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: 1 March, 2019

President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un before a meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam on Feb. 27, 2019. Saul Loeb / AFP – Getty Images Source: NBC

Cuba

Cubans voted on Sunday to update the country’s constitution while preserving the socialist system of government. Results showed that 87 percent of voters approved the referendum, which updated some of the language on electoral, financial, and criminal laws. While 4.15 percent of ballots weren’t counted because of mistakes, still 9 percent of voters opposed the new constitution – a high number for a country where opposition parties are illegal. Most opposition came from Evangelical Christians who fear the new constitution could eventually allow for the legalization of gay marriage. There was also some opposition from younger Cubans who fear the new wording is still too conservative and will not allow growth for future generations.

Gabon

Gabonese President Ali Bongo has returned to Gabon on Sunday following his month-long stay in Saudi Arabia for treatment of a health condition. This week he was immediately back to work, overseeing a cabinet meeting and meeting heads of the Constitutional Court and National Assembly and his chief of staff. His prolonged absence left many in Gabon feeling unsettled as the state of his health was not released.  

Bolivia

Bolivia declared a national emergency this week because of natural disasters caused by heavy rains over the past few weeks. On Wednesday, the country’s Minister of Defense announced that 5200 families have been affected and 59 homes have been destroyed in the 61 affected municipalities. By declaring a national emergency, the country will be able to allocate around 7 million dollars  to activating national resources. The Bolivian State Housing Agency also reported an allocation of about 10 million dollars earlier this month to replace houses destroyed by the floods.

Nicaragua

The past six months under Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has been cause for significant concern for human rights organizations, especially with hundreds of arrests of political opponents and activists. Michelle Bachelet, UN Human Rights Chief, has recently expressed alarm at increased suppression and political instability.

Ortega announced last week negotiations to take place “to consolidate peace”.  Nicaraguans are hopeful that the talks will inspire a resolution to the ongoing political crisis. Prior to scheduled talks with the opposition, Nicaragua released dozens of prisoners arrested during protests and demonstrations against the President Daniel Ortega and his government. The releases were announced by the Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH), but there are no further details about the releases made. The crackdown by the end of October resulted in 325 deaths, and over 750 arrests.

North Korea

The Trump-Kim summit took place on Wednesday and Thursday this week. After months of anticipation, the summit has ended in no-deal – much different from Trump’s goal of North Korea’s denuclearization. In interviews after the failed talks, Trump said that North Korea wanted the U.S. to lift sanctions in their entirety, which was not possible. Despite the fact that no agreement was signed, Kim did say that he “wouldn’t be here right now” if he wasn’t willing to denuclearize. Trump also said that Kim promised to not continue nuclear and rocket testing. Kim Jong Un will remain in Vietnam for an official state visti beginning on Friday, while Trump has already left for the United States.

Myanmar

This week, the United Nations is addressing accusations that they have ignored signs of escalating tension and ethnic violence in Myanmar and are launching an inquiry into its conduct over the past decade. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Ki has advised global investors to focus their investments on the Rakhine State, a region characterized by mistreatment of Rohingya people, claiming that the world needed to stop focusing on the “negative aspects” of the area. Since 2017, around 750,000 Rohingya have fled the Rakhine State due to reports of torture at the hands of Myanmar police.

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Bangladesh Foreign Security Shahidul Haque stated, “I regret to inform the council that Bangladesh would no longer be in a position to accommodate more people from Myanmar,” addressing the recent increase of over 700,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh in the past 18 months.

On Wednesday, February 27 thousands rallied in Myanmar’s commercial capital of Yangon to support a constitutional reform. The reform would promote changes to the charter regarding the army’s role in politics, and comes at a time where there is ongoing tension between the ruling party and the military. Protesters and democracy activists shouted chants like, “take a rest, military dictatorship”.

 

United States

The Trump-Kim summit endedon Thursday in Vietnam with no deal signed between the two countries. While Trump had hopes of North Korea agreeing to denuclearize, Kim ultimately would not agree unless the U.S. lifted all sanctions against North Korea. Trump still described the talks as productive, but said he had not committed or made plans for any third summit.

The House of Representatives has voted to overrule Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the United States’ southern border. By declaring a national emergency, Trump is able to override Congress’ refusal to provide funding for his border wall and build it with military funding instead. Democrats say that this declaration is unconstitutional, and thirteen republicans sided with them in the recent House vote. Now the vote to overturn Trump’s declaration will head to the republican-majority senate, though some conservatives are expected to vote with democrats. If the senate approves overturning the national emergency declaration, Trump will likely veto and the case will most likely end up in the Supreme Court’s hands.

