Photo: “Thousands of citizens took to the streets of Afrin [Syria] to denounce the Turkish aggression on their city.” (Syrian Arab News Agency)
Democratic Republic of Congo
This week, the Congolese government has ordered former colonizer Belgium to close its consulate and cut off flights from Brussels. This came as a result of worsening relations between the two nations since the Belgian government terminated all cooperation on projects in the former Central African colony over human rights and security concerns. However, “the Belgian government has redirected €25m allocated for such projects to non-government organizations working on humanitarian aid in the country.”
Ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu has erupted in northeastern DRC, taking the lives of more than 24 people and leaving hundreds of homes burned to the ground. Meanwhile, the US has slapped sanctions on Congolese General Muhindo Akili Mundos and rebel leaders Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, Guidon Shimiray Mwissa, and Lucien Nzabamwita for “contributing to widespread poverty, chronic food insecurity, and population displacement”. These are the same four men that the UN Security Council sanctioned last week for human rights violations.
As conflicts persist in the DRC, rampant militia groups “have recruited at least 585 children for use as fighters or human shields in the war afflicting in Kasai regions.” In addition to the recruitment, humanitarian organizations disclosed that at least 120 children have been abducted and abused and another 350 have lost track of their families, classifying them as unaccompanied.
Consequently, over 8,000 Congolese have fled to neighboring countries Burundi and Tanzania over the past week, following military operations to rid eastern DRC of the various militia groups. Moreover, many refugees are displaced, and many NGOs report that the number of refugees fleeing is an understatement of the crisis.
As President Joseph Kabila still refuses to step down after his mandate ended in December 2016, elections meant to replace him continue to be repeatedly delayed. Since the DRC’s constitution does not allow the president to seek a third consecutive term in office, this has led to speculation of his unwillingness to give up power. Thus it has been stated that President Kabila “intends to respect the constitution and relinquish power after elections scheduled for December” of this year.
Power struggles have broken out within Zimbabwe’s main opposition party. This follows the news that opposition leader Tsvangirai will leave the country to seek medical treatment for colon cancer in South Africa. The details and severity of his illness are unclear, with a huge disparity between reassurance from him that he is recovering and reports from major media outlets that call him “critically ill.” In any case, Tsvangirai’s departure from the country is itself a huge destabilizing force for his party. To make it worse, the election is mere months away, and the negative prospects for the opposition are seriously exacerbated by the disarray of the leadership structure in his absence. Tsvangirai has three deputies, of which one, Nelson Chamisa, was appointed to serve as the interim leader until his return. Others in the party are disputing this decision. Many feel that deputy Elias Mudzuri, who was the acting leader before this recent announcement, should continue to hold the position. Still others believe that the temporary leader should be the third deputy, Thokozani Khupe. The infighting bodes very poorly for the upcoming election. An opposition alliance had already endorsed Tsvangirai in the upcoming election against Mnangagwa, but further endorsement of any of the replacements seems rather unlikely while the party is in disarray. All of this helps Mnangagwa, whose ultimate goal is to stay in power.
In other election-related developments, many have begun to speculate that Mugabe is forming a new political party, “The New Patriotic Front”, with other members of his ousted regime. The party declares that the November coup was illegal and calls on the military to reinstate Mugabe as leader of Zimbabwe. This development is still in its early stages, but could eventually come to have very serious consequences for the country and its upcoming elections.
On Wednesday, Zimbabwean leaders and civil society organizations called on Mnangagwa to end the political violence that has been rampant in the country over the past few weeks. The speakers referenced a legislator who was pelted with stones last week and underscored the importance of defending democracy. Nelson Chamisa addressed the country: “I am saying this because we are seeing an escalation of attacks on MPs and citizens, particularly as we approach general elections, yet we do not want elections to be tainted by violence and instability, and this issue must be taken to the President so that his call for peaceful elections is taken seriously.”
