Weekly Reports — CANVAS

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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 Report: 17 May 2019

People take part in a rally in support of same-sex marriage near the Presidential Office in Taipei on November 18, 2018, ahead of a landmark vote on LGBT rights on November 24. CHRIS STOWERS/AFP/Getty Images

Cuba

Cuba announced this week that rationing would begin on basic food items such as chicken, eggs, and sausages, as well as hygiene/cleaning products. In addition to the cut-back on basic supplies, Cuba has also faced a shortage of oil coming from Venezuela in the wake of their own economic crisis. The decision to begin rationing comes after weeks of empty store shelves and markets in the wake of Trump’s increased sanctions against the “troika of tyranny”: Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. The move is part of the Trump administration’s latest effort to put pressure on Nicolas Maduro’s regime and allies.

The 12th annual march against homophobia in Havana ended Saturday with a number of arrests and violent clashes between protesters and police. The official “Cuban Conga Against Homophobia and Transphobia” was initially canceled last week because of “new tensions in the international and regional context”. Despite its cancellation, more than 100 demonstrators still showed up to recognize the day. Without permission from the government to march, those present were met with a number of police and state security officers willing to use violence in order to stop the event.

Gabon

This week, over 350 containers of protected hardwood disappeared in Gabon, the wood worth nearly $250 million. The government of Gabon has vowed to find and punish all who are responsible for the disappearance. The hardwood stolen was from the rare kevazingo tree, which is protected by law, but remains in high demand in Asia.

Nicaragua

The Catholic church has been involved in the mediation talks, known as the National Dialogue, between Ortega’s government and the opposition, and thus far Bishop Guevara has stated that the government has “no intention of seeking a peaceful solution to the socio-political crisis”. Rosario Murillo, wife of Daniel Ortega and vice president of Nicaragua, insists that the government is doing its part at the negotiation table, despite opposition leaders claim that over 640 people are being held following arrests, mostly due to anti-government protests. Ortega promised to release political prisoners within 90 days, a deadline that expires on June 18.

North Korea

The United States seized a North Korean cargo ship late last week after accusing it of violating international sanctions. American prosecutors say that the ship was being used to export coal and heavy machinery in violation of the sanctions, and was initially detained in Indonesia last year. Just hours after North Korea fired off two short-range missiles on Thursday, US officials announced that the boat was being impounded to American Samoa. In response to the boat’s seizure, Kim Jong Un has called for “full combat posture” and demanded the return of the ship, calling the action an “unlawful robbery”.

North Korea announced this week that they are experiencing the worst drought the country has seen in nearly 40 years. The news comes shortly after the UN released a report saying that as many as 10 million, or 40 percent of North Koreans were “in urgent need of food assistance”. The country’s state media outlet has reported that only 21 inches of rain has fallen since the beginning of the year – the lowest levels since 1982. With the drought and food shortages already happening, it is estimated that the North will need to import as much as 1.5 million tons of food to make up for their current shortages. While North Korean media has reported that sanctions against the country have worsened the food crisis, it is unclear what effect they have actually had, as sanctions do not ban humanitarian aid.

Myanmar

On Tuesday, a UN fact finding mission called on  influential world powers to cut financial ties and other forms of support to Myanmar, as top generals must be held accountable for violence and human rights abuses inflicted upon Rohingya Muslims. Australian human rights lawyer, Christopher Sidoti, stated that the severance of financial support would have the dual effect of boosting pressure and reducing violence in the country. The UN panel also stated that they continue to receive reports of human rights abuses in the Rakhine and Chin states, abuses that have now displaced over 30,000 people.

United States

The United States’ trade war with China continued to escalate in a big way this week, with US stocks suffering their biggest one-day loss since the beginning of January on Monday. Late last week, President Trump announced the US would more than double tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. In retaliation, China announced it would raise tariffs on $60 billion of US goods starting on June 1st. Experts say that these recent actions could affect economic growth in both countries, though neither shows any signs of backing down.