Cambodia

As human rights violations continue to be unaddressed, U.S. lawmakers has asked the Trump Administration to review preferential trade terms with Cambodia through a legislation introduced on Wednesday. The Cambodia Trade Act (CTA) would ultimately decide whether the privileges should be “withdrawn, suspended, or limited”.  Cambodia currently exports around $180 million of goods to the United States per year.

Cambodia experienced the same punishment from the European Union a few weeks ago, where the legislation could see Cambodia’s preferential access suspended.

Mexico

Mexico’s president announced on Tuesday that he will not take sides regarding the crisis in Venezuela, despite U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s calls for Mexico to recognize Juan Guido as the rightful president of Venezuela. President Lopez Obrador told reporters that he does not want to get involved, but urged both sides in Venezuela to seek a peaceful solution. He also voiced his beliefs that the disputes over humanitarian aid should be resolved by the United Nations.

Teachers from Oaxaca are in Mexico City staging a 72 hour campout to protest the General Professional Teaching Service Law. The teachers are also calling for the concept of multicultural education instead of bicultural education in order to better represent the many indigenous groups across Mexico. Despite the absence of 800 teachers in the protests, 90% of classes in Oaxaca resumed as normal.

Maldives

On Monday, February 25, opposition lawmakers submitted a motion of no-confidence against Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi, following her comments made to an Indian newspaper where she said, “If the Indians really wanted to occupy Maldives, they never had the intention, I’m sure, but if they do, I don’t know how we can stop it. You see, your airforce, your navy, your infantry, literally there is nothing we can do… this is just being practical.” Opposition supporters almost immediately retaliated, and promised to summon the Defense Minister for questioning. There has recently been increased anti-India sentiments among opposition supporters.

Zimbabwe

With Zimbabwe’s financial crisis worsening every day, the country has introduced what they hope will be a solution – a new currency. The RTGS dollar rolled out this week will ideally bring together debit card, mobile payments, and bond notes to have the same value. The country has also given up on the previous notion that the bond notes rolled out in 2016 have the same value as the US dollar. This time, they are saying that “the value of the RTGS dollar against the US dollar will be set by the market.” The new currency was initially sold to banks at a rate of 2.5 RTGS to 1 U.S. dollar. By allowing the value to fluctuate, the black market will ideally be eliminated.

Botswana officially gave Zimbabwe a loan of $600 million on Thursday, when an agreement was signed between the two countries. The agreement, which was signed in Harare, allocates $500 million of the loan for the diamond industry, with the other $100 million going to helping private companies who have been hurt by Zimbabwe’s currency shortage.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Seven months have passed since the DRC’s ebola crisis began, and over 500 people have died, with the virus still not under control. As the epidemic rages on, people are growing less trusting of health agencies and doctors. As a result, two ebola clinics have been set on fire by arsonists this week, with the most recent attack happening on Wednesday. The clinic which was attacked on Sunday was forced to close down as a result of damage from the fire. Health workers already struggle to find proper facilities and equipment for fighting the virus, and these recent attacks have created huge setbacks.

The United States announced last week that officials involved in the DRC’s recent election misconduct will be denied visas. This ban on visas will affect 5 senior Congolese officials in addition to their immediate family members. The state department also stated that they would impose visa restrictions on a number of other officials who were involved in human rights abuses during the election.

Colombia

Violent encounters along the Venezuelan border with Colombia began on Friday, February 22, resulting in 285 injuries and 37 hospitalized on the Colombian side of the border, as stated by Colombia’s foreign minister. The clashes came as a result of armed government forces attempting to block shipments of aid from entering Venezuela. United States Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Colombia for an emergency meeting with regional leaders, as well as meet with Juan Guaido in an attempt to resolve the worsening crisis.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has responded by closing two international bridges, stating Colombia needed 72 hours to assess the damage and clear as much as they could. Colombia attempted to reopen their side of the border on Wednesday, February 27, but Venezuela kept their side closed. Regional director of Colombia’s Civil Defense, Miguel Perez, spent Wednesday traveling across the bridges attempting to find someone in Venezuela that he could negotiate with.

Venezuela

Violence broke out this weekend at the Venezuelan/Colombian border when protesters clashed with forces loyal to Maduro over the blocked aid. At least 4 people died and over 300 were injured as a result of military firing tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of protestors. U.S. Vice President Pence, who was in Colombia early this week to meet with opposition leader Guaido, denounced the attacks and said the the United States would impose additional sanctions against Venezuela.

