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: 20 June 2019

Credit John Wessels/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Cuba

Cuba and the Cuban people are enduring economic turmoil after US sanctions and restrictions continue to take fold. Civilians are being forced to queue for food and endure sharp cuts in transport services. The latest move by President Donald Trump has been to ban American cruise ships from the communist-ruled nation last month, forcing approximately 800,000 tourists to change their travel plans. The Cuban state is also facing an economic crisis after its Southern communist ally, Venezuela, also faces international sanctions and continues to enter into more chaos.

Nicaragua

According to a report published by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) on June 19, the pro-government forces in Nicaragua committed human rights violations, some amounting to torture, during the suppression of protests against Daniel Ortega that began in April 2018. The abuses detailed in the report include, but are not limited to, “beating captured protestors…raping detainees…acid burns… [and] forced self-incriminating confessions.” The report also calls for governments in North America and Europe to impose targeted sanctions against top Nicaraguan authorities.

North Korea

State media reported from both China and North Korea that China’s President Xi Jinping will make his first trip to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Un, marking the first trip by a Chinese president in fourteen years to North Korea. The meeting will take place two days before the G-20 Summit, amid rising tensions in the Korean Peninsula after failed talks between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un earlier this year, and a trade-war between the US and China. China will reportedly give 100,000 tons of humanitarian aid and food to the North Korean regime.

Myanmar

A new UN report commissioned by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has concluded that there was a “systemic failure” of the UN in handling the Rohingya crisis over the past decade. The report sheds light on serious errors and a “dysfunctional performance” in crafting and handling a response to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. The report mainly highlighted the fact that there were competing strategies between UN agencies and a mistrust in relations with Myanmar’s government, which helped enable the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya ethnic minority in the Rakhine state. This report comes as the UN threatens to withdraw aid to the Rakhine state  to avoid being complicit in a “policy of apartheid” for Rohingya Muslims. This policy shift is meant to put pressure on the government to close internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, which currently house about 128,000 displaced Rohingya.

United States

The tensions between the United States and Iran are reaching a boiling point as Iran shoots down a US naval drone, claiming it infringed on its airspace. This happened just two days after Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State privately delivered warnings intended for Iranian leaders that any attack by Tehran or its proxies resulting in the death of even one American service member will generate a military counterattack. As part of raising pressure on Iran, the Pentagon announced the deployment of additional 1000 troops in the Middle East.

In response to the United States’ scrapping trade privileges for India, the South Asian country has responded by imposing retaliatory tariffs on 28 United States goods, raising tensions between the two countries before the upcoming G20 meeting.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump formally launched his campaign for the 2020 election in Orlando, Florida. In his speech, he focused on the growing economy and announced that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency would next week conduct raids aimed at finding and deporting millions of people who live in the US without the proper documentation.

Cambodia

On June 19, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement that urged Cambodian authorities to drop charges against two former Radio Free Asia journalists, claiming that the espionage charges are politically motivated. The two were arrested on claims that they had “illegally collected information for a foreign source.” The arrests and nine-month detention of the journalists is seen as just a small piece of Cambodia’s crusade against media dissidents.

Cambodian authorities have questioned, summoned, or detained more than 140 members of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in what seems to be an effort to silence dissent. The CNRP was the only opposition party until it was dissolved by a court in late 2017. Some of those detained were charged with “incitement to commit a felony” which is an inappropriate charge for showing political support.

Mexico

After US President Donald Trump announced hardball immgration policies to curb immigration northwards –– imposing five percent tariffs and cutting humanitarian aid in Latin America –– Mexico deployed approximately 6,000 troops to its southern border with Guatemala. Mexico said that the country detained 800 migrants over the weekend. Mexico’s counter reactionary policies may help counter the American tariffs, but have hurt the popular Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The immigration crisis marks the first strife between President Obrador and his base with resignations from the head of the immigration authority, Tonatiuh Guillen, after Mexico agreed to house migrants at the American-Mexico border, and his favorability rating is down seven points since March. Regardless, Obrador remains popular with 72% approval. In another attempt to appease President Trump’s hardball policies, Mexico became the first nation to pass the USMCA in a 114-4 vote, but the deal is still being debated in Canada and America, meaning that the trade deal ratified on Thursday will not be the final version.