Cambodia announced a new law banning anyone from insulting the king: offenders risk up to five years in jail. Hun Sen, a leader planning to extend his tenure in the July elections, led the cabinet meeting in which the law was adopted. He has already made progress dissolving the opposition and “[has driven] many of his critics into self exile”.
The current king, Sihamoni, keeps a relatively low profile, particularly compared to his father, and his status is mostly symbolic. He is regarded kindly by Cambodians and is largely seen as “above the political fray.”
Rights groups are still nervous that this new law will allow dissenters to be targeted, particularly because Hun Sen has often been accused of having the courts in his pocket.
Opposition MP Sam An was jailed in 2016 for “incitement” when he accused the government of using “incorrect border maps during negotiations with Vietnam” in a Facebook post. Sam An appealed the conviction, taking it to the Appellate Court and eventually the Supreme Court. Today, the Supreme Court upheld the previous decision and Sam An returned to jail to finish serving his sentence of two and a half years.
A letter from September of 2017 has recently been made public, wherein the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications within the Cambodian government ordered internet providers to block access to the Cambodia Daily website. Executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, Nop Vy, states the “government’s actions were damaging to media freedom and open access to information.” The government also suspended 20 radio stations that carried US content, and banned the National Democratic Institute. The Institute is US-funded and supports transparent government and civic participation.
Ten tourists were arrested in Siem Reap for taking pornographic photos and publishing them online. Seven of the foreigners have been released on bail. Locals describe the group, and other tourists in general, as acting in a manner very disrespectful toward Cambodian culture. The locals and police there are frustrated with and tired of the inappropriate and party-oriented behaviors of the vacationers.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Mexico to keep an eye out for Russian influence or interference in their elections, saying that “European counterparts had noticed that Russia had its fingerprints on a number of elections.” An aide for ruling PRI candidate Meade warned in January that Russia may try to support López Obrador.
López Obrador of MORENA has an 11 point lead ahead of his competition for the presidency, with 34% of the vote according to polls from Parametria. The runner-up, Anaya, is 5 points ahead of the ruling party’s candidate, Meade, and has gained some ground on López Obrador. This year’s election could be the first year independent candidates are on the ballot in this country with a history of de facto single-party rule. These candidates, although it is doubtful they will win, could take votes from the other candidates and affect the outcome. This is particularly true as many Mexicans are still undecided between the top three.
Deaths at the border between the US and Mexico rose in 2017, from 398 in 2016 to 412, even though the number of people attempting to cross the border dropped significantly. Accompanying this statistic is the 44% drop in border patrol apprehensions. Altogether, it appears “the deterrent is Donald trump” according to bluntly stated article by The Economist.
A US brewery is setting up shop in a Mexican state and will neighbor with local farmers. Already suffering from water shortage, the farmers worry the new brewery will suck up all the water, strangling their livelihoods. Last summer, local farmers protested the project with other residents, forming a movement called Mexicali Resists. Thousands of people gathered in protest before government buildings, blocking deliveries going to the construction site. Now unrest has flared again as protesters camp out in front of the site, clashing with police and private security as dozens block the construction of a water pipe to the factory. In the 1940s, large tracts of land previously owned by a cotton-producing company were split into community-owned ejidos, and with the land came water rights. Now, the farmers guard the water rights carefully and are “seething at the idea that precious water rights are being handed over to gringos.” Since its formation in 2016, Mexicali Resists has employed several tactics to stymie the progress towards completing both the brewery and its water supply, ranging from blockades to climbing a crane coupled with a hunger strike, to physically confronting police officers.
Alejandra León, a lawyer for some of the farmers, reports that an environmental impact study on the brewery revealed which current wells would be tapped (as the area has banned drilling of new wells as the water table recedes). The owners were unaware the company had looked into using their wells.
