Weekly Report: 17 May 2019


May 17, 2019

People take part in a rally in support of same-sex marriage near the Presidential Office in Taipei on November 18, 2018, ahead of a landmark vote on LGBT rights on November 24. CHRIS STOWERS/AFP/Getty Images


Cuba announced this week that rationing would begin on basic food items such as chicken, eggs, and sausages, as well as hygiene/cleaning products. In addition to the cut-back on basic supplies, Cuba has also faced a shortage of oil coming from Venezuela in the wake of their own economic crisis. The decision to begin rationing comes after weeks of empty store shelves and markets in the wake of Trump’s increased sanctions against the “troika of tyranny”: Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. The move is part of the Trump administration’s latest effort to put pressure on Nicolas Maduro’s regime and allies.

The 12th annual march against homophobia in Havana ended Saturday with a number of arrests and violent clashes between protesters and police. The official “Cuban Conga Against Homophobia and Transphobia” was initially canceled last week because of “new tensions in the international and regional context”. Despite its cancellation, more than 100 demonstrators still showed up to recognize the day. Without permission from the government to march, those present were met with a number of police and state security officers willing to use violence in order to stop the event.


This week, over 350 containers of protected hardwood disappeared in Gabon, the wood worth nearly $250 million. The government of Gabon has vowed to find and punish all who are responsible for the disappearance. The hardwood stolen was from the rare kevazingo tree, which is protected by law, but remains in high demand in Asia.


The Catholic church has been involved in the mediation talks, known as the National Dialogue, between Ortega’s government and the opposition, and thus far Bishop Guevara has stated that the government has “no intention of seeking a peaceful solution to the socio-political crisis”. Rosario Murillo, wife of Daniel Ortega and vice president of Nicaragua, insists that the government is doing its part at the negotiation table, despite opposition leaders claim that over 640 people are being held following arrests, mostly due to anti-government protests. Ortega promised to release political prisoners within 90 days, a deadline that expires on June 18.

North Korea

The United States seized a North Korean cargo ship late last week after accusing it of violating international sanctions. American prosecutors say that the ship was being used to export coal and heavy machinery in violation of the sanctions, and was initially detained in Indonesia last year. Just hours after North Korea fired off two short-range missiles on Thursday, US officials announced that the boat was being impounded to American Samoa. In response to the boat’s seizure, Kim Jong Un has called for “full combat posture” and demanded the return of the ship, calling the action an “unlawful robbery”.

North Korea announced this week that they are experiencing the worst drought the country has seen in nearly 40 years. The news comes shortly after the UN released a report saying that as many as 10 million, or 40 percent of North Koreans were “in urgent need of food assistance”. The country’s state media outlet has reported that only 21 inches of rain has fallen since the beginning of the year – the lowest levels since 1982. With the drought and food shortages already happening, it is estimated that the North will need to import as much as 1.5 million tons of food to make up for their current shortages. While North Korean media has reported that sanctions against the country have worsened the food crisis, it is unclear what effect they have actually had, as sanctions do not ban humanitarian aid.


On Tuesday, a UN fact finding mission called on  influential world powers to cut financial ties and other forms of support to Myanmar, as top generals must be held accountable for violence and human rights abuses inflicted upon Rohingya Muslims. Australian human rights lawyer, Christopher Sidoti, stated that the severance of financial support would have the dual effect of boosting pressure and reducing violence in the country. The UN panel also stated that they continue to receive reports of human rights abuses in the Rakhine and Chin states, abuses that have now displaced over 30,000 people.

United States

The United States’ trade war with China continued to escalate in a big way this week, with US stocks suffering their biggest one-day loss since the beginning of January on Monday. Late last week, President Trump announced the US would more than double tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. In retaliation, China announced it would raise tariffs on $60 billion of US goods starting on June 1st. Experts say that these recent actions could affect economic growth in both countries, though neither shows any signs of backing down.

