Take Note: A ‘Laughtivist’ Who Helped Overthrow Milosevic On Nonviolent Activism

The source of the audio record: WPSU

Srdja Popovic is an activist and author of the book “Blueprint for Revolution: how to use rice pudding, Lego men, and other non-violent techniques to galvanise communities, overthrow dictators, or simply change the world.” Popovic was a founder of the student movement “Otpor!” or “Resistance!” The movement helped oust the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, who was later charged with war crimes. Popovic served in the Serbian parliament and in 2003 founded Canvas, a nonprofit focused on teaching the use of nonviolence to promote human rights and democracy.

Popovic spoke with WPSU while visting the Center for Global Studies at Penn State.

Weekly Report: 29 March 2019

Activists and university students gather to demand the first election in Thailand, since the military seized power in a 2014 coup, Jan. 8, 2019. Jorge Silva, Reuters

Cuba

Prince Charles and Camilla visited Cuba this week, making them the first members of the royal family to visit the country for official reasons. The visit was organized in order to ease tensions between the U.K. and Cuba, who have been rivals in the past. While their visit was criticized by US Senator Rick Scott, who publicly asked the Prince of Wales to cancel the trip, Charles released a statement saying they hoped to showcase “cultural links between the two countries”.

Nicaragua

Amnesty International released a statement encouraging the international community’s support of Costa Rica in taking Nicaraguan refugees escaping the human rights crisis under Daniel Ortega’s government. There are currently 42,000 Nicaraguan refugees in Costa Rica that require international protection, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Around 23,000 have started the application process to achieve refugee status in the country. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director of Amnesty International stated, “Forced migration is a consequence of the serious human rights crisis in Nicaragua. The impact of President Ortega’s government’s repressive strategies is clear even in Costa Rica”.

North Korea

North Korean officials have returned to the demilitarized zone days after saying they would withdraw from the peace process with South Korea. Analysts have said that the initial move to pull out from the peace process could have been triggered by the deteriorating relationship with the United States following the failed denuclearization summit last month. Kim Jong Un’s decision to return workers to the liaison office came shortly after President Trump tweeted that he had ordered the Treasury Department to stop “additional large scale sanctions” against North Korea.

A top US official also announced this week that along with escalating concerns coming from North Korea’s refusal to denuclearize, the United States may not be able to see an attack coming. Because of a lack of “sufficient intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities on the Korean peninsula”, the US would be unprepared for an attack, if it were to happen.

Myanmar

This week, Myanmar was urged by the UN Human Rights Council “to end immediately violence and violations of international law” in the Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan states. An extension of the mandate of the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar has been implemented by the council.

Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December 2017, and have been imprisoned for 15 months after being found guilty under the Official Secrets Act. The reporters were sentenced to seven years in prison, a conviction that was denounced, as expected, by both press freedom advocates and Western diplomats. Myanmar’s Supreme Court ruled on an appeal of the journalists on Tuesday, but Supreme Court Justice Soe Naing adjourned the meeting without giving a final date for the ruling.

United States

The long-awaited Robert Mueller report on potential collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign was released to U.S. Attorney General William Barr this week. Barr’s summary of the report was sent to Congress two days after it was released, but a committee of House democrats have requested that the full report be given to Congress by April 2. The House also voted unanimously that the report be released to Congress and the public in its entirety. Barr has said that he will not be able to release the full report by April 2, prompting the House Intelligence Committee to consider subpoenaing Mueller as a last resort.

In the summary of Mueller’s report, it was stated that there was no evidence of Trump’s campaign conspiring or coordinating with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election. Throughout the course of the investigation, the special counsel also “indicted or got guilty pleas from 34 people and 3 companies”, including 6 former Trump advisors.

Cambodia

This week the Cambodian court issued warrants for the arrest of eight opposition leaders, one of which being Sam Rainsy, founder of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on treason charges. Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang, vice-presidents, were also named. Kem Sokha, Cambodia National Rescue Party Chief’s request to drop treason charges was denied, despite his being held for over a year in pre-trial detention. Kem Sokha’s legal team has cited lack of proper evidence in their request to drop charges.

Cambodia has possibly taken a positive step towards recognition of land rights in their decision this week to return land taken a decade ago from indigenous communities, used for a Vietnamese company’s rubber plantation. Dam Chanty, executive director of Highlanders Association, an indigenous rights organization, stated that the decision, “represents an unprecedented recognition of indigenous land rights over business interests in Cambodia”.

Mexico

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced this week that many social welfare programs would lose funding in an effort to end corruption. The move to cut funding from this area will shut down thousands of soup kitchens, child daycare centers, and shelters for women fleeing domestic violence. The decision came as a surprise to many, as, until now, the president has always championed helping the poor and disadvantaged.

Immigration officials said Thursday that the situation at the US-Mexico border has reached a breaking point. The Customs and Border Protection commissioner declared an “operational crisis” this week due to the surge in asylum-seekers arriving at the border over the past few months. With the large numbers of people waiting to get across the border into the United States, Mexico’s border towns have had their resources drained. As a result, the facilities for migrants are also in a state of constant overcrowding and deterioration.

Maldives

67 employers in the Maldives are being accused of inconsistencies with the recruiting process of foreign workers, specifically Bangladeshis. A total of 27 companies are being criticized for “neglecting their responsibilities” related to foreign workers. Administrative action has been taken against the companies. It has been estimated that out of a migrant population of 144,607, around 63,000 work illegally.  

Zimbabwe

Despite efforts to save their failing currency from plunging in the black market, the RTGS$ has fallen to 4.2 per one US dollar. This is the weakest that the currency has been valued in over five months. Formal trading of this currency began last month, with its valuation at 2.50 USD initially, though it quickly dropped to 3 USD. While officials had hoped that recognizing the the RTGS$ as not equal to a US dollar would stop the trading on the black market, a shortage of currency in the interbank market has forced many businesses to turn back to the black market.

Laos

United Nations rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston, has urged Laos to focus on developing resources that will help children and poor rather than focusing on the foreign-invested dam and railway contracts. Phetvanxay, foreign minister of Laos, objected to these statements, saying, “some of the information that you received might be biased. Also, NGOs might have hidden agendas”.

This week, a North Korean diplomat arrived in Beijing and is reportedly scheduled to visit Laos. Foreign affairs experts credit this to being the result of the failed denuclearization summit with the United States, as North Korea eagerly attempts to ease economic sanctions imposed by the international community.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The number of ebola cases in the DRC has now surpassed 1000 since the outbreak began in August last year. Of those cases, at least 639 people have died. Just this week, 58 more people were diagnosed with the disease, reaching a new high-per-week in 2019. Despite the growing number of people affected, health workers in the DRC say that the biggest obstacle they face is the mistrust coming from much of the public. In a survey last year, 1 in 4 people said that they didn’t believe ebola was real. The disbelief coming from the community has led to many people refusing vaccines and treatment, as well as hiding their symptoms. In the past few months, multiple clinics set up for treating ebola have also been burnt down by disbelieving community members. The World Health Organization has confirmed that this is now the second-deadliest ebola breakout in history.

