Weekly Report 31 January 2020

Asia and the Coronavirus

China has been at the center of global concern surrounding a viral new disease. A spike in pneumonia cases in the Wuhan province has been traced back to a new strand of coronavirus. There are 9,923 confirmed cases in 24 countries. China’s death toll currently stands at 213.

The World Health Organization declared a global emergency on Thursday due to its rapid spread to other nations. The head of the WHO said that he is worried countries with weaker healthcare systems are most at risk. The virus is taking a major toll on tourism in Southeast Asia, causing economies to plummet at an alarming rate.

The Chinese government has faced backlash over how long it look to realize and communicate the gravity of the situation. People became aware of a new mysterious sickness at the beginning of January but still traveled for the new year holiday without realizing how contagious it was. China only admitted that it could be transmitted from person to person weeks after it first was discovered. Some critics also say that the death toll is actually much higher than the Chinese government is reporting.

There has also been a spike in racism towards people of Asian descent; a French news agency, Le Courrier Picard, published an article titled “Alerte Jeune,” which translates to “Yellow Alert.” French Asians have expressed their complaints online, using the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus, which means “I am not a virus.” Le Courrier Picard has since released a public apology, stating that “it had not meant to use ‘some of the worst Asian stereotypes.’”

Nicaragua

Nicaraguan reporter Wilih Narvaez was physically assaulted by police while he was attempting to cover an impromptu riot against Daniel Ortega. Narvaez filed a complaint to a police chief, but he was ultimately ignored. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights “condemned the attack and demanded that the Ortega government respect free speech, as well as the physical and psychological integrity of journalists.” Ortega and the police have yet to release a statement.

The Nicaraguan government “wants to perpetuate itself in power through repression,” and it has certainly done so in regards to its treatment of journalists. Nicaraguan journalists have experienced murder threats, censorship, and assault. Due to increased violence against journalists and reporters, “at least 90 journalists have had to leave Nicaragua.” There have also been at least 1,080 violations of individual freedoms.

A Nicaraguan nature reserve was the site of a massacre that left six indigenous people dead and many more injured. Deep in the Amazon rainforest, the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve has been a subject of contention between environmental activists and settlers looking for a profit. 80 armed attackers stormed the community of indigenous Mayagna people, killing indeterminately. Reports are being released stating that ten or more Mayagna have been taken hostage. This represents just one battle in a growing conflict over economic extractions, as more people are pushing into the jungle for fertile land, timber, and gold. The government has yet to release a statement.

Yemen

The United Nations’ special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, has asked for the immediate de-escalation of violent conflict. The continuous fighting between Houthi rebels and a Saudi-UAE-led military coalition is the most intense conflict area has seen in three years. Hundreds of people have been killed or injured this week alone. Griffiths has stated that talks of peace will not take place until the violence stops.

The Houthis keep gaining ground and show no sign of slowing down any time soon. President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi has expressed the need to “upgrade military institutions to the highest level of training, armament and vigilance” in order to keep the Houthi rebels at bay.

Myanmar

International human rights activists are celebrating Bangladesh’s announcement that all Rohingya refugees living in camps will be given access to a basic education. Currently, only one-third of refugees have been able to receive any kind of education. The new pilot program, a collaboration between UNICEF and the Bangladeshi government, will be available for boys and girls aged 14 and younger; they will be taught both the Myanmar school curriculum as well as technical skills.

Bangladesh has been the primary recipient of Rohingyas fleeing persecution in Myanmar. An estimated 750,000 refugees now call camps around Myanmar home, forming the world’s largest refugee camp. Education for Rohingya refugees has become a major priority for activists who are worried that neglecting these young people will result in a “lost generation.”

Zimbabwe

In an ongoing back-and-forth between civil servants and the government, Zimbabwe’s public-sector workers agreed to a 140% wage increase in return for canceling their upcoming strike. Still, the lowest-paid workers only take home around 130 Euros a month, leaving much to be desired in the cash-strapped country. This comes in the wake of Zimbabwe’s doctors returning to work last week after they received salary increases. Amid political turmoil, the Zimbabwean economy is characterized by high unemployment, runaway inflation, and shortages of basic commodities.

Iraq

In response to the ongoing protests against American troops being stationed in Iraq, Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he would no longer be supporting the protesters. Still, anti-government protests have continued their sit-ins around Baghdad, with police crackdowns turning even more brutal. Two protesters have been killed – one in Baghdad and one in Nasiriyah. More than 500 anti-government protesters have been killed since October.

