Weekly Reports — CANVAS

Weekly Reports

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CANVAS produces a weekly report on several countries where nonviolent resistance can play an important role in confronting challenges to democracy, including Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, Syria, the United States, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

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Weekly August 23

Protesters in Zimbabwe: https://abcnews.go.com/International/thousands-march-zimbabwe-president-robert-mugabe-military-put/story?id=51242618

 

North Korea 

Talks of denuclearization between the United States and North Korea have stalled after North Korean diplomat called the U.S. Secretary of State a “diehard toxin”. South Korean officials have attempted to get talks back on track, though it is currently unclear as to whether more meetings will take place with Secretary Mike Pompeo involved. The continued launching of test missiles by North Korea has aided in maintaining heightened tensions, and the test launch of a missile by the United States (an action directed at Russia) has only further complicated the situation.

Nicaragua 

Protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega have continued outside the country in Costa Rica. Nicaraguan exiles who fled after the government crackdown in April have become increasingly vocal about the state of the country under Ortega. The economically spiraling nation has been dealt another blow, as it appears the 50 billion dollar canal project will officially fall through; the project, largely funded by a Chinese billionaire, has a contract that is set to expire in September, but construction is yet to start.

Brazil

The Amazon rainforest in Brazil has been set alight by thousands of deliberate fires, signaling an international environmental emergency. Pressure by the international community has failed to move Brazilian President Bolsonaro, who has blamed NGOs for the blaze (despite lack of proof). Many have blamed Bolsonaro for pushing deforestation in a bid to jump start the Brazilian economy. Leading scientists have warned that the scale of the fires in the Amazon will have dire consequences if something is not done.

Zimbabwe 

A Zimbabwean opposition MP has been arrested after riot police violently thwarted organized rallies against austerity measures; Amos Chibaya, organizing secretary for the Movement for Democratic Chance (MDC) party, is facing charges of disobeying a police ban on demonstrations.  This high profile arrest comes in the wake of a number of incidents reported to human rights activists, including the abduction and beating of comedian and satirist Samantha Kureya, who has now gone into hiding. Protestors gathered in Africa Unity Square to protest the ban, a number of opposition party members at the protest were arrested.

Venezuela 

The US and Venezuela confirm ‘secret talks’ between high profile officials, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro described the talks as a way to “normalise the conflict that exists with the US empire,” claiming that these talks have been ongoing for up to four months. The talks come at a time where President Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido are meeting in Norway in an effort to end the countries lengthy political stalemate. The UN estimates that at least four million Venezuelans have fled the country due to the crushing economic crisis.

Sudan 

The Sudan power-sharing deal between the Transitional Military Council and opposition leaders has come to fruition in the official appointing of a transitional Prime Minister and a Sovereign Council. The Sudanese Prime Minister is Abdalla Hamduk, who has worked at the UN as a senior economist since 2011. The Sovereign Council, headed by a military general, is made up of military and opposition leaders; the council will remain in place until elections are held roughly 39 months from now. Former dictator of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, appeared in court this week to face corruption charges; it is possible that he will face more charges in the future from the nation of Sudan or the International Criminal Court, who has accused him of genocide. Al-Bashir’s next hearing will take place in September.

Russia 

The crackdown on Russian protesters has intensified whilst Russian officials have blamed “foreign meddling” for the rise in government opposition. Protesters have continued to be beaten and jailed by government police forces, despite Russian officials’ alleged condemnation of police violence. Police action has not deterred protesters however, as last week’s demonstration of 60,000 people proved there to be growth in the movement.

Domestic protests are not the only issue concerning the Putin administration; since the nullification of the INF Treaty has led to the first test launch of a non-nuclear missile by the United States since the treaty was signed in 1987. In response to U.S. actions, Putin has promised to launch a parallel response.

Libya

UN envoy Ghassan Salame pushes for peace in war-weary Libya, as combatants begin to tire of the conflict. Salame sees an opening after both sides agree to a ceasefire over the Eid al-Adha holidays. Strongman Khalifa Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA), and Fayes Serraj, leader of the Government of National Accord (GNA), resumed the conflict soon after the holiday passed. However, Salame remains optimistic that the ongoing deadlock will strengthen his position that Libya needs a third option to achieve peace. Tentative international support has been offered to both leaders, but neither side has yet to make any serious gains.