Maldives

The Maldives has recently been caught in a geo-political tug-of-war between China and India due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean. This week, India got the leg up as the Maldives announced that it has canceled a deal with China to build an observatory with the Maldives in the Indian ocean. India was concerned that this observatory would give the Chinese an advantage in an important Indian Ocean shipping route as well as having the potential for military encroachment on India, as the observatory would have been close to Indian land. This announcement comes after a recent visit to the Maldives by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first in eight years.

As the political situation in the Maldives cools off after many tumultuous years, the European Union has announced that they are revoking sanctions against the Maldives that were meant to stabilize the country and create an inclusive political situation. This announcement coincides with the Maldives Partnership Forum, where the government announced that over 1 billion USD were raised for development projects.

Zimbabwe

The economic crunch in Zimbabwe, which is experiencing a rise in inflation rates unseen since 2009, when the Zimbabwean dollar collapsed due to hyperinflation, has prompted the government to implement strict austerity policies, promising prosperity. This austerity has manifested itself in the inability of the government to provide certain core services — the Zimbabwean government does not have enough paper or ink to print passports, denying people the access to medical services and employment abroad. The prisons in Zimbabwe, overfilled with people imprisoned by the new government, are severely lacking medicine and food, as well as show uninhabitable conditions. Currently, Zimbabweans, who are struggling with cash shortages and a 100% inflation rate, do not have access to electricity for eighteen to twenty hours a day, as load-shedding allows access to power mostly in the dead of the night.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) does not qualify as an international threat, even though cases have been confirmed in neighbouring Uganda. Despite the WHO characterization –– or lack thereof –– there remains growing concern about the spread of the virus as at least 161 people were killed in the northeastern province of the DRC during ethnic clashes between farming and herding communities. Since June, hundreds of thousands have fled the northeastern province because of the clashes. Survivors describe victims being burned alive or hacked to death with machetes, including young children and babies. On Tuesday, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) expressed deep alarm over the brutal outbreak of violence in the DRC.

Colombia

Major landslides in central Colombia have disconnected the eastern portion of the country with the rest of the country. A road that connects the two regions has been completely wiped out. These landslides have had a major impact on trade, transport, and travel thus far and has led to the region asking the central government to declare an economic emergency for relief. The regions worry that the landslides will lead to a temporary spike in food and transport prices. Poor weather has hindered the reconstruction process of the road.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom and Colombia signed a new climate partnership agreement that has the UK committing $8.5 million to help Colombia protect their unique ecosystem and fight climate change. This new investment comes on top of the $130 million the UK has already given to the country for this push. Both countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Climate Accords, and this new investment is meant to accelerate the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Venezuela

The United Nations Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet has arrived to Caracas to probe the human rights violations by the Maduro regime, meeting with the regime and the victims of human rights violations. Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuelan opposition has called for protests and mobilizations to coincide with Bachelet’s visit, in a bid to make violations of the regime much more visible to the international arena.

Guaidó has been under fire this week, as the government accuses him and his team of corruption in connection to United States humanitarian aid coming from Colombia. In response, Guaidó has dismissed the individuals accused and opened an inquiry into corruption amidst his ranks, offering transparency.

The Venezuelan refugee crisis is continuing, as projections show that over 5 million people will have fled the country by the end of 2019, creating new issues with human rights and the treatment of asylum seekers in Latin America.  As of now, only 21,000 Venezuelans out of 460,000 who have sought asylum have been recognised as refugees.