Protesters’ anger towards the United States resulted in attacks on the US Embassy on Sunday evening. Three rockets hit the Embassy, causing only minor injuries. This is the third attack the compound has witnessed in this month alone. While the United States is calling upon Iraq to better protect the embassy, it is unlikely that the attacks will stop anytime soon. Prime minister Abdul Madhi, who resigned in November, has “told armed groups to stop these kinds of attacks on the US embassy, but to no avail.”

Syria

Even though the Idlib province is considered a de-escalation zone, President Assad’s regime and his Russian allies broke the ceasefire agreement, bombing areas within the province. Russian warplanes killed at least 10 people, and bombs even targeted a hospital.

After months of bombing, the Syrian army re-occupied Maarat al-Numan in the Idlib province on January 29th, after rebels withdrew from Maarat al-Numan. This caused a new exodus of tens of thousands of civilians towards Turkey’s border, as Idlib contains millions of Syrian refugees. The United Nations and other aid agencies have repeatedly warned that fighting in Idlib risks a major humanitarian catastrophe.

Libya

Violent conflict erupted on January 26th, ending the ceasefire that was established earlier this month. Military commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces occupied the town of Abu Grein, which was originally under the control of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). At least three people were killed and more than two dozen were wounded.

Government forces are preventing Haftar from moving forward; they are inching towards regaining the areas that are currently under the control of Haftar’s army.

Lebanon

On Monday, Lebanon’s parliament passed its 2020 budget, upsetting both protesters and opposition leaders. “The proposed budget in its current form is completely detached from reality,” Nafez Zouk, an economist at Oxford Economics, told Al Jazeera. Lebanon is currently experiencing one of its worst financial crises; its currency is weakening, its business is declining, and banks are having to come up with limitations. The country owes a $1.2 billion Eurobond payment this March, only adding to its already gratuitous debt. The new budget claims that the Lebanese economy is growing and holds steady inflation rates. This disconnect between the country’s new government and the reality Lebanese citizens are facing is one of the chief complaints of protesters.

Bolivia

Bolivia’s interim President Jeanine Áñez has announced that she is running for President. Bolivians will head to the polls in May to elect a new government, as the results of the last election in October resulted in weeks of protests. In that election, President Evo Morales won and was going to serve for a fourth consecutive term, but after reports of corruption surfaced, violence broke out and Morales was forced to resign. Áñez has been in charge ever since he resigned in 2019.

Áñez’s decision has sparked controversy throughout Bolivia. The former conservative senator had previously stated that she was not going to run for office, promising to stay in power only until a new President was elected. On Monday, she asked all of her ministers to resign just hours after her Communication Minister stepped down in response to her decision to run.

Sudan

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy chief of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, and Malik Agar, the head of one of the two factions of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), have signed a peace agreement. The leader of the second fraction, SPLM-N Abdelaziz al-Hilu, has said nothing. This deal is supposed to bring an end to the war that has claimed the lives of thousands.

Sudanese families have organized a demonstration in front of the United Arab Emirates Embassy to protest against an Emirati company. The company is accused of sending recruits to fight in Yemen and Libya instead of hiring them for security posts in the UAE, as was described in their contracts. The company has denied all allegations.

Eritrea

Leaders from Eritrea, Somalia, and Ethiopia recently met to discuss “revamping economies for the respective nations.” These Horn of Africa nations have been plagued with conflict and tense relations for a long time, but in recent years they have shown signs of increased cooperation. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for brokering peace with Eritrea, but he still faces backlash over his internal human rights record.

In their trilateral talks, the three nations agreed to join forces against terrorism, especially in Somalia where the al-Shabaab group still wields a considerable amount of power. Other topics that were discussed include cracking down on human trafficking, modernizing infrastructure, and mobilizing natural resources. The achievement of these goals will have a lasting impact on the region, as both Somalia and Ethiopia have major elections in 2020.

Hong Kong

Pro-democracy legislators, activists, and a medical union have called for closing the border, but Chief Executive Carrie Lam dismissed the idea, deeming it impractical. Despite her comments, Hong Kong has announced its plans to close its borders in response to the spreading of the virus.

Tensions caused by the spread of the virus resulted in a group of protesters setting the lobby of a newly constructed residential building on fire on January 25th. The building was supposed to serve as a quarantine facility. On January 27th, another group of protesters launched a Molotov cocktail into a general hospital. Approximately 20 people were evacuated, but no one was injured.