Following his meeting with U.S. Vice President Pence and other world leaders from the Lima Group this weekend, opposition leader Guaido has announced that he will begin exercising his duties as president upon his return to Venezuela. In a video posted to his twitter, Guaido made the announcement and asked for continued support from his base. Despite his strong statements, Guaido does fear that he may be arrested upon returning to Venezuela. Regardless, he remains confident that even his arrest would not stop the movement, and may even strengthen the opposition to Maduro’s regime.

Malaysia

In June 2018, Malaysia announced their 40,000 Chin refugees would have to return to their home countries by 2020 as they would no longer be considered as refugees. The UN High commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began phasing out their protection of Chin refugees by August, stating that the Chin State was safe enough to return to. Many of the Chin refugees fled from Myanmar, where they faced ongoing harassment and persecution.

Philippines

A group of international law enforcement agencies met on Wednesday to celebrate the inauguration of the first Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center. The Center will feature a collective of law enforcement from the Philippines, Australia, and the U.K. working to combat the online exploitation of children across the Philippines. While the Center will remain focused on the Philippines for now, they eventually hope to expand their reach to all of Southeast Asia.

Thailand

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, one of Thailand’s rising political stars, is under public eye as police want to prosecute him under the Computer Crime Act for criticizing the military government on a Facebook video. He has actively encouraged young people to vote for the upcoming elections to be held on March 24, and has vowed to end Thailand’s military “dictatorship”. Prosecutors have stated that they will decide on the indictment two days after the elections.

Vietnam

Vietnam was in the spotlight this week as it was the site of United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s second summit meeting, taking place February 27-28. There was no agreement made between the leaders. While Trump left Vietnam on Thursday, Kim is set to stay in Vietnam through Saturday.    

India and Pakistan – Tensions between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region have escalated immensely over the past weeks, reaching their highest point in decades. On February 14, a suicide car bombing was executed by a Pakistani group, JeM, in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir and killed 42 people. This week, India fired back by launching air raids on an area occupied by a JeM training base. In the cross-fire, at least eight Pakistani civilians were killed. Today, an Indian pilot who was shot down and has been detained by Pakistani forces since Wednesday is expected to be released. Many hope that the release of this pilot could be the goodwill gesture that will de-escalate the ever-growing tensions. (CNN, Al Jazeera)

Sudan – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced a state of emergency on Friday, February 22 following ongoing demonstrations across the country. This week, Bashir issued four new emergency laws forbidding protests while imposing new economic restrictions. Mohamed Awad, a legal expert and activist, stated, “In the current situation, there is no legal need for imposing the emergency. The solution is 100 percent political. Peaceful transfer of power is the solution”. Recently announced measures state that acts such as sharing new that authorities believe could “put the country in danger” on social media could result in a prison sentence. Protests were ongoing on Wednesday at the Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman and at a hospital in Khartoum’s Bahri section following the release of the news. (VOA)  

Palestine – Palestinian protests along the Gaza border last year resulted in 189 deaths between March 30 and December 31 of 2018. UN human rights experts have launched a commission of inquiry to investigate whether Israeli soldiers committed war crimes. The UN Human Rights Council stated that over 6,000 demonstrators were shot by military snipers over the course of nine months. The protests, called “the Great March of Return” are in support of Palestinian refugees returning to what is now Israel. The Israeli government believed that terrorists used the protests to cross into Israeli territory, thus initiating Israeli soldiers ordered along the border fence. The commission states that shooting a civilian that is not directly participating in hostilities constitutes a war crime.  (BBC)

Weekly Report: 22 February, 2019

Opposition parties and civil society organizations hold a demonstration in San Francisco square to protest the candidacy of President Evo Morales in the October elections — AFP

Cuba

Cuba has denied recent allegations suggesting that they have military forces present in Venezuela after accusations from US President Trump and his administration. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez demanded the United States provide proof, while calling the political situation in Venezuela “a failed imperialist coup…fabricated in Washington”. While the United States has been clear with its support of Guaido, Cuba is a supporter of Maduro.

Gabon

Gabon’s president Ali Bongo is expected to have a 6 month recovery period after suffering from a stroke last fall. President Bongo has been spending his recovery period in Morocco, though he did briefly return to Gabon for a swearing-in ceremony in January. He is expected to return again next week for a few days to oversee a cabinet meeting, but the date of his permanent return is still unknown.