Colombia

The UNHCR has commended Colombia’s reaction to the political crisis in Venezuela, calling theirs a “generous open border policy and a series of status regularization measures and facilitating access to basic services”, but have stated that the “humanitarian needs have overwhelmed the country’s reception capacity”. Humanitarian aids have cited the lack of mental health facilities for Venezuelan refugees, following a reported 216 suicide attempts among Venezuelan refugees in 2018 alone. The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and Colombian authorities have been attempting to open reception centers to offer full support of vulnerable and at-risk refugees, but many are finding the task extremely daunting.

Colombian social leaders will travel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 5th to demand the court to investigate the killings of social leaders by the Colombian state. Between 2016 and 2019, 547 Colombian social leaders have been murdered, according to a human rights report.

Venezuela

Two Russian military planes landed in Caracas on Saturday, carrying dozens of troops and equipment. Eyewitnesses at the airport said they saw at least 100 soldiers and “35 tonnes of equipment” being unloaded from the planes. While it is unclear what equipment was delivered to Venezuela it is clear that Russia is flexing its influence and power within Venezuela over the United States. In response to Russia’s actions, US President Trump has called for them to remove their troops, and reiterated that “all options” are on the table for making that happen.

Meanwhile, electricity outages continue to affect the country, as the second major blackout has now begun. Maduro has once again called the blackout an “attack” by Guaido and the opposition, but for residents in Venezuela’s rural areas, this is the norm. While intermittent electricity and blackouts are common outside of Caracas, these problems are now beginning to affect the major city as Venezuela’s infrastructure quickly falls apart. In response, Guaido has called on his supporters to protest these blackouts, arguing that the failures are caused by decades of corruption and underinvestment.

Malaysia

A report released on Wednesday by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and Fortify Rights stated that they had “found reasonable grounds to believe that a human-trafficking syndicate committed crimes against humanity in Malaysia and Thailand between 2012 and 2015, against Rohingya men, women and children”. This report comes four years after 139 graves of Rohingya and Bangladeshis were found in Malaysia, all of which were victims of human trafficking, yet there have been no prosecutions made of Malaysians involved.

Thailand, in comparison, found a mass grave of 30 bodies in the spring of 2015, leading to the conviction of 62 defendants and 9 Thai government officials.

Philippines

Philippine journalist Maria Ressa has been arrested again, reportedly for her website’s criticism of President Duterte’s aggressive drug crackdown. Ressa, in addition to her website Rappler have been hit with a number of criminal charges, shocking and creating fear within the Philippine media community. Ressa was able to post bail – her seventh time having to do so. Her website and its officials now face 11 charges.

Thailand

Thailand’s historic and long anticipated election was held on Sunday, March 24, the first election in the country since the power coup in 2014, but the results have elicited both confusion and disappointment with the Election Commission. The Election Commission delayed the results, without giving any proper explanation for the continued delays. By Monday, Thai news reports cited figures from the Election Commission which had different results for the number of seats each party had actually won. Many also questioned the reported voter turnout, as there were over 50 million people eligible to vote but the turnout rate was a reported 64%.

On Wednesday, seven Thai parties announced their formation of a “democratic front”, under the premise that the election is widely disputed. The Pheu Thai-led democratic front claimed to hold a combined 255 seats, making them the majority in the House of Representatives thus giving them the power to form a government.

On Thursday, the Electoral Commission released unofficial results showing that Thailand’s pro-army Palang Pracharat party won the popular vote, with 8.4 million ballots, although they did not give the number of seats that would be held by the party. These results will remain “unofficial” until May 9, 2019, as the Election Commission will release the official results.

Other News

Turkey – Turkish voters will be electing mayors and local officials during a March 31 election, an election that international observers are considering to be a test for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. Politicians have been eagerly campaigning in Istanbul, trying to appeal to the 57 million registered Turkish voters. The Nation’s Alliance, a center-left opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and right-wing Good (IYI) Party are the main competitors to Erdogan’s union. (Al Jazeera)

Algeria – Following weeks of youth-led protests calling for Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah suggested on Tuesday the implementation of Article 102, which could call for Bouteflika’s impeachment on health grounds. Under the article, the constitutional council can investigate the health of the leader and then decide whether the person is fit enough to rule. Salah’s call was rejected by opposition leaders, stating that the investigation into Article 102 should have been carried out years ago, but not before the end of the president’s term. (Al Jazeera)

Is It Spring Again?

The source of the article: Slate

Don’t look now, but a wave of youth-driven pro-democracy movements is having an impact across Africa.

There is something going on across Africa. While the world’s media has been focused on the U.S.–North Korea nuclear talks or the tumult in Venezuela, two of the world’s longest-standing dictators decided to take a step back from forthcoming elections amid mass protests.

This marks what many believe to be a new era in two large and geopolitically important countries. The protests surprised the international community and observers of Algerian and Sudanese politics, as the countries had largely avoided the mass rallies held across the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring in 2011.

The people of Sudan took charge against their war criminal president in December, in a protest sparked by fuel price hikes that soon became nationwide movement for Bashir to step down. Employing street demonstrations, graffiti, and social media under the leadership of youth groups like Girifna and professional associations, Sudanese protesters achieved a unity that persevered in the face of crackdowns from security forces that have killed 57 people since December, according to Sudan’s Doctors Syndicate. They successfully brought rural and conservative populations alongside urban and social media–savvy youth, while mobilizing an unprecedented number of women to participate. After trying everything to break up the protests, Bashir reshuffled the government and decided to step back from his plans to amend the constitution so he could run for another term in power.

Then, in February, Algerian President Bouteflika’s announcement that he would seek a fifth term as president sparked anger among Algerian citizens and initiated a grassroots movement in several cities after anonymous calls appeared on social media for people to protest. Protests were soon joined by thousands of students, professional organizations, and the mass participation of Algerian women. The protests occurred spontaneously and outside of the country’s traditional political power structures. Despite a harsh response from security forces, the protests have achieved unexpected success. They grew in geography, numbers, and diversity, and were strategically followed by mass tactics of noncooperation like general strikes.

They swayed parts of the military to abstain from oppression. Last week, Bouteflika was forced to announce that he will step down, but the announcement came with a muddled compromise of the scheduled April 18 elections being postponed. Though we can expect strikes and street protests to continue, this “buying” of time can be used by three dominant groups within the ruling elite—coalitions of parties around the former president, the business community and the military—to regroup and make sure their hand-picked candidate is the front-runner of the election. Even then, popular demands for change are there to stay.

