament pushed for a new law that would allow the appointment of her replacement to be expedited. — Reuters

Thailand — Thai nurse and activist, Natthida “Waen” Meewangpa, continues to be held on lese majeste (blasphemy to the monarchy) charges. She has been held since 2015 without trial and is expected to face charges in military court soon. Her involvement in anti-coup protests in 2010 led to her arrest by the military junta. — Human Rights Watch

Bahrain — A United Nations Report released this week calls for increased freedoms of expression and human rights in the country amidst the incarceration of several activists, increasing use of police violence, expanding anti-terror laws, and discrimination against women. — Channel News Asia

Pakistan — Imran Khan, the chief of the Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Party, won the recent general elections in Pakistan. However,  Khan will need to form a coalition with the Independents before he can establish his government. This year too, electoral violence plagued the Baluchistan and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan.— AlJazeera

Weekly Report: 20 July 2018

A woman holds a banner reading “Free Courts” at a protest outside the Parliament building in Warsaw, Poland on July 18, 2018. Reuters, Kacper Pempel.

Syria

Last week, rebel forces in the Deraa province agreed to surrender the region to the government in return for their safe evacuation to northern Syria. Just a few days after this evacuation agreement, Assad’s forces moved into the nearby Quneitra province and continued attacking rebels. On the 19th, rebel forces surrendered and agreed to leave Quneitra.

On the other hand, negotiations between the government and rebel forces in Nawa (the largest urban center in Deraa province) faltered when opposition leaders refused to capitulate their control in the region. The government proceeded to conduct an intense overnight bombing campaign between Tuesday and Wednesday, which included at least 350 launched missiles. Nawa’s only hospital was bombed, many (including doctors) were killed, and at least 150 were wounded.

The government’s attacks in Deraa and Quneitra sparked a peaceful protest on Tuesday near the frontier of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Protestors waved white flags at Israeli soldiers, requesting protection from the government’s offenses. However, the protestors were quickly dispersed by Israeli soldiers who claimed they used loudspeakers to request the Syrians to turn back.

On Thursday, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (an al-Qaida linked rebel group) exchanged the release of 1,5000 prisoners held by the government and Hezbollah for the safe passage of Fua and Kefraya residents to Aleppo. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham had imposed a siege on the two towns Fua and Kefraya for three years, making the civilians suffer from food and medicine shortages. The two towns are in the heart of Idlib, a region in northern Syria, which is the last rebel holdout against Assad’s impending forces.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump discussed Syria during the Helsinki Summit on July 16th. Both leaders agreed to work to end the conflict. President Trump has consistently expressed his desire to pull US troops out of Syria, despite the US military’s historical support of the rebel forces in the past. Therefore, the cooperation between the US and Russia (Syrian President Bashar Assad’s top ally) will likely amount to a reversal of American policy in Syria. Russian President Putin suggested that the two countries can work together “to overcome humanitarian crises and help Syrian refugees to go back to their homes.” Ironically, Russia has been heavily involved in the recent attacks on hospitals and humanitarian aid convoys in southwestern Syria. Russian officials, however, have denied involvement and claimed that the accused Russian forces are pro-Syrian fighters. Meanwhile, Israel continued its attacks against Iranian forces by striking a military base in Aleppo. The state-run Syrian News Agency condemned this attack, which killed nine regime fighters.

Bolivia

After the horrific rape and mutilation of a nine-year-old girl with down syndrome, activists have lined the streets of Bolivia in protest. Groups against assault were joined by members of the Down Syndrome Association of Sucre to demand maximum sentencing for the perpetrator, who is currently being held in the San Roque jail for aggravated rape.

Statistics from the Prosecutor’s Office report 726 sexual abuse cases and 37 cases of infanticide in Bolivia between January and June of last year, though actual numbers are likely higher due to unreported cases.

Nicaragua

Last Friday, activists organized a nation-wide strike that closed all businesses in an effort to place pressure on Ortega to resign.  Unfortunately, Nicaraguan police and pro-government paramilitary forces successfully retook the Monimbo neighborhood in Masaya just days after the strike, leaving three dead and dozens wounded on Tuesday.

This week, a rural activist and Campesino leader, Medardo Mairena, was unfairly arrested for organized crime, terrorism, and the deaths of four police officers. Mairena’s arrest sparked activists to rally outside of Managua Central Judicial Complex and demand his release. At a conference set up by SOS Nicaragua Global, a group of Nicaraguans living abroad who support the protesters, student activists spoke of the gross human rights abuses committed by Ortega’s government. The students cited that 350 people have been killed, 169 have disappeared and 3,000 have been wounded by police agents since the beginning of the protests. Furthermore, the kidnapping and torture of two Nicaraguan-Americans by paramilitary groups has received media coverage, though the two were able to escape safely and are now in the United States.

North Korea

North Korea has imported more than three times the amount of petroleum allowed under UN sanctions, and the US submitted a report and request for sanction enforcement to the UN Security Council in response. However, China and Russia placed a “hold” on the complaint, thus inhibiting the UN from taking any action on the subject for the next six months.

North Korea has demanded that South Korea return 12 female employees who allegedly defected from a North Korean restaurant chain in China. North Korea alleges that the women did not resettle in South Korea by choice and were coerced into leaving, Should the women not be returned, North Korea’s government has stated that they may renege on their promise to unite families separated during the Korean War.

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has stated that North Korea’s denuclearization is highly unlikely and will almost certainly not take place within this year. Meanwhile, North Korea continues to delay its promised return of Korean War remains. Both developments stand in stark contrast to the promises made by the DPK during their summit with US President Trump in June. North Korea’s regional influence is growing, as they opened an official tourism office in Taipei this week.

South Korea

South Korea’s former President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to eight years of prison in addition to her previous sentence of 24 years. The new charges are based on abusing state funds and violating election laws, and as trials for her alleged crimes continue, critics suspect her sentence will only to increase.

Current South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s approval ratings fell six points to 61.7%, the largest dip in support so far in his presidency, after implementing a minimum wage increase sharply criticized by business owners.

Myanmar

Fortify Rights, a human rights group based in Bangkok, reported that the genocide of Rohingya civilians was orchestrated and planned months before the outbreak of violence in 2017. In preparation for its brutal crackdown, the military confiscated sharp objects, tore down protective structures around homes, withheld aid, and increased state security forces in the region. The report listed the names of 22 police and military officials deemed responsible for the violence in August 2017, when the attacks broke out. The list includes Commander in Chief Min Aung Hlaing, Deputy Commander in Chief Soe Win, and Joint Chief of Staff of the Army, Navy, and Air Force Mya Tun Oo.

This ethnic hatred and violence have brought international attention to the role of Facebook in disseminating messages that led to genocide. Derek Mitchell, who served as United States Ambassador to Myanmar from 2012 to 2016, claimed that Facebook was unresponsive when he reached out to them in 2013 in an attempt to curb the spread of anti-Rohingya messages online. Only after some the death and displacement of over 700,000 people did Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledge the social media site’s role in fueling the conflict.

A landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar has killed at least 15 people, many of them ethnic Kachin youth from a refugee camp in Kachin state. The mining industry is extremely unregulated, and most profits of the industry go to Myanmar’s military elites.

Two Reuters journalists continue to fight for press freedom. In his recent testimony, Wa Lone claimed that he and his colleague Kyaw Soe Oo were framed by the police into violating the Official Secrets Act. He recalled an incident in which they were handed documents by policemen and told to take photographs of them.