Alabama became the latest state to restrict abortions this week by passing a bill banning the procedure in almost all cases, including those of rape or incest. Under the new law, doctors could face up to 99 years in prison for carrying out the procedure. This law comes shortly after Georgia passed the “heartbeat bill” which bans abortions after 6 weeks – the point when a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected. Other states, including Ohio, Kentucky, and Mississippi are also in the process of passing a similar bill. The strict bans are expected to go to court, eventually working their way up to the US Supreme Court where Republican lawmakers hope Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Passed in 1973, Roe v. Wade determined that women had a constitutional “right to privacy”, protecting their decision to have an abortion.

Cambodia

The Human Rights Watch has called on Cambodia to cease harassment of opposition party members in courts, as the Battambang prosecutor Ky Bunnara summoned 25 former officials from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to appear in court for questioning on May 8. Despite the former CNRP having since been dissolved, former opposition members have been vocal on social media outlets regarding their denouncement of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government. Brad Adams, Asia director with the Human Rights Watch, stated, “the government should immediately end the political harassment campaign against the CNRP and drop this latest batch of absurd court cases”.

Mexico

Volunteer search groups in Mexico’s states of Jalisco and Sonora discovered 45 bodies this week in two “clandestine burial sites”. The bodies found were likely kidnap victims or rivals of drug cartels, and killed just a few weeks ago. As homicides in Mexico continue to rise and the government remains largely inactive in searching for missing persons, volunteer groups like those that found the bodies are becoming more common. The groups are usually organized by people looking for missing family members, and are mostly comprised of women.

Maldives

Former President, Mohamed Nasheed, has called for thorough screenings of Islamic priests visiting the Maldives, in response to the extreme caution those living in the Maldives are taking following the attacks in Sri Lanka. On Friday May 10, Nasheed tweeted, “While we are not certain if Zahran Hashim came to the Maldives in 2016 as a preacher, we should screen well before allowing people to come here posing as sheikhs and preachers”.

Zimbabwe

People in Zimbabwe experienced some of the worst rolling blackouts in 3 years this week. The cause of the blackout stems from a drought hitting the Kariba Dam hydropower station, forcing the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority to either scale back or potentially face full outages 4 months from now. For now, households are expected to be without power for 10 hours per day, though this could change depending on how much rainfall the DRC and Zambia receive. The power cuts will also hurt the mining industry, which requires electricity for operations and safety. With mining making up more than ? of Zimbabwe’s export earnings last year, this will have a direct negative effect on Zimbabwe’s already failing economy.

Laos

The fatal hydropower dam collapse in Laos in 2018 is being blamed on poor construction methods, specifically due to the poor method of soil being used in the place of concrete. The collapse created what many referred to as the country’s “worst flooding in decades”. A new dam is currently under construction a little over a kilometer away from the previously failed dam.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The ebola outbreak in the DRC continues to worsen, with 1100 people now dead and 1600 infected. The fightback by UN doctors and personnel has been hampered by fighting armed groups in the area, in addition to disbelief in the disease and its treatment from the local community. Earlier this week, police and soldiers stopped an attack on an ebola clinic in the eastern region of the country, killing one of the attackers. The UN representative to the DRC had to shut down rumors last week that the international body was trying to cash in on a nonexistent disease, calling the speculation “sheer madness”.

Colombia

Mauricio Lezama, a Colombian filmmaker was murdered while filming a documentary about armed conflict in Northeastern Colombia. Lezama was an advocate for nonviolence, specifically nonviolent strategies to combat widespread violence in Colombia.

This week, the US government announced that they will provide $160 million in aid to Colombia in an effort to encourage the implementation of the peace accord between the state and the FARC rebels. US Agency for International Development Administrator, Mark Green, told reporters that funds are allotted for the “implementation of peace” and to “formalize land” in the areas specifically affected by the armed conflict.

Venezuela

A Chinese cargo plane arrived in Caracas this week carrying 2 million units of medical equipment. The items provided included medicine and surgical medical supplies, and are set to be distributed by agencies designated by President Maduro’s government. China has remained supportive of Maduro’s regime, repeatedly opposing any actions that would cause tensions or unrest in Venezuela.