Eritrea 

The Human Rights Watch has published an 87 page paper that describes the Eritrean secondary education system as a “conscription machine that subjects students to forced labour and physical abuse as they are groomed for indefinite government service.” the HRW report found that many Eritreans have spent their entire lives working for the Government, in either a military or civilian capacity. The Global Slavery Index estimates at 93 out of 1000 Eritreans are living in modern slavery, ranking the country at second worst in the world. Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at HRW stated: “Now that peace with Ethiopia is restored, reforms on human rights, starting with the rights and freedom of the country’s youth, need to follow.”

Hong Kong 

The Chinese government has been accused of backing an online campaign to disrupt the protests in Hong Kong through the spreading of false information. Facebook stated that “although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government”. In response, major social media platforms, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, have disabled accounts that appeared to be part of a campaign against pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters. Hundreds of accounts were suspended after the social media giants claimed that posts and videos concerning the Hong Kong protests were being uploaded in a deliberate and coordinated manner.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong activists have continued to protest; this week, there are reportedly plans for a protest led by accountants, as well as an event that will mimic the Baltic Chain. Large companies have started to apply pressure to the Chinese government, as Hong Kong is on the brink of economic recession, but Chinese officials have yet to meet the demands of protesters.

Weekly Report August 2nd

Weekly Report August 2nd

Cuba

Though Cuba, is one of the least wired nations in the Western Hemisphere, on Monday the communist-run nation took a step that may soon solve its disconnection after putting into place a new regulation that allows the creation of private wired and Wi-Fi internet networks in homes and businesses and allow the importation of routers and other networking equipment — though still giving the government’s iron-fisted monopoly over commercial internet access. 

That wasn’t the only good news for Cubans: US Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the “Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019” that would lift the congressional ban on American travel to Cuba, which was signed in 1996 by Bill Clinton under the Helms-Burton Act.  It is the only congressional law that prohibits Americans from visiting a country.

While Congress has sought to cease long-standing tensions, further ignited by President Trump, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel blamed Washington D.C. and its Secretary of State as “ignorant of the history and principles of the Cuban Revolution.” Cuban officials have denounced Pompeo’s claim that Cuba controls the political and oil elite in Venezuela. 

Nicaragua

On Wednesday, opposition leaders went back to the negotiating table but there was no one from the government to negotiate with. The Civic Alliance opposition group accused the Ortega administration of intransigence saying “the ability to re-establish (dialogue) depends on diplomatic efforts by the Organization of American States.” According to the Alliance, “the political, social and economic crisis continues to deteriorate and the civic path is the one chosen by the Nicaraguan people.” This week, the Nicaraguan government  made a controversial move by granting citizenship to Mauricio Funes, ex-President of El Salvador and his family.  Funes served as President of El Salvador from 2009 to 2014 has been in Nicaragua since 2016 seeking political asylum. He is wanted for allegations of embezzlement and illicit enrichment, diverting $351 million in public funds, which he denies. With Nicaraguan citizenship, he is now under the protection of the Nicaraguan constitution which explicitly prohibits extradition of Nicaraguan nationals. 

North Korea

North Korea continued to fire missiles this week, further heightening tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul. North Korea stated that the missiles are in response to the continued U.S. military drills in the region, though Washington has not stopped the drills. The Trump administration has downplayed the missile launches and has voiced the desire for continued diplomatic talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho cancelled plans to attend the ASEAN regional forum where U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pomepeo was hoping to meet with North Korean counterparts. As of now, there are no formal plans for talks between Pyongyang and Washington. 

Myanmar

On Thursday, the Arakan Army released 52 villagers from holding in western Myanmar. The 52 prisoners, comprised of ethnic Khumi villagers, were detained over six months ago. The Arakan Army claimed the villagers were fleeing from a nearby fight, and had asked for help from the Arakan Army. Bystanders and fellow villagers deny this claim; spectators said that the soldiers arrived to the village and called on people to meet near the church. Upon arrival, the villagers were detained and sent to a border camp without consent. Alleged abductions have ravaged Myanmar for months, picking up recently in March. According to RFA, five people have been killed while in police or military custody since March of 2019.

United States

US oil prices collapsed Thursday after President Donald Trump fired another shot in the US-China trade war vowing to impose a 10% tariff on another $300 billion of US imports from China. The demand worried investors that a severe economic slowdown could eat into demand for oil and other commodities. The escalation also raises the risk that China will retaliate by imposing tariffs on US oil. The collapse coincided with the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates for the first time since the Great Recession. President Trump did not just attack foriegn trade-adversaries but American cities and congressmen. After a racist attack on Rep. Elijah Cummings and his majority-black district of Baltimore, President Trump racistly lambasted other liberal hubs like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago as having higher crime rate than Afghanistan. A campaign spokesman for the Trump Team remarked that as long as progressive Democrats maintain their current positions on immigration, taxes and health care, Trump can use them to his advantage as “socialist.” This did stop progressive Democrats on Tuesday and Wednesday night at the second presidential debate from betting on more radical reforms like medicare for all, slavery reperations, and impeachment. Regardless, an evident progressive-moderate rift further divided the party vis-a-vis 2016 Bernie Sanders contra Hilary Clinton. 