While two oppressive leaders may be close to leaving power, it is still too early to celebrate. The recent history of the Arab world, from Egypt to Syria, proves that dictatorships are best viewed less as one individual occupying an office than a systemic disease that tends to be resistant to popular uprising efforts and finds new ways to survive, transform, and surprise even its own people with its cruelty and oppression.

But Algeria and Sudan seem to be only the tip of the iceberg—over the past several months, some of the longest-standing African autocracies have had their foundations shaken. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila’s reign of 18 years seems to be wobbling after his hand-picked candidate narrowly won the disputed elections. In Swaziland and Zimbabwe too, unlikely players—namely labor unions, civil society organizations, and professional associations—are shaking the status quo of Africa’s last standing autocratic monarchy and ZANU-PF’s four decades of rule, respectively.

For a decade and a half, our organization, CANVAS, has worked with pro-democracy groups in authoritarian countries. This research has concluded that three main elements lead to successful uprisings: the leading role of youth movements, unity and diversity, and long-term strategies not only to win but to consolidate the path to democracy.

Weekly Report: 22 March 2019

People walk on a flooded street in Buzi, central Mozambique, after the passage of the Cyclone Idai. AFP/Getty Images

Cuba

This week, the Trump administration announced their plan to end five-year visitor visas for Cubans, making it significantly more difficult for Cubans to visit relatives, or take part in academic exchanges within the United States. The State Department cited this decision as being one of reciprocity, due to Cuba’s only accepting one-time temporary visas from outsiders.

News of the suicide of Kenyan Dr. Hamisi Ali Juma shocked news outlets, initiating Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman to hire a team of experts to investigate the events leading to his death. Senators have already alleged to harsh treatment of Kenyan medics in Cuba, potentially being a large factor in the doctor’s death. Senators have called on the government to further investigate the terms and conditions of the exchange program.

Gabon

President Ali Bongo’s office announced on Thursday that the president would return to Gabon this weekend for the third time since suffering a stroke late last year. In the announcement, the spokesman expressed the president’s excitement to return to his country, as well as his thanks to Moroccan King Mohammed VI for his welcome and support throughout Bongo’s stay.

Bolivia

This week, Bolivia expelled several Venezuelans that have been accused of conspiring against the Cuban Embassy in La Paz. Bolivian President Evo Morales maintains his close relationship with Venezuela, the relationship forming during Hugo Chavez’s regime. Five Venezuelans have been detained, and have confessed to being a part of political activities.

General elections in Bolivia, originally scheduled for October 27, 2019, will now be held October 20, a full week earlier than planned. The reasoning for the change was to not coincide with the Argentina and Uruguay elections, scheduled for the 27th.

Nicaragua

The government crackdown in Nicaragua has reached a new critical point, and this week a group of countries from the region will meet with the UN Human Rights Council to discuss potential solutions. This is the first time Nicaragua has ever required a resolution by the UNHRC. The decision comes after months of Nicaraguans coming forward to share their experiences of abuse by Ortega’s regime – though all claims have been denied by the Nicaraguan government. Additionally, Human Rights Watch has been calling for the UNHRC to present a solution since August, though the situation has deeply deteriorated since then.

More than 100 anti-government protesters were arrested on Saturday during a march calling for President Ortega to release the hundreds of political prisoners arrested over the past year. The new arrests come just one day after Ortega released 50 political prisoners and vowed to release more. These arrests show that despite promises of change and renewed talks with opposition groups, Ortega’s regime will continue to suppress the Nicaraguan people.

North Korea

Two US Senators have addressed their frustrations regarding the Trump Administration’s slow movement on designated sanctions of North Korea. The letter addressed a 2019 UN report that highlighted concerns regarding North Korea’s defying US sanctions, and increased smuggling of petroleum products and coal, while also violating bans on arms sales.  

Spanish authorities announced this week their plans to further investigate an attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid, reportedly taking place on February 22, right before the denuclearization summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. The attack was carried out by 10 people with fake firearms, who interrogated people inside.

Myanmar

A prominent Rakhine leader has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for treason, a verdict which can also carry the death sentence. This verdict is likely to intensify the already high tensions between the army and the ethnic group. Aye Maung was initially arrested for his “inflammatory speech” in January 2018, the day before deadly riots broke out and Rakhine rebels briefly took control of a government building, leading to the deaths of 7 protestors.

United States

US President Donald Trump has stated that the United States could impose harsher sanctions on Venezuela, stating that “all options are open” in the country’s handling of the Venezuelan crisis, and that the US is “not looking for anything other than taking care of a lot of people”.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, while criticizing Maduro’s regime, also criticized the implementation of US sanctions, highlighting concerns that it may cause more harm to Venezuelan citizens. Bachelet said to the Human Rights Council that she was concerned it “may contribute to aggravating the economic crisis, with possible repercussions on people’s basic rights and wellbeing”.

Cambodia

After top Cambodian opposition politicians recently announced their plans to return to their home country, Prime Minister Hun Sen responded by issuing a number of arrest warrants for them. The exiled activists are members of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved in 2017 after accusations of trying to overthrow the government. Their banishment occurred shortly before the election, which allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to compete nearly uncontested and take all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Activists from the CNRP worry that Hun Sen is taking the country down a dark path, though aren’t able to help without returning to the country where they risk arrests or death.

Mexico

Santiago Barroso, a Mexican journalist often covering crime and drug gangs in the north Sonora state, was shot and killed in his home near the US-border. Officials have stated they are still unsure whether the killing is linked to his work, but this marks yet another death of a journalist in Mexico, being the third killing this year.

Zimbabwe

The deadly Cyclone Idai swept across Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi this week. The cyclone has left nearly 100 dead, and hundreds more missing. Opposition politicians are placing blame on the Zanu-PF government for not being as active in releasing warnings, but the ruling party argues that natural disasters are detrimental in developing countries, and that the blame cannot be put wholly on one source.

The UAE has provided $4,9 million in emergency aid, alongside neighboring and regional countries providing further humanitarian assistance. President Mnangagwa has also declared further government assistance, including medicine and food.  

Laos

The World Bank has agreed to give Laos a $72 million loan in order to finance three projects working to reduce childhood malnutrition and improve the use of public resources, as well as service delivery. The $25 million “Scaling-Up Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Project” will provide households in the four northern provinces with access to improved water supply, sanitation, and hygiene services. These same families who are most affected by malnutrition are also targeted by the $27 million “Reducing Rural Poverty and Malnutrition Project.” Both of these projects are working directly to combat the very high percentage (40% of children under 5 years old) of malnutrition in the region. The last project, “Enhancing Public Finance Management through Information and Communication Technology and Skills Project” will receive $20 million and continue an initiative already in place working to implement a basic public financial management system.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

This week, the DRC has addressed and admitted to local official’s roles in the harsh crackdown that lead to hundreds of violent deaths last December. DRC Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa addressed the UN human rights council on Tuesday, stating, “What happened in Yumbi in December 2018 is not a source of pride for my country,” in response to a UN investigation held between in the middle of January.