By reopening borders with Brazil and Aruba this week, Maduro tried to show that the situation in Venezuela was “under control”. However, at least 10 legislators from the opposition were stripped of their diplomatic immunity this week by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, forcing them into hiding. Additionally, at least 5 people have died and over 200 were detained during opposition protests taking place since April 30. Meanwhile, envoys from the Venezuelan government and opposition party went to Oslo this week to have talks on resolving the situation at home. Members of the opposition National Assembly party said that members from both sides will be involved in the talks.

Malaysia

Three temples in Kuala Lumpur are on high alert after making the decision to tighten their internal security, after four suspects linked to extremist religious groups with ties to ISIS have been arrested. Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Devasthanam Kuala Lumpur, which oversees and runs the temples, stated that the heightened security measures are due to reports that the attack was meant to avenge the death of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, whose death was caused by a riot at the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in Subang. Malaysian Muslim opposition parties feel that his death was ignored by the government.

Philippines

Midterm voting took place this week in the Philippines, with President Duterte’s allies winning most of the 12 contested Senate seats. The vote was largely seen as a referendum on his controversial administration, but showed that Filipinos remain confident in Duterte’s presidency, despite his harsh tactics and human rights abuses in his “war on drugs”. With his new support in the Senate, Duterte will be protected from legislative inquiry and his agenda is likely to easily be pushed through.

Thailand

A document released in Thailand shows that over a third of the 250 newly appointed senators both appointed by the junta and approved by King Maha Vajiralongkorn have military or police backgrounds. Opposition parties have voiced their concern that this will only extend the power of the junta, as they have successfully taken over the Upper House. The 250 senators have significant power when selecting the leader of the new government.

Three men known for being critical of Thailand’s monarchy and military government have disappeared, raising concern among prominent international human rights organizations. Specifically, Amnesty International is concerned that this is becoming a trend with governments in Asia. The men were in exile in Laos, then moved on to Vietnam where they were reportedly arrested and taken back to Thailand.

Vietnam

Vietnam sentenced ten people to death this week and two more to life in prison for smuggling drugs across the country. The group was caught transporting 300 kilograms of meth, ecstasy, and ketamine on a train from northern Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Their trial comes shortly after a number of huge drug busts in Vietnam, which has some of the world’s strictest drug laws.

Image result for iran flag Iran

This week, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab released a report that accuses Iran of spreading fake news, specifically by mimicking media brands and spreading misinformation about Israel and Saudi Arabia. The group, known as “Endless Mayfly”, depends on the short attention span of most readers, and have allegedly copied Britain’s Guardian newspaper, a French newspaper known as Le Soir, and have had accounts deactivated on Facebook, Google, and Twitter. The Citizen Lab says that a group most likely from Iran is behind this misinformation.

An Iranian national has been sentenced to ten years in prison in Iran for spying on Britain, the charge being made following clear confessions. Gholamhossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesman, stated that the man was, “in charge of the Iran desk in the British Council and was cooperating with Britain’s intelligence agency”.

This week also exhibited rising tensions between Iran and the United States, as the US state department ordered the departure of “non-emergency employees” from Iraq, a country that neighbors Iran. The US military stated their concerns over Iran-backed forces in the Middle East, thus making the region more dangerous for US government personnel and citizens.

Other News

Afghanistan – Mina Mangal, a political adviser and former prominent television presenter, was recently shot to death in Kabul on her way to work. While the government claims that the motives remain unclear, women’s rights activists and Afghan politicians have called for a thorough investigation into the reasons behind her death. Mangal had recently posted on Facebook that she feared for her life after receiving threats, prompting responses from women’s rights activists. Police are continuing their investigation of her death. (BBC)

Bangladesh – Concerns over restricted freedom of speech in Bangladesh continue, as police have arrested three people this week, two writers and an activist, under the country’s controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) and Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA). International rights groups and activists have condemned the arrests, the sentencing of which could be serving up to 14 years. (Al Jazeera)

Taiwan – Lawmakers in Taiwan approved a bill Friday legalizing same-sex marriage, making the self-ruled island the first place in Asia to pass gay marriage legislation. Two years ago, the island’s Constitutional Court ruled that the law stating marriage was between a man and woman was unconstitutional, and gave a two year period to amend or make a new law. With the bill passed, same-sex marriage will become a reality in Taiwan starting next week on May 24. (CNN)