(Un)Diplomatically, the United States formally let the historic Cold War pact expire by pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to develop its own new warheads after the Russians refused to destroy their new missiles, which NATO says violate the pact. Secondly, the US slapped sanctions on Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the latest move by Washington in its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. Zarif brushed off the sanctions on Twitter, saying the US move indicated Washington saw him as a “threat” was “childish.” 

Cambodia

In mid-July, the US House of Representatives unanimously voted to pass the Cambodia Democracy Act to “encourage free and fair elections, the respect for human rights and political rights as well as to impose economic sanction and restrict visas for Hun Sen’s senior officials for their undermining democracy and violating human rights in Cambodia.” However, Cambodian officials have reacted negatively to the move, claiming that it threatens to cut ties with the two nations. With rising tensions, Cambodian officials have asked American diplomats to “pack up and leave” after the American embassy in Phnom Penh made a Facebook post highlighting the “one-year anniversary of deeply flawed national elections in Cambodia.”

Maldives

The former Vice President of Maldives, Ahmed Adeeb, has been detained trying to enter India by sea this Thursday. Adeeb made news in 2015, becoming the country’s youngest Vice President, at 33 years old. Months later, he was arrested on charges of corruption and money laundering as well as plotting to kill the president. He was then jailed for 33 years in a trial widely recognized as unfair. Mid-July, Adeeb was freed from house imprisonment by appeal courts that claimed his imprisonment was part of former president Yameen’s effort to stifle opposition. Adeeb is a key witness in the trial on corruption charges of former president Yameen. Adeeb himself claims that he fled in fear for his life. 

Zimbabwe

A year after former dictator Robert Mugabe was deposed, Zimbabwe’s economic and environmental situation is rapidly deteriorating. A water crisis has gripped the country, leaving many citizens to wait in long lines for minimal access to water. In Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, more than half of the city’s 4.5 million residents only have access to running water once a week. This is due to the fact that Zimbabwe has experienced a drought that has left two out of four of Harare’s water reservoirs empty. The remaining water is under poor management and plagued by problems such as leakage and theft, leaving 45-60% of the remaining water to be lost. Relief from the shortage does not seem to be on the way, as residents daily lives are upended as they wait for water. The economic situation in the country is also in a dire state, with inflation reaching over 175%. There is widespread fear that the conditions could return to 2008, when the country was in a severe economic crisis where inflation was in the hundreds of millions. On top of the inflation, residents are facing daily blackouts and fuel shortages. The new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has done little to relieve the crisis and is bent on placing blame with political opponents. Many Zimbabweans are losing hope, while many political analysts are predicting a return to instability.  

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The second ebola-related death has been reported in the border-city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over 1,600 people in the DRC have died of ebola in the past year, though cases have been contained to more remote areas; the presence of ebola in Goma has led to fears that the disease will spread across the border to Rwanda. In response to the death in Goma, Rwanda has closed its borders near the Congolese city. 

Venezuela

Carlos Vecchio, who represents opposition leader Juan Guaido, announced in a speech in Washington D.C. that talks will resume between Nicolas Maduro. Without giving details relating to the talks, Vecchio described Maduro as an “obstacle to peace.” The two sides held Nowegian-mediated talks for several days earlier this month in Barbados but nothing came from it. While both sides rhetorically have insisted for peace, Maduro is methodologically cracking on dissent. Later this week, news revealing Venezuela as a new arena of proxy geopolitics, after President Donald Trump said he may order a blockade of Venezuela on Thursday with the hopes of crippling Venezuela’s leadership. Meanwhile, reports revealing Russian oil ships sailing thousands of miles to sanction-stained Venezuela buying over one million Russian barrels of oil. In another twist, the aforementioned Vecchio said Chinese technicians are working with Venezuelan strongman Maduro to knock out internet access in the country.

Malaysia

Pahang’s Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin, was installed as Malaysia’s 16th Malaysian King on Tuesday, July 30th in a ceremony steeped in royal customs and tradition. The installation came six months after the surprise abdication of his predecessor, Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan. The 60-year-old ruler of the state of Pahang was crowned king for the next five years in a ceremony at the Istana Negara, the national palace in Kuala Lumpur. The power turnover is unique to Malaysia, which is a constitutional monarchy, whereby the national throne changes hands every five years between royal rulers of the country’s nine states.