Iran

On Tuesday, the Iranian Parliament called for a debate regarding their withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the top international agreement regulating the spread of nuclear weapons that was signed in 1968. This move is believed to be a threat to the global community.

After the United States pulled out of the deal in 2018, its future has been tenuous. Nations of the European Union condemned Iran earlier this year for violating the terms of agreement. The next step would be reimposing UN sanctions, which would only further cripple the United States’ economy. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that if the EU were to impose sanctions, they would in-turn pull out of the NPT.

Venezuela

Juan Guaido met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, breaking the travel bans Maduro has placed into effect. Guiado is looking to gain international support for the removal of Maduro from office. Canada has placed sanctions against Maduro and is one of six nations that have referred Maduro to the International Criminal Court.

In order to keep his power over the country, Maduro is seeking help from the free market. He has given the economy a “freer hand” in his desperation to keep the economy afloat as it suffers from sanctions placed by the United States. The Venezuelan economy has “contracted by 60% during Mr. Maduro’s tenure and is widely predicted to shrink another 10% this year.” However, business professionals are now saying that the economy may rebound because of new freedoms.

Russia

In an attempt to expand its influence in Africa, Russia has deployed nearly 200 mercenaries to Mozambique to fight against an Islamic State offshoot. Their long term goal is most likely to settle a permanent military base there, which would be Russia’s first base in Africa. In the past year, Russia has slowly been strengthening its influence on the region by facilitating arms sales and security trainings.

Russia also recently sent military forces to Libya in hopes of swinging the civil war in favor of the Libyan National Army. International interference in Africa has been controversial for quite a while, but there has been a massive increase in foreign fighters inhabiting the continent. Many world leaders are now trying to figure out what kind of presence is appropriate to maintain in Africa.

The United States

President Donald Trump unveiled a sweeping new plan for relations between Israel and Palestine. The two-state plan would create a disjointed Palestine state surrounded by Israel, who would be granted territory that it has wanted for years. Announcing the plan alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and no Palestinian representatives, Trump called the plan a “win-win.” In response, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the plan, calling it a “conspiracy.” Thousands of protesters gathered in the Gaza Strip Tuesday, while Israel strengthened its military presence in the West Bank.

Weekly Report 24 January 2020

Weekly Report 24 January 2020

Myanmar

In a unanimous decision, the International Court of Justice has ordered Myanmar to “prevent all genocidal acts against Rohingya Muslims.” Following years of international scrutiny and protests against Myanmar’s treatment of its Muslim population, the ICJ finally stepped in. The government is now responsible for following Act Two of the Genocide Convention, preventing the military from carrying out genocide, reporting back to the ICJ in four months, and continuing to report to the ICJ every six months.

The Office of the President has released a summary confirming that war crimes have indeed been committed along with “serious human rights violations.” However, the government still denies any genocidal intent or crimes against humanity. The Office of the President has not fully addressed the full scale of the crimes committed against the Rohingya, dismissing claims of sexual violence and rape.

Zimbabwe

Students at Njube High School in Bulawayo staged a protest Monday over deteriorating education conditions. Nearly 200 students marched through the streets with the rallying cry “education is ours.” Zimbabwe’s quality of education has been declining in light of their economic crisis, with teacher pay being so low that they have resorted to going on strike. The main teacher who helped stage the protest has been forced to flee the country after learning he was wanted by state security agents.

Additionally, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa called on supporters to ready themselves for more protests in a rally this week. The worsening economic crisis has only been exacerbated further by the worst drought the country has seen in 40 years. “The constitution allows (us) to demonstrate when we feel it’s necessary. So this is going to be a year of demonstrations and action,” Chamisa said.

Yemen

Yemen experienced the bloodiest attack since the start of its conflict five years ago this past Saturday. Ballistic missiles struck a mosque at the al-Estiqbal military camp in Ma’rib where soldiers were assembled for evening prayers. The death toll is currently at 116 and expected to rise. The government announced the Houthi rebel movement is to blame, but no group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. Fighting between rebel and government groups has escalated in the days following the attack, which is sure to complicate the country’s steps towards peace.

The civil war, which has been raging on since 2014, has become one of the regions deadliest conflicts. The United Nations special envoy to Yemen condemned the attacks, saying that “such actions can derail this progress [towards de-escalation]. The negotiation tables are more effective than battlefields in resolving the conflict.”

Iran

Abdolhossein Mojaddami, a local paramilitary security force commander, was gunned down by two masked men on Wednesday. Mojaddami was an associate of the recently assassinated Soleimani. The motive behind the killing remains unclear.