Bolivia

There have been nationwide protests in response to current President Evo Morales running for a fourth term in office. Demonstrators took to the streets on Thursday, a day marking the third anniversary of Morales’ defeat in a bid that would secure public support to remove term limits. Several of Bolivia’s major cities were hosts to the protests, including La Paz, Sucre, Santa Crus, and Potosi. Elections in Bolivia will be held in October of 2019.

Nicaragua

A Nicaraguan farmer has been sentenced to 216 years in prison after leading protests last year against President Daniel Ortega. This sentencing goes directly against the country’s constitution which states that “no Nicaraguan can spend more than 30 years in prison”. Medardo Mairena was convicted in December on charges of terrorism, organized crime, and murder, which he denied. His sentencing comes just days after business leaders met with Ortega’s regime to demand the release of more than 600 political prisoners in the country.

President Daniel Ortega announced on Thursday that he will resume a dialogue next week with opposition leaders. Angel Rocha, who will be representing university students in the dialogue, says their principle goal is to demand Ortega release the people considered political prisoners. Other goals of the dialogue include pushing for more transparent elections and electoral reforms, as well as finding justice for those who lost their lives in government protests over the last year.

North Korea

With the denuclearization summit quickly approaching, North Korea’s Chief of Staff, Kim Chang-son was seen in Vietnam a week before the meeting. US President Donald Trump has been advised to significantly lower his expectations going into the summit, especially following a UN report that North Korea is hiding and selling nuclear weapons.

The UN is attempting to improve civil aviation in North Korea, specifically focusing on Pyongyang opening airspace to accommodate foreign flights. The United States has repeatedly blocked this effort due to their desire to “pool all the leverages and incentives” for the denuclearization summit. Washington has stated they want concrete commitments from North Korea during their discussions, and maintaining pressure on the country is the key to achieving this.

Ahead of the denuclearization summit, a memo by Pyongyang’s mission to the world body stated the country’s concern that they are facing a national food shortage. The memo blames the significant shortages on high temperatures, drought, floods, and sanctions enacted by the United Nations. Within the memo, the government asks for the aid of international organizations, although the World Food Programme (WPF) has yet to respond to the memo. While they are currently in the process of gathering information on food security in the country, United Nations spokesman Stephane Durjarric stated that the UN estimates that almost half of the population of North Korea is in need of food and around 41% are undernourished.

Myanmar

Myanmar picked a panel this week to discuss and potentially make reforms to the country’s constitution. The current constitution was scripted by the military in 2008 and gives themselves control of all security ministries and also automatically gives them a quarter of all parliamentary seats. Ultimately, these clauses give the military veto power over any constitutional changes. The National League for Democracy Party is hoping to change that and redistribute the power.

United States

This week President Trump declared a national emergency to fund the infamous wall along the border with Mexico. A coalition of sixteen US states responded and are suing Trump over the emergency declaration, initially filed in California. Protests erupted in other parts of the country following the announcement, including Washington DC where protesters shouted, “Trump is the national emergency!”. Following Colorado’s announcement that they would join the lawsuit, a crowd of over 100 gathered at the state capitol in Denver and cheered with approval. The ACLU has announced that they too intend to sue Trump over the issue.

Cambodia

The Financial Action Task Force has announced that they will place Cambodia on a watchlist because of the high possibility of money laundering taking place. The report also points out the high levels of corruption in the justice system and that no money-laundering case has ever been prosecuted in Cambodia. This announcement could potentially affect the amount of trade flows and investments coming in and out of the country. The report also comes at an inopportune time for the country, as the EU is about to take away preferential trade treatment because of human rights abuses.

Mexico

Samir Flores Soberanes, and environmental and human rights activist in Mexico was killed this week ahead of a referendum on a controversial thermal-electric plant and pipeline that he had proposed. His violent and sudden death marks another murder as the string of killed activists and journalists continues to grow. Mexican President Lopez Obrador had previously promised to address the issue, but significant changes have yet to be made.

Mexico has closed a temporary migrant shelter near the United States, which held around 1,600 Central Americans that have been restricted in the shelter for two weeks.

A Federal Prison on the Islas Marias is closing down to become a cultural center. Mexican President Lopez Obrador has stated that he wished to promote “more schools and fewer prisons”. There are currently 600 prisoners, 200 of which will be released come the closing of the prison, and the rest are set to be transferred to other prisons on the Mexican mainland.