Alabama became the latest state to restrict abortions this week by passing a bill banning the procedure in almost all cases, including those of rape or incest. Under the new law, doctors could face up to 99 years in prison for carrying out the procedure. This law comes shortly after Georgia passed the “heartbeat bill” which bans abortions after 6 weeks – the point when a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected. Other states, including Ohio, Kentucky, and Mississippi are also in the process of passing a similar bill. The strict bans are expected to go to court, eventually working their way up to the US Supreme Court where Republican lawmakers hope Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Passed in 1973, Roe v. Wade determined that women had a constitutional “right to privacy”, protecting their decision to have an abortion.


The Human Rights Watch has called on Cambodia to cease harassment of opposition party members in courts, as the Battambang prosecutor Ky Bunnara summoned 25 former officials from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to appear in court for questioning on May 8. Despite the former CNRP having since been dissolved, former opposition members have been vocal on social media outlets regarding their denouncement of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government. Brad Adams, Asia director with the Human Rights Watch, stated, “the government should immediately end the political harassment campaign against the CNRP and drop this latest batch of absurd court cases”.


Volunteer search groups in Mexico’s states of Jalisco and Sonora discovered 45 bodies this week in two “clandestine burial sites”. The bodies found were likely kidnap victims or rivals of drug cartels, and killed just a few weeks ago. As homicides in Mexico continue to rise and the government remains largely inactive in searching for missing persons, volunteer groups like those that found the bodies are becoming more common. The groups are usually organized by people looking for missing family members, and are mostly comprised of women.


Former President, Mohamed Nasheed, has called for thorough screenings of Islamic priests visiting the Maldives, in response to the extreme caution those living in the Maldives are taking following the attacks in Sri Lanka. On Friday May 10, Nasheed tweeted, “While we are not certain if Zahran Hashim came to the Maldives in 2016 as a preacher, we should screen well before allowing people to come here posing as sheikhs and preachers”.


People in Zimbabwe experienced some of the worst rolling blackouts in 3 years this week. The cause of the blackout stems from a drought hitting the Kariba Dam hydropower station, forcing the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority to either scale back or potentially face full outages 4 months from now. For now, households are expected to be without power for 10 hours per day, though this could change depending on how much rainfall the DRC and Zambia receive. The power cuts will also hurt the mining industry, which requires electricity for operations and safety. With mining making up more than ? of Zimbabwe’s export earnings last year, this will have a direct negative effect on Zimbabwe’s already failing economy.


The fatal hydropower dam collapse in Laos in 2018 is being blamed on poor construction methods, specifically due to the poor method of soil being used in the place of concrete. The collapse created what many referred to as the country’s “worst flooding in decades”. A new dam is currently under construction a little over a kilometer away from the previously failed dam.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The ebola outbreak in the DRC continues to worsen, with 1100 people now dead and 1600 infected. The fightback by UN doctors and personnel has been hampered by fighting armed groups in the area, in addition to disbelief in the disease and its treatment from the local community. Earlier this week, police and soldiers stopped an attack on an ebola clinic in the eastern region of the country, killing one of the attackers. The UN representative to the DRC had to shut down rumors last week that the international body was trying to cash in on a nonexistent disease, calling the speculation “sheer madness”.


Mauricio Lezama, a Colombian filmmaker was murdered while filming a documentary about armed conflict in Northeastern Colombia. Lezama was an advocate for nonviolence, specifically nonviolent strategies to combat widespread violence in Colombia.

This week, the US government announced that they will provide $160 million in aid to Colombia in an effort to encourage the implementation of the peace accord between the state and the FARC rebels. US Agency for International Development Administrator, Mark Green, told reporters that funds are allotted for the “implementation of peace” and to “formalize land” in the areas specifically affected by the armed conflict.


A Chinese cargo plane arrived in Caracas this week carrying 2 million units of medical equipment. The items provided included medicine and surgical medical supplies, and are set to be distributed by agencies designated by President Maduro’s government. China has remained supportive of Maduro’s regime, repeatedly opposing any actions that would cause tensions or unrest in Venezuela.