In the growing aftermath of the United States’ targeted killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, tensions between the two countries are at an all-time high. Following Iran’s confirmation that it shot down the Ukranian commercial airliner by mistake, the country’s administration is experiencing a wave of protests. These protests mark the most serious challenge that the Supreme Leader has faced in decades.

In response to the protests, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defended the military in a rare public appearance. Leading Friday prayers, he called for national unity while criticizing the US government and its involvement in the region.

Lebanon

What began as peaceful protests in Beirut months ago have escalated into violence in recent days. More than 540 protesters have been injured in these clashes with police. The protesters’ original complaints against tax hikes have turned into calls for revolution against the ruling class.

In response, Lebanon’s leaders formed a new government on Wednesday with Hassan Diab as their new Prime Minister. He stated that the new government “represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilized nationwide for more than three months.” This is the first established government Lebanon has seen since the resignation of the last Prime Minister in October.

Despite Diab’s promising remarks, protesters have yet to be satisfied. A reporter for Al Jazeera has stated that the people “have lost faith in the ruling authorities. They believe they should give up power.” Citizens are skeptical of the new government and are desperate for change and a solution to their economic plight.

Iraq

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Baghdad on Friday, calling for US troops to end their occupation of the country. Iraq has seen renewed protests and clashes with police forces ever since the US-backed airstrike killed General Qassem Soleimani in neighboring Iran. While the government has stated that they do not want to be caught in the middle of this feud, the death toll of these protests has spiked.

Many Iraqis see the US occupation as a breach of their own sovereignty, as there are still roughly 5,000 US troops stationed in Iraq. Their parliament voted recently to expel the troops from their country, but US military leaders have not agreed to these demands.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s protesters are showing no signs of slowing down in the new year; thousands have taken to the streets to continue demanding for democracy.

A number of foreign dignitaries and diplomats have sent an open letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, calling for her to address the problem and respond to the six months of protests. That same day, China’s President Xi Jinping stated that Beijing would “resolutely safeguard the prosperity and stability” of Hong Kong.

Days later, China fired Wang Zhimin, the country’s top liaison in charge of relations between China and Hong Kong.

Cambodia

Two provincial military officers have been connected to an incident involving the torturing of a villager who was in their custody. Colonel Sar Bunsoeung and First Lieutenant Chhoy Rathana have stated that they “neglected to protect five villagers involved in a land dispute.” The Cambodian Human Rights Committee has released statements concerning the case, saying that it “will be a warning to powerful government officials and authorities not to violate the law.”

One of the civilians in custody passed away during his time with the two military officers. Following the civilian’s death, Prime Minister Hun Sen created a special committee to look further into the case. Should the officers be found guilty, they could serve two to five years in prison.

Sudan

Sudan had entered into a new period of political instability following recent clashes between loyalists and military forces. On January 14th, a shooting took place in Khartoum, causing the airport to close. The rebellion was led by ex-elite troops who had pledged their loyalty to Bashir. Two soldiers were killed and four were injured. This is the most extreme case of unrest since Bashir was overthrown in April of 2019. The airport has since reopened.

Ever since Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir was placed into a social reform facility this past December for corruption, protesters have taken to the streets in hopes of creating a new form of government. School girls are singing songs of protests and staging gatherings of their own. These types of protests would not have been allowed under Bashir, as they would have been met with “tear gas and batons, perhaps worse.” In this new era, protesters no longer fear the police, a feat that was once impossible under Bashir’s rule.

Thailand

The Future Forward Party, still in its nascent stages, avoided disbandment on January 21st, despite having more than 25 legal cases being presented against it. The FFP and its leaders have been found not guilty of attempting to overthrow the current regime.

Despite being less than a year old, the FFP amassed 17% of the votes in the 2019 elections. A recent December poll shows that the party’s leader, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, is more popular than the current Prime Minister, with Thanathorn receiving 31% of votes and the incumbent receiving 24% of the votes. The FFP wants to lessen the military’s role in government in hopes of creating a more democratic Thailand.

Venezuela

The political crisis in Venezuela is still at a stalemate as Nicolás Madura and Juan Guaidó continue to argue over who is the legitimate president. Madura, who has been in power for two decades, was re-elected in 2018, but many civilians believe the election to be rigged in his favor. A year after Juan Guaidó, chairman of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled national assembly, declared himself president, he is no closer to removing Madura from office.

