Weekly Report June 26 2020 — CANVAS

 

Coronavirus

Despite warnings from public health officials, new research suggests Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. have not led to a jump in coronavirus cases. A new study, published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, used data on protests from more than 300 of the largest US cities, and found no evidence that coronavirus cases grew in the weeks following the beginning of the protests.

 

United States

The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed an expansive policing overhaul bill aimed at combating racial discrimination and excessive use of force in law enforcement, as Democrats sought to respond to a nationwide outcry for racial justice and pushed through legislation that is doomed in the Republican-controlled Senate. Republicans have said the bill is a federal overreach into policing, and the White House has threatened a veto. However, the bill was endorsed by over 100 civil rights groups as well as some of the families’ of the victims. The bill would create a national registry to track police misconduct and require law enforcement agencies to report data on the use of force, aim to force departments to eliminate the use of chokeholds, and condition some federal grants on the adoption of anti-discrimination training and practices, among other reforms. 

The most recent theme of the anti-racist protests is the toppling of statues that glorify the confederacy and slave owners; more than a dozen statues have been toppled, including several Confederate figures. This has inspired similar actions across the world; in England, a 17th-century slave trader was dumped into Bristol Harbor; in Antwerp, a Belgian king who brutalized Congo was burned and ultimately removed.

 

China

New satellite images show that China has built new structures near the site of a Himalayan border clash that recently left 20 Indian troops dead. Bunkers, tents and storage units for military hardware are visible in an area where there were previously none. In response to the clash, India has suspended more than $600 million in deals with Chinese companies. A report by the International Federation of Journalists has found that China is strategically targeting journalists from non-English speaking countries to promote its global influence. The report identifies Chinese efforts to build control over messaging infrastructure through foreign media acquisitions and large-scale telecommunications ventures. China also recently completed its launch of Beidou, its rival global navigation system to GPS, after two decades.

 

Hong Kong 

The U.S. Senate has passed a pair of bills by unanimous consent to punish China for restricting Hong Kong’s autonomy. The Hong Kong Autonomy Act would impose sanctions on businesses and individuals that help China restrict Hong Kong’s autonomy. Details of China’s proposed national security law appear to upend Hong Kong’s independent legal system by allowing Beijing to override local laws while giving China the power to exercise jurisdiction over select criminal cases. Under this law, China would also set up a national security office in Hong Kong to gather intelligence and handle specific crimes. At a recent shopping protest against the proposed law, police arrested 14 people and deployed pepper spray. Activists estimate that at least 200 protesters from Hong Kong have fled to Taiwan, where authorities have discreetly allowed them to stay by extending tourist visas.

 

Myanmar 

Since June 2019, the Myanmar government has shut down internet services in the conflict-ridden Rakhine State, and this blackout has now been extended till August 2020. This move has drawn heavy criticism from humanitarian groups, who say that restrictions on information keep civilians in the dark about COVID-19 and impede aid distribution efforts. Ahead of Myanmar’s upcoming election, Myanmar military representatives have said that military personnel in the Tatmadaw will not be pressured to vote for any party. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is widely viewed as the proxy of the Myanmar military.

 

Zimbabwe 

Obadiah Moyo, Zimbabwe’s health minister, was arrested on Friday after the government came under pressure from the opposition and on social media over a scandal surrounding the procurement of coronavirus tests and equipment. He is facing corruption charges related to a $20 million contract awarded to a Hungary-registered firm. The government has not commented. Moyo is the second minister in Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cabinet to face corruption charges. This week, Zimbabwean President Mangagwa warned that his government will tackle “malpractices” that have undermined his government’s efforts to end an economic crisis, even though attempts to stabilize the economy have borne little fruit; consumer inflation is running at 786%; the country’s recently revived currency has collapsed; and the World Bank estimates the economy will shrink as much as 10% this year.

 

Chile

The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting social inequalities, including a serious digital divide in many countries. In Chile, about half the population lacks access to the internet, which is hurting many students’ ability to learn. Al Jazeera reports, a lack of technology is having a serious effect on millions of students in South America.

 

Iraq

Last week, Turkey’s Defense Ministry launched its first hybrid land-aerial operation dubbed “Operation Claw-Eagle,” that primarily targets the Kudistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq in an effort to “end terrorism at its roots.” However, on Friday the 19th of June, four civilians were killed in airstrikes that targeted 81 PKK sites; while, hundreds fled their villages in fear of further strikes. A demonstration in Duhok province the following day protesting the airstrikes turned violent, leaving two civilians severely injured. The Iraqi foreign ministry has submitted two letters of protest against the Turkish for violations of Iraq’s sovereignty and a second to Iran for the Iranian artillery bombardment of the region’s border villages. Further, Iraq reported record highs of nearly 2,500 new coronavirus cases and over 100 deaths on Thursday 25th June. 

 

Libya

On June 22nd, the Human Rights Council created a Fact-Finding Mission on Libya to investigate violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties to the Libya conflict since the beginning of 2016. The resolution passed by consensus. This happened as ceasefire talks continued to go through difficulties despite international calls for peace talks, as Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) rejected Egypt’s invitation to hold a meeting this past week.

 

Syria  

On the 22nd of June, a Syrian doctor was arrested in Germany on suspicion of carrying out “crimes against humanity” at a prison run by Syrian intelligence services in the city of Homs in 2011. The doctor, Alaa M, is accused of having “tortured a detainee… in at least two cases.” The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that at least 100,000 people have died from torture or horrific conditions in Syrian government prisons since the start of the civil war. Meanwhile, a French jihadist member, Tyler Vilus, is facing charges for crimes committed in 2013-2015 namely: belonging to the Terrorist group IS, heading a unit of the IS group fights and aggravated murder.