A recent Human Rights Watch report titled “Nothing for Our Land; Impacts of Land Confiscation on Farmers in Myanmar” documents the decades-long government-perpetrated illegal confiscation of land in Myanmar. Activists are now calling on Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to investigate the confiscations, hold perpetrators accountable, and provide redress for those who’ve had their lands and livelihoods stolen. So far, Suu Kyi’s initiatives have been ineffective in addressing the concerns of the thousands who are still waiting for their land to be returned

USA

After his highly televised meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, President Trump has encountered bipartisan fury for his remarks associated with Russian meddling in US elections. Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov has claimed that the summit was successful and important verbal agreements were reached regarding bilateral arms control treaties and concerns about the future of Syria, Iran, and North Korea.  No details regarding these alleged agreements have been made public.

The Justice Department has indicted 12 Russian nationals on charges of hacking the DNC’s computers, stealing data, and publishing stolen files to disrupt the 2016 election. Another Russian, Maria Butina, has been accused of acting as an unauthorized foreign agent after establishing connections with powerful Republicans and special interest groups to form a backchannel with Russian intelligence operatives in attempts to sway the 2016 election.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has taken the United States to the International Court of Justice over President Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement. While the US has reported these charges as “baseless,” Iran maintains that this approach shows their respect for the rule of law.

Cambodia

As Cambodia’s elections approach, Chinese and Japanese influence and soft power in the country have become more apparent. China has provided election observers, polling booths, laptops, and other election materials in an effort to expand its regional power. Japan has also provided thousands of ballot boxes and materials. However, both countries have received criticism for supporting the practically fraudulent elections, as increased electoral resources are no substitute for lack of political opposition and severe repression of civil activity.

This week, an American security-research company found evidence of Chinese hacking in the electoral computers and systems of the Cambodian National Electoral Committee. The attacks also targeted key dissidents and activists in a move of support for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

Reports of threats by Cambodian security forces have surfaced in various provinces as armed government officers ask people to vote for the ruling Cambodian People’s Power or face repercussions. These threats continue the Party’s consolidation of power by weakening the opposition and intimidating voters. Any pretense for a democratic or free and fair election has long vanished since the banning of the main opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, last year.

Mexico

Amnesty International condemned Mexico for blocking their investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 university students. According to Amnesty, Mexico’s government has implemented more than 100 legal motions to block any investigation into the subject. Not a single person has been convicted in relation to the original incident, but government forces have been implicated in handing over the students to a local drug cartel.

Not all of Mexico’s disappearances have been met with impunity, however, as the death of 13 people and the disappearance of 5 in Southern Mexico on Tuesday is being investigated this week.

Singapore

A Singaporean shipping company has been charged and plead guilty to illegally dumping oil-contaminated bulge water at sea. The company will be fined $1 million USD and will receive a two-year probation.

On Monday, Singapore was featured on the State of the Internet/Security Summer 2018: Web Attack Report for having the largest source of web-application attacks in Asia. Such attacks compromise citizen’s safety, as Singapore has one of the highest internet connectivity speeds and residential wired broadband household penetration rates globally.

Thousands are expected to attend tomorrow’s state-sanctioned LGBTQ+ pride parade known as Pink Dot. Activists are enthused about the event’s ability to encourage locals to come out and be themselves, though there is much to be done in terms of broad civil rights and anti-discrimination laws in the country.

The Maldives

The European Union has approved sanctions against Maldivian government officials, including travel bans and asset freezes. Though the EU has yet to publicly name these individuals, they have called on the Yameen Government to engage with opposition leaders in “genuine dialogue that paves way for credible, transparent and inclusive presidential elections.” President Yameen has condemned these sanctions and has lambasted the opposition for welcoming foreign influence over the Maldives’ independence and sovereignty.

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Lizhong has denied claims of land grabs and debt traps and has reiterated that there are no political conditions attached to Chinese investments and projects in the region. Additionally, the Maldives is set to receive $40 million USD concessional loans from the OPEC fund for international development. Considering that these relief packages occur in tandem with ongoing international sanctions, there might not be any substantive improvement to democracy in the country.

The Maldives electoral body has been accused of removing ballot boxes in seven of the 14 islands, thus forcing Maldivian workers to travel to nearby islands to vote in September’s elections. The electoral body has also been accused of forcing elderly people and those with disabilities to seek help from polling officials, which would breach any confidentiality these citizens might have otherwise had in the voting process.

Poland

The government’s recent reversal of a Holocaust speech law has relieved some concerns about the influence of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) on Polish politics. However, the ongoing judicial crisis and  PiS’ enduring influence over the stability of the ruling coalition shows that Poland’s democratic problems are far from over. The OSCE issued a statement declaring that Poland is risking the integrity and trust of its judicial institutions by politicising them. Supreme Court President Malgorzata Gersdorf continues to attempt to fulfill her duties despite the government’s claim that she has been removed in accordance with a retirement law. Thousands of protestors gathered in Warsaw to ask for free and independent courts.    

Laos

During the UN Human Rights Review in Geneva this week, the Laos delegation dodged questions on the whereabouts of several arrested villagers imprisoned for refusing to leave state-confiscated land. Questions about their whereabouts, health, and the precise justifications for their imprisonment were left unanswered.

Zimbabwe

The prospect of free elections in Zimbabwe has bolstered the rise of independent media in the country. Zimbabwe’s largest independent newspaper The Zimbabwe Independent has gained international attention for its usage of the word “coup” to describe the military’s removal of former President Robert Mugabe and their appointment of Emmerson Mnangagwa to the position. The rising presence of independent media is a sign of the country’s progress, especially given that the majority of the media market is state-owned.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa has cast doubts about the legitimacy of the upcoming election and has criticized the electoral commission for bias in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party. Chamisa’s statements mark the significant deterioration in electoral rhetoric after a broadly peaceful campaign season.

Vietnam

A Vietnamese court has ordered the release and deportation of William Nguyen, the Vietnamese-American citizen who was detained for protesting the proposed law on special economic zones last month. While Mr. Nguyen could have faced up to seven years in prison, pressure from the US Congress and American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have facilitated his release.  

US lawmakers are troubled by Vietnam’s recent cyber-security law and have urged Google, Facebook, and other technology giants “to promote openness and connectivity” in environments which seek to control dissent. The new cybersecurity law requires foreign tech firms to store the personal data of Vietnamese users with the local government.

The Vietnamese government has expressed concern that the ongoing US-China trade war may reduce exports, impede foreign investment inflow, and hurt domestic production. The Central Bank is considering devaluating the Dong to reduce exports, but this might cause high inflation within the economy.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Blatant disregard for human rights abuse continued in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week as President Kabila appointed General John Numbi and General Gabriel Amisi, two men under US sanctions for gross human rights misconduct, to the positions of Inspector General and Army Deputy Chief of Staff, respectively.

On Friday, Jean-Pierre Bemba confirmed his candidacy as an opposition candidate after his conviction as a war criminal was overturned this month. Bemba had been charged with crimes against humanity such as murder, rape, and pillaging while leading the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) party in an armed conflict in the Central African Republic. President Kabila, who yet to explicitly confirm or deny his candidacy in December’s elections, is set to give a national address on Thursday regarding the state of the nation and several “important decisions” he has made. Kabila has already completed an unconstitutional third term, and his commitment to holding free and fair elections this year is highly questionable. These events continued the alarming partnership between DRC’s government, army, and local militias which sow instability and destruction across the country. Enduring conflicts between regional and international rebel groups only make matters worse, as eight people were killed on Monday when the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), attacked an army base in the North Kivu province.

In brighter news, DRC’s recent Ebola outbreak is expected to end next week.

Colombia

Former rebel leader Ivan Marquez has declined to join office after being elected to Colombia’s senate. Marquez is one of the ten FARC leaders elected to parliament under the Havana FARC deal and has denied the position on grounds that Colombia is extraditing a former colleague of his to the United States in breach of the FARC deal.

The United States has promised an additional $6 million dollars to help Colombia deal with the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Mark Green, the administrator for USAID has commented that this is a “man-made crisis” and the new funding will go towards nutrition and health programs along the Colombia-Venezuela border through the World Food Program and other partners. More than 50,000 Venezuelans have crossed the border into Colombia in less than a month.