Weekly Report: 10 May 2019

Thousands gathered outside the palace to celebrate the coronation of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Source: BBC

Cuba

This week, President Donald Trump threatened Cuba with the “highest-level sanctions” following Venezuela’s Juan Guaido’s attempted uprising against Nicolas Maduro and his government. Cuba has been a known supporter of Maduro, along with Russia. Trump stated, “with the right moves, Cuba could do very well. We could open it up but we’re going to end up closing it up if they don’t get out of Venezuela”.

The Cuban government decided to cancel its 12th annual Conga Against Homophobia March this week, a move concerning LGBT rights activists. The cancellation of the march comes after Cuba’s decision to backtrack on their plans to approve same-sex marriage under a new constitution. Norge Espinosa Mendoza, LGBT activist, stated, “Not allowing [the parade] is a signal that we are not welcome”.

Gabon

Ten members of Gabon’s opposition signed a request last week for a neurologist to examine Gabon’s President Ali Bongo to determine if he was fit to continue ruling. The request was quickly dismissed by a trial court, stating that “only a majority of either the government or the parliament’s two chambers can request the Constitutional Court to call for a vacancy of power”. Despite his prolonged absence from the country since his stroke in November, his doctors still expect him to make a full recovery.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s national independent newspaper La Prensa suffered a large-scale cyber attack this week, the latest in Nicaragua’s worsening press freedoms. The attack started Friday night when 11,000 bots per second tried to enter the site, causing the newspaper’s website to crash for 24 hours. After many attempts, the site was back up and running by Sunday, although slowly. While it is still unclear who called for the attack to be carried out, the editor of La Prensa publishing group Jaime Chamorro Cardenal described the incident as “a direct attack on press freedom and freedom of expression.”

North Korea

North Korea has launched an unidentified projectile, its first confirmed launch of its kind since 2017, as reported by South Korea’s military. While Pyongyang said that the launches were purely “routine and self-defensive”, weapons experts who analyzed the launch say that it could be a test launch for an “advanced short-range ballistic missile”.

In response to “a number of short-range projectiles” fired into the Sea of Japan on Saturday, US President Donald Trump tweeted that the Kim Jong-un, “knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal with happen!”.

Myanmar

Two Reuters reporters were released from prison in Myanmar on Tuesday after serving over 500 days of their seven year sentence. The reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were arrested for breaking the “Official Secrets Act” for their investigation into the killing of Rohingya people by the government in 2017. The men were released along with 6,520 other prisoners given presidential amnesty in relation to celebration of the traditional New Year. Their arrest angered human rights advocates and diplomats worldwide, raising questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s army confirmed last week that at least six people were detained and killed in the Rakhine state. The detainees were being held for potential ties to the rebel Arakan Army made up of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists. The spokesman said that group was shot after they tried to grab the soldiers’ weapons.

United States

This week, the United States announced strict sanctions on Iran, specifically sanctioning Iran’s steel, aluminum, copper, and iron, all of which are crucial parts of Iran’s economy. This decision comes after Tehran announced that they would quit certain parts of the 2015 nuclear agreement with global powers. President Donald Trump even threatened further sanctions, stating, “because of our actions, the Iranian regime is struggling to fund its campaign of violent terror as its economy heads into an unprecedented depression”.

Cambodia

The death of a CNRP member’s son while in custody has led to calls from the group for an investigation into the man’s death. Tith Rorn died on April 18th supposdely from a fall in the prison’s bathroom. However, the number of bruises covering his body suggest that he may have been beaten to death by prison guards. The Cambodian National Rescue Party, who has faced much repression from the current government fears that this attack could have been politically motivated and has called on human rights groups to investigate.

Mexico

Towards the end of April, Pope Francis donated $500,000 to aid migrants attempting to reach the US border, stuck in Mexico. The Pope has condemned the Trump Administration’s goal of building a wall in the past, and has stated that aid to migrants has significantly decreased. The donation will come from the Catholic Church’s Peter’s Pence fund, collected from churches around the world.   