By reopening borders with Brazil and Aruba this week, Maduro tried to show that the situation in Venezuela was “under control”. However, at least 10 legislators from the opposition were stripped of their diplomatic immunity this week by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, forcing them into hiding. Additionally, at least 5 people have died and over 200 were detained during opposition protests taking place since April 30. Meanwhile, envoys from the Venezuelan government and opposition party went to Oslo this week to have talks on resolving the situation at home. Members of the opposition National Assembly party said that members from both sides will be involved in the talks.


Three temples in Kuala Lumpur are on high alert after making the decision to tighten their internal security, after four suspects linked to extremist religious groups with ties to ISIS have been arrested. Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Devasthanam Kuala Lumpur, which oversees and runs the temples, stated that the heightened security measures are due to reports that the attack was meant to avenge the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, whose death was caused by a riot at the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Subang. Malaysian Muslim opposition parties feel that his death was ignored by the government.


Midterm voting took place this week in the Philippines, with President Duterte’s allies winning most of the 12 contested Senate seats. The vote was largely seen as a referendum on his controversial administration, but showed that Filipinos remain confident in Duterte’s presidency, despite his harsh tactics and human rights abuses in his “war on drugs”. With his new support in the Senate, Duterte will be protected from legislative inquiry and his agenda is likely to easily be pushed through.


A document released in Thailand shows that over a third of the 250 newly appointed senators both appointed by the junta and approved by King Maha Vajiralongkorn have military or police backgrounds. Opposition parties have voiced their concern that this will only extend the power of the junta, as they have successfully taken over the Upper House. The 250 senators have significant power when selecting the leader of the new government.

Three men known for being critical of Thailand’s monarchy and military government have disappeared, raising concern among prominent international human rights organizations. Specifically, Amnesty International is concerned that this is becoming a trend with governments in Asia. The men were in exile in Laos, then moved on to Vietnam where they were reportedly arrested and taken back to Thailand.


Vietnam sentenced ten people to death this week and two more to life in prison for smuggling drugs across the country. The group was caught transporting 300 kilograms of meth, ecstasy, and ketamine on a train from northern Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Their trial comes shortly after a number of huge drug busts in Vietnam, which has some of the world’s strictest drug laws.


This week, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab released a report that accuses Iran of spreading fake news, specifically by mimicking media brands and spreading misinformation about Israel and Saudi Arabia. The group, known as “Endless Mayfly”, depends on the short attention span of most readers, and have allegedly copied Britain’s Guardian newspaper, a French newspaper known as Le Soir, and have had accounts deactivated on Facebook, Google, and Twitter. The Citizen Lab says that a group most likely from Iran is behind this misinformation.

An Iranian national has been sentenced to ten years in prison in Iran for spying on Britain, the charge being made following clear confessions. Gholamhossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesman, stated that the man was, “in charge of the Iran desk in the British Council and was cooperating with Britain’s intelligence agency”.

This week also exhibited rising tensions between Iran and the United States, as the US state department ordered the departure of “non-emergency employees” from Iraq, a country that neighbors Iran. The US military stated their concerns over Iran-backed forces in the Middle East, thus making the region more dangerous for US government personnel and citizens.

Other News

Afghanistan – Mina Mangal, a political adviser and former prominent television presenter, was recently shot to death in Kabul on her way to work. While the government claims that the motives remain unclear, women’s rights activists and Afghan politicians have called for a thorough investigation into the reasons behind her death. Mangal had recently posted on Facebook that she feared for her life after receiving threats, prompting responses from women’s rights activists. Police are continuing their investigation of her death. (BBC)

Bangladesh – Concerns over restricted freedom of speech in Bangladesh continue, as police have arrested three people this week, two writers and an activist, under the country’s controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) and Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA). International rights groups and activists have condemned the arrests, the sentencing of which could be serving up to 14 years. (Al Jazeera)

Taiwan – Lawmakers in Taiwan approved a bill Friday legalizing same-sex marriage, making the self-ruled island the first place in Asia to pass gay marriage legislation. Two years ago, the island’s Constitutional Court ruled that the law stating marriage was between a man and woman was unconstitutional, and gave a two year period to amend or make a new law. With the bill passed, same-sex marriage will become a reality in Taiwan starting next week on May 24. (CNN)