Philippines

The Philippines have “staged” a diplomatic protest against China after reports claim that more than  100 Chinese fishing vessels were spotted in recent days about a Philippine-administered island in the South China Sea. The country’s national security advisor recommended the filing of the protest against China. The Philippines and China (along with multiple other countries) have been competing for influence over the South China Sea, a resource-rich maritime area that has been economically vital to all countries of interest. In a statement on Tuesday, Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana accused the Chinese of bullying, citing recent actions in territories claimed by Beijing. 

On July 30, Global Witness published a robust report calling the Philippines the deadliest country in the world” for land and environmental defenders. The report outlines the repression and killings of environmental activists all over the country, According to their findings, Global Witness put the Philippines at the top of the list for total number of killings at 30 activists. 

Thailand

At least four people were injured on Friday when several small bombs went off in the Thai capital Bangkok during the morning rush hour. The explosions sounded as the city hosted a regional security meeting of foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with representatives from the United States, China and Russia. While the bombs were central, they were not close or related to the ASEAN. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha has already ordered an investigation into the several small explosions and no immediate claim of responsibility.

Vietnam

On August 5, the EU will sign a new defense agreement with Vietnam, which will be the first that the EU has with a Southeast Asian nation. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s chief diplomat, said that the agreement will be for “Vietnam’s participation in European military and civilian missions.” The EU will also sign a Framework Participation Agreement with Vietnam, which will make Vietnam a part of the EU’s crisis management operations as well as allowing it to contribute to operations and missions under the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy. The EU sees many reasons to increase cooperation with Vietnam, in large part due to wanting to influence the nation to pressuring China on the issue of Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea. The EU also wants more leverage in Southeast Asian affairs, and sees Vietnam as the path to it. Vietnam is also joining the UN Security Council for the next two years, which will see the country  working on international diplomacy with several EU member states. 

Iran

The United States government announced new sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif calling him the “regime’s primary spokesperson around the world.”  In response, Mr. Zarif tweeted, “The US’ reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s ‘primary spokesperson around the world’ Is the truth really that painful? It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran.  Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda.” Additionally, the US extended waivers allowing Russia, China and European countries to “continue civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran.” According to White House security advisor John Bolton, “the idea here is we are watching those nuclear activities very, very closely.”

Sudan

Talks between Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) and protest leaders have been cancelled in response to the shooting of peaceful student protestors. Rapid Support Forces (RSF) fired on children who were protesting food and water shortages, killing at least four people. The massacre has led to the closure of schools in the area and heightened tensions have led to continued protests in the nation. The recent events put into question the power-sharing deal signed by military and protest leaders in July. 

 

It has been announced that the trial of former Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir will begin on August 17th; al-Bashir is being tried on corruption charges. Despite external pressure from the African Union, it is unknown whether there will be trials held for those responsible for the shooting of student protestors. 

Russia

On Saturday in Moscow, an estimated ten thousand protesters took to the streets after election officials barred around 30 opposition-leaning candidates from running for the 45-seat Moscow-city legislature on the grounds they failed to garner enough signatures to qualify. The barred leaders assert they did gather the required signature count but were disqualified by election officials in the pocket of authoritarian President Vladmir Putin. Leading opposition leader and figurehead, Alexei Navalny, was present, hobnobbing and shaking protesters’ hands, and talking to the candidates who were not registered. While Russian opposition leaders tend to be factitious, demands for free and fair elections is one of the rare issues that unite the usually divided opposition.

Libya

Libya’s Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha announced plans to shut down three of its biggest migration detention centres in Misrata, Tajoura and Khoms following criticism that migrants were being returned to Tajoura after it was hit by a deadly missile attack in July. In the wake of the “outrageous” attack,the UN’s Libya envoy Ghassan Salamé and top human rights official Michelle Bachelet said it could amount to a war crime. But the UN Security Council failed to condemn it after the US declined to endorse a joint statement, according to diplomats. While Renegade commander Khalifa Haftar‘s forces appear to have made little progress as they resort to using more powerful weapons, resulting in more casualties. The UN envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame has also called for a truce on the Muslim holiday of Eid as the conflict deepens.