Maldives

Maldives ex-president Abdulla Yameen has been arrested for his charges of money laundering. A state lawyer said that Yameen had tried to influence and bribe witnesses prior to going on trial. The court then ruled that Yameen be taken into custody and detained for the rest of his trial. Preliminary hearings for his case will begin this week.

The Maldives Anti-Corruption Commission has also suspended two government ministers over their transactions with a company involved in a $90 million corruption scandal. This is the same probe that accused former president Yameen of his corruption charges.

Zimbabwe

Bakers in Zimbabwe received news on Wednesday that the country could run out of bread within 8 days unless they are able to import more wheat. Flour stocks in the country have dwindled after the government failed to pay for imported wheat. The dwindling flour stocks comes as a result of the country’s severe shortage of US dollars, and the resulting $80 million in debt for past
wheat imports.

EU foreign ministers decided against imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe this week as a statement to Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The EU council imposed sanctions 19 years ago against Robert Mugabe, and they stated that they will continue to uphold these sanctions.

Laos

This week many of the people whose homes were affected by July’s dam collapse will return to their newly-repaired homes. These are some of the first people to return to their homes after over 6 months. For those whose homes were completely destroyed, a solution has yet to come, as the government still hasn’t finished building permanent housing solutions. Until the new housing is built, thousands of families will continue to live in shelters.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Police in the DRC have been accused of extrajudicial killings by Human Rights Watch. The report released this week claims that the Congolese police killed at least 27 people in a crackdown on gangs that took place last year. In order to compile the report nearly 80 people were interviewed, including witnesses, security officials, and victims’ family members. Police in the country have denied the allegations and recently sworn in President Tshisekedi’s spokesman declined to comment on the case.

Eight people have died after a series of shootings in Goma, eastern DRC. The attacks took place Saturday night when unidentified gunmen shot down random passers-by in the town. Public anger toward authorities in the community has resulted, with questions on why authorities were so slow to respond.

Colombia

US aid intending to reach Venezuela has arrived in Cucuta, the Colombian border city, but many are not clear if and how it can be distributed within the country. Cucuta has become an internationally prominent city as it is the destination of foreign aid heading towards Venezuela. Maduro continues to reject all foreign aid, even stating that he will send it back to Colombia while quoting Colombian poverty statistics.

Venezuelan opposition Guaido has stated his plans for delivery of aid from Colombia and Brazil, even calling for caravans of volunteers to carry the aid during a speech. This puts volunteers in a dangerous position as the military is loyal to Maduro and under instructions not to allow aid to cross into the country.

Nicolas Maduro has announced his intentions to close Venezuela’s border with Brazil amidst ongoing foreign aid delivery tensions. He threatened closure of Venezuela’s border with Colombia, stating, “I don’t want to make such a decision, but I am considering it – an absolute closure of the border with Colombia”.

Venezuela

President Trump addressed a crowd of supporters this week, condemning socialism and saying that Maduro supporters “will lose everything.” Trump also said that the Venezuelan military should not intervene with U.S. aid or involve violence. President Maduro also announced on Thursday night that he will close the Venezuelan border with Brazil indefinitely and is considering shutting the border with Colombia, both in order to keep out opposition aid. While shipments of U.S. aid are still blocked at the border, a shipment of Russian aid is expected to arrive on Saturday, and likely will be accepted by Maduro.

British businessman, Richard Branson, has announced that he will host a benefit concert in Cucuta, Colombia that will raise money for food and medical supplies in Venezuela. Branson, who is a supporter of Guaido, has been criticized for his for his decision to host the concert, with Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters saying “it is a US-backed effort to tarnish the socialist government.” In response, Venezuela’s president Maduro announced his plans to host a rival concert on the same night, just across the border in Venezuela.

In addition to the current political crisis in Venezuela, the school system in the country is also collapsing due to economic crisis. Teachers are striking and have taken to the streets to protest a lack of funding for the school system and demand a livable wage. Because of nationwide food shortages, children often rely heavily on their school meal, but even this has been cut because of budget constraints and poor management of facilities in schools. With the food shortages, children in classes are starving and teachers are even passing out from lack of food. Caritas Venezuela has said that malnutrition has soared over the past 3 years in Venezuela, and it is children under 5 who are most vulnerable.

Malaysia

It was announced this week by the Malaysia Defense Minister Mohamad Sabu that the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) relocated four army bases to move military voters so they could gather political support in other areas. This was done amidst protests from the army top brass, and was called an abuse of power by the minister. The Ministry of Defense lost the equivalent of $122 million in the land swapping, and stated that the deals were made without proper planning or developers.  