A United Nations top official has suggested that President Felix Tshisekedi form a new government as quickly as possible, as his progression to a power position is one of the first peaceful transitions that the DRC has seen. Tshisekedi, quoted during his inaugural speech, called for the “building of a modern, peaceful, democratic state, and the release of all political detainees”.

Colombia

Recently elected Colombian President Ivan Duque began to follow through on his campaign promises of changing the 2016 peace deal. Last week, Duque objected to 6 out of 159 articles in the law implementing the peace deal with opposition group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Duque and his supporters believe that the establishment of a tribunal for war crimes makes the law too lenient toward commanders and former members of the opposition. The constitutional court said this week that they cannot rule on whether or not the changes are constitutional until they have been approved by congress. Large numbers of students have taken to the streets to protest the president’s move, saying that he is trying to stop Colombia’s peace process.

Venezuela

Representatives of opposition leader, Juan Guaido, stated on Monday that they have seized three diplomatic properties that have been previously used by the government of Nicolas Maduro. Guaido has stated that the purpose of taking over diplomatic buildings is to “strengthen bilateral relations with the U.S., and to better serve the Venezuelan community in the country”. Guaido’s main representative, Carlos Vecchio, said to reporters in Washington that they had officially “taken control of two defense buildings in the city and one consular building in New York”, and that there is a plan to take over the Venezuelan embassy in Washington “in the coming days”.

Malaysia

Formar Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak submitted four appeals related to his charges of criminal breach of trust and abuse of power to the Court of Appeals this week, three of which were denied. Najib was initially supposed to stand trial from February 12 to March 29 this year, though the four appeals filed by his lawyers have postponed his trial. Critics say that these appeals are just delay tactics to keep Najib out of prison for as long as possible.

Philippines

Seventeen months ago, a siege by Islamic State-linked militants drove hundreds from their homes in the Southern Philippines city of Marawi, the survivors of which are still unable to return. Hundreds marched on Wednesday, demanding to return back to their homes. One protester stated frustrations with the government because, “it keeps issuing timelines only to offer excuses later”. Eduardo del Rosario, head of a government task force in charge of rehabilitating the city, told evacuees that clearing operations would likely be finished by August.

Thailand

Thailand will hold the much-delayed general election this Sunday. The election will present 68 candidates for prime minister, all of which have very different backgrounds. Millions of young people will be voting for the first time in this election, and are very hopeful that a strong turnout from them could create real change in the country. However, many older Thais are less optimistic. They believe that despite promises of democracy from the ruling military party, “the election is already decided.” Many experts agree, saying that ruling party Palang Pracharat’s move to reserve a third of seats in parliament for the military will ensure their grasp on power, despite nationwide anger at their increasingly oppressive policies.

Other News:

Mozambique – Cyclone Idai has completely devastated a number of villages and towns in Mozambique. The cyclone hit last week, causing the two rivers in the area to burst their banks and wash over the densely populated area. The UN has confirmed 242 dead in Mozambique, 259 in Zimbabwe, and 56 in Malawi, though with flooding still affecting the area, these numbers are expected to rise. Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said on Monday that they believe more than 1000 people have died, though experts now say that is a conservative estimate. While a large international rescue effort has begun, thousands of people are still missing or in need of assistance in the form of food, shelter, and clean water. (The Guardian), (CNN)

New Zealand – Following the shootings at two New Zealand mosques last week that killed 50 people, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the banning of all military-style assault rifles. The announcement comes just 72 hours after the attacks took place, and will also include the banning of all semi-automatic weapons, implementing a buy-back program that is estimated to cost $100-$200 million dollars. (CNN)

Weekly Report: 15 March 2019

A demonstrator shouts slogans during a protest against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government in Managua, Nicaragua on 23 September 2018. Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas

Cuba

The work to ease tensions between the United States and Cuba first initiated during Barack Obama’s presidency has now reversed, with tensions now rising higher between the two countries. While experts say Cuba was eager to salvage the relationship, that has changed in Trump’s era of increased threats and sanctions against the island country. With tensions rising, Cuban state television channels have begun to air footage every night last week showing tanks rolling out and soldiers taking position. The airing of these images dubbed as “training for The War of the Whole People” is likely in response to the threat of a US invasion in Venezuela, which could potentially spill over in Cuba.

Bolivia

In a visit to Athens this week, Bolivian president Evo Morales voiced his continued support of Venezuela’s Maduro, and encouraged Western powers to stop meddling. Morales also said that history has proven Western intervention never bodes well, and encouraged the countries to rather support a dialogue within the country.

Nicaragua

This week showed both hope and disappointment in Nicaragua, amidst negotiations held between The Civil Alliance, made up mostly of students, entrepreneurs, and activists, and Daniel Ortega’s government. The negotiations were introduced to resolve the year-long struggle, but upon The Civil Alliance’s demands that Ortega release all political prisoners, Ortega’s government refused, and the opposition walked out.

        Ortega’s government released a statement on Monday saying they were prepared to continue peace talks, to which The Civil Alliance responded by saying they would, “return to the negotiating table only when the government of Nicaragua provides the country with convincing signs they want to find solutions to the crisis”. The Nicaraguan government and the Civil Alliance agreed on March 13 to resume peace talks, as the government agreed to release protesters that have been previously detained.

North Korea

In North Korea’s parliamentary election this week, Kim Jong Un did not appear on the ballot – the first time a leader has not been nominated for parliament in North Korea’s history. Regardless, Kim will still hold the same amount of power. These elections are mainly conducted as a way for North Korea to seem more democratic to the west, though there is only ever one state-appointed nominee from the Workers Party to vote for. By not putting Kim on the ballot, analysts think the country may be trying to be perceived as a “normal state” by the rest of the world.

Myanmar

Following a visit to Myanmar, UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, presented her report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting areas of significant concern, and questioning whether the Bay of Bengal was “truly habitable”. She noted that across the country there continues to be human rights abuses committed against the Rohingya population that fled from the Rakhine State in 2017. She also stated that there was, “nothing to indicate that conditions have improved for the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar”.

United States

The United States has removed the last 14 remaining diplomats from the US Embassy in Venezuela. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the diplomats were removed because of their presence becoming a “constraint on US policy. However, Maduro claims that the diplomats were told to leave by his regime, saying that they were “a threat to the country’s peace and stability.”  Despite their removal, the United States remains actively involved in Venezuela’s conflict, and is still committed to backing Juan Guaido.