It has been ten months since Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected, and analysts are examining his current impact on the country. The murder rate continues to rise in Mexico, despite his efforts to reduce crime and violence. He has provided temporary humanitarian work visas to Central American migrants passing through the country, and supports the protection of human rights of each individual.

Zimbabwe

This week, Zimbabwe’s high court led by Judge Edith Mushore declared that Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change Party is not a legitimate leader, as the party had not properly conducted its own internal processes in 2016 when appointing Chamisa as vice-president. The party must now begin the process of finding new leadership within the month. Nkululeko Sibanda, spokesperson for Chamisa, stated that the decision was, “politically motivated”. He stated, “we see this as the latest and probably the last attempt to derail the Chamisa presidency that Zanu-PF are so scared of”.

This week, a public forum was held in Washington, D.C. to discuss the food insecurity crisis in Zimbabwe. 44% of poor households in Zimbabwe are spending more of their income on food. Jason Taylor, the USAID chief office of humanitarian assistance and resilience in Zimbabwe, shared his growing concerns that urbanites were spending significantly more on food in Zimbabwe.

Laos

Villagers who were displaced by the construction of the Don Sahong Dam over three years ago are still waiting for government assistance. While they were promised help from the government in exchange for losing their homes, many still don’t have jobs, and the only assistance has come in the form of livestock. An official said that villagers were given piglets and chickens to raise, but they were not familiar with raising these type of animals. Prior to dam construction, most people caught large amounts of fish in the river, though this is no longer an option since construction began. Environmental groups have also urged the government to stop building on the Mekong River, as the construction negatively affects a number of endangered species in the area.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

On May 4, a demonstration led by taxi drivers in Butembo temporarily halted medical response activities, after demonstrators put wooden barricades on the main road arteritis and attacked city-wide hand washing stations. Cases of Ebola have risen to 43, and health responders are finding the disease difficult to maintain as violence continues.

The DRC is continuing to administer its experimental vaccine, having given it to over 110,000 people at risk of contracting the disease. Health care workers are considering new strategies for administering the vaccine in main outbreak regions that are home to almost two dozen rebel groups.

Colombia

On Wednesday, Colombia called out Venezuela for “repeated provocations” after a reported 30 military personnel crossed into Colombia’s borders. The foreign ministry said in a statement that the Venezuelan unit had crossed 200 meters into their territory, leaving shortly after 20 minutes when Colombian soldiers arrived at the scene. The statement said that incidents like this have been more common since Colombia endorsed Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president, calling current president Maduro “a dictator”. Since Venezuela’s economic crisis began in 2017, Colombia has taken the brunt of its effects with more than 2.7 million people fleeing the country – most of them moving into Colombia.

In northwest Colombia, more than 1600 people have been displaced in a turf war between illegal armed groups over the past two weeks. On Tuesday, the United Nations urged Colombia to take immediate action in controlling the groups and providing aid to those who have been displaced. On April 28th, a group of leaders from indigenous groups, who make up a majority of the displaced region, also requested immediate humanitarian aid including clean drinking water, education for the children, and cooking/sanitation facilities.

Venezuela

Last week, opposition leader Juan Guaido called on the army to overthrow Nicolas Maduro, resulting in Guaido having to go into hiding and injured anti-government protesters clashing with security forces. Maduro considered this an “attempted coup”, and has claimed himself successful. This week, Venezuela’s Supreme Court called for the arrest of seven National Assembly deputies, one of which being Edgar Zambrano, for treason. The National Constituent Assembly (ANC), consisting of Maduro supporters, lifted parliamentary immunity of the opposition lawmakers.  

The consequences of the coup have heightened this week, as Edgar Zambrano, vice-president of the National Assembly and deputy of Juan Guaido, was detained in Caracas by the country’s intelligence services. This is the first arrest of a senior opposition figure since the “attempted coup” against Maduro last week. Democratic Action party leader, Carlos Prosperi, was meeting with Zambrano in Caracas, stating that Zambrano’s car was surrounded, and he believes the vice-president was taken to El Helicoide, a prison in the city center. Many countries have called for Zambrano’s quick release. The EU condemned the arrest of Edgar Zambrano, calling the arrest, “another flagrant violation” of Venezuela’s constitution, also describing it as, “a politically motivated action aimed at silencing the National Assembly”.