Hong Kong

 

For the third straight week, violent protests and clashes with police in Hong Kong have unfolded, capping off two months of rolling public demonstrations against China and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam. While the protests are ongoing, on Monday, China offered its full support to Hong Kong’s embattled leader and its police force, and said violent protesters must be swiftly punished, in rare remarks by the government office that oversees policy towards the territory. It came days after a People’s Liberation Army spokesman hinted that military force could be used to bring to heel the anti-government demonstrations to an end. China’s rhetoric matched its rulesless and ruthless arrest of eight people, including a prominent pro-independence activist, on suspicion of having offensive weapons and explosives, ahead of a weekend of mass protests on Friday. Days earlier, forty-four Hong Kongers were arrested, detained, and later released without charges, including pro-democracy leader Johnson Yeung. 

Iraq

The Iraqi government announced this week that around $10 million in aid for displaced Iraqis in northern Iraq’s Nineveh province was embezzled by its fugitive ex-governor. The country’s anti-corruption commission said that the funds, which were meant to help 1.6 million Iraqis currently living in displacement camps, were transferred to Kurdistan. Kurdistan is an autonomous region where the governor, Nawfel Akoub, is thought to be in hiding. Nineveh is the province where ISIS set up base in Iraq, forcing millions to flee from their homes. Public services in the province have not been reestablished, keeping many from their homes. 

UN experts warned in a report released this week that ISIS is aiming for a resurgence in Iraq and Syria. The report says that ISIS leaders are consolidating power to create a resurgence of the group in the region. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, along with most of the group’s leadership, is now based in Iraq following the fall of their “caliphate.” The experts warn that as the group continues to gain strength, terrorists attacks like the ISIS-inspired Easter Day Bombings in Sri Lanka can become more common before the end of 2019. 

Other News:

Bono, Nigeria: In a suspected revenge attack, terrorist group Boko Haram have been killed at least 65 people after opening fire on a funeral in Nigeria’s north-eastern state of Borno. Gunmen arrived on motorcycles and in vans at the village near the state capital, Maiduguri, on Saturday. reportedly killing mourners straight away, while others died trying to chase off the attackers. Local government official Muhammed Bulama said the latest attack was in revenge for the killing of 11 Boko Haram fighters by the villagers two weeks ago; however, Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris said that while there has been no claim of responsibility, the attack bore the hallmark of Boko Haram.

 Brazil: Brazil, a country with the third country largest carceral system in the world, saw over 57 people were killed in a prison riot in Brazil on Monday. Rival gangs battled for five hours, officials say, when gang members from one prison block invaded another part of Altamira jail in Pará state. Sixteen of the dead were decapitated and the remainder suffocated after part of the prison was set on fire. Two prison officers who were taken hostage have since been freed. Members of the Comando Classe A (CCA) gang set fire to a cell where rival gang members from Comando Vermelho (Red Command) were kept, the Pará state government said in a statement.

Hawaii: Starting July 15, a protest on the big island near Maunakea quickly gained traction within weeks. Starting with a handful of native-Hawaiin elders who were blocking the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project, the crowd grew to 2,000, even drawing in celebrities such as Bruno Mars, Jason Mamoa, and the Rock. When asked about their thoughts, many leaders of the protest claim they are not against science or the construction of the project. However, they are opposed to its construction on historical and culturally-important land. On Tuesday, Gov. David Ige rescinded an emergency proclamation that was issued to help remove demonstrators. However, he has also extended the permit for the construction of the telescope, reminding the people of his commitment to make this project work peacefully. 

 

Weekly Report: 26 July 2019

Protests in Moscow (REUTERS)

Cuba

The recent brain scans of Cuba-based American diplomats insinuate some sort of brain damage; in late 2016, multiple staff members at the U.S. embassy in Cuba reported concussion-like symptoms, leading the United States to expel two Cuban diplomats. Dubbed “Havana Syndrome”, the mystery illness led to accusations of sonic attacks by Cuba. While no evidence of sonically capable technology has been found, recent images of the diplomats’ brains shows various abnormalities; although the scans appear to prove something happened, findings are inconclusive. Cuba has denied any possibility of a sonic attack and pointed out that U.S. diplomats have experienced the described symptoms in other locations

Gabon

A former member of the Gabonese parliament, Bertrand Zibi Abeghe, was sentenced to six years in prison for his role in instigating post-electoral violence. The Libreville Criminal Court sentenced Abeghe on charges of “violence and assault” and “illegal possession of a firearm.” His arrest stems from the 2016 elections in which he supported Jean Ping in the disputed election against longtime Gabonese President Ali Bongo, who first came to power in 2009. 