The International Criminal Court has taken initial steps towards investigating Venezuela over “allegations of excessive force and other abuses,” including “serious abuse and ill-treatment” of detained opposition members by government security forces in response to opposition protests. In the past, Maduro has dismissed criticism of his regime as US-prompted attempts to undermine his government. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the ICC began the preliminary examinations after “a careful, independent and impartial review of a number of a number of communications and reports”. While Bensouda has not released the names of the leaders to be investigated, the ICC mandate is to prosecute individuals for serious crimes, such as crimes against humanity: heads of state and government officials are generally the subjects. The examination will continue if the court finds enough evidence to commit to a full investigation and if the national courts are found unable or unwilling to conduct proper trials on their own. Protesters, quelled by the reaction from the Venezuelan government, may need to step forward to assist in this case. There is no timeline for this examination, or the possible investigation to follow.
Sitting President Maduro has officially been chosen as the Socialist Party candidate and the election date has been set for April 22nd. Both decisions immediately follow the end of talks between opposition and government, without agreement. The quick elections have drawn criticism from other Latin American countries, wanting the government and opposition to conclude negotiations addressing the conflict first, and the US said it will reject the “snap” election. The opposition is still undecided on a candidate, or if it will even participate in the election, despite its role in pushing for elections originally. Maduro has announced plans to “wean Venezuela’s economy off” of oil production.
This comes at the same time the US is considering sanctioning Venezuelan oil in an attempt to pressure the country into holding free and fair elections. Venezuelan oil production has been decreasing since 2014, but still the country pumped more than one million barrels a day in December by industry estimates.
The fall in production has only intensified the suffering of Venezuelans, already experiencing food and medicine shortages. Other Latin American countries stated they are disinclined to take measures that may worsen the humanitarian crisis.
The United States of America
The government has shut down and reopened again, the second time in 2018. The spending agreement that ended the last shutdown expired this week, and national lawmakers have been unable to reach another agreement for national funding moving forward. Many expect this shutdown to be very brief, with a deal seeming well within sight. Earlier in the week, Trump had said that he would “love to see a shutdown” if the legislators couldn’t come to a deal that satisfied him on immigration.
President Trump is garnering criticism for his plans to hold a military parade through the US capital this summer. Although he was reportedly inspired by one such parade he saw in France on Bastille Day, many Americans associate these displays primarily with authoritarian regimes. While this decision is not nearly enough to label Trump as an authoritarian-esque leader, it falls along a string of similar events that, when taken together, are cause for concern for many fearful Americans. Earlier in the week, the president accused Democrats of treason for not standing and applauding him during the State of the Union.
In the financial world, US stock markets made global headlines as they fell and shook over the course of the week. The market swings “can be traced to the positive U.S. jobs report on Friday, a sign of a strengthening economy in which workers are finally earning higher wages”. Concerns over inflation have also been raised, however, and it seems likely that the Federal Reserve will consequently raise interest rates.
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court, in a surprise move, ordered the immediate release and re-trial of nine key political prisoners, along with the reinstatement of 12 opposition parliamentarians who would in session create an oppositional majority. Among the prominent opposition prisoners was former President Mohamed Nasheed, living in self-exile, who had been sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges that were largely criticized as having been politically motivated.
Celebrations that had turned to protests demanding President Yameen to comply with the decision occurred over the weekend. While the administration and police had originally announced that they would comply with the ruling, the Maldivian government has since refused and, should the Supreme Court move for the impeachment or arrest of President Yameen, has ordered its security forces not to comply.
On Saturday, when parliamentary sessions had been set to resume, the government suspended the parliament. Security forces blocked the members that tried to enter the parliament anyway. Monday, parliamentary sessions had been postponed indefinitely, and the political prisoners remained in jail. The Legal Affairs Minister commented that there were ‘numerous challenges’ to implementing the order, contradicting a Supreme Court statement from the preceding day that had stated the opposite.