Cambodia

        A drug raid of a nightclub resulted in the arrest of Kith Theang, a business tycoon who is the owner of the Phnom Penh nightclub. Police found 50kg of methamphetamines, and eventually arrested over three hundred people in connection to the case.

Mexico

Nineteen asylum seekers have disappeared in Mexico after they were pulled from a bus heading toward the US border by a group of armed men. While no information is currently known on their whereabouts, a search is being conducted by state and federal police, as well as a number of prosecutors.

Mexico has rejected the United States’ “Remain in Mexico” policy which calls for the return of asylum seekers to Mexico while they wait for their immigration court hearings. When the plan was initially announced in December, Mexico agreed to hold the migrants for humanitarian reasons, but only temporarily. Many immigrant rights groups have fought the policy, saying that it forces refugees to wait in Mexican border cities that are sometimes just as dangerous as the countries they are escaping. While US immigration officials say only 240 migrants have been returned across the border, this number is soon expected to increase.

Zimbabwe

A doctors’ strike in Zimbabwe has now entered its second day, as health workers claim that patients are dying due to a lack of medical supplies. One doctor said that the hospital has no more cancer drugs left, so patients are being given diagnoses, then sent away to die. The dozens of doctors striking have written an open letter to President Mnangagwa stating that the supplies they do have likely won’t last until the end of the month. Because of the lack of resources, simple diseases and procedures are now resulting in sometimes deadly complications, with no hope for more supplies in sight.

Laos

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has published a report naming Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos as being at the heart of both methamphetamine production and trafficking in East and Southeast Asia. The 90-page report highlights areas of significant concern, as well as individualized profiles of all three countries, called the “Golden Triangle”. There have been notable surges in methamphetamine confiscations in just two years between 2016 and 2018.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

President Tshisekedi signed a decree on Wednesday that he would free around 700 political prisoners who were jailed under Joseph Kabila’s regime. The release of these political prisoners was one promise he had made to complete within his first 100 days in office. Tshisekedi also announce that he would work to improve the conditions for a return of those who fled the country for political reasons. He also urged political exiles  currently residing in neighboring Republic of the Congo to return home.

Colombia

The power outage in Venezuela continues, forcing many to seek refuge within Colombia, including relatives of Maduro. His relatives request to cross the border into Colombia for a week was denied, the mitigation directing saying, “While the people of Venezuela die in hospitals because of lack of electricity, we’re not going to allow those close to the Maduro regime to vacation in Colombia, evading the reality of a people in agony”.

        This week, Colombians marched in favor of a peace deal made with the FARC. Demonstrators say that President Ivan Duque is hindering the process of achieving peace.

Venezuela

A nationwide power failure affected most of Venezuela this week, leaving 19 out of 23 states without power for as long as a week. While power has now been completely restored, the failure created disruptions for many businesses and schools, and created chaos in many hospitals. Opposition groups have said that as a result of the failures, 26 people are dead, including 6 babies. While the power has been restored, some cities still face intermittent shortages, as well as the risk of lootings and unsafe drinking water. Venezuelans in the northern states even reported black water coming out of their faucets, though officials say this is related to human error and not the power outages.

President Maduro has blamed the United States for the outages, saying that it was a “demonic plot” to force him from power with an “electromagnetic attack.” He also accused opposition leader Juan Guaido of sabotaging the national power grid, and has asked the country’s supreme court to investigate this claim. However, analysts and engineers have disagreed, saying that the outage is a result of years of underinvestment, mismanagement, and neglect by Maduro’s regime.

Malaysia

Malaysia has rejected Vietnam’s plea to free Doan Thi Huong, a Vietnamese woman accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam. Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s half-brother, was murdered in 2017. This request comes only one day following Malaysia’s release of an Indonesian woman accused of the same charge. The Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh asked Malaysia to, “ensure a fair trial for Huong and set her free”. Vietnam’s justice minister has also been in contact with Malaysia’s Attorney General attempting to secure her release.

Philippines

A water shortage in the capital region of the Philippines is worsening. The shortage has now affected over 6 million people, with a spokesman from Manila Water Co. Inc., saying that these people will have their water cut anywhere from 6 hours to 21 hours per day until the reservoirs refill in the rainy season of May and June. Initially, the shortage affected dozens of villages, but now, have spread to large cities including the capital, Manila. With so many questions on why these shortages are happening, and for such long periods of time, the supplier company will face an upcoming senate probe on March 19.

President Duterte announced on Thursday that 46 government officials, including three congressmen, are involved with illegal drugs. While the president does not have solid proof that the allegations are true, he said that he trusts the government agencies that provided him with the information. This is the latest in Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, which has caught the attention of many international human rights groups with thousands of drug killings taking place.  

Thailand

As Thailand’s March 24th election approaches, the introduction of a cyber-security bill hinders the hopeful anticipation of democratic change. The Cyber Security Bill was passed February 28, and may give the current military government the power to seize data and electronic equipment without proper legal authority. Katherine Gerson, a Thailand researcher at Amnesty International, stated, “This law’s aim is simple: to put the internet in a cage”.

Vietnam

Six activists in Vietnam are headed to prison, facing long sentences of 8-15 years for their peaceful protests last year. A high court is scheduled to hear their appeals early next week in Ho Chi Minh City. The activists were initially arrested for participating in a pro-democracy group, as well as participating in public rallies, and expressing views on social media. Human Rights Watch has condemned the arrests, in addition to the other 142 people who have been convicted on similar charges since June of last year.

Other News

Algeria – For several weeks, Algerians have protested current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s extension to his already 20-year rule. While Bouteflika announced he would not be seeking reelection, he also delayed the election date. Algerians responded with protest, and even jokingly took to social media stating that they would have to change the slogan from “No to a fifth term” to “No to an extended fourth term”, and calls for another Friday demonstration were made. (Al Jazeera)

New Zealand – A terrorist attack took place at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday, with 49 people currently reported dead. According to police, four people were taken into custody, with one man already being charged with murder. In light of the attacks, New Zealand’s relatively relaxed gun laws are likely to face increased scrutiny.  (CNN)

Weekly Report: 11 March, 2019

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“Lumad” teachers and students join other women’s groups in Mendiola to mark International Women’s Day on Friday. The lumad women paid tribute to their women leaders, teachers and human rights defenders, and protested the attacks against indigenous communities. Source: Earvin Perias

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Cuba

Cuba has joined ten other nations in mentioning climate change in a new constitution through the inclusion of new amendments. The decision was approved by voters in late February, and comes alongside Cuba’s announcement of long-term plans to introduce policies that will tackle global warming.