Nicaragua

A group of students submitted a request to stage a protest for National Student Day, despite the ban on protests that was implemented by the Nicaraguan government in September of 2018. The objective of the protest, the students say, is to reaffirm the demand for university autonomy. Despite direct warning from Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua, the students plan to hold the protest on July 25. A government spokesperson called the students “delinquents,” further causing tension leading up to the protest.

North Korea

This Monday, North Korea publicized its claim that 99.98% of eligible voters cast their ballot in city, district and provincial elections. The electoral ballot has only one candidate on it, approved by the state, and the voters can either tick ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ under the name. The sham elections are ostensibly held periodically to perform a theatrical vision of unity between people and the state in North Korea.

On Thursday, North Korea launched missiles into the Sea of Japan during a joint military drill between the US and South Korea, raising military tensions just less than a month after US President Trump visited North Korea. South Korean authorities have declared that the launches are a military threat, raising tensions in the region further. North Korea declared that it could cancel its moratorium on nuclear testing over the drills. 

Myanmar

Myanmar’s conflict-ridden Rakhine state is in the midst of an information blackout, as an internet shutdown enters its fifth week. Human rights groups in Myanmar say the move by the government is detrimental to the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands of civilians displaced by armed conflict, as well as a way to provide cover for abuses committed by the government. The government initially ordered the shutdown due to fighting between government forces and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine armed group fighting for greater autonomy in the Rakhine state. The internet shutdown has, according to the U.S. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, prevented reports of army atrocities from reaching outside news sources. The shutdown has also hampered critical information from reaching the state, such as flood warnings during the country’s current monsoon season. 

United States

This week, former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence. Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election culminated in the “Mueller Report” which explored allegations of Trump-Russia relations, election meddling and obstruction of justice; the Mueller hearing sought to clarify the conclusions drawn in the report. Both Republicans and Democrats were hoping for significant statements and findings to come out of the hearing; Republicans aimed to discredit the findings of the report and excuse Trump’s actions, while Democrats attempted to demonize the actions of President Trump and his indicted associates further than was expressed in the report. Overall, the hearing failed to specifically serve the Democratic or Republican agendas and was instead dubbed by the media as a “disaster” with no consequential conclusions.   

Cambodia

Human Rights Watch has called on the Cambodian authorities to release two ex-Radio Free Asia journalists who are about to go on trial for espionage charges. Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were arrested in 2017 and charged with supplying a foreign state with information prejudicial to Cambodia’s national defense under article 445 of the criminal code, an offense punishable by a prison term of 7 to 15 years. The arrests came after Radio Free Asia shut down its Cambodian operation after accusing Cambodian government officials of harassing their reporters. The trial is set to begin on July 26th. 

Maldives

The former president of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, pled not guilty to charges of money laundering on Sunday, in the first hearing of a nationally televised criminal court case accusing Yameen of profiting off government funds in exchange for exclusive hotel developments in the tropical island. During his tenure as president, Yameen drew the Indian Ocean archipelago-country closer to China, in a geo-political tug-of-war with India. In doing so, he became closely associated with private companies, and is accused of handing development deals to executives, and receiving over one million dollars of government money through a private company, SOF Private Ltd, for his favors. The corruption scandal, originally uncovered by an internal audit, has also implicated several other leading politicians and businessmen, all of whom have denied any wrongdoing. Yameen, unexpectedly lost an election last year, and was subsequently arrested in February. He has repeatedly denied the allegations against him.

Zimbabwe

A Zimbabwe court has ruled that the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) through their titles Herald, Chronicle among others were found to have failed to live up to their constitutional obligations. The judge found that both institutions were guilty of lacking impartiality in coverage and failure to accommodate dissenting views during the 2018 general elections. The ruling is a blow to large media outlets in the country and is a victory for many activists who have been fighting for greater freedom in Zimbabwe. 

Laos

This week, the Lao government issued a decree on a new moral and ethical code for Laotian civil servants. The code stipulates fair treatment of citizens and a more stringent attitude against corruption — not taking bribes or abusing their position. This decree is part of Laos’ ruling party’s effort to combat widespread corruption in the country, mirroring the campaigns in other communist states in the region, China and Vietnam. However, the campaigns in all three countries have served more as purges of the civil service and the parties rather than an establishment of proper institutional oversight.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The head of the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC is reporting this week that ethnic violence in northeastern part of the country is preventing refugees from returning to their homes. In the Ituri Province, violence between Lendu farmers and Hema herders resulted in more than 350,000 fleeing from their homes. The deteriorating security situation in the region is hindering the return process that has been taking place since 2018. 