Malaysia

Over the past six weeks, 15 Batek nomadic tribes people have died in the village of Kuala Koh, an isolated village deep in Malaysia’s northeast region. Measles is to blame for the deaths and the treatment of over 100 others in the village. Malaysia health ministry confirmed on Monday that 37 of the 112 who had fallen sick had been infected with measles. The village of Kuala Koh is quite isolated, and suffers from a lack of running water and electricity, with the nearest hospital being 75 kilometers away.

Philippines

On Monday, Phillipino President Rodrigo Duterte broke his silence regarding the sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese ship in the West Philippine Sea (or the South China Sea). President Duterte dismissed it as a ” little maritime accident,” and not what protesters are calling Chinese aggression. The sinkage is the most heated issue in the West Philippine Sea since the Scarborough Shoal standoff in April 2012, which prompted the Philippines to file a historic case against China months later. Some anti-Chinese Filipino protests were not content with Duterte’s statement, burning twenty-two Chinese flags, an homage to the amount of Phillipino sailors killed.  

Thailand

Thailand was selected as a member of the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 2020 until 2022. Thailand has been selected to sit on the committee for the Asia and Pacific Region, alongside China, Bangladesh and South Korea. The last time Thailand sat on the council charged with proposing and reviewing international policy on economic, social, and environmental development was from 2005 to 2007. The government of Thailand has said they are committed to advancing ECOSOC’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and will use previous Thai development initiatives to help guide them.

Vietnam

Vietnam has placed tariffs on certain Chinese imports like steel and aluminum in order to close China’s access to bypassing US tariffs by branding the products as “Made in Vietnam” and exporting them from the country. This action shows a commitment to good trade relations with the United States, supporting them in the US-China trade conflict. Vietnam was visited by the Thai Navy Commander as part of growing political and defense ties between the two countries, perhaps indicative of a closer alliance in Southeast Asia.

Iran

A US drone was shot down by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard early Thursday morning, reports say. A spokesperson for the Iranian forces claimed that the drone had entered Iranian airspace while a US official said the incident occurred over international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, the same location that two tankers were sunk last week. The drone attack comes at a time of heightened tension between Iran and the United States, and two days after President Trump announced he would deploy an additional 1000 troops to the Middle East in response to the tanker attacks.

Sudan

Sudan’s former president Omar-al Bashir was formally charged with corruption related offenses after being detained in April. This was Bashir’s first public appearance in three months. The charges come after Bashir was ousted by the Sudananese Transitional Military Council (TMC), putting the country’s political crisis further towards disaster. Despite the internet blackout by the TMC and the violent crackdown leaving over hundreds dead, Sudanaese protesters have begun a “revolutionary escalation” to pressure the TMC to hand over power to civilians and condemn the crackdown on a sit-in camp earlier this month. Civilian leaders say that the TMC has lost their trust after the violence.

Russia

Russia has secured the support of two more regional allies in their effort to end the eight year civil war in Syria. The Russian special envoy to Syria Alexander Lavrentyev announced that Lebanon and Iraq have agreed to support the Russians in their efforts, which comes as the US policy towards Syria has come under increasing scrutiny. This will certainly aid in Russian efforts to prop up the Assad regime, as Lebanon and Iraq are close allies with the Syrian government’s main regional supporter, Iran.

Libya

Fayez al-Sarraj, the Prime Minister of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), has proposed holding elections in order to stop conflict in the country, to be held before the end of 2019. This proposal was made in the context of an impending battle between GNA and the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Hifter, over Tripoli. Many fear that this battle may return the country to the days of civil war and divide it even further. Hifter has vowed to continue his offensive until he takes Tripoli. The conflict rages on, as the Libyan army, aligned with the GNA, took control of Tripoli airport from Hifter’s forces.