The National Federation of Educators (Fecode) announced that they will hold a national strike on the 25th of July in response to violence from paramilitary groups which targets teachers and impedes access to education. The protests strive to force current President Juan Manuel Santos to fulfill his promise of alleviating the deficiencies in infrastructure, school transport and lack of investment in the education sector before he leaves office. Meanwhile, Colombia’s incoming Defense Minister Guillermo Botero is planning to “regulate” anti-government protests by mandating approval from authorities before any demonstration.

Venezuela

Venezuela has moved its central bank-controlled gold processing business to Turkey following increasingly strict international sanctions. Pressure on Maduro’s government from the global community has only increased in recent weeks, as countries such as Canada have urged their diplomats to defend human rights in the region and restrictions on trade tighten. Earlier this week, the United States revoked the visa of Asdrubal Chavez, the CEO of US-based Venezuelan refining unit Petróleos de Venezuela. Previously located in Houston, Texas, Chavez must now operate the petroleum plants from somewhere outside of the country and is now one of 48 Venezuelan nationals to be sanctioned by the US government for corruption and human rights abuses.

Several hundred senior citizens protested incomplete pension distribution this Wednesday. The demonstration took place a block away from the presidential palace amidst rapid inflation and increasing food and medicine prices across the country.

On Tuesday, protests against water and power outages in San Felix resulted in the death of a 12-year-old boy. Protestors alleged that police responded to their peaceful demonstration with gunfire, and four officers involved in the incident have been detained. Following the boy’s death, protesters marched to the local police station and partially burned the building.

Malaysia

On July 16th, opposition MPs of Malaysia’s Parliament Dewan Rakyat staged a walk-out to protest the appointment of Mohamad Ariff Yusof as Speaker of Parliament. They argued that Yusof’s nomination and appointment were against parliamentary procedure. After returning from the walkout, former Prime Minister Najib Razak accepted his position as an opposition lawmaker. The next day, Malaysia’s Sultan Muhammad V opened the first session of the new parliament.

On July 18th, during the first parliamentary debate, Najib called attention to the potential economic consequences of the new government’s cancellation of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had suspended various Chinese-led infrastructure projects on the grounds that they are too expensive and unbeneficial to Malaysia’s economy. Interestingly, some Chinese investments in Malaysia are suspected to be implicated in Najib Razak’s 1MDB scandal in which $4.5 billion in public funds are alleged to have gone missing. Furthermore, Najib Razak is known to be a staunch supporter of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, under which such infrastructure projects have been taking place. 1MDB investigations are currently being conducted by the United States, Switzerland, and Singapore.

Recently, the government’s plans to officially recognize exams taken in Chinese-medium high schools have been met with backlash and fear that Malay will no longer be the country’s official language. Malays feel that the new government is not able to protect Malay rights, Islam, the Malay language, and Malay rulers.

Thailand

Amnesty International has called for the re-abolition of the death penalty in the country. The statement comes after the execution of a 26-year-old man on June 18th, the first execution since 2009.

Thailand is looking to legalize medical marijuana after allowing medical research on the drug. However, Thailand will continue its harsh sentencing rules for the possession and trafficking of marijuana and other drugs.  

After a boat accident off the coast that killed 45 people, Chinese media has called for a boycott of tourism in Thailand. The boycott could cost Thailand more than $1 billion USD to the economy.

Other News:

Cuba– The Cuban government has taken its first steps towards reforming major components of its constitution. Amendments include guarantees of private property, the creation of an office of the prime minister, a ten-year term-limit for the president, emphasis on foreign investment, and bans on various forms of discrimination. The reforms will retain Cuba’s socialist economy but show social progress amid economic tensions.  – Newsweek

Russia– As Vladimir Putin watched Sunday’s final World Cup match from his presidential viewing box, four Pussy Riot protestors took to the field in police uniforms in a bold statement against Russia’s aggressive suppression of political freedoms and human rights. While FIFA broadcasting policies stipulate that game coverage should immediately pan away from individuals who run onto the field during a game, the incident was shown for several seconds in international media, perhaps in error or as a subtle nod to Russia’s ongoing human rights abuse. – New York Times

Israel- Israel has approved a bill declaring itself as a Jewish state, a decision Arab-Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community have condemned as the fall of Israeli democracy.  Entitled “The Basic Law,” this new legislation dictates that “the right to exercise national self-determination is unique to the Jewish people,” and that Jerusalem is Israel’s “complete and united capital.” The law also declares Hebrew as the state’s official language despite Arabic’s high presence and importance within the region and emphasizes the importance of recognizing the “development of Jewish settlement as a national value” – likely a nod to increasing the legitimization of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This law constitutes a serious blow to the lives of Israelis and Palestinians living in the region, especially the 20% of Israel’s population which identifies as Israeli Arabs. Growing global concern that Israel’s treatment of Arabs, particularly Palestinians, is reminiscent of the Apartheid has also been voiced. – BBC

Iraq– Protests in Iraq continue as people across the country and the political spectrum expressed their discontent at inefficient government policies regarding employment, water, and security. The protests faced strong backlash from local and national security forces as protestors were doused with water cannons and shot at with rubber bullets. — Al-Jazeera  

India– The Indian Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexuality and struck down Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes sex “against the order of nature.” The court stated that sexual orientation is a matter of privacy and hence a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. – Scroll

France- Alexandre Benalla, a senior security advisor to President Macron, is under investigation for assaulting protestors during the May Day demonstrations in Paris. -CNN

Weekly Report: 13 July 2018

Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone speaks to the media while leaving Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar July 9, 2018. Reuters, Ann Wang

Syria

Forced by weeks of Assad’s brutal offensives and Russian military involvement, opposition fighters in the Deraa province have agreed to hand over their heavy weaponry. The Assad government has also seized control of the strategic Nasib crossing, which will allow for the reestablishment of a key trade route between Syria and Jordan. In return, the government has agreed to leave four villages—Kahil, al-Sahwa, al-Jiza, and al-Misaifra—undisturbed. Furthermore, rebels who do not wish to live under government rule will be granted safe passage to the northern province of Idlib. However, the details of this passage have not yet been discussed. Perhaps the raising of the government’s flag in Deraa, home to the graffiti that sparked the Syrian war in 2011, could signify the end to seven years of displacement, death, and devastation.

More than 320,000 displaced Syrians from the Deraa province have sought refuge from the brutal fighting for years, unable to return to their home region despite its being a “de-escalation zone.” Currently, an estimated 189,000 are seeking shelter along the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, although Israel has announced that it would not let Syrians through its borders. Others have been struggling to financially afford living in Jordan or to live under the appalling refugee camp conditions along the Jordanian border. Despite international pressures, the Jordanian government has refused to take in more refugees, citing security concerns linked to ISIL and Jordan’s limited capacity to accommodate more people. However, Jordan has continued to provide aid and medical assistance along the border.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reassured Russian President Vladimir Putin that Israel will not act against Assad’s forces in exchange for Russia’s help in kicking Iran out of the region. The US is likely to take a similar stance in the upcoming U.S.-Russia summit. Iranian forces have been approaching Golan Heights, an occupied territory illegitimately taken from Syria in 1967. Israel has been conducting airstrikes against Iranian forces, and Russia has been largely silent on the issue. Also, Russia has not given any confirmation on whether it is interested in accepting Israel’s proposal.

Nicaragua

Now in its 11th week of civil unrest, the continuing human rights abuse and corruption in Nicaragua have lead to the imposition of sanctions from the United States on three Nicaraguan officials: Francisco Javier Diaz Madriz, Nicaragua’s police commissioner; Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones, the secretary of the Managua mayor’s office; and Jose Francisco Lopez Centeno, president of the state-owned oil company Petronic and vice-president of Albanisa, a private company that imports and sells Venezuelan petroleum products.