Philippines

Government plans to dam the Kaliwa river in the northern Philippines is being fiercely opposed by tribal leaders and people who live in the area, for a number of reasons. For more spiritual reasons, the river holds a sacred value, as people from tribes in the area have been praying there for centuries. More practically, building the 70m tall dam would not only displace the people living along the river, but also the many endangered species that call the area home. The dam is being built to ideally combat a future water crisis which would affect drinking water and agriculture, and is being partially funded by China.

Philippine journalist and CEO of Rappler Maria Ressa has been freed on bail just one day after her arrest for “cyber-libel.” This arrest is the result of a seven-year old report on controversial ties between a businessman and a former judge that was published four months before the country passed the new libel law.

Thailand

Concern over Thailand’s military control over politics continues as police announce intentions to prosecute the leader of a new political party for posting a video on Facebook last year in which he was spreading “false information” about the military government. This news comes nearly a month before Thailand’s upcoming elections on March 24.

Other News:

India – The Supreme Court in India has ordered that over a million families living on forest land will soon have to leave. The families living in this area make up just a small percentage of the 100 million tribespeople living in India. A law passed in 2006 states that tribal families living on the land for three generations the right to continue living and working on forest land. Now, the Supreme Court has ordered that all families living on the land must file a claim and pass a 3 step verification process requiring 13 kinds of proof. 1.8 million of these families have successfully filed the claim, but still 1 million will be forced out. (BBC)

Sudan – Ongoing reports by the U.N.’s Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan outlines widespread human rights violations being committed against civilians and children as the unrest worsens, many of which may constitute war crimes. The Commission continues to collect evidence of abuses with the intention of future prosecution. Commission member Andrew Clapham spoke in Geneva on Wednesday, stating, “We think that that through accountability and reconciliation there’s the possibility for the South Sudanese to deal with the past and secure their future stability and prosperity”. (NPR)  

Nigeria – Elections in Nigeria are set to take place this Saturday, February 23, delayed from the previous election date of February 16. The delay was troublesome for many Nigerians who had significant distances to travel simply to vote. Nigeria’s main parties, All Peoples Congress (APC) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), both accused the other of interfering in elections in their denouncing of the delay. For this election, the electoral commission promised ballot papers and election staff in place across the country. (BBC)

Weekly Report: 14 February, 2019

Migrants from Honduras, arrive at a migrant hostel hoping to be taken in as they wait to apply for asylum in to the United States in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Cuba

As Cuba nears the February 24th date of a final referendum to make changes to their constitution, the state has begun to crackdown on protesters who are arguing for a NO vote. On Monday, 20 members of the opposition group ‘Cuban Patriotic Union’ were detained. In the following days, a number of other activists had their homes raided and also faced arrests. The new constitution will change some government structures but keep the Communist Party as supreme.

Prince Charles is set to visit Cuba this spring, a first for any member of British royalty. Florida senator Rick Scott argues that the prince should visit Florida instead, saying that a visit to Cuba would “condone the Castro regime’s brutality”.

Gabon

President Ali Bongo Ondimba has been attempting to restore people’s confidence in the government of Gabon. This comes soon after the coup attempt on January 7. Bongo has reportedly strengthened his control on the government, and previously requested and received$350 million from the United States government.

Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales has slammed Juan Guaidó’s remarks about welcoming a US military intervention in Venezuela. After the US and EU-backed interim president Guaido stated that he would not rule out US intervention to remove Maduro from power, Morales tweeted that Bolivia rejects Guaido’s statements.He has also tweeted that the economic blockade threatened by the US will “threaten the human rights of the Venezuelan people”.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua has experienced political and social unrest since April 2018, when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega unleashed a violent crackdown on his opponents. Since this point, there have been at least 325 deaths, 550 arrests, and countless injuries related to the violence that erupted. Many living within Nicaragua are forced to make the extreme decisions of whether to stay in the country or figure out a way to leave, specifically business owners who are struggling with plummeting sales.

Economists in Nicaragua worry that a new and upcoming social security overhaul that wouldraise payroll taxes and cut pensions would cause a similar if not worse revolt than that of 2018.Mario Arana, who was the previous head of the Treasury and former President of Nicaragua’s Central Bank, stated, “This measure is absolutely much more drastic since it’s not gradual but instead immediate, and it will affect the nearly 800,000 insured in the country”. This package was approved in January and took effect in the beginning of February.