Eritrea

A social media movement called ‘yiakl,’ which means enough, is spearheaded by Eritireans living abroad in the U.S., U.K., and Europe campaign is gaining steam by calling for an end to what they say is a repressive regime in their home country. The group is using social media by paralleling the ‘ice bucket challenge’ by nominating people in videos to denounce the “North Korea of Africa.” The movement hopes to mirror the Sudanese people-powered campaign that helped toppled their dictator-for-life.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-48034365

Hong Kong

Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has signaled that she will not reintroduce the controversial extradition bill, but refused calls to resign amid the controversy and massive protests. This marks a major win for the protestors and a defeat for Beijing-backed Lam, who has faced immense pressure from millions of protestors to scrap the bill. This past Sunday, about two million people flooded the streets of Hong Kong in a second round of protest against the bill, putting severe pressure on Lam’s government to acquiesce to their demands. This came after Lam offered a tear-filled apology on Saturday, but protesters were determined to continue their campaign. Lam has vowed to finish out her term which expires in 2020, saying she has “heard (them) loud and clear and have reflected deeply on all that has transpired.” The protests have left Lam in a weakened position to govern, with many viewing her as a “lame duck.”

Iraq

On Wednesday June 19, a rocket hit the headquarters of several global oil companies, including US company Exxon Mobil, in Iraq’s southern city of Basra. Three workers were injured while the others were medically examined at the location. The oil ministry claimed there was no damage to any of the oil production after the explosion. The explosion comes at a time of increased tension between the United States and Iran, with Iraq being seen as a potential battleground for the two nations.

Other News

France: The Women’s World Cup is under way in Paris, France. Scores of fans are hailing from all over to see 32 different countries compete for the sports’ most sought out trophy. The United States Women’s team set the record for most goals scored and largest victory when they defeated Thailand 13-0. There has been much debate over the implementation of video assistant referee (VAR) as France has twice been the beneficiary of VAR decisions. The host nation was awarded match-winning penalties against Norway and Nigeriain the group stages.

Ukraine: Ukrainian MP and military affairs analyst Dmytro Tymchuk, who had blogged extensively about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, was found shot dead at his home in Kiev on Thursday. According to officials, it is unclear whether he was murdered, killed himself deliberately, or shot himself on accident. Tymchuk was one of the most prominent and outspoken critics of Russian aggression and presence in Ukraine, leading to suspicion towards his death.

Saudi Arabia: United Nations special rapporteur, Agnes Callamard, published a report on June 19 that provides new details of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. The report places blame on Saudi Arabia,  claiming that aspects of Khashoggi’s death are coinsidered as torture. The report also claims there is credible evidence “warrants an additional probe into Crown Prince Mohammed’s role in the killing.” Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir says the UN report “contains clear contradictions and unfounded allegations, casting doubt on its credibility.”

 

Weekly Report: 14 June 2019

Sudanese protesters wave national flags as they chant slogans during a sit-in outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum, April 26, 2019. VOA.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s Congress passed a sweeping amnesty law backed by President Ortega that offers protection to police and military officers who took part in the government’s violent suppression of anti-government protests last year. Nicaraguan lawmakers said they were taking a stand for national unity, but the move has been rebuked by the United Nations’ top human rights official, Michelle Bachele. Those opposed to the law cite that it impedes the ability of domestic and international actors to determine who violated human rights; other opposition groups say that it offers impunity to violent state sponsored criminals. Another objection to the newly passed law is that it stipulates that political opposition members released cannot partake in new protests –– opposition members demur the law: “Free, but still imprisoned.”

North Korea

Tension and hostility continued to grow between the United States and North Korea this week. The United States, along with 25 other countries, is accusing North Korea of violating United Nations sanctions on the import of refined petroleum via illegal ship-to-ship transfers. A report submitted to the UN sanctions committee by the US calls for the immediate halt of these petroleum transfers and for stricter enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. Meanwhile, North Korean state media called for the United States to change its “hostile policy” towards the North on the eve of the one year anniversary of the US-North Korean Nuclear Summit. This announcement comes at the same time the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition at Nagasaki University in Japan released a report saying that the North has up to 30 nuclear warheads in a growing stockpile.

