Weekly Report: 10 June 2019 — CANVAS

Protesters hold placards as they stage protest against the extradition law in Hong Kong, Sunday, June 9, 2019. (AP Photo)

Gabon

President Ali Bongo made his first speech on Saturday following his return to Bongo two months ago. In his speech, he called on the country’s Prime Minister to form a new government after last month’s timber smuggling scandal. Bongo had previously fired both his vice president and forestry minister in regards to the scandal, saying that the new government must be “exemplary, honest, and ethical”.

Bolivia

As the October 2019 general election approaches in Bolivia, the opposition has explored potential failures on their part to avoid the re-election of current President Evo Morales. Valeria Silva, the legislator of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) was interviewed by La Razon newspaper in which she discussed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) failure to address the political problems and potential for dictatorship in August 2018 while in Bolivia. Silva believes that the threat of dictatorship is the strongest argument the opposition can use against Morales running for another term.

Nicaragua

The Nicaragua government said Thursday it has released 50 prisoners detained in protests from jail to house arrest as an agreed-upon deadline to release all such prisoners approaches. The government says that the prisoners were being held for crimes against public peace and security. Other releases have been made, but the opposition group, Civic Alliance, pulled out of talks with the Nicaraguan government because not all prisoners had been released. The Nicaraguan state says that it will release all 142 prisoners, but Civic Alliance says the number behind bars could be higher.

North Korea

Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s former top nuclear envoy who South Korean media had reported was executed last week, was seen Sunday night at an event with Kim Jong Un. The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported last Friday that Kim Yong Chol and Kim Hyok Chol, a top North Korean diplomat, had been executed after February’s failed summit with the United States. The newspaper cited an anonymous source within North Korea, but both the North and South’s governments, as well as the US’ Special Representative to North Korea were unable to confirm the men’s deaths. When Kim Yong Chol was seen at an arts performance with Kim Jong Un, it became clear that neither man had been executed, though it is confirmed that Kim Hyok Chol remains in prison and still faces “heavy punishment”.

Myanmar

This week, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) has officially called for human rights violations committed in Myanmar against Rohingya Muslims to be investigated and taken to the International Court of Justice. The Islamic Summit Conference was held in Makkah on Friday, May 31. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was the leader in asking the OIC to aid in the process. In a joint statement, the OIC pleaded with its ad hoc Ministerial Committee to launch a case with the International Court of Justice.

A leaked report from the ASEAN’s “Emergency Response and Assessment Team” (ASEAN-ERAT) predicted that half a million Rohingya refugees would return home in two years, an estimation that has left international observers both angry and shocked. Many believe that this estimation does not address the severity of the situation, which includes widespread murder, rape, and arson that has led UN investigators to consider charging Myanmar’s top generals with genocide. The report also approves of Myanmar’s efforts to ensure a “smooth and orderly” return. Amnesty International even responded to the report calling it “astonishing” that the report did not mention any of the atrocities committed by the military that were purely aimed at forcing Rohingya to leave, or the continued human rights violations continued in the Rakhine.

United States

President Trump capped off his state visit to the United Kingdom and Normandy, where he celebrated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day attacks. The countries statesman, President Macron, President Trump, and Prime Minister Theresa may all praised the lasting friendship between the United States, the U.K., and France. Other President Trump praised the countries “everlasting bond,” critics argue that Trump’s rhetoric against the European Union and support for Brexit. President Trump also stirred controversy when he described newlywed Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle as “nasty.”

Domestically, President Trump was still made headlines. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats pushing for an impeachment effort that rather than wanting to see President Donald Trump impeached, she wanted to see him “in prison,” Politico reported. According to the report, Pelosi made the remark at a meeting on Tuesday night as House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler asked to be able to begin an impeachment inquiry. The House Speaker went further than just impeachment: “I don’t want to see him impeached,” Pelosi said, according to the report. “I want to see him in prison.”

Cambodia

European Union officials arrived in Cambodia on June 3 to review the Cambodian government’s human rights record with the potential to take away the country’s Everything but Arms trade privileges. In relation to the visit, human Rights Watch has urged Cambodian leaders to stop the harassment of former CNRP opposition party members and their supporters. In their report, they state that in 2019 alone, over 145 opposition party members have been arbitrarily arrested or summoned to court. Freedom of expression online has also been significantly diminished, with critics on social media facing prosecutions and a loss of certain online forums.

Mexico

This week, a senior Mexican delegation arrived in Washington to begin talks with the US following US President Donald Trump’s threatened tariffs on the country. Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard was joined at the White House by US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but their discussions ended without a clear agreement. Ebrard stated to a news conference after the discussions that much of the meeting focused on migration flows affecting the United States, rather than the humanitarian concern of Central America. Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs would raise duties by 5% each month, reaching 25% by October. An eventual deal was made on Friday, June 7, with Mexico promising to crack down on illegal migration “giving a priority to its southern border” and the United States agreeing not to imposed punitive tariffs on Mexican goods.

Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean government is expected to pass a law this week banning all future protests or strikes by workers. Since the disputed election in July of last year, the government has grown increasingly repressive with harsh crackdowns on dissent becoming more and more common. The Zimbabwe Republic Police has been avoiding protests and violence by meeting with groups and appealing to the public, though with the country’s dire economic situation only worsening, public backlash is likely to continue. Just last week, the government met with teachers unions to review salary increases due to inflation – with the goal of stopping a looming teachers’ strike. The country plans to combat rising inflation with the release of a new currency by the end of the year, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced on Friday.

Colombia

Venezuela’s borders  with Colombia reopened for the first time in four months on Saturday, June 8, originally closed under Nicolas Maduro’s orders in retaliation of humanitarian aid entering the country. Tens of thousands of people crossed the border, many entering Colombia to buy basic necessities like food and medicine. On Friday, the UNHCR stated that 4 million Venezuelans have left the country, fleeing the political and economic crisis.

On May 29, a panel of judges ruled that a peace tribunal that was part of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC guerrillas will continue under the previously agreed-upon terms, despite Colombia’s President Ivan Duque requesting that the sentences of the rebels be harsher. Nearly all of the 6,804 FARC guerrillas who disarmed in 2016 must carry through with the regulations of the peace tribunal, swear to testify, and willingly be interviewed by Colombia’s truth commission. Those who the commission believe did not commit human rights violations will be able to rejoin society, while those who are believed to be guilty will be sentenced to jail or community service.

Venezuela

This week, the 12-nation Lima Group regional bloc and an EU-led contact group on Venezuela issued a joint statement calling on the international community to work harder for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. The statement wrote that the crisis “requires the region and international community”, although it did not go further to elaborate specifically what the community should do.

Canada has temporarily shut down its embassy in Venezuela, a move confirmed by Global Affairs on Sunday, May 31. Canada will also be “evaluating the status” of Venezuelan diplomats to Canada that have been appointed by Nicolas Maduro.

40 former Venezuelan oil workers reached hour 74 of a hunger strike this week attempting to get back wages and compensations that they stated Venezuela’s government promised them over a decade ago. Hundreds of other former oil workers stood guard over those involved in the hunger strike, many of whom say they represent thousands of ExxonMobil workers who believe they are also owed years-worth of compensation and wages. According to some of the protestors, Nicolas Maduro met with the group three months ago but no progressions have been made.

Philippines

The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs announced last week that they would reject a call made by the United Nations to investigate the “staggering number” of police killings and human rights violations from the country’s war on drugs. The DFA said that the call made on Friday by 11 UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteurs was in bad faith and that a probe may “undermine domestic processes”. The palace and other state leaders have also come out against the UN’s request for a probe, saying that it is an “outrageous interference” by “foreign propagandists”. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency acknowledged in January the deaths of 5,281 “drug personalities”, though human rights groups say the actual number is between 20,000 – 30,000.

Thailand

Thailand’s pro-Democracy Party held a secret ballot in which sixty-one members voted in support of joining pro-government Paland Pracharath and voting for Prayut Chan-o-Cha as prime minister, while 16 voted against it (The Straits Times, 2019). The expansion of the coalition makes Prayut’s chance at the prime minister position more likely. Thailand’s election for prime minister took place on Wednesday, June 5th. However, it may be a while till we hear the results – the results from the contentious election on March 24th took a month to be released.

Arriving much quicker than the previous election, Prayut Chan-o-Cha was voted in to remain prime minister of Thailand. Prayut was the expected winner –– under his watch, the military appointed a majority of the upper parliament house senators. Prayut garnered 500 total votes with 250 coming from the Senate and 249 coming from the lower house. His opponent, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a young billionaire representing the Future Forward Party, was able to take only 244 votes. The future of Thailand still seems uncertain.

Read more here.

Vietnam

Vietnam continues to use Facebook as a vehicle to crackdown on dissidents and opposition of the state. An environmental activist faces a trial for his Facebook posts, as part of Vietnam’s ongoing attack on freedom of expression, according to Human Rights Watch. The activist, Nguyen Ngoc Anh, is charged with “making, storing, disseminating, or propagandizing information, materials, and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under article 117 of the 2015 penal code. Nguyen Ngoc Anh is scheduled to hear his case on June 6, 2019.

Image result for iran flag   Iran

On June 2nd, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that the Trump administration is ready to negotiate with Iran’s clerical government with “no preconditions”, a softening of the US’ previous position to talks with the country. This statement was followed by new economic sanctions on June 7th, targeting Iran’s biggest petrochemical group, Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (PGPIC). PGPIC and its subsidiaries hold 40% of Iran’s petrochemical production capacity and are responsible for 50% of Iran’s petrochemical exports. Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, called the sanctions “economic terrorism”, claiming that it shows that the Trump administration’s offer for talks is “hollow”.