Peaceful demonstrations in Masaya continued this Saturday and reports show no casualties were incurred. President Ortega gave a speech on Sunday at a pro-government rally in which he blamed the unrest on “criminals, murderers, torturers, and terrorists” he accused of conspiring to seize power. Most importantly, Ortega ruled out the possibility of early elections in 2019, the current goal of the opposition.

On Sunday, pro-government paramilitary efforts to take down roadblocks in Diriamba and Jinotepe resulted in 34 deaths. A group that included medical volunteers and members of the clergy was trapped in a basilica in Diriamba and surrounded by paramilitary forces that tried to prevent them from leaving, ensuing in a violent confrontation that ended in the assault of the clergy and 14 dead civilians.

New reports from the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) document that 198 deaths from the recent violence have been caused by a single bullet and 70 of those being direct headshots, suggesting the use of sniper rifles to target civilian protesters and shoot-to-kill tactics. Evidence of the use of Catatumbo rifles, high power .50 caliber sniper rifles produced by the Venezuelan government has also been found.

North & South Korea

Over 210,000 South Koreans have signed a petition in favor of banning Seoul’s Queer Culture Festival. While homosexuality is not illegal in the country, many anti-LGBTQ attitudes persist, as a 2017 poll found that 52% of South Koreans are opposed to same-sex marriage.

Newly released documents show that the South Korean Army’s Defense Security Command (DSC) had discussed declaring martial law and forcefully dismantling protestors last year if rallies regarding President Park Geun-hye were held after the court ruled on her impeachment scandal. Current President Moon Jae-in has ordered a special investigation on the subject.

NATO has called on its leaders and allies to maintain “decisive pressure” on North Korea and to continue implementing UN sanctions until the country has completely denuclearized. This call to action occurred in the midst of North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear facilities despite last month’s summit and the US’ continued diplomatic efforts in the region. Additionally, North Korean officials did not show up for a meeting with US officials regarding the remains of America’s dead soldiers who remain in North Korea’s territory.

Myanmar

In refugee camps, each baby born is a painful reminder of the sexual violence women suffered last year during the military raid in Rakhine state. Because of the high birth rates, camps have become targets for human traffickers. Many victims of last year’s sexual violence do not receive help because of social discrimination, shame, and discomfort with medical care (Myanmar’s apartheid policies that blocked Rohingya from accessing medical care in their native Rakhine).

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s Commerce Ministry and the China International Trust and Investment Corporation is negotiating the construction of a strategic deep-sea port in Kyaukphyu, western Rakhine state. A final agreement is imminent, and this will precipitate around 20 years of construction. Myanmar’s parliament claimed that this Special Economic Zone project (part of China’s Best and Road Initiative) would bring economic growth to the country, particularly in the Rakhine state. It is clear that the parties involved are not concerned about the ethnic cleansing and repressive violence that is implicated in this project.

To the international community’s dismay, Myanmar’s courts have officially charged Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo under the Official Secrets Act. They will now face trial for investigating the massacre of ten Rohingya men on September 2nd in Rakhine state. If found guilty, the two will face a maximum of 14 years in prison. This comes after almost seven months of hearings and their detention in Yangon’s Insein prison.

Amidst undeterred violence against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, the third session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference between the government and ethnic minorities commenced. Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on all armed groups to sign the ceasefire agreement—non-signatories are allowed to attend but are prohibited from speaking.

On Thursday, the regional head of the UN development agency formally announced that the UN will send a team of experts to Rakhine state to assess the needs of people in the region and create safe conditions for the repatriation of some 700,000 Rohingya people who have fled. The path to citizenship and freedom of movement within Myanmar for the Rohingya people, however, have been under-discussed.

The violence against Rohingya has brought international attention to Facebook, which became the key platform for the spread of ethnic hatred that spurred genocide.

Myanmar declined to accept nationals deported from the U.S. On Tuesday, the Trump administration retaliated with visa sanctions. Since the Trump administration’s first push to expel immigrants with criminal records, more than 16,000 Southeast Asian people, many of whom arrived in the US as refugees, have received orders for deportation.

USA

President Trump held meetings with NATO leaders on Tuesday and urged the other countries in the alliance to contribute 4% of their GDPs to military spending. Though he initially berated the other countries for not having strong enough positions against Russia, Trump ended the meeting on a surprisingly conciliatory note, saying that the U.S commitment to NATO “remains very strong.”

Maintaining his provocative style of diplomacy, Trump lashed out at British Prime Minister Theresa May for promoting a soft Brexit and threatening no special privileges or trade deals with the United States if she maintains her current trajectory. Trump went on to praise Boris Johnson-Foreign Secretary who recently resigned from May’s cabinet-and said that “he would make a great prime minister.” President Trump is set to meet protests at every turn of his four-day trip to England as hundreds have gathered saying “No to Racism, No to Trump.” These protests have been peaceful and organizers hope to mount the biggest weekday demonstration in Britain since protests against the Iraq War.

Eager to provide results from his summit with North-Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, President Trump released a letter he received from the dictator on July 6th and praised the “great success” in talks with Pyongyang. This letter, however, includes no details about denuclearization and the United States submitted a report to the United Nations Security Council charging North Korea with evading UN sanctions through illegal transfers of refined petroleum.

The trade war with China is only getting worse and President Trump has threatened an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods, including refrigerators, electronics, cotton and other goods. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell suggested that he wasn’t sure how the trade battles were going to play out and business contacts across the US have raised alarm about Trump’s trade policy to 12 Federal Reserve branches.

In an effort to strengthen the country’s relationship with the President-elect of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner will be meeting with Mexican leaders on Friday. These talks will discuss the opioid epidemic, trade, “curbing irregular immigration” and ways of combating “transnational criminal organizations.” The United States has also imposed visa sanctions on Myanmar and Laos over their refusal to take back immigrants Washington seeks to deport. The White House’s policy to expel immigrants with criminal records has seen Southeast Asians deported in record numbers, and until Myanmar and Laos cooperate the State Department has stopped issuing certain visas to high-level officials of the countries.

Cambodia

Campaigning for Cambodia’s July 29 general election has begun, and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party is almost guaranteed to win after the dissolution of the only credible opposition party last year. Hun Sen has been in power since 1985 under the façade of a multiparty system—his authoritarian rule has silenced media and political opposition. Even military officials, who are supposed to be politically neutral, are campaigning for Hun Sen. Nonetheless, opposition groups are calling for people to boycott the elections and refuse to take part in the non-democratic process. The National Election Committee, however, has stated that people who call for the boycott could face criminal charges.

In November, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) over allegations of treason—party officials were stripped of their positions and 118 lawmakers were banned from politics for five years. Such anti-democratic crackdowns have garnered international attention, especially given the upcoming general elections, through which current Prime Minister Hun Sen will extend his so-far-33-year rule. As a result, the US and EU have withdrawn donor support from Cambodia’s 2018 elections and NGOs have been pressuring the EU to place economic sanctions on Cambodia. Japan has also expressed concerns over the dissolution of the CNRP last year, although it remains one of the largest funders of the elections along with China. On the other hand, hackers suspected of being associated with the Chinese government have infiltrated the systems of Cambodia’s election commission and several ministries to influence the elections. Jailed CNRP leader Kem Sokha stated that this political crisis will not be resolved unless the CNRP is reinstated and allowed to run against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party.

Thirty-three pregnant Cambodian women have been charged with surrogacy and human trafficking. Although there are laws that try to prevent it, Cambodian surrogacy has boomed because of cheaper services and tighter restrictions in Thailand.

The railway system connecting Cambodia and Thailand has been unofficially connected. Cambodia is now waiting for Thailand’s final confirmation before a final agreement on the cross-border rail can be signed. Establishing this connection will allow goods and people to move freely across the Cambodia-Thailand border.