Later on Monday, President Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency, stating that the Supreme Court decision had “resulted in the disruption of the functions of the executive power, and the infringement of national security and public interest.” With this announcement and two later amendments, numerous constitutional rights have been suspended and Yameen “has effectively quashed any moves by the opposition to impeach him while also stripping the Supreme Court of any authority,” while giving “security forces sweeping powers to make arrests.”. After the state of emergency had been declared, security forces stormed the constitutional court, eventually arresting two Supreme Court judges, whom President Yameen accused of plotting to overthrow him. The chief judicial administrator and former-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom were further arrested, as well as three family members of one Supreme Court judge.
Late on Tuesday, the three remaining Supreme Court judges announced that the decision to release the nine opposition politicians from prison would be reversed, although the ruling to reinstate 12 opposition legislators would remain valid. Opposition politician Eva Abdulla accused Yameen of coercing and intimidating the judges to get the ruling he wanted.
Last Friday, Mohamed Nasheed had announced his plans to run in the elections, still optimistic the opposition “would succeed in ending the autocratic government within the next […] days and urged the people […] to stand against the injustice of the government.” He has since described “the government’s refusal to obey the court order as tantamount to a coup”. In reaction to the emergency decree, the united opposition urged the security forces “not to support a dictatorship” and Nasheed “accused Yameen of declaring ‘martial law’”, asserting that he should be removed from power. Later in the week, reports appeared about death threats against the arrested Chief Justice and opposition legislators.
India and the United States, along with other international actors including the UN and EU, have expressed concern about the emergency decree, calling on the government to “lift it and restore civil liberties”. Nasheed has urged the US to introduce targeted sanctions and appealed to India to intervene with “a physical presence”. China subsequently asserted that India “has no justification for intervening in the Maldives crisis” and President Yameen “sent envoys to friendly nations such as China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to brief them on a political crisis”. A high UN official has warned the Security Council of a further deterioration in the Maldives, while an EU delegation has arrived on-site, though unable to meet the President or other senior government officials.
Syria welcomes the outcomes of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that was held on January 29th and 30th in Sochi, Russia. Unanimous consensus was reached regarding Syria’s sovereignty, independence, safety and territorial unity, and the right of the Syrian people to choose their political and economic systems. This affirmed that “the political progress in Syria cannot begin or continue but under the leadership of Syria without any foreign interference.”
Though several officials and groups consistently condemn Turkey’s aggression on the Afrin area in Syria, the hostility has yet to cease. This is heavily influencing the further destabilization of the region. Consequently, after 19 days of Turkish aggression, thousands of citizens took to the streets of Afrin to denounce and oppose Turkey’s assaults.
The Foreign and Expatriates Ministry of Syria has “condemned the false allegations made by the United States in which it accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in the Eastern Ghouta in Damascus Countryside.” Syria upholds the belief that the use of chemical weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction is a crime against humanity, that is conceived as unacceptable, immoral, and unjustified act under any condition. It is claimed that the accusations are merely fabrications of US partners on the ground and that there is no evidence of such attacks. Furthermore, it is believed that US allegations coincide with efforts to end the crisis in Syria via a peaceful solution and are made after the US and its allies fail to pass anti-Syria resolutions at the UN Security Council and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Syria believes the US’s motivations for maintaining presence in the country are no longer to fight ISIS.
The Foreign and Expatriates Ministry of Syria has also expressed that Israel’s repeated attacks on Syria reflect Israel’s continuous “aggressive approach represented by supporting terrorist groups to prolong the crisis in Syria and to raise the morale of the terrorists”. On Wednesday, Israeli aircraft fired missiles from Lebanese airspace, which coincided with armed terrorist organizations’ attacks. Over 1,000 rockets and mortar rounds were launched on several cities in Syria, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians. This is deemed proof of coordination, partnerships, and alliances between Israel and terrorist organizations. Thus, the peace and security of the region and, on a larger scale, the world are threatened. The Syrian government reiterated its warnings to Israel, stressing the serious repercussions that would be taken if Israel persists with its attacks on Syria, continued terrorist support, and occupation of Arab territories.