A German diplomatic source confirmed that Foreign Minister Heiko Maas landed in Tehran to meet his counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and Rouhani on Monday, June 10th, in an effort to salvage the Iranian Nuclear Deal. Maas announced that France, Germany and the United Kingdom have set up a payment system for trade that circumvents sanctions imposed by the United States. The system called Instex aims to get Iran to keep its commitment to cut back on its nuclear program, rather than mediating the tensions between the US and Iran. The position of a mediator was taken up by Qatar, as the country’s Foreign Minister said Doha had been in discussions with Washington and Tehran in a bid to de-escalate the tension.

Image result for sudan flag  Sudan

On June 5th, just several days after paramilitary troops in Khartoum broke up a two month sit-in and murdered over 120 people, Sudan’s military leader (also serving as the head of the Transitional Military Council (TMC)) General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan offered to reopen talks with the pro-democracy activists without preconditions. The pro-democracy group Force of Freedom and Change (FFC) refused this offer, joining other activist groups such as Sudanese Professionals Associations in urging supporters to continue the efforts of civil disobedience. This resulted in an indefinite general strike beginning on June 9th. Currently, with the general strike underway, the RSF has killed at least four people.

Khartoum is reported to be in the grip of Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Lt. General Mohamed Hamdam, who came into prominence as the leader of the Janjaweed militia that engaged in genocidal atrocities in the Darfur region of Sudan in the 2000s. The RSF was integrated into the Sudanese Armed Forces in 2013. Hamdam has integrated his Janjaweed forces into the RSF, which, with money, weapons and other immaterial support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, is terrorizing the Sudanese capital. The violence of the RSF and the Internet shutdown is disrupting activists’ actions.

Internationally, the response to the violence carried out by the TMC and RSF is mixed. While the African Union suspended Sudan immediately, urging the creation of a civilian-led transitional authority rather than military rule, the United Nations Security Council failed to get a consensus condemning the violence after Russia and China blocked the motion.

Libya – After the ousting of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, Fayez al-Sarraj became the prime minister of Libya in 2016 when he was selected to head the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), the internationally-recognized interim government of Libya. Originally a supporter, the Libyan House of Representatives would withdraw its recognition of the GNA and with backing from the General National Congress (GNC), become the GNA’s primary opposition. The GNA is based in the Eastern city of Tobruk while the GNA, under al-Sarraj, is located in the country’s capital of Tripoli. Over the next couple of years, the GNA would struggle to gain legitimacy in Libya while the government in Tobruk has come under de facto control of Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan military general who, after living in the US for 20 years in exile, returned to Libya in 2011 to fight in the revolution. Over the years, he has gained control of the Libyan National Army (LNA), many smaller militias, and large amounts of land in Southern and Western Libya.

On April 4, Haftar lead a March to Tripoli in an attempt to oust the UN-backed government of al-Sarraj. The military attack came only a month after Haftar and al-Sarraj reached an agreement in Abu Dhabi in hopes of putting an “end [to] the transitional stages in Libya through the holding of general elections,” according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The conflict surrounding Tripoli has expanded over the past two months as the LNA under Haftar continues to clash with militia forces defending the capital. As of early June, at least 510 people have been killed and 75,000 displaced, according to the World Health Organization.

In the last week (June 3-June 9), attacks by the LNA have continued, specifically targeting the Tripoli airport. On June 7, the LNA attacked the military section of the airport, targeting a Turkish plane. Further, the problem pertaining to internally displaced people has grown dramatically. The international aid organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has released a statement calling for the nearly 6,000 refugees trapped in detention centers be transported to Europe. In the United States, the White House’s stance on the ongoing issue in Libya has become uncertain after by President Trump seemed to show support for General Haftar. Eight Democratic members of the Foreign Affairs Committee released a letter to the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on June 9. In the letter, the representatives called for clarification of the country’s position.

Hong Kong – This past Sunday, over one million protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong in opposition to a proposed bill that would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to mainland China for trial. Protesters worry that the bill would erode the legal autonomy of Hong Kong and that China would be able to target political opponents in the region. Organizers claim that the protest is the largest protest in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover of the territory to China by the British. Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, has said that she will not scrap the bill despite the protests and plans to push forward with the plan.   

Russia – Russia detained one of their most prominent opposition journalists last week, Ivan Golunov, on drug charges. Golunov is accused of having three grams of mephedrone or “ball salts,” but domestic and international opposition media members say the accusations are “absurd,” accusing the Russian government of suppressing.  freedom of the press. Golunov is Russia’s leading oppositional investigative reporter and the author of multiple hard hitting on government corruption and government-linked businesspeople. Friends and colleagues described Golunov as mild mannered and tame: “His only drug is curiosity,” wrote Leonid Bershidsky, a journalist and former colleague, on Twitter “but in Russia that’s against the law.”