Mexico

On Wednesday, a drone attached to two grenades was flown to the doorstep of a government official’s house in Mexico’s Baja California State. The devices did not detonate, and security forces later found that the attached-grenades had been deactivated; thus, the event was likely aimed to intimidate the subject rather than cause physical harm. The official in question, Gerardo Sosa Olachea, is the state’s public security minister. Baja California has long had difficulties with regional drug and arms trafficking.

As summer temperatures are projected to rise in the coming months, the risk of migrants suffering heat stroke near the US-Mexico border is growing. The number of fatalities for this summer is expected to reach into the hundreds, especially given that the number of heat-related deaths rose by 55% in 2017.

Mexico and the United States are discussing a new immigration proposal entitled a “safe third country agreement.” This policy would require asylum seekers from South and Central America passing through Mexico to apply for Mexican asylum rather than American. Critics argue that the move is detrimental to human rights as it puts those fleeing Mexican-gang related violence at risk.

Singapore

Minister of Singapore, Ng Eng Hen, told reporters last Friday that the nation faces high terrorism threat levels stemming from radicalized, returning ISIL fighters and citizens radicalizing at home via the internet. Ng postulated that the recently increased number of threats and attacks in surrounding Southeast Asian countries is cause for structural changes in Singapore’s military as well as the need for stronger regional alliances to help combat transnational terrorist threats.

South Korean President Moon has announced plans to meet with Singaporean President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an effort to assess bilateral relations and discuss further cooperation. Presidential office spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom also said President Moon plans to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

A new surveillance system for capturing smokers in Singapore will implement 140 cameras per year to capture the date, time, and person who smokes in non-smoking areas in the city. People caught smoking in any prohibited area may be fined $200, or up to $1,000 if convicted in court.

The Maldives

The European Union has threatened President Yameen with impending sanctions due to the gradual erosion of human rights and a crackdown on political opposition. Referring to a call from many European countries to remove a constitutional requirement for all Maldivian citizens to be Muslims, President Yameen has stated that “no religion other than Islam will be allowed in the Maldives.”

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has posited a “three-pronged approach” to deal with China’s expanding presence in the Maldives. This approach would include tracking Beijing’s activities carefully, pursuing India’s own projects and commitments, and educating and advising neighboring countries on the consequences of engaging with China. President Yameen, however, is skeptical of India’s intentions and has consistently used the country as a scapegoat as the Maldives gets closer to its elections in September this year.

Continuing the government’s crackdown on the opposition, councils in the districts of Addu and Fuvahmulah have had their core functions taken away. Even the Malé city council lost its mandate over birth and death records, the registry of permanent residents, unregistered residents and the foreigners’ registry. Addu’s City’s Deputy Mayor Mohammed Yasraf has claimed that the registries of the most populated islands in the Maldives were being handed to the ministry for political reasons.

On a more progressive note, Maldives’ parliament has appointed its first female Secretary General Fathmath Niusha. She is the first woman to lead the activities of the Majlis-parliament since its formation in 1971. Despite this appointment, women in the Maldives are still underrepresented in the political sphere.

Zimbabwe

Incumbent presidential candidate and frontrunner Emmerson Mnangagwa’s campaign is under scrutiny for sending a mass text message to thousands of prospective voters. Opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa criticized his opponent’s Zanu-PF party for using connections in the electoral commission to collect phone numbers from the voter files.

Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa of sowing political instability in the country through manipulating the Electoral Commission and rigging the upcoming election. Mnangagwa is a longtime ally of former President Mugabe and welcomed foreign election observers into the country after two decades of their disallowance.

The government has raised salaries for soldiers and police by a reported 20%. This move, closely preceding the country’s election, is likely an attempt to centralize government control in the case of political and social instability.

Zimbabwe has announced plans to launch a space agency in order to revitalize and modernize its economy. The incoming National Geospatial and Space Agency will work in agriculture, disease surveillance and infrastructure management, in addition to its space-centered programs.

Meanwhile, the country continues to suffer from drastic inflation—sugar prices increased by 18% over the past few days.

Poland

Poland’s judicial crisis continues as Chief Justice Malgorzata Gelsdorf allowed Justice Jozef Iwulski to fulfill the role of chief justice while she focuses on combating a law passed by the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) requiring judges over 65 to retire. The law is seen as a move by the PiS to consolidate power within the judiciary and expand its executive mandate. Protests related to the enactment of the law fizzled out earlier this week.

In this week’s NATO summit, Poland reaffirmed its commitment to the organization and its spending goals, asking the United States to expand its presence in the country to safeguard against Russian expansion. President Andrzej Duda also emphasized the need for European Union states to have alternative energy providers so as to distance themselves from Russia.

Police officers issued fewer tickets on Tuesday as part of a union-led protest over pay, holidays, and sick leave.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has claimed that reconciliation with Ukraine is dependent on the country’s apology of the genocide committed against the Poles by Ukrainian nationalists during World War Two. While Ukraine has insisted that large-scale killings took place on both sides, the relationship between these countries remains strained.

Nationwide police protests for a 150 EUR monthly pay increase have led to law enforcement officials giving out warnings instead of tickets for misdemeanor offenses.

Laos

Vietnam’s and Laos’s justice bodies came together this past week to implement border security measures and to streamline dealing with undocumented immigration and marriage. This bilateral collaboration resulted in new laws which will grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants so long as both countries hold up all parts of the new agreement.

Two Vietnamese drug kingpins were killed this week while in Laos after a two-day standoff, highlighting continued problems with the illicit drug trade in the “Golden Triangle” Region of Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.

On Tuesday, the U.S. implemented visa restrictions on Laos for refusing to provide the proper documentation to ICE for repatriated Laotian nationals who were deported from the United States. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will lift the sanctions upon cooperation.

A law signed in August 2017 requiring all religious meetings to receive government approval from multiple offices continues to target Christian practitioners.

Vietnam

On Tuesday, a Vietnamese Court upheld jail terms for three human rights activists found guilty of anti-state activities after producing and disseminating videos which criticized the communist party and its senior officials. The three activists–Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, and Tran Hoang Phuc–were convicted of anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the case of imprisoned American, William Nguyen, with Vietnamese leaders and pushed for a “speedy resolution” to the issue. William Nguyen is scheduled to go to court in South Vietnam next week where he may face up to seven years in prison for participating in protests against the new law on special economic zones last month.

Vietnam has also updated its national defense legislation in an effort to modernize the state-run defense industrial base. These efforts d seek to shield the government from threats of cyber and information warfare.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Catholic Church continues to mediate the tense political climate in DRC leading up to December’s elections. While a date has been set and current President Kabila has stated he will not run for an unconstitutional third term, Kabila maintains considerable influence over the government and a dubious commitment to free and fair elections. In fact, Kabila has moved towards using his exit from the presidency as a bargaining chip for constitutional clemency, assuring his pardon for the number of atrocities he committed while in office. The Church has voiced considerable disturbance over Kabila’s lack of commitment to democracy and has scheduled three days of nationwide protest in August intended to force him to resign. August’s resistance efforts are set to include “peaceful marches, sit-in demos, ‘dead city’ operations, general strikes and acts of civil disobedience.” Other concerns about December’s elections include the usage of new electronic voting machines. Initially seen as a positive step towards hosting transparent elections, the voting machines have been dubbed “electronic fraud machines” and all of DRC’s opposition parties have declared concerns about their usage in December.

Kabila slighted multiple foreign diplomats this week, refusing to see US UN envoy Nikki Halley at her upcoming visit to Kinshasa and canceling a meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

11 people have been killed and seven have gone missing in the Eastern DRC as militias from local provinces, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda engage in armed conflict over DRC’s natural resources. 10 of the 11 dead were burned in an ethnically motivated attack, one of many in the North and South Kivu provinces.