Malaysia

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released a report Wednesday calling attention to Malaysia’s slow progress on reforms. When Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s coalition won the election one year ago, he made promises of human rights reform and weeding out corruption. However, his first year in office has seen little of these promises come to fruition. Human Rights Watch said that while there were plans for reform, many of his plans have been delayed or withdrawn by opposition groups worried about how the changes could affect rights of certain ethnic groups. Amnesty International concluded by saying that in order for the reforms to be successful, they must be laid out within a clear and accessible roadmap.

Philippines

This week, the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, was accused of being linked to a drug syndicate. The accuser was a man online under the pseudonym “Bikoy”, after posting five videos in which he states that he has evidence that Duterte and those close to him are involved in narcotics trade. “Bikoy” later revealed his identity as Peter Joemel Advincula after saying that he has received a number of death threats and fears for his life. Advincula cites his legitimacy in these controversial claims in having been a part of the syndicate in the past.

President Duterte’s administration has strongly denied any connection he and those close to him have to a drug syndicate. The allegations are especially ironic as Duterte has launched a brutal and unforgiving war on drugs during his presidency.

Thailand

Thailand celebrated the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn this weekend with a huge nationwide celebration. While the king has been ruling since his father passed away in 2016, this weekend recognized the end of the official mourning period and celebration of a new ruler. In Thai culture, the king has no political power but is seen as a representation of “divine on earth”. For many, witnessing his coronation is a once in a lifetime event, seeing as the last one took place almost 70 years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Bangkok over the weekend to witness King Vajiralongkorn being carried through the streets on a royal palanquin and sitting on a golden throne, among other coronation traditions and festivities.

Vietnam

Three Thai activists were arrested in Vietnam this week under charges of insulting the monarchy, and rights groups are concerned about their sudden disappearance. Chucheep Chiwasut, Siam Theerawut, and Kritsana Thapthai have all been public with their political commentary and critique, and were supposedly turned over to Thai authorities on May 8, according to the Human Rights Watch. Prawit Wongsuwan, Thailand’s deputy prime minister, denies that the activists were ever in Thai custody.

Image result for iran flag  Iran

Iran announced this week that they would partially withdraw from the nuclear deal signed by world leaders in 2015. The announcement was made Wednesday morning in an address to the nation by President Hassan Rouhani, where he also said he would like to renegotiate terms with the remaining partners in the deal. As part of their partial withdrawal, Iran will keep enriched uranium stocks in the country rather than sell them abroad” and potentially resume production of higher enriched uranium in 60 days. The French Defense Minister has responded by saying that European powers were trying to save the deal, but that sanctions against Iran may need to be reinforced. The nuclear deal was initially signed in 2015 as a way of “curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions” in return for the relief of some sanctions. The deal has been in uncertain territory ever since President Trump withdrew the United States last year.

Other News:

South Africa – General election voting took place this week in South Africa, and while the official results won’t be announced until Saturday, it appears as though the ANC will retain power, though by a much smaller margin. As of Thursday, the African National Congress Party held 56% of the vote – the lowest since their initial election in 1994 after the end of apartheid. President Ramaphosa, who took power last year when Jacob Zuma was ousted, acknowledged and apologized for the country’s rampant corruption on his way to voting, asking voters to reinvest their confidence in his party. (The Guardian, BBC)

Weekly Report: 25 April 2019

A man mourns at a grave of a victim, two days after a string of suicide bomb attacks on churches and luxury hotels across the island on Easter Sunday, at Sellakanda Catholic cemetery in Negombo, April 23. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Bolivia

A bus has crashed in Bolivia, falling 200 meters into a ravine and killing 25 passengers, as well as injuring 24 more. Police say the accident was caused by the driver’s reckless driving and speeding in the mountainous region. On Twitter, President Evo Morales responded by urging bus drivers in the country to take more care while driving. Every year, around 1000 people are killed and 40,000 more injured in accidents on Bolivian roads.