Guaidó has received aid and support from much of the international community. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Guaidó in Colombia to pledge the US’s continued support to the man who they see as the legitimate leader of the country. This violates a travel ban put in place by the country’s pro-Madura Supreme Court.

Vietnam

The human rights situation in Vietnam has deteriorated exponentially since 2019. Last year, more than 30 activists were imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression, association, and religion. Officials continue to place activists and bloggers under house arrest; these activists are also subject to physical assault. Activists are not allowed to leave the country, infringing on their individual liberties.

The EU and Vietnam have been drawing a trade agreement that will supposedly “abolish 99% of customs duties, eliminate bureaucratic hurdles, and ensure easier market access for both European and Vietnamese companies.” The EU-Vietnam Free-Trade Agreement, should it go through, is projected to bring approximately $16.6 billion USD worth of exports into the EU by 2035.

Eritrea

In 2018, Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed to a peace deal, but there has yet to be any visible domestic progress. 12% of the population has fled the “Red Sea nation,” and Eritreans closely trail Syria in the number of refugee applicants seeking asylum in Europe. Many people are seeking asylum due to a national law that forces all Eritrean students, regardless of gender, to complete at least 18 months of military training. People who complete the training have reported many instances of human rights abuses and sexual violence.

Syria

The ongoing Syrian Civil War shows no sign of slowing down. On the ground, up to 40 Syrian soldiers have been killed in the north-west region of the country. Idlib is the last stronghold help by anti-Assad forces, and that region has seen an incredible amount of violence in recent weeks. According to a United Nations report, almost 350,000 civilians, 80% of them women and children, have been displaced by the fighting since hostilities escalated at the start of December.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s two main opposition groups will form a coalition going into their 2021 elections in hopes of defeating President Daniel Ortega. The two groups – the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy and Blue and White National Unity – invite any groups and/or individuals that oppose the president to join their coalition, hoping that the recent unrest in the country will spur anti-government momentum.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the country this week, where he called upon President Ortega to stop silencing his political opponents in the troubled Central American country. A small group of Nicaraguans demonstrated outside the presidential palace in San José, where Pompeo had talks with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado.

Bolivia

Since the resignation of President Evo Morales in November, Bolivian has been plagued with instability, but now it looks like peace might win out. After Morales was found guilty of trying to rig elections, both his supporters and opponents led protests throughout the country. However, Bolivia has been able to edge away from violence because of the work of politicians Jeanin Áñez and Eva Copa. Together, they have rallied their parties together to plan new elections. Ms. Copa has stated that “the priority in those moments was to pacify the country and stop the violence.” In a surprising turn of events, protesters are refraining from taking to the streets, as the real battle will be at the polls.

North Korea

Kim Jong Un has appointed a new foreign minister, Ri Son Gwon. Gwon is a senior military officer with very little diplomatic experience. He replaces Ri Yong Ho, a diplomat who has many years worth of negotiation experience with Washington. The recent appointment is quite worrisome, as Kim Jong Un is continuing to strengthen the role of the North Korean military on a domestic and global scale, filling his cabinet positions based on party loyalty rather than merit.

Philippines

One of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines erupted last week. The United Nations estimated that over half a million people were put at risk, both from the immediate eruption and subsequent earthquakes.

This Friday, the volcano released thick clouds of smoke, confirming scientists’ speculations that more vicious eruptions are going to take place in the near future. The volcanology agency has reported that the next eruption could take place within the next several days or even within the next several hours.

Russia

In a dramatic reshuffling of Russia’s leadership, Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev stepped down from his role just hours after President Vladamir Putin announced changes that would shift power away from the presidency. The constitutional amendments proposed by Putin would help him maintain some political control after he meets his term limit in 2024.

While Putin’s future role in Russia is unknown, he has ruled the country in various roles since 2000, bypassing the 2-term limit of the Presidency by switching in and out of various roles ever eight years. The two offices that his new proposals will give more power to – the State Council and the Prime Minister’s office – are two likely places that Putin might head next. Mikhail Mishustin has been named as the next Prime Minister; he has served as Director of the Federal Tax Service for the past 10 years.

Libya

Leaders from the EU, Turkey, and Russia met alongside both parties in the Libyan civil war recently in Berlin. The foreign backers agreed to provide no further military support, honoring the UN arms embargo. The two warring parties, General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army and UN-backed Government of National Accord, were both in attendance, but refused to meet with each other or agree on the ceasefire themselves. Experts agree that until these parties agree to a ceasefire, the conflict will not dissolve, but this is a small step to limiting the proxy war that has continued since 2011.