North Korea

With the upcoming Trump-Kim summit set to take place at the end of the month in Vietnam, both the US and North Korea are preparing for talks centered around denuclearization. However, one topic will likely not be discussed – human rights. Before the last summit, Trump promised to discuss human rights conditions within the country, but later said that the issue was barely discussed. With a clear focus on denuclearization this time around, it seems that human rights will once again be largely ignored. While the goal of the summit remains to be denuclearization, US national security officials have stated that North Korea has done little to work toward this, and that a nuclear declaration from the country will likely be incomplete.

Myanmar

This week, Myanmar saw action taken to demand justice for human rights violations committed against minority groups. Rohingya activists, alongside Rohingya refugees, international legal experts, and human rights activists, gathered in Colombia University in New York to hold discussions on seeking retribution for Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya ethnic group.

Myanmar is also being criticized by Amnesty International following reports that the military ispreventing civilians from getting food and humanitarian help. The United Nations reported that around 5,200 people have been actively forced from their homes for reasons related to the ongoing conflict.

On Tuesday, February 12th, around 3,000 demonstrators gathered at the capital of the state of Kayah, symbolically at the Loikaw Statue. Since its unveiling, 54 have been charged withdefamation and incitement, and unlawful assembly. Khun Thomas, a demonstrator at the site,said, “We are not objecting to the general’s statue itself – we are demanding to implement his promises first”. Myanmar police responded to the protest with the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons.

United States

A former US air force officer has been accused of spying for Iran. Monica Witt joined the Air Force in December 1997, and worked as a Persian-Farsi language specialist, and later a Special Agent. During her years with the Air Force, Ms. Witt was been privy to classified information that prosecutors now say she disclosed to Iranian officials. Ms. Witt reportedly had an “ideological” turn in the summer of 2013, after she had converted to Islam and was not respected by the US military for her decision to do so. It was then that she tried to defect to Iran through their embassy in Kabul.

Mexican drug lord, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, also known as El Chapo, stood trial this week in New York for his charges of drug trafficking, being found guilty for all 10 counts. After already escaping from two prisons in Mexico, the United States will likely house El Chapo in the highest security prison in the country, in southern Colorado.

Cambodia

47 Malaysians were detained in Cambodia this week, and many of the detainees are believed to be innocent by the Foreign Ministry, and instead involved unknowingly in a job scam. Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah of Malaysia has said, “we have sought the help and cooperation of the Cambodian government to assist in the release of these innocent Malaysians as soon as possible”.

This week the European Union reminded Cambodia that the “clock is ticking” in terms ofreleasing trade privileges due to ongoing human rights concerns. The EU officially began the process of imposing sanctions, and these sanctions could be detrimental to Cambodia’s economy as the EU is Cambodia’s largest trade export. The current process undertaken by the EU will be ongoing for six months as the EU monitors the situation in Cambodia, and then a final decision will be made about permanent withdraw of trade preferences.

Mexico

As caravans of migrants continue to flow toward the United States, it is the Mexican towns on the border facing the biggest effects. While NGOs and churches in these towns are working to provide food and shelter to these large groups of migrants, community members remain suspicious and officials are feeling overwhelmed. In the town of Piedras Negas, only 15 asylum requests are handled per day, forcing 1700 migrants to stay in the makeshift shelter of an abandoned factory until their requests are processed – which could take 5-7 months. Those staying in the shelter say that conditions are good, but authorities’ fears continue to increase over an ever-growing number of refugees and a potential closure of the US border.

Maldives

Former Maldives President Abdullah Yameen was charged with money laundering, allegedly receiving one million dollars stolen from the state. He will face a sentence of up to 15 years, despite his denial of any misconduct. The Maldives government is now seeking international help to attempt to recover the millions of dollars that were lost during Yameen’s presidency.

Zimbabwe

The Trump administration issued a statement this week warning Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa to not use excessive force on the country’s citizens. As protests have been breaking out over the past few weeks, the army and police have responded violently, killing at least 17 and injuring 600 more. The Zimbabwe government has stated that they will not remove military force from the streets until the protests have been stopped.

Teachers unions have suspended their national strike, returning to work on Monday after meeting with the country’s Education Minister. Teachers warn though, that if the government does not meet their demands, they will go on strike again.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo continues to see the effects of the recent Ebola outbreak, that has taken 502 lives, while 271 have been effectively cured. While a vaccination program is ongoing, and has helped prevent deaths, there are now active allegations against health workers for using the vaccine in exchange for sexual favors, specifically targeting vulnerable locations resulting in further gender-based violence. The Ministry of Health stated that participants in focus groups had, “expressed concerns about women and girls being offered Ebola-related services in exchange for sexual favours”.