The World Bank announced on Wednesday that it was deploying an additional $300 million in crisis aid to the DRC to help stop the spread of ebola, which has plunged the country into a health crisis for the past year. Last week, the World Health Organization declared the most recent outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Since last August, there have been over 2,500 cases of Ebola in the DRC, with more than 1,700 dying from the illness.

Venezuela

A major blackout paralyzed the city of Caracas this week in a continuation of power shortages that have been plaguing Venezuelans for months. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó used the most recent blackout to bring attention to the incompetence of the current administration; President Nicolás Maduro claimed that the blackout was a result of an attack by foriegn agents– an accusation he has made during past power shortages. On July 15th the Lima Group, an organization that includes Canada and a dozen Latin American countries, expressed their support for Guaidó and urged Maduró to allow free democratic elections. Despite the rising tension in the region and pressure from the international community, Maduró has expressed no plans to cede power.

Malaysia

The Malaysian Senate has extended the franchise to thousands of people by voting to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. The bill also allows for automatic voter registration and the lowering of the minimum age for elected representatives to 18. 

After a standoff with China last week, Malaysia restarted cooperation with China on a massive infrastructure project in northern Malaysia as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Malaysia managed to reduce the price of the project by a third.

Philippines

A cyber-libel trial against the editor of the news site Rappler, an influential Philippines online news site critical of President Rodrigo Duterte, started on Tuesday in a case widely seen as Duterte seeking to intimidate journalists and suppress critics of his widespread abuse and human rights violations. Maria Ressa, the journalist in-question, describes her overnight arrest in 2012 as “baseless and preposterous,” adding that how the court rules “will have an impact on all Filipinos who post on Facebook – and of course, the quality of journalism in the digital age in the Philippines.” Moreover, the cyberlaw she is accused of breaking, was enacted four months after the 2012 incident in which Rappler alleged ties between a Philippine businessman, Wilfredo D Keng, and a high court judge

Thailand

The Human Rights Watch has published a piece that criticizes the Thai government of disregarding human rights as the Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s second term begins: “The new Thai government’s policy statement fails to provide a pathway for restoring respect for human rights after five years of military rule,” Human Rights Watch said today. According the HRW, Prayuth submitted a report that is supposed to outline his agenda while in office. However, the 40-page report fails to outline any plan to address human rights issues in the country, which have been an area of concern for years now. 

Vietnam

On Monday, July 22nd, Vietnam launched Gapo, a home-grown social network, in an attempt to tighten the regime’s grip on the internet and social media, while luring users away from Facebook, which is very popular in the country. Vietnam’s increasing control over the internet and social media is troubling, as social media sites have been the last refuge for activists and dissidents, with independent media quashed and blogs being shut down by the government routinely. 

In the South China Sea, the standoff between China and Vietnam has intensified. Vietnam has deployed vessels near a Chinese oil block in the South China Sea. The move has been criticized by other countries in the region, with Philippines warning Vietnam that it risks armed hostilities with China

Iran

Iran claimed this week that it has arrested 17 Iranian nationals allegedly recruited by the CIA to spy on the country’s nuclear and military sites. Iran says that some of those arrested have already been sentenced to death, although it is not clear how many death sentences were handed out. Donald Trump has rejected the claim, tweeting that “The Report of Iran capturing CIA spies is totally false.”

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran announced on Wednesday that Iran might release a British tanker the country seized last week in exchange for the return of an Iranian ship seized by the British military off the coast of Gibraltar. The British seized the Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of violating a European Union embargo on the sale of oil to Syria. Iran in return seized the British ship in the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, claiming that it had collided with a fishing boat and violated international law. The offer is seen as a potential gesture toward reducing the escalating tensions between Iran and the West.

Sudan

The second part of the power-sharing deal is yet to be signed by the opposition group, who are seeking a postponement. The creation of a constitutional document is reportedly causing problems between the two sides, as is the matter of whether military leaders will be granted immunity from prosecution for the killing of civilians. The Revolutionary Front, a sect of the pro-democracy movement, has rejected the power-sharing deal, signifying the potential of a divide in the opposition party. As time goes on without a solidified deal, the Sudanese people have taken to the streets to protest the massacre of civilians by the Transitional Military Council. 

Russia

On Saturday in Moscow, an estimated ten thousand protesters took to the streets after election officials barred around 30 opposition-leaning candidates from running for the 45-seat Moscow-city legislature on the grounds they failed to garner enough signatures to qualify. The barred leaders assert they did gather the required signature count but were disqualified by election officials in the pocket of authoritarian President Vladmir Putin. Leading opposition leader and figurehead, Alexei Navalny, was present, hobnobbing and shaking protesters’ hands, and talking to the candidates who were not registered. While Russian opposition leaders tend to be factitious, demands for free and fair elections is one of the rare issues that unite the usually divided opposition.