The human rights situation in the North has not improved since the Nuclear Summit. A South Korean based human rights watchdog, The Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), has identified over 300 purported execution sites across North Korea. After four years of research and interviews with over 600 North Korean defectors, the TJWG concluded that these public execution sites were used “as part of an arbitrary and aggressive use of the death penalty designed to intimidate its citizens.” Neither the North Korean or United States governments have responded to the report, although President Trump has recently cast doubt on the supposed execution of North Korea officials involved in nuclear talks with the US.

Myanmar

A revived free speech movement in Myanmar known as “Blue Shirts” have spoken out against the recent arrests of their activists. Myanmar’s military have shown little mercy on activists, many of which are facing charges for their connection to the protests. Civil society groups in Myanmar, such as Athan, Coexist Myanmar, and the Burmese-American Saddha: Buddhists for Peace have spoken in support of the activists and their right to freedom of speech. Activists say that 30 cases have been brought against people in Myanmar just between April and May. The group has also been active in their attempts to release two Reuters journalists reporting on the human rights violations committed against Rohingya Muslims .

This week, Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam met with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to discuss ongoing human rights violations of Rohingya Muslims and Myanmar’s unwillingness in starting the repatriation. Bangladesh has taken over 1.2 million Rohingyas, forced to leave Myanmar after a brutal crackdown targeted the ethnic minority towards the middle of 2017. Myanmar was supposed to begin repatriation in January of 2018, only to be delayed to November 15, 2018, and still no significant progressions have been made.

United States

The United States Commerce Department announced Monday that the 2020 Census will have a question of citizenship. The question was part of a pledge made by the Trump administration in order to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, and has been opposed by most democratic lawmakers and a number of immigrant-rights groups. The State of California also filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the question, arguing that it violates the constitution. Critics say that asking for citizenship status is racially motivated and could deter non-citizens from filling out the census, leading to a population undercount. President Trump has defended the question, saying that it would be “ridiculous” not to ask it. Democrats have voted to hold the Trump administration officials in contempt for refusing to hand over the files with the motivation for the question.

Mexico

Mexico is rapidly fortifying its southern border with Guatemala under pressure from the United States. It was given a 45-day deadline to establish a high-security border infrastructure at the fairly porous border with Guatemala, a stretch of jungle, river and mountains. Although Mexico’s president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador stated that the country’s migration policy will remain welcoming and progressive, the government sent 6000 troops to the southern border. The Trump administration threatens tariffs and designating Mexico as America’s enemy if the country does not meet the deadline imposed by the United States.

Maldives

India’s newly elected statesman, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made his first diplomatic trip to the Maldives where he promised to build a new cricket stadium and train young Maldvian men in the sport. The trip and gift by Prime Minister Modi was more than just an altruistic token: sources find that India sees an opportunity to use its soft power to draw the strategic archipelago deeper into its political orbit, and away from India’s economic rival, China. The trip is one of many diplomatic trips Modi and other ranking Indian officials will be taking into the region to solidify the world’s biggest democracy’s hegemon in the region. India also announced that it will restart tri-lateral NSA-level talks with Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Zimbabwe

In a continuing crackdown on civil society in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe National Army’s Military Intelligence (MI) unit placed several activists on its watchlist that it claims are planning to unseat President Emmerson Mnangagwa through violent activities. The MI unit claims that the people who were put on the list were being sponsored by and working closely with US nationals to unleash unrest across the nation. The activists have denied the allegations, saying the allegations fit into a larger crackdown on civil society after the government’s prosecution of seven human rights activists trained by CANVAS. This comes amidst fears that the deteriorating economy could plunge Zimbabwe into chaos and anarchy if the leaders of the major political parties fail to address societal issues without resorting to violence. A worrying report shows that the Mnangagwa government is preparing plans to crack down on any demonstrations. The report shows that steps taken in preparation include training police officers in paramilitary tactics and purchasing weapons and ammunition such as assault rifles and mortar bombs and grenades.