Martin Fayulu, the runner-up for the DRC presidential election in 2018, has called for a rematch. Fayulu has met with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and EU Foreign Relations Chief, Federica Mogherini regarding the potential rematch. Fayulu believes that the results had beenfabricated, and suggested setting up an African Union special committee upon receiving results.

Colombia

Colombia’s migration office has “cancelled over 300 daily entrance passes for Venezuelan politicians and their families who support President Nicolas Maduro” The head of Colombia’s migration agency issued a statement saying that it’s not fair for supporters of the dictatorship to freely enter the country and enjoy the benefits while 800,000 migrants have had to flee Venezuela for Colombia because of hunger and supply shortages.

Venezuela

The US is seeking a United Nations Security Council resolution that will call on Venezuela toconduct fair presidential elections with international observers present. Donald Trump’s Latin Advisor claimed this week that “there is not a single scenario” in which Nicolas Maduro and his “cronies” would retain and hold power in Venezuela. Russia continues to support Maduro, thus refusing to support a US-led campaign.

Guaido revealed on Monday, February 11th that he and his team had delivered the first shipmentof international humanitarian aid, although he did not state how he was able to deliver the aid or where it had come from. He did state the aid that was delivered was small in scale due to the Maduro’s blocking of the border last week.

This week Maduro threatened Juan Guaido, stating, “This person, who believes that politics is a game and he can violate the constitution and the law, sooner or later will have to answer before the courts”. This comes alongside news of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled Congress naming a new board of directors for the oil firm PDVSA in an effort to remove the oil revenue from Maduro’s control.

Malaysia

The trial for former Malaysian Prime Minister has been postponed with no new date set. Najib Razak is on trial for nearly 40 counts of corruption, stemming from the 1MDB deal launched in 2009 as a “multibillion dollar investment by a Saudi oil firm” which was supposed to be used to create jobs within Malaysia. Suspicions emerged when Najib’s family was suddenly seen flaunting huge amounts of wealth, and an investigation found “hundreds of millions of dollars” placed in Najib’s bank account in 2013.

Philippines

Maria Ressa, Philippine journalist arrested Wednesday, February 15 on charges of “cyber-libel”was freed on bail following international condemnation. Maria Ressa is recognized in her field as being named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018, having a career with CNN, and eventually becoming co-founder of Rappler, one of the most hard-hitting investigatory news outlets based in the Philippines. Activists were almost immediately vocal in their discouraging of treatment of Ressa, including former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who called Ressa’s arrest “outrageous”. Amnesty International had previously called out President Rodrigo Duterte’s government for “relentlessly intimidating and harassing” journalists.

Thailand

Thailand’s Princess has been disqualified from running for Prime Minister. Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya announced just last week that she would run as the Thai Save the Nation party’s candidate for prime minister, but was shut down after her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, said that her running would be “inappropriate.” Soon after the king made his announcement, the Election Commission announced that “monarchy must remain above politics” and that the princess would be officially disqualified from running.

Other news:

Iran – Following the wave of protests that occurred in Iran in 2018, there remain unanswered questions regarding the deaths of nine protesters who died under “suspicious circumstances”, and a lack of acknowledgment for protesters that were killed in the streets while protesting. The Worldwide Threat Assessment for 2019 was released on January 29, where the US Director of National Intelligence stated, “we assess that Tehran is prepared to take more aggressive security measures in response to renewed unrest”. (CNN)

Nigeria – With the upcoming February 16 presidential and legislative elections, many have fears of significant violence erupting following the elections. On Sunday, February 10, five members of the All Progressive Congress (APC) were shot and killed, leading authorities to believe it to be a targeted attack by the opposition. This week, two electoral offices were burned down, sparking suspicion and general concern. Nigerian elections have resulted in violence in the past, instilling fear that Saturday will be “no different from previous polls”. (Al Jazeera)

Spain – Eight leaders from the Catalonia separatist movement are set to go to trial next week in Madrid, where they could face up to 25 years in prison. Also in Madrid, 45,000 people have taken to the streets to protest Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s plan to have talks with secessionists. Conservatives in the country say that the offering of these talks is grounds for treason, while separatists rejected the offer, saying they want a new independence vote. (BBC)