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Gabon

Gabon’s president Ali Bongo has returned to Morocco once again to continue receiving treatment for the stroke he suffered late last year. Bongo was only in the country for a short 2-day visit to address Gabonese officials. This is only the second time he has visited Gabon since the attempted coup that took place in early January. As Bongo continues to receive treatment in Morocco, officials have also had to shut down reports of his using a clone, or body-double for state visits. Rumors swirled after his visit last week that it was not actually Bongo visiting, though the government has been working to prove this is not the case.

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Bolivia

Bolivia’s Unified Health System (SUS) was launched on March 1, and will cover around 70% of the Bolivian population with free healthcare. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called the system “extraordinary”, and have released statistics showing that Bolivia is one of the first Latin American countries to be active in their fight to reduce extreme poverty. Authorities estimate that SUS will cover around 5 million Bolivians who lacked coverage before the introduction of SUS.

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Nicaragua

President Daniel Ortega promised this week that Nicaragua would free all imprisoned anti-government protesters. The announcement came on Sunday, when the government also said that electoral reforms would be implemented and talks will continue with the opposition. Before the most recent round of talks began this month, 100 political prisoners were released in February. Opposition parties are now calling for the release of over 700 people jailed by the Sandinista government, though it is not clear whether Ortega will actually release all of them, or just some. The opposition party, Civic Alliance, said that they will not hold any more talks with Ortega’s regime until he makes good on his promise to release the prisoners.

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North Korea

Elections for the Supreme People’s Assembly were held on March 10, marking a mandatory voting day for all North Koreans over the age of seventeen. The provided ballot does not have options for candidates, thus making results for the most part unanimous. North Korea analyst Fyodor Tertitsky has stated that while it is possible to cross out a candidate on the ballot, it could result in suspicion and danger at the hands of the secret police.

Just under two weeks after the denuclearization summit held in Vietnam, John Bolton, top national security advisor, has stated that President Donald Trump would be “pretty disappointed” if North Korea launched a missile test. While Bolton did not confirm any reports that North Korea was making moves, he did state that the United States will be maintaining a close watch on North Korea.

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Myanmar

Nine police were killed in Myanmar on Saturday by a group of Rakhine rebels. The attack happened when a group of about 60 rebels invaded a police post in Yoe Ta Yoke village. This is only the latest in a series of attacks that have been taking place in the troubled region since 2017. As a result, over 730,000 people have been forced to flee the country, with most settling into refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh. With no end in sight to the ongoing Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh announced at the beginning of the month that they would no longer be able to accept refugees coming from the Rakhine region.

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United States

United States involvement with the political crisis in Venezuela continues to deepen as the United States pressures India to stop purchasing Venezuelan oil. India the second-largest consumer of Venezuelan oil, meaning any potential sanctions could be a significant blow to Maduro. Washington’s top envoy for Venezuela stated, “We say you should not be helping this regime, you should be on the side of the Venezuelan people”.

The US government has addressed allegations that they separated migrant parents from their children amid federal lawsuits. Most of the migrants were coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and US officials have admitted to deporting over 470 parents without their children. A federal lawsuit has been filed by the ACLU.

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Cambodia

Six activists from the opposition party, Cambodian National Rescue Party, had to flee the country this week, fearing they may be in danger of political persecution by Cambodia’s ruling party. They are now seeking refugee status, and will join the other 75 members of CNRP who have fled the country as a result of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s attack on the opposition group. The group of six activists had been charged with incitement in December and were awaiting trial later in March, but felt the trial would not be executed fairly, citing their decision to flee.

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Mexico

This week a group of armed men opened fire in a nightclub in Mexico’s Guanajuato state. The attack resulted in 15 deaths and 7 wounded, and comes amidst militarized efforts to address extreme violence in relation to powerful drug cartels. Previously in the week, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched an offensive to capture Jose Antonio Yepez, a gang leader also known as “El Marro” in another effort to address organized crime in the country.  

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Zimbabwe

US President Donald Trump has extended sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe for a year, despite calls from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and other African leaders to lift sanctions to give Zimbabwe’s economy time to recover from the current crisis. The US government believes that the current policies in Zimbabwe pose a threat to American foreign policy, and have stated that there will not be any significant changes made to the sanctions unless Mnangagwa addresses restrictions of the media and violent responses to protests.

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The Democratic Republic of the Congo

An Ebola treatment center was attacked in the DRC this week, resulting in the death of a policeman and a wounded health worker. The attack came on the same day that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), was scheduled to visit the health center. The ongoing attacks continue to threaten any progressions made towards treating the virus, as it is both difficult to contain and easily spread.

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Colombia

Colombia announced on Saturday that Venezuelans will be allowed to enter the country using expired passports. This decision comes as a result of the dire economic situation in Venezuela, where many people are not able to renew their passports, and therefore also cannot apply for visas. Passport renewals in Venezuela have become almost impossible because of the high cost of materials and production. The head of Colombia’s migration agency said in the statement that because of these limitations, Venezuelans will now be allowed to enter Colombia with passports up to two years past their expiration date.

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Venezuela

This week, demonstrators gathered in the capital city Caracas in response to opposition leader Juan Guaido. Guaido addressed the crowd, stating, “We are going to come, all of Venezuela to Caracas, because we need all of them united”. Police were present at the march, and there were moments Guaido supporters and policeman clashed on the streets, resulting in the use of pepper spray by police.

The demonstration comes just days after a massive power outage, reportedly caused by problems from a hydroelectric plant. Nicolas Maduro blamed the power outages on “sabotage”, while Guaido used the power cut to politically energize Venezuelans to protest, “against the usurping, corrupt, and incompetent regime that has put our country in the dark”.

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Malaysia

Malaysia’s Minister of Religious Affairs has called out the presence of LGBTQ groups at a Women’s Day march in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. He said that the groups were showing a “misuse of democratic space”, and continued to say that LGBTQ acts are illegal in Malaysia. While the group who organized the march said that the attacks against the LGBTQ community bordered on incitement, hatred, and violence, they also said that their presence took attention away from their key demands of banning child marriage, an equal minimum wage, and ending gender-based violence. Civil rights groups say that this is one of many recent incidents showing the hostility toward LGBTQ people in Malaysia.

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Philippines

Thousands of women gathered in the capital city of Manila on Friday, International Women’s Day, to protest President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent misogynistic comments. Duterte has reportedly made jokes about sexual assault and rape, resulting in an exhibition displaying clothes of survivors amidst the protests. Since the beginning of Duterte’s presidency, there has been a 153% increase in sexual assaults of women in the Philippines. Protesters chanted against Duterte while there were around 4,000 police officers monitoring the scene.

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Thailand

The political party that tried to nominate a Thai Princess for prime minister has been ordered to dissolve immediately, and its leaders have been banned from participating in politics for 10 years. Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled last week that by nominating a member of the royal family, the group Thai Raksa Chart had violated the country’s constitution. By banning the party from the election set to take place later this month, the chances of a pro-military coalition taking control of the parliament are now much stronger.