Nicaragua

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the beginning of mass protests in Nicaragua. Ever since April 18, 2018, Nicaraguans have protested the harsh government of Daniel Ortega, protests that have resulted in over 300 deaths and even more injuries.

Silvio Baez, a Catholic bishop living in Nicaragua, has left for the Vatican after being told by Pope Francis that he was needed in Rome. Baez has suffered an attack from pro-government mobs, received multiple death threats, and has had his privacy violated in his own home. Baez stated, “As many times as may be necessary and as often as Pope Francis asks me to speak with him, I will give him my vision of reality in the most objective manner possible.

North Korea

Kim Jong Un arrived in Russia on Thursday to meet with President Vladimir Putin in what some think may be an effort to ask for aid and an easing of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council. The meeting comes about  two months after talks with the United States at the Vietnam summit came up short of both Kim and Trump’s goals. At his meeting with Putin, Kim is expected to ask for food aid and discuss North Korean workers staying in Russia rather than being forced to return as required by the most recent increased sanctions. Russia and China have both called for the easing of sanctions, though it’s unclear how much assistance Kim will receive as Russia is looking to avoid “diplomatic friction” with the United States.

Myanmar

A Turkish state-run aid agency has opened up a clinic in the Rakhine State in Myanmar, home for Rohingya Muslims. According to Amnesty International, over 750,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar into Bangladesh following violence from Myanmar forces, and a report from the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA), nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar state forces since August 2017. The Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency stated that the clinic will provide surgical operations, mother and childcare, and outpatient and general care.

This week, fears in Myanmar of worsening press freedoms deepened as Myanmar’s top court rejected an appeal by two Reuters journalists who revealed that state security forces killed 10 Rohingya Muslims in 2017. The journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, have been jailed since December 2017 and were sentenced in September 2018, a sentence that resulted in international condemnation from human rights groups, as well as protests in support of the journalists. The court’s rejection of their appeals comes without comment or explanation.

United States

A former U.S. marine was arrested on Thursday after being accused of planning and executing a break-in and robbery at the North Korean embassy in Madrid. Christopher Philip Ahn, along with six other members of a group seeking to overthrow Kim Jong Un, called Free Joseon, were arrested in connection to the break-in. Ahn has been detained in Los Angeles and faces a number of charges in Spain, including breaking and entering and robbery with violence and intimidation, for which he could face 10 years in a Spanish prison.

Days after a video came out showing militia members detaining dozens of migrants, the leader of the group has been detained for possessing a weapon as a felon. The group, who calls themselves the United Constitutional Patriots, is a small volunteer group that claims to be helping US Border Patrol handle the surge in migrants at the southern border. The group has been condemned by civil rights groups and local officials for their intervention and harsh tactics. The leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Cambodia

A former deputy director from the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has gone into hiding this Monday, following the arrest of a fellow official who criticized the government in a social media post. Ouk Phon, the deputy director, reported that despite his not being involved in political activities since CNRP being dissolved, police officers continued to spy on him and he began fearing for his safety.

Mexico

Nearly 400 Central American migrants were arrested this week in southern Mexico on their journey to the United States border. The operation to stop the caravan of nearly 3000 migrants took place on Monday, and is said to be the largest single raid on people traveling in caravans. Those who refused to apply for visas were among the 400 that were detained. Mexican president Lopez Obrador responded to the incident, saying that Mexico is not giving migrants “free passage” out of “legal concerns and questions of safety”. He also said that the authorities were working to break up human trafficking groups that charge migrants for the journey to the U.S. border.

Maldives

The Maldives has condemned the recent explosions that targeted churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. The bombings left over 350 dead and at least 500 injured, the foreign ministry of the Maldives calling it “cowardly acts of terrorism”. The government also stated that they will be monitoring the city of Colombo, where thousands of Maldivians reside. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih sent the State Minister for Foreign Affairs Ahmed Khaleel to Sri Lanka on Sunday night both to offer assistance and inquire about the state of the Maldivians residing in Sri Lanka.  