DRC’s government has announced their intent to open parts of Virunga and Salonga National Parks to drilling, placing local wildlife at severe risk and significantly increasing the country’s carbon emissions. The parks, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are widely known as safe havens for gorillas, bonobos, and other rare animals.

Colombia

On Monday, President Juan Manuel Santos signed a law that will allow organized crime and paramilitary groups to get reduced sentences if they turn themselves in. This law has been presented as an effort to curb the escalating violence and murders of social leaders since the peace deal with FARC was signed in 2016. A group of social organizations has also released a report which identifies 123 Colombian leaders murdered this year; 80% of the assassinated were members of Campesino or Indigenous organizations.

On Tuesday, General Henry Torres appeared before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a war crimes tribunal created as part of a peace process that seeks to end decades of armed conflict. Torres apologized to the victims for his role in the mass execution of civilians under President Alvaro Uribe. However, he denied responsibility for the two murders he was charged with, and his attorney Jaime Granados stressed that truth “does not mean accepting responsibility.” Human Rights Watch has condemned the more lenient treatment of government soldiers and FARC fighters. The new bill detailing a “special and differentiated process” for the armed forces is seen against the ethos of the peace deal.

Facing the pressure of the increasing number of refugees from the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis, the United States, Colombia, Mexico and Panama agreed to cooperate in combating illegal networks in crisis-torn Venezuela. Shared information would include data on Venezuelan government officials suspected of corruption and their support networks.

Venezuela

In response to reports stating US President Donald Trump considered invading Venezuela, a member of Venezuela’s constituent assembly and a government allied lawmaker stated that any such invasion would result in Venezuela’s bombing of key infrastructure in Colombia. However, the risk of such an invasion remains low, and political and economic sanctions on the country by the US and its allies are in place to continue.

An outbreak of measles on the Venezuelan-Brazilian border has placed more than 23 members of the indigenous Yanomami Amazon tribe in the hospital. The World Health Organization declared South America measles free in 2016. However, Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis and subsequent lack of vaccines have resulted in 2,150 measles cases since July of 2017. Isolated indigenous communities are especially at risk of becoming sick and health workers are hoping to contain the spread of the disease before it affects hundreds more.  

Malaysia

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is striking a delicate balance between maintaining diplomatic relations with China while also suspending expensive Beijing-linked infrastructure projects. Last week, Mahathir suspended the East Coast Rail Link (being constructed by the Chinese Communications Construction Company) and three pipeline projects (being built by China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau). This is part of Mahathir’s plan to cut public spending and enforce better corporate governance; recently, his reevaluation of such projects succeeded in cutting the costs of the Light Rail Transit 3 in half. At the same time, Mahathir plans to visit Beijing in August to strengthen ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping. His approach stands in contrast to the stance of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was a large proponent of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. Also, his major push-back against Chinese expansionism could galvanize others in the region to do the same.

1MDB investigators believe Rosmah Mansor (Former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s wife) and Riza Aziz (Rosmah’s son/Najib’s stepson) are closely involved in the theft of approximately $4.5 billion of 1MDB funds. Najib denies any wrongdoing, and Low Taek Jho, the suspected “mastermind” behind the looting, has fled to an unknown location. However, the prolonged investigation of Mr. Riza Aziz’s involvement in the 1MDB case is raising eyebrows in the legal community; Riza faced 22 hours of intense interrogation over four days. Also, as part of the investigation, 408 bank accounts suspected to have been involved in the extensive money laundering have been frozen.

Other news:

Thailand – All 12 boys from a Thai soccer team and their coach have been rescued after spending three weeks in a cave. The rescue effort involved experts from multiple countries and Thailand’s SEAL divers. – TIME

Cuba – Cuba is tightening regulations on privately held businesses, stifling small business owners and endangering foreign investments. This is an attempt to address rising inequality and stagnant wages in the country. It also comes amid fears that a growing private sector could threaten Cuba’s repressive, socialist, cash-strapped state. – Reuters  

Bolivia – A new report from the Munasim Kullakita Foundation, a Catholic NGO that supports victims of sexual violence and human trafficking, shows that sex trafficking of underage girls is on the rise in Bolivia. – NewsDeeply

Iran – Online Protests have spurred across Iran after a teenage girl, Maedeh Hojabri, was arrested for uploading videos of her dancing to Western and Iranian music on Instagram. – NationalPublicRadio

Haiti – After 3 days of violent protests against the removal of fuel subsidies, protestors have gone on strike and shut down Port-au-Prince. – NBC

Palestine – Israeli forces raided the Khan al-Ahmar community in the east of Jerusalem and held activists captive. Israel wants to build a settlement after expelling residents from the region. – WAFA

Weekly Report: 6 July 2018

Supporters of President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gathered in Mexico City after the Sunday election. Reuters, Goran Tomasevic.

Syria

The Assad government’s offensives in Deraa province have intensified, and the regime now controls most of the region just two weeks after initial attacks. Jordan has diplomatically intervened, sparking a new round of negotiations between Russia and the rebels in the southwestern region. However, these efforts have been unsuccessful in bringing safety to Deraa province’s 800,000 civilians. In response, Jordanians have been working to supply aid to the Deraa refugees.

Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon are continuing their return, with uncertainty and cautious hope.

The US’s stance on Syria took a sharp turn this week. US National Security Adviser John Bolton stated that President Trump is not opposed to the reinstatement of Assad’s regime. In return, the US hopes to have Russia’s help in removing Iran from Syria. Trump and Russian Premier Vladimir Putin are scheduled to discuss this issue on July 16th.

Similarly, Israel, also sensing that Assad’s complete takeover is imminent, has demanded Iranian withdrawal from the country. Furthermore, Israel has ramped up its military presence in the Golan Heights frontier, and occupation near its border with Syria. These actions raise questions about the legitimacy of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, its role in providing humanitarian aid, as well as its alleged neutrality in the conflict despite the numerous airstrikes it has carried out.

Iraq, on the other hand, has started constructing a fence along the Iraq-Syria border to keep ISIL members out.

Nicaragua

This week, new reports place the death toll in Nicaragua at 309, over 1,500 injured, and 156 missing since the beginning of the violence nearly three months ago. The March of Flowers this past Saturday, a demonstration to commemorate the students killed at the initial university protests, resulted in one death and ten wounded demonstrators. Many protesters have been denied medical attention at government-run hospitals, resulting in makeshift clinics at university centers and Catholic churches manned by volunteer medical practitioners.  On Monday, Amnesty International reported that an Interdisciplinary Groups of Independent Experts (GIEI) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights made 15 recommendations to government authorities to promote freedom among citizens without fear.

A group of multinational trade companies that includes Adidas, Patagonia, New Balance, Nike, Fanatics, Fair Labor Association, Under Armor, Gab Inc., and the American Apparel & Footwear Association signed a letter addressed to Ortega insisting on an end to the violent repression of citizens and urging the president to continue peaceful negotiations. Meanwhile, the ongoing violence has crushed the once vibrant tourist industry, leaving 200,000 people unemployed. Projections from the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (Funides) projects that 1.3 million of Nicaragua’s 6.2 million people risk falling into poverty if the violence

continues.

North & South Korea

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in North Korea this Friday amidst the country’s development of nuclear-weapon infrastructure. In spite of North Korea’s promise to denuclearize at last month’s summit, satellite images show the continuous growth of several of weapon facilities, placing special importance on Pompeo’s visit and his efforts to ease tensions between the two countries.

Influxes of Yemeni refugees in South Korea sparked national outrage and protests this week. 520,000 South Koreans have signed a petition against their government’s relaxed national immigration policy, and hundreds marched Saturday in Jeju Island and Seoul. Refugee relief organizations have allegedly received threats amidst the rising anti-refugee sentiment in the country.