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Vietnam

Tran Duc Anh Son, a Vietnamese academic and deputy head of the Danang Institute for Socio-Economic Development, has been expelled from the ruling Communist Party following accusations that he posted comments on Facebook critiquing the government. Son was commenting on the South China Sea issue, and the Vietnamese government stated that he was, “writing Facebook posts that were untrue and went against the party’s views and state policies and laws”.

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Other News:

Sudan – President Omar al-Bashir ordered the release of women protesters that were detained during protest, symbolically ordered Friday, March 8, on International Women’s Day. The exact number of women detained has not been released, but activists have estimated around 150 women in detention. (Al Jazeera)

Algeria – Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s announcement to stand for re-election next month following a 20-year rule ignited protests as demonstrators gathered on Sunday, chanting “Bouteflika, there will be no fifth term”. University teachers and students have gone on strike, many of whom were largely involved in the protests. During a protest on Friday, police fired tear gas on a largely peaceful protest, resulting in around 195 people detained by security forces. (BBC)  

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Weekly Report: 1 March, 2019

President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un before a meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam on Feb. 27, 2019. Saul Loeb / AFP – Getty Images Source: NBC

Cuba

Cubans voted on Sunday to update the country’s constitution while preserving the socialist system of government. Results showed that 87 percent of voters approved the referendum, which updated some of the language on electoral, financial, and criminal laws. While 4.15 percent of ballots weren’t counted because of mistakes, still 9 percent of voters opposed the new constitution – a high number for a country where opposition parties are illegal. Most opposition came from Evangelical Christians who fear the new constitution could eventually allow for the legalization of gay marriage. There was also some opposition from younger Cubans who fear the new wording is still too conservative and will not allow growth for future generations.

Gabon

Gabonese President Ali Bongo has returned to Gabon on Sunday following his month-long stay in Saudi Arabia for treatment of a health condition. This week he was immediately back to work, overseeing a cabinet meeting and meeting heads of the Constitutional Court and National Assembly and his chief of staff. His prolonged absence left many in Gabon feeling unsettled as the state of his health was not released.  

Bolivia

Bolivia declared a national emergency this week because of natural disasters caused by heavy rains over the past few weeks. On Wednesday, the country’s Minister of Defense announced that 5200 families have been affected and 59 homes have been destroyed in the 61 affected municipalities. By declaring a national emergency, the country will be able to allocate around 7 million dollars  to activating national resources. The Bolivian State Housing Agency also reported an allocation of about 10 million dollars earlier this month to replace houses destroyed by the floods.

Nicaragua

The past six months under Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has been cause for significant concern for human rights organizations, especially with hundreds of arrests of political opponents and activists. Michelle Bachelet, UN Human Rights Chief, has recently expressed alarm at increased suppression and political instability.

Ortega announced last week negotiations to take place “to consolidate peace”.  Nicaraguans are hopeful that the talks will inspire a resolution to the ongoing political crisis. Prior to scheduled talks with the opposition, Nicaragua released dozens of prisoners arrested during protests and demonstrations against the President Daniel Ortega and his government. The releases were announced by the Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH), but there are no further details about the releases made. The crackdown by the end of October resulted in 325 deaths, and over 750 arrests.

North Korea

The Trump-Kim summit took place on Wednesday and Thursday this week. After months of anticipation, the summit has ended in no-deal – much different from Trump’s goal of North Korea’s denuclearization. In interviews after the failed talks, Trump said that North Korea wanted the U.S. to lift sanctions in their entirety, which was not possible. Despite the fact that no agreement was signed, Kim did say that he “wouldn’t be here right now” if he wasn’t willing to denuclearize. Trump also said that Kim promised to not continue nuclear and rocket testing. Kim Jong Un will remain in Vietnam for an official state visti beginning on Friday, while Trump has already left for the United States.

Myanmar

This week, the United Nations is addressing accusations that they have ignored signs of escalating tension and ethnic violence in Myanmar and are launching an inquiry into its conduct over the past decade. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Ki has advised global investors to focus their investments on the Rakhine State, a region characterized by mistreatment of Rohingya people, claiming that the world needed to stop focusing on the “negative aspects” of the area. Since 2017, around 750,000 Rohingya have fled the Rakhine State due to reports of torture at the hands of Myanmar police.

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Bangladesh Foreign Security Shahidul Haque stated, “I regret to inform the council that Bangladesh would no longer be in a position to accommodate more people from Myanmar,” addressing the recent increase of over 700,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh in the past 18 months.

On Wednesday, February 27 thousands rallied in Myanmar’s commercial capital of Yangon to support a constitutional reform. The reform would promote changes to the charter regarding the army’s role in politics, and comes at a time where there is ongoing tension between the ruling party and the military. Protesters and democracy activists shouted chants like, “take a rest, military dictatorship”.

United States

The Trump-Kim summit endedon Thursday in Vietnam with no deal signed between the two countries. While Trump had hopes of North Korea agreeing to denuclearize, Kim ultimately would not agree unless the U.S. lifted all sanctions against North Korea. Trump still described the talks as productive, but said he had not committed or made plans for any third summit.

The House of Representatives has voted to overrule Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the United States’ southern border. By declaring a national emergency, Trump is able to override Congress’ refusal to provide funding for his border wall and build it with military funding instead. Democrats say that this declaration is unconstitutional, and thirteen republicans sided with them in the recent House vote. Now the vote to overturn Trump’s declaration will head to the republican-majority senate, though some conservatives are expected to vote with democrats. If the senate approves overturning the national emergency declaration, Trump will likely veto and the case will most likely end up in the Supreme Court’s hands.

Cambodia

As human rights violations continue to be unaddressed, U.S. lawmakers has asked the Trump Administration to review preferential trade terms with Cambodia through a legislation introduced on Wednesday. The Cambodia Trade Act (CTA) would ultimately decide whether the privileges should be “withdrawn, suspended, or limited”.  Cambodia currently exports around $180 million of goods to the United States per year.

Cambodia experienced the same punishment from the European Union a few weeks ago, where the legislation could see Cambodia’s preferential access suspended.

Mexico

Mexico’s president announced on Tuesday that he will not take sides regarding the crisis in Venezuela, despite U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s calls for Mexico to recognize Juan Guido as the rightful president of Venezuela. President Lopez Obrador told reporters that he does not want to get involved, but urged both sides in Venezuela to seek a peaceful solution. He also voiced his beliefs that the disputes over humanitarian aid should be resolved by the United Nations.

Teachers from Oaxaca are in Mexico City staging a 72 hour campout to protest the General Professional Teaching Service Law. The teachers are also calling for the concept of multicultural education instead of bicultural education in order to better represent the many indigenous groups across Mexico. Despite the absence of 800 teachers in the protests, 90% of classes in Oaxaca resumed as normal.