Laos

Programs developed in Laos to clear unexploded weapons left over from the Vietnam War are being halted by lack of funds from donors. While they usually receive at least two million dollars in funding, this year they only received one million dollars, thus limiting the significance of the work they can get done.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

A World Health Organization doctor was killed this week in the DRC as distrust in health officials and the ebola crisis continues to grow. The doctor, a visiting epidemiologist from Cameroon, was killed when a group of armed civilians stormed the hospital and accused the hospital staff of “perpetuating false rumours about Ebola.” Hours after this attack took place in the Butembo University Hospital, another ebola clinic in a separate region was faced with a similar ambush when attackers armed with machetes stormed the hospital.

Colombia

This week, south-western Colombia suffered a detrimental landslide that killed at least 17 people. Colombian After visiting the town on Sunday, Colombian President Ivan Duque stated that medical assistance and alternative housing would be arranged for those that were affected by the landslide.

Venezuela

On Wednesday’s meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, 30-40 diplomats walked out in protest as Venezuela’s foreign minister took the stage to denounce the United States for their calls to recognize Juan Guaido as interim president. Those who left in protest were members of the Lima group, which is made up of Latin American countries and Canada working to find solutions to Venezuela’s crisis. In his speech, Jorge Arreaza accused the United States of wanting to “impose a dictatorship” in Venezuela and that the U.S.’s actions were “discriminatory and unacceptable”.

Malaysia

On Tuesday, April 23, The Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Minister of Malaysia, Yeo Bee Yin, stated to reporters that plastic waste has been smuggled into Malaysia, and were falsely declared as imports, thus not requiring a permit. She stated, “Malaysia will not be the dumping ground of the world, we will send back (the waste) to the original countries”.

Philippines

Philippines President Duterte threatened Canada this week, saying they would go to war with them if Canada didn’t take back the hundreds of tons of trash that a Canadian company shipped to Manila years ago. Duterte said that he would warn them again next week, and if that doesn’t work, “declare war against them”, saying that the Philippines could “handle them”. The 2,450 tons of trash were sent to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014 labeled as recyclable plastic, though inspectors deemed on arrival that the materials were not recyclable. After China moved to ban “foreign garbage” last year, trash and recycling have been piling up in developing and developed countries, with nowhere to send it all.

Thailand

Nearly a month has passed since Thailand’s March 24 elections, and the country is still awaiting results; many believe that the pro-military party will win the election. One of the rising anti-junta politicians, Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit, is being accused of holding shared in a media company after registering his candidacy, a move that violates the election law.

Deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission shared with reporters that there is evidence proving that Jungroongruangkit is the owner or shareholder of V-Luck Media company. Jungroongruangkit denies allegations, stating that he sold his shares in the company on January 8, prior to his registering for candidacy. He now has seven days to submit evidence to the Electoral Commission that refutes the allegation, but if found guilty he could be banned from running for an election for a year, as well as face criminal charges punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Image result for iran flag  Iran

The White House announced this week that exemptions from sanctions for countries still buying oil from Iran will expire in May. The countries include: China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey. After May, these countries could face sanctions themselves. The imposed sanctions have caused a sharp decline in Iran’s economy, as its currency is now valued at record lows. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated, “we stand by our allies and partners as they transition away from Iranian crude to other alternatives”.

Other News

Sri Lanka – On Easter Sunday, April 21st, a series of coordinated bombs erupted in Colombo, Sri Lanka, resulting in over 350 deaths and at least 500 injuries. The attacks targeted three churches and four hotels; there have now been a confirmed nine suicide bombers, as well as the arrest and investigation of around 60 people nationwide. The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena announced his plans to restructure the police and security forces, alleging that India’s intelligence services warned Sri Lankan officials of potential attacks. (Al Jazeera) (CNN)

Egypt – Over 23.4 million Egyptians voted in favor of a proposed constitutional change that could allow President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi to extend his term from four to six years, as well as run for another term. This would keep President Sisi in power until 2030. While the voter turnout was only 44.3%, 88.8% of those who voted were said to support the proposal, according to the National Election Authority. (BBC)