Libya

Two refugee ships going from Libya to Europe capsized by the coast of Libya, resulting in 150 deaths. Over 130 people were rescued on the coast and returned to Libya. This tragedy prompted statements from UNHCR and other human rights organizations about the necessity of changing the process of crossing the Mediterranean and minimizing unnecessary tragedies. 

The head of Libya’s High Council of State, Khalid al-Mishri, declared that the UN-backed Government of National Accord will not negotiate with parties that utilize violence to achieve their goals. This statement continues to rule out the possibility of the GNA negotiating with militias run by Haftar, but al-Mishri discussed a possibility of returning to the political process run by the UN. 

Eritrea

Despite beginning just one year ago, peace talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea have stalled, leaving many emotional and confused. Initial peace talks aimed at normalizing relations led to quickly re-opened embassies, meetings and resumed flight schedules across the region.  However, many goals have been unmet including trade deals providing Ethiopia with access to Eritrea’s ports. The border which was opened just one year ago, has now been closed, inconveniencing many and serving as a symbol of failure.  While the two nations continue diplomatic talks, the media and the public have been shut out from the details, unaware of what is preventing forward progress. Many are pointing the finger at Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, believing his desire to hold onto power is limiting partnerships with the Ethiopian government.

Hong Kong

Tensions due to protests in Hong Kong have escalated. Activists and lawmakers are accusing Hong Kong police of merely standing by after forty-five people were beaten with sticks and hospitalized during this week’s protests. Video footage shows a group of masked men storming a transit station in Yuen Long and beating dozens of passengers including a woman holding a child and a pregnant woman. Ray Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker tweeted “Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest cop to population ratio. Where were @hkpoliceforce?” Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho has been accused of hiring the men to attack the protestors. The Hong Kong police have since arrested 5 individuals believed to be part of the attack. Wednesday, China said it was willing to use force to contain the protests, “The behavior of some radical protesters challenges the central government’s authority, touching on the bottom line principle of ‘one country, two systems,’” said the chief spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, Senior Col. Wu Qian. “That absolutely cannot be tolerated.”

Iraq

An Islamic State sleeper cell was arrested in Nineveh, Iraq on Monday. The group, called “Baghdadi’s Men”  included a senior aide to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Members of the sleeper cell confessed to terrorist acts in Syria and Egypt against foreign embassies and churches and admitted to authorities they had plotted to commit similar terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians in the Nineveh province.

Other News:

Puerto Rico:  After days of protests that filled the streets of San Juan, the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló announced he will be stepping down on August 2nd. The protests were sparked after group messages were leaked in which Rosselló used homophobic and misogynistic language, as well as made fun of the victims of Hurricane Maria. Rosselló was also found out to manipulate public polls to boost his own image. However, in an atmosphere of broad political distrust, Rosselló’s successor did not evoke much joy in the protesters. When Wanda Vázquez, the Justice Secretary, was announced as Rosselló’s replacement, the protesters erupted in boos, saying they will not stop protesting until the system is shaken up.

Ukraine: After winning by a landslide in April, President Volodumr Zelensky, a former comedian turned politician, called an early parliamentary snap election seeking to consolidate parliamentary power. With half the votes counted on Monday, Zelenskiy’s party Servant Of The People (SOTP) was on course to win an absolute majority in the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, with win 42% of the vote, with a strong showing in single-mandate districts. If successful, it would be the first time in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history that a single party commands an outright majority. Four other parties are expected to reach the 5% threshold to enter parliament with the pro-Russian Opposition Party coming in second with 13%. The party of former president Petro Poroshenko, who was trounced by Zelenskiy in the presidential elections, came third, while parties led by veteran politician Yulia Tymoshenko and the country’s best-known rock star, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, were also set to gain seats with around 6%.

UK: Boris Johnson, after winning the race for leader of the Conservative Party in a 2:1 victory, has taken office as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. On Wednesday Johnson formed his cabinet, packing it with hardline Brexiteers like Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg in hopes of delivering his DUDE promise: Deliver Brexit, Unite Britain, Defeat Corbyn, and Energize England. Prime Minister Johnson has committed to deliver Brexit by October 31st, deal or no-deal, which, according to experts, would send shockwaves to the country’s economy and its political relationship to Brussels.