Maldives

On Monday, February 25, opposition lawmakers submitted a motion of no-confidence against Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi, following her comments made to an Indian newspaper where she said, “If the Indians really wanted to occupy Maldives, they never had the intention, I’m sure, but if they do, I don’t know how we can stop it. You see, your airforce, your navy, your infantry, literally there is nothing we can do… this is just being practical.” Opposition supporters almost immediately retaliated, and promised to summon the Defense Minister for questioning. There has recently been increased anti-India sentiments among opposition supporters.

Zimbabwe

With Zimbabwe’s financial crisis worsening every day, the country has introduced what they hope will be a solution – a new currency. The RTGS dollar rolled out this week will ideally bring together debit card, mobile payments, and bond notes to have the same value. The country has also given up on the previous notion that the bond notes rolled out in 2016 have the same value as the US dollar. This time, they are saying that “the value of the RTGS dollar against the US dollar will be set by the market.” The new currency was initially sold to banks at a rate of 2.5 RTGS to 1 U.S. dollar. By allowing the value to fluctuate, the black market will ideally be eliminated.

Botswana officially gave Zimbabwe a loan of $600 million on Thursday, when an agreement was signed between the two countries. The agreement, which was signed in Harare, allocates $500 million of the loan for the diamond industry, with the other $100 million going to helping private companies who have been hurt by Zimbabwe’s currency shortage.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Seven months have passed since the DRC’s ebola crisis began, and over 500 people have died, with the virus still not under control. As the epidemic rages on, people are growing less trusting of health agencies and doctors. As a result, two ebola clinics have been set on fire by arsonists this week, with the most recent attack happening on Wednesday. The clinic which was attacked on Sunday was forced to close down as a result of damage from the fire. Health workers already struggle to find proper facilities and equipment for fighting the virus, and these recent attacks have created huge setbacks.

The United States announced last week that officials involved in the DRC’s recent election misconduct will be denied visas. This ban on visas will affect 5 senior Congolese officials in addition to their immediate family members. The state department also stated that they would impose visa restrictions on a number of other officials who were involved in human rights abuses during the election.

Colombia

Violent encounters along the Venezuelan border with Colombia began on Friday, February 22, resulting in 285 injuries and 37 hospitalized on the Colombian side of the border, as stated by Colombia’s foreign minister. The clashes came as a result of armed government forces attempting to block shipments of aid from entering Venezuela. United States Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Colombia for an emergency meeting with regional leaders, as well as meet with Juan Guaido in an attempt to resolve the worsening crisis.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has responded by closing two international bridges, stating Colombia needed 72 hours to assess the damage and clear as much as they could. Colombia attempted to reopen their side of the border on Wednesday, February 27, but Venezuela kept their side closed. Regional director of Colombia’s Civil Defense, Miguel Perez, spent Wednesday traveling across the bridges attempting to find someone in Venezuela that he could negotiate with.

Venezuela

Violence broke out this weekend at the Venezuelan/Colombian border when protesters clashed with forces loyal to Maduro over the blocked aid. At least 4 people died and over 300 were injured as a result of military firing tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of protestors. U.S. Vice President Pence, who was in Colombia early this week to meet with opposition leader Guaido, denounced the attacks and said the the United States would impose additional sanctions against Venezuela.

Following his meeting with U.S. Vice President Pence and other world leaders from the Lima Group this weekend, opposition leader Guaido has announced that he will begin exercising his duties as president upon his return to Venezuela. In a video posted to his twitter, Guaido made the announcement and asked for continued support from his base. Despite his strong statements, Guaido does fear that he may be arrested upon returning to Venezuela. Regardless, he remains confident that even his arrest would not stop the movement, and may even strengthen the opposition to Maduro’s regime.

Malaysia

In June 2018, Malaysia announced their 40,000 Chin refugees would have to return to their home countries by 2020 as they would no longer be considered as refugees. The UN High commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began phasing out their protection of Chin refugees by August, stating that the Chin State was safe enough to return to. Many of the Chin refugees fled from Myanmar, where they faced ongoing harassment and persecution.

Philippines

A group of international law enforcement agencies met on Wednesday to celebrate the inauguration of the first Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center. The Center will feature a collective of law enforcement from the Philippines, Australia, and the U.K. working to combat the online exploitation of children across the Philippines. While the Center will remain focused on the Philippines for now, they eventually hope to expand their reach to all of Southeast Asia.

Thailand

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, one of Thailand’s rising political stars, is under public eye as police want to prosecute him under the Computer Crime Act for criticizing the military government on a Facebook video. He has actively encouraged young people to vote for the upcoming elections to be held on March 24, and has vowed to end Thailand’s military “dictatorship”. Prosecutors have stated that they will decide on the indictment two days after the elections.

Vietnam

Vietnam was in the spotlight this week as it was the site of United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s second summit meeting, taking place February 27-28. There was no agreement made between the leaders. While Trump left Vietnam on Thursday, Kim is set to stay in Vietnam through Saturday.    

India and Pakistan – Tensions between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region have escalated immensely over the past weeks, reaching their highest point in decades. On February 14, a suicide car bombing was executed by a Pakistani group, JeM, in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir and killed 42 people. This week, India fired back by launching air raids on an area occupied by a JeM training base. In the cross-fire, at least eight Pakistani civilians were killed. Today, an Indian pilot who was shot down and has been detained by Pakistani forces since Wednesday is expected to be released. Many hope that the release of this pilot could be the goodwill gesture that will de-escalate the ever-growing tensions. (CNN, Al Jazeera)

Sudan – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced a state of emergency on Friday, February 22 following ongoing demonstrations across the country. This week, Bashir issued four new emergency laws forbidding protests while imposing new economic restrictions. Mohamed Awad, a legal expert and activist, stated, “In the current situation, there is no legal need for imposing the emergency. The solution is 100 percent political. Peaceful transfer of power is the solution”. Recently announced measures state that acts such as sharing new that authorities believe could “put the country in danger” on social media could result in a prison sentence. Protests were ongoing on Wednesday at the Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman and at a hospital in Khartoum’s Bahri section following the release of the news. (VOA)  

Palestine – Palestinian protests along the Gaza border last year resulted in 189 deaths between March 30 and December 31 of 2018. UN human rights experts have launched a commission of inquiry to investigate whether Israeli soldiers committed war crimes. The UN Human Rights Council stated that over 6,000 demonstrators were shot by military snipers over the course of nine months. The protests, called “the Great March of Return” are in support of Palestinian refugees returning to what is now Israel. The Israeli government believed that terrorists used the protests to cross into Israeli territory, thus initiating Israeli soldiers ordered along the border fence. The commission states that shooting a civilian that is not directly participating in hostilities constitutes a war crime.  (BBC)