 

Lebanon 

President Michel Aoun, hosted a “national unity” meeting with the Lebanese government and its internal allies in Baabda on Thursday, 25th of June. However, opposition parties and civil society began boycotting the meeting the evening before with protesters taking to the streets across the country to denounce the dire economic and financial situation in Lebanon. Protesters blocked the Ashrafieh-Hamra lane of the Ring highway, which has become iconic of most anti-government protests in the state. Further tensions erupted between protesters and riot police which resulted in reports of injury. The aim of the meeting was to promote the “protection of stability and civil peace;” however, President Aoun also warned of an “atmosphere of civil war.”

 

Palestine 

Addressing a virtual meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, UN chief Antonio Guterres described Israel’s annexation plans as a “watershed moment” that will constitute a “most serious violation of international law.” The UN chief called for Israel to drop the US-backed plan which is scheduled to take effect beginning next week. This tension lay backdrop to the killing of Ahmad Erakat, nephew of a senior Palestinian official, by Israeli forces at a checkpoint in the West Bank on the 23rd of June. Israeli border police say that the suspect was attempting to run over an officer at the checkpoint in the Palestinian village of Abu Dis; however, Palestinian officials reject this allegation asserting the shooting as an “execution.” Erakat was on his way to his sister’s wedding.

 

Russia 

Russians have begun voting on constitutional reforms that could allow Vladimir Putin to serve another two terms in office as President. Although the official vote is scheduled for July 1, authorities have opened polling stations a week early to prevent overcrowding. Outside of a change that would allow Putin to lead Russia until 2036, other proposed reforms would give the president power to nominate top judges and prosecutors and effectively ban gay marriage. Russia also recently held its annual Victory Day parade in Moscow on June 24 amidst coronavirus concerns, in a show of force and patriotism. Separately, the president of Belarus has accused authorities in Russia and Poland of interfering in the country’s presidential election.

 

North Korea

After weeks of escalating rhetoric and an explosive bombing of the joint liaison office, North Korea has suspended plans to take “military action” against South Korea, according to state media. Pyongyang also began to dismantle loudspeakers it had erected only last week, which have traditionally been used to blast anti-South Korean messages over the border. South Korean President Moon Jae-In has issued an unusually stern warning to North Korea, stating that he would “respond resolutely to anyone who threatens our people’s safety or lives.” Elsewhere, the North Korean embassy in Moscow has reportedly threatened a “new round of the Korean War” to “put an end” to the United States.

 

Iran

According to a report released by the International Federation for Human Rights and the London-based rights group Justice for Iran, Iran’s state broadcaster, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), aired more than 860 forced confessions and defamatory content since 2009. The report discusses how Iran has systematically used forced confessions to “instil fear and repress dissent.” 

On the 25th of June, 15 students from the University of Mohaghegh Ardebili were suspended for organizing a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that was shot down by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in January this year. The university suspended the students to “help keep the university educational atmosphere healthy.” In January, Students in Tehran protested the IRGC by gathering outside their universities. Meanwhile, a resurgeness of coronavirus has increased Iran’s death toll to nearly 10,000.

 

Nicaragua 

Nicaragua’s opposition formally united Thursday with the goal of ousting President Daniel Ortega in elections next year. The formation of the National Coalition came one day after members of the Organization of American States met to discuss the deterioration of Nicaragua’s democracy under Ortega. Representatives from a broad spectrum of political parties and civic organizations signed onto the coalition promising to “fight for justice, democracy and against the dictatorship,” inside a hotel surrounded by police vehicles and anti-riot police. The Human Rights Watch reported this week that Nicaraguan authorities have fired at least 10 health workers in apparent retaliation for voicing concern about the Daniel Ortega government’s management of the Covid-19 health crisis. On May 18, 2020, more than 700 health workers from the public and private sectors signed a letter urging the government to acknowledge that the virus was spreading in Nicaragua and to put in place preventive measures recommended by the World Health Organization to limit its further spread.

 

Sudan

On June 25, 2020, a group of governments and multilateral organizations, known as the Friends of Sudan, which includes the USA, France, Germany, Britain, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, will hold a partnership conference in Berlin, Germany, to discuss support for the democratic transition and economic reforms set out in Sudan’s transitional constitution. Sudan’s president of 30 years, Omar al-Bashir, was ousted in April 2019 after months of popular protests across Sudan. A transitional military council took power, and during months of negotiations with civilian groups, its forces cracked down violently on protesters. In August, a power-sharing agreement between the military council and civilian groups was developed, but there has been little progress on accountability for the months of crackdowns on protesters.

 

Venezuela

This week, claims were heard in the high court that the Bank of England is unlawfully blocking the release of 31 tonnes of gold valued at nearly $1 billion and intended to combat the coronavirus in Venezuela. The leftwing and heavily sanctioned government of Nicolás Maduro claims the bars are being held hostage under the direction of the British government in a bid to curry favour with the US. But Maduro’s rival, Juan Guaidó, hailed as interim president of Venezuela by the UK Foreign Office in February 2019, claims the gold belongs to his parallel Central Bank, and that Maduro only wants the money to prop up his crumbling and corrupt regime.

 

Bolivia

Bolivia’s de-facto president Jeanine Áñez, on the night of June 21, enacted the law that calls to hold general elections on September 6. The decision was celebrated by citizens, social movements and trade unions, who have been mobilizing against Áñez’s mishandling of the health and economic emergencies caused by the pandemic since May 11.