Laos

Following the dam collapse in the province of Attapeu in July 2018, the government has once again fallen behind on living allowance payments promised to survivors. Each survivor is entitled to $12 per month, as many have lost their property and family members as a result of the collapse. In November 2018, the government did not pay allowance for two months, and it seems they are back in a similar cycle.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

A border point between the DRC and Uganda is on high alert after a family infected with ebola was able to escape an isolation unit and cross into Uganda. Two of them died a few days after crossing the border. The spread to Uganda comes after months of trying to contain usually porous border crossings with rigorous health checks and isolation units. While there was a huge effort to keep the disease from spreading into Uganda, many are not surprised that it eventually did – though there are questions on how the family was able to get across the border with such heightened security. In order to contain the spread of the disease, the Ugandan government has suspended market days and urged people to stop shaking hands and hugging. Since the outbreak began in the DRC, nearly 2000 cases have been confirmed, with over 1300 confirmed deaths.

Colombia

Since the start of 2016, as Colombia began implementing its peace treaty with the leftist guerrilla group FARC, over 500 activists have been killed, including indigenous leaders, Afro-Colombian activists, and human rights campaigners. As the United Nations encourages the state to fully investigate the deaths of these human rights activists and campaigners, Bogota’s central Bolivar Plaza is becoming the site for a public display of art by artist Doris Salcedo and other community organizers as they etch the names of the dead using broken glass.  

Meanwhile, Jesus Santrich, a former FARC rebel, wanted in the United States for cocaine trafficking, has been sworn into office as a congressman, taking one of the 10 seats guaranteed for former rebels under the peace deal and evoking the anger of the detractors of the peace agreement.

Venezuela

World leaders are expected to meet in Stockholm, Sweden to discuss the ongoing conflict in Venezuela. Attendees of the meeting are expected to be Russia, some members of the EU, some members of the UN, and other countries. The United States was invited to the talks but decided against participating. Further, the Venezuelan government has put into circulation new banknotes that are aimed at lessening the economic burden on Venezuelans. However, people are skeptical, claiming that the banknotes make it more difficult to obtain change and will not alleviate the economic crisis.

On June 12, thirty-two Venezuelans went missing when their boat sank on its travel to Curacao, according to a politician. According to BBC, this is the third boat to capsize in recent weeks and is only a small fraction of the consequences of the severe economic crisis that has ravaged Venezuela and lead to an estimated four million leaving the country since 2015.

Philippines

President Duterte uses death squads to pursue his “War on Drugs,” but in an alarming development this week Duterte has turned the death squads on political activists. Vigilante death squads back by the government are killing farmers and protestors across the Philippines while the government is calling these protestors “armed communist rebels.” Duterte recently threatened to suspend the writ of habeas corpus for critics due to claims of a supposed communist plot to unseat his presidency. Activists are concerned that the President’s forces are indiscriminately using the death squads to go after his opponents.  

Thailand

Following election results in Thailand, opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit revealed to DW that he will not give up hope in becoming prime minister. Thanathorn represented the Democratic Front, an anti-military coalition, after his initial Future Forward Party (FFP) came in third in March’s vote. Thanathorn still faces legal charges, which could ultimately ban him from participating in politics. Voters of the opposition were vocal on social media following the election results, with hashtags #RIPTHAILAND and #NotMyPM trending on Twitter.

Vietnam

Michael Nguyen, a United States citizen detained in Vietnam on charges of “attempting to overthrow the state” is expected to go on trial at the end of the month. If found guilty, he could face the death penalty. Nguyen, along with two other activists, was arrested last July while traveling. Since a change in leadership three years ago, Vietnam has been intensifying its crackdown on dissidents. According to Amnesty International, 128 prisoners, including lawyers, human rights defenders, and pro-democracy campaigners, are currently being held for similar crimes.