The #MeToo movement is gaining ground in South Korea as former provincial governor Ahn Hee-jung is put on trial for raping his former secretary. Women also plan to boycott spending on the first Sunday of every month to protest their government’s “pink tax,” under which women’s products are priced much higher than men’s products. Both movements are testaments to growing female activism in the country, and set positive precedents for the days to come.

The South Korean government plans on implementing new policies to reverse the country’s low birth rate, including increased financial support for single parents and subsidized costs for infertility treatments.

Myanmar

Although Myanmar’s government has claimed that it is prepared to take back Rohingya refugees (whose numbers exceed 700,000), the Red Cross has declared that conditions are still very unsafe and inadequate for repatriation. The Rohingya people are still not guaranteed citizenship nor freedom of movement within Myanmar.

Furthermore, the government has seized large swaths of land and Rohingya villages in the northern Rakhine state under the guise of reconstruction and development. Government-built “transit camps” for refugees remain empty as refugees refuse to come back to a place where their safety is endangered. Fewer than 200 out of 700,000 displaced Rohingya people have returned to the country; the prolonged delays in repatriation are also straining relations between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters reporters, were arrested last December for their investigation of the massacre of ten Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. Next week, on July 9th, the court will decide whether the two will face full trial.

USA

The trade war between the United States and China escalated as President Trump imposed a tariff on $34 billion worth of Chinese products, a significant hike which would hurt both American and Chinese consumers and producers. Chinese officials have repeatedly mentioned that, in response to the tariffs, they would tax an equal amount of American exports—including pork, soybeans and automobiles. In conjunction with tariffs imposed on foreign steel, aluminum, solar panels, and washing machines from its allied countries, there is a long-term threat on the view of the United States as a place to export. Even the Federal Reserve is finding it difficult to mitigate the pain of the trade war, and in case of recession, it will be difficult for the institution to bailout the broader economy.

On the 4th of July, activists campaigning to abolish ICE were arrested at the Statue of Liberty. Therese Okoumo, an immigrant who was born and educated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, climbed to the base of the statue and was there for several hours before the police took her into custody. At least six people were arrested for unfurling a banner demanding the abolishment of ICE. These arrests come in response to Trump’s executive order which seeks to detain families of illegal immigrants until their legal hearings have concluded.  

The NATO summit is scheduled for the 11-12th of July, and President Trump has shaken decades of American defense policy by criticizing the organization. He has demanded that member nations increase their defense spending to the target of 2% of their GDP and has placed emphasize on counter-terrorism efforts. With the continued disdain of both the EU and NATO, it will be interesting to see whether history will look back on this decision as a foreign policy blunder in an effort to tackle the rising powers in the East.

The United States has also imposed sanctions over violence and corruption against three Nicaraguan individuals. Those sanctioned include Francisco Javier Diaz Madriz, Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones, and Jose Francisco Lopez Centeno who have all been accused of curtailing fundamental freedoms and spiraling unrest in the strife-ridden country.

Mexico

Mexico held its largest elections ever this Sunday, with more than 1300 offices on ballots across the country. Populist frontrunner, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), won 53% of the vote, the first time a president has won with the majority of the vote since multiparty elections began in 2000.  He ran under his own personalistic party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), in coalition with labor and far-right parties. The legislative elections have yet to yield final results, but AMLO’s coalition is expected to win a majority in both houses of Congress, giving the President-Elect a broad mandate to enact reforms.

AMLO’s election is seen as a response to rising corruption, increased violence, and strained relations with the United States. Concerns about his commitment to democratic norms have worried experts around the world as he has often rejected election results, violated campaign expenditure laws, frequently changed his policy stances, and disregarded institutional guardrails in the country. Business leaders were particularly rattled by his promises of expanding social program reforms and rolling back the privatization of the oil sector. AMLO met after the election with the business community in order to assuage concerns, and promised to establish a government-funded apprenticeship program.    

Singapore

Minister of Singapore, Ng Eng Hen, told reporters last Friday that the nation faces high terrorism threat levels stemming from radicalized, returning fighters and citizens radicalizing at home via the internet. Ng postulated that the recent increased number of threats and attacks in surrounding Southeast Asian countries is cause for structural changes in Singapore’s military as well as the need for stronger regional alliances to help combat transnational terrorist threats.

South Korean President Moon has announced plans to meet with Singaporean President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an effort to assess bilateral relations and discuss further cooperation. Presidential office spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom also said the President Moon plans to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Maldives

The Indian External Affairs Ministry has expressed concern over the announcement of Maldives’ elections without democratic institutions. India expressed the need for the rule of law and an independent judiciary in the country before the elections are held in September this year. Reporters in Maldives who cover court cases are being targeted by penal code charges. The new amendment to the penal code would make it illegal for journalists to portray a court as lacking the capacity to rule independently and without influence. It will also make it illegal to use audio, video or any electronic equipment inside the courtroom.

The four-party Joint Opposition in Maldives declared their support for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) parliamentary group leader, Ibrahim Mohammed Solih in the upcoming elections. This came after ex-President and MDP leader Mohammed Nasheed unilaterally decided that he would not be challenging President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom  in the upcoming elections. The ex-President has continuously expressed concern over the lack of the rule of law and democratic apparatus in the country and has cited them as reasons for his decision. President Yameen’s campaign places emphasis on Islam and infrastructure. He portrays the opposition as anti-Islamic and urges the country to choose economic development over secular ideals.

Diego García-Sayán, a United Nations Human Rights Expert, has expressed dismay at the arrest of two justices who were involved with the February 1 Supreme Court decision which ordered the reinstatement of 12 suspended Members of the Parliament and release and retrial of nine political leaders. Maldives has also made a re-appearance on the US human trafficking watch list and has been downgraded over failure to meet minimum standards of elimination.

Zimbabwe

Campaigning for Zimbabwe’s presidency continues after last week’s blast which targeted a rally for incumbent President Mnangagwa. Fears of violence continue, especially in light of the extensive violence following the 2008 elections. Both Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa have denounced the violence and returned to the campaign trail.

The currency crisis in the country continues as the new Bond Notes lose value despite being theoretically tied to the US dollar. Fears of further inflation and a collapse of the Bond currency are partially fueled by the uncertainty of the upcoming elections, and foreign investors are reluctant to commit before the results.  

The United States Agency for International Development has stopped funding three key civil society groups in the country. One of these groups is at the forefront of an election validation project aimed at ensuring the July elections are free and fair.

Poland

Poland’s collapsing judiciary crisis escalated to its highest point this week, as the ruling Law and Justice Party pushed to purge the Supreme Court of opposition. The Parliament is trying to enforce a law that would require all justices older than 65 to request permission from the president in order to remain on the court. The law is widely seen as a push towards making the judiciary subservient to elected politicians. President of the court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, showed up to work despite being in violation of the new law.

Solidarity leader Lech Walesa called for mass protests if the government continues to interfere with the judiciary. Tens of thousands of protestors all over Poland gathered to express their concern for the state of the rule of law in the country.

Laos

Vietnam’s and Laos’s justice bodies came together this past week to implement border security measures and to streamline how to deal with undocumented immigration and marriage. This bilateral collaboration resulted in new laws which  grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants, so long as both countries hold up all parts of the new agreement.

Two Vietnamese drug kingpins were killed this week on in Laos after a two-day standoff, highlighting continued issues with illicit drug trade in the “Golden Triangle” Region of Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar.

Vietnam

The Vietnamese authorities have come up with a new cybersecurity law which requires internet companies to “scrub critical content and hand over user data” if the government requests it. In a country where there is no free press, social media offers the only respite for limited independent speech; this crucial lifeline will be taken away from the beginning of next year. Last year, the Vietnamese Government announced a 10,000 strong cybersecurity army tasked with monitoring incendiary material online. Many activists are now turning to Minds, a United States based open platform, which provides a safer alternative to Facebook and protects the identity of its users.