It was officially announced by the Kazakh Foreign Minister that the 9th round of Astana meetings on Syria will hopefully be held at the end of February. Also, it has been agreed by Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan that a new Russian-Iranian-Turkish summit on Syria will be held in Istanbul – date pending.
- Syrian Arab News Agency [SANA] (Syrian National Dialogue Congress)
- SANA (Continued Turkish Aggression)
- SANA (Thousands Take to the Streets)
- SANA (Chemical Weapons Allegations)
- SANA (Crime Against Humanity)
- SANA (Israeli Attacks)
- SANA (9th Round of Astana)
- SANA (Russian-Iranian-Turkish Summit on Syria)
What really scares populists? Grassroots campaigning and humour: How can ideas that toppled a dictator be used today to defend democracy? In this latest article for The Guardian, Srdja Popovic speaks from his experiences with OTPOR! to explain how people can use laughter, unity, and nonviolence to defend their democratic institutions from destruction.
#RiceBunny – The Resilient #MeToo Movement in China: #MeToo has been one of the most profound developments in the modern feminist movement. In China, however, the government and censorship have created additional obstacles for students and activists seeking justice. The resulting hashtag #RiceBunny is a message from Chinese women to the world that they will not be silenced.
Myanmar – Myanmar’s government has denied the claims in the AP’s report on mass killings and graves. Instead, they argue that only “terrorists” were killed and then “carefully buried.” A man named Islam saw the horrors committed by the soldiers firsthand. He was a Buddhist in the military forces, but converted to marry a Rohingya woman. When the soldiers came to his village, he was conscripted with other Buddhists to help massacre his fellow villagers: those who refused were jailed or killed. Islam escaped one night past drunk guards and fled to Bangladesh, where he was reunited with his wife. – NY Times | The Guardian
Bangladesh – Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister and leader of the country’s main opposition party, has been sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment on corruption charges. – Al Jazeera
Ecuador – A referendum this week has resulted in the decision to set a two-term limit on the presidency, the most straightforward consequence likely being the prevention of leftist ex-leader Rafael Correa from ever returning to power. – TeleSUR
Germany – A deal has finally been reached for a new German government, more than four months after negotiations began. The conservative alliance and the left-leaning Social Democrats have again joined in coalition, leaving the controversial, far-right AfD party as the leading opposition. Members of the Social Democratic Party will now vote on the new configuration. – NYTimes
North Korea/South Korea – Kim Jong Un’s sister has arrived at the Olympics and shaken the hand of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The diplomatic challenge of getting North Korea to attend the international event was a strategic operation that lasted months. – Bloomberg
South Africa – Over the weekend, senior leaders of the ruling ANC party met with President Zuma to ask him to step down amidst mounting pressure over corruption allegations. By Wednesday, reports stated that Cyril Ramaphosa, who had taken Zuma’s position as the ANC’s leader last month, was “holding direct talks with Jacob Zuma over a transition of power”, possibly implying a sooner-than-expected change of leadership. – The Guardian | Reuters
Hong Kong – Late last week, three leading Hong Kong activists and the 2014 Umbrella Movement were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by US Congress members. Beijing has condemned the nomination “as a form of ‘meddling’ in its internal affairs.” – Al Jazeera
Kenya – Following last week’s media shutdown, two TV stations resumed broadcasting on Monday, the final station getting back on-air Thursday, after a court ordered their immediate restoration late last week. The government had not yet commented on the delay. This came in the context of an opposition ‘mock inauguration’ last week Tuesday, which led to the arrest of three opposition figures who had participated, of which two were released the same day and another was deported to Canada. – Reuters | NY Times
Bolivia – As heavy rains and flooding continue to drench Bolivia, over 3,100 families have been displaced. Also, the Bicentennial Library Project of the Martí Studies Center in La Paz gave a “a more complete version of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s diary” to Cuba. Bolivia’s Ambassador to Cuba said the delivery of the newfound documents “represents a vital step in understanding the past and present” for the country, according to Presna Latina. – teleSUR | teleSUR