Minar Pimple, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Global Operations, has criticized the arrest of Vietnamese blogger and political journalist Le Anh Hung. Le Anh Hung was arrested for abusing democratic freedom and publishing an open letter that criticized the government’s policy on economic zones which gives special incentive to foreign investors. He will be detained for three months and could face up to seven years in prison.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Conflicts between Ugandan rebel forces and the DRC’s military have left four Ugandan soldiers and three civilians dead along the border between the two countries. The Allied Democratic Forces militia (a group of Ugandan-Muslim radicals intent on overthrowing Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni) are deeply entrenched within DRC’s mineral production and were likely involved in the conflict.

Candidate registration for DRC’s upcoming presidential race begins on July 25th, and questions about who will run and whether the elections will be free and fair are rampant. Possible candidates include Moïse Katumbi, Vital Kamerhe, Félix Tshisekedi, and Jean-Pierre Bemba. While current president Kabila issued a statement that he would not run in December’s election, his actual commitment to stepping down remains unclear.

Colombia

President Juan Manuel Santos has called for an investigation into the murders of nearly 300 land and human rights activists who have been murdered in the past two years. Ombudsman and public defender Carlos Alfonso Negret stated that between January 1, 2016 and June 30 of this year, 311 Colombian activists were murdered. There is increasing pressure on President-elect Ivan Duque to speak out against the murders of these activists.

Ana Maria Cortes is one of the social leaders who was murdered by paramilitary troops this Wednesday. She was also the coordinator for Gustavo Petro’s presidential campaign in the city of Cáceres, Antioquia. Petro was Colombia’s losing candidate in last month’s elections and has condemned the systemic threats which have been sent to his supporters and the organizations he works with.

Thailand

On Wednesday, the Thai government pressed charges against two professors and two students for protesting military surveillance at academic conferences. The charges come as part of Thailand’s continued and abhorrent oppression of free speech and protests.

A Human Rights Watch report this week stated that Malay insurgent groups have been using landmines and civilian attacks as part of their conflict with security forces. The deteriorating conditions in the south of the country are part of a long-standing ethnic conflict between government forces and Malay insurgent groups.

The  boys’ soccer team that had been trapped in a cave has found the boys, and rescue operations are underway. One of the rescuers died on Friday trying to dive to the chamber where the boys are held.

Venezuela

US President Donald Trump has reportedly discussed invading Venezuela multiple times in the past year. In response, Venezuela’s President Maduro urged his military to stay on guard and used Trump’s statements to validate his long-standing assertion that the US plans to attack Venezuela to seize its oil reserves. Maduro added that the country, above all, needed to defend against the “supremacist and criminal vision of those who govern the US.” Conversely, China has invested 250 million dollars to boost Venezuela’s oil output. This is just a slice of their 5-billion-dollar loan intended to boost the country’s production. The US has placed sanctions on Venezuela’s finance Minister Simon Zerpa, who led the meetings between Venezuela and China.

Venezuela’s government has announced plans to fund the construction of houses for the homeless with national cryptocurrency. The project, called the “Great Mission for Venezuela Housing,” has allegedly built 2 million houses so far.

In other news, Maduro promoted 16,900 soldiers for their “loyalty” in a probable attempt to dissuade the military from siding with political opposition in a coup. Venezuela’s currency inflation has hit 40,000%, a new national record. And, one of Venezuela’s last independent newspapers, El Nacional, is being threatened with a lawsuit and the continued blocking of its website by government forces, indicating Venezuela’s impending shift towards total authoritarianism.

Bolivia

On Monday, President Evo Morales claims that the defenders of the F21 are not citizens, but right-wing politicians who only intend to collude and discredit the government and “indigenous” president. Morales said that this group would attempt to discredit his government with help from the United States Embassy and that its members were paid to carry out protests and other activities.

The opposition group F21 continues to support the outcome of the Constitutional referendum on February 21, 2016, which voted down the president’s effort to institutionalize a third term run for office. They call Morales a “dictator” and hold protests on on the 21st of every month.

Though he claims to be in great health, President Morales underwent a surgery for tumor removal on Wednesday. This follows a previous surgery in Cuba to remove a benign tumor from his throat and a knee surgery for a sports-related injury.

Some coca growing federations in Bolivia that support Morales’ presidency reported that they plan to run 100 cybercenters to completely overshadow government opposition on social media with pro-government messaging on Facebook and Twitter.

Malaysia

On Wednesday, former prime minister Najib Razak was charged with criminal breach of trust and using his position for personal gratification through his involvement in the 1MDB affair.

Malaysia’s former ruling party, the United Malays National Organization, chose Zahid Hamidi as its new leader in hopes of re-building its support base among the ethnic Malay Muslim majority. Zahid is unlikely to submit to the wave of liberal, multicultural politics that have taken over the Malaysian political foreground. The party suffered from a huge electoral loss after the 1MDB scandal, which is still under investigation for some $4.5 billion that went missing.

Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen agreed with Malaysian counterpart Mohamad Sabu to strengthen security cooperation in the Singapore Strait, which will include joint patrols. Through efforts such as these, the two countries have been reconciling their territorial disputes.

As part of the massive governmental reforms, nine Malaysian government agencies began operating as independent entities on July 1st. They now report directly to parliament.

Malaysia’s largest oil and gas company Sapura Energy Bhd. is looking to take advantage of a recent surge in global oil prices to raise up to $750 million through an initial public stock offering. On the other hand, the government has suspended its China-backed rail link project, which will only be viable with a drastic price reduction by the Chinese contractor. The project is part of China’s Belt and Road initiative and currently costs $20 billion.

Other news:

Cuba – Environmental activist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was freed this week after outcry on social media over his arrest. He had been on a hunger strike for several days before being released on parole for “medical reasons.” – New York Times

In Celebration and In Protest—Queer People’s Power in Turkey

Jul 2, 2018

Despite the government ban on the Istanbul Pride March, approximately 1000 people chose to participate in a rally on Sunday, both in celebration of their identities and in protest of the government ban. Police, dogs, and armored vehicles confronted the protesters and eleven people were detained. However, activists continued to march.

In Celebration and In Protest—Queer People’s Power in Turkey

An activist waves a rainbow flag in Istanbul, Sunday, July 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Despite Governor Vasip Sahin’s recent ban of the Istanbul Pride March, approximately 1000 people chose to participate in a rally on Sunday, both in celebration of their identities and in protest of the government ban. Police, dogs, and armored vehicles confronted the protestors, blocking off avenues and side streets, shooting rubber bullets, and attacking them with tear gas. However, protesters continued to march. Eleven people were detained and have yet to be released.

Prior to Sunday’s march, the organizers of Istanbul Pride rightfully identified the government’s ban of the event as discriminatory and illegitimate. In fact, the ban violated fundamental human rights and freedoms of expression and assembly. It also marks the fourth consecutive year of a ban of the Istanbul Pride March. This time, the government cited security reasons and public “sensitivities” as its justification.

Such violent government and police responses to the event may seem like a jarring regression from 2014, when the march had notable popularity, participation, and even some political support. However, starting in 2014, intolerance and oppression reemerged in the political foreground. Recently re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began repressing Pride marches in 2015 when he rose to national political power. In November of 2017, Ankara’s government banned all LGBTI-related activities, including the 2017 German gay film festival, “to ensure peace and security.” Furthermore, the 8th Trans Pride March was banned in 2017, although it did not deter activists from coming onto the streets.

Pride is a mechanism for visibility, and in Turkeya country with very few spaces for expression of queer identitiesthe march is an especially potent tool for empowerment and community-building. Therefore, despite the pain and violence which marred this rally, there certainly also was hope and survival. Indeed, as the event’s organizer articulated, “Like every year, we are here, on these streets. Our laughter, our exclamations, our slogans still echo in these streets.”