Iran

Iranian TV reported that Nizar Zakka, a permanent resident of the United States who had been arrested in 2015 on disputed spying charges, was released from prison on June 10. The act, coming at a time when American-Iranian tensions have come to a boil, seems to be an effort to repair relations between the two countries.

Reports arrived claiming that two tankers, one belonging to Norway and one to Japan, suffered explosions in the Gulf of Oman on June 13. By the afternoon, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that Tehran was responsible for the attacks, further fueling tensions between the two countries. Late Thursday, the US Military released a video of what appears to show Iranian Naval forces removing an unexploded mine from one of the ships. The attacks came the same day that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, ensuring the Iranians’ commitment to peace and de-escalation of tensions in the region. The attack raises questions about American-Iranian relations and the security of one-third of the world’s oil that passes through the waterway.

Sudan

After negotiations with an Ethiopian envoy in Sudan, opposition protestors agree to suspend civil disobedience in exchange for concessions from the military on Tuesday June 11. With little progress being made, more international actors step in. On Thursday June 13, the United States named Donald Booth as the special envoy to Sudan to ensure American aid in finding a peaceful solution between protestors and the Transitional Military Council (TMC). Boothis set to meet with envoys from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

In addition to the network shutdown, events in Sudan have begun to gain coverage on social media, particularly on Twitter and Instagram where users have changed their profile pictures to blue backgrounds to show solidarity with those who have died and those who continue to protest in Sudan.

In most recent news, Human Rights Watch published a statement urging an end to the network shutdown immediately. “If the Transitional Military Council genuinely intends to restore peace and maintain good will with civilian opposition leaders, it should reverse this dangerous shutdown, which puts even more lives at risk,” said the acting emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. Further, On June 14, the TMC claimed responsibility for the attack that left over 100 dead in the capital city of Khartoum over a week ago. The spokesperson for the TMC, Sams al-Din Kabashi, stated, “We ordered the commanders to come up with a plan to disperse this sit-in. They made a plan and implemented it … but we regret that some mistakes happened.”

Russia

Police authorities abruptly released investigative journalist Ivan Golunov after being arrested for drug possession in Moscow last week. Golunov denies the allegations, and opposition members argue it’s just the Kremlin suppressing free media. Before Golunov was released, thousands peacefully protested with the notoriously factitious opposition members rally around the “fabricated criminal case.” Over 500 of the marchers were detained for participating in an unauthorized rally,” including prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and other known journalists

Libya

Armed clashes over control of Tripoli resumed yesterday between the UN-recognized Libyan government (GNA) and its rival forces affiliated with Gen. Khalifa Haftar. Despite an offensive started in April by Haftar’s forces to take Tripoli from the UN-recognized government, the GNA has retained its grip on the capital city. The US has called for a political solution between the two governments, even as the GNA is optimistic that it has the full support of the US government and that the US government will pressure Saudi Arabia and Egypt to end their support for Haftar. The continued fighting comes as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for all countries to implement a UN arms embargo against Libya. The appeal was made before the UN Security Council approved a resolution that authorized the inspection of ships going to and from Libya in order to implement the embargo.

Eritrea

A social media campaign has begun in Eritrea to oust Isaias Afwerki and force change in the one-party state. The campaign was inspired by the neighboring state Sudan’s overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Basshir. The campaign, #Enough in Arabic, Tigrinya, and other Eritrean languages, has been modeled along the lines of the viral ice bucket challenge, and has been started mostly by young Eritreans living in Europe and the United States after being forced to leave their country. The campaign on Facebook and Twitter calls on people to share and nominate their friends, as well as celebrities, to speak out on violence and repression in the country. Activists in the country have also taken to distributing leaflets and flyers to spread the word, since only 1.3% of the population has access to the highly restricted internet. Thirty human rights organizations also authored a letter this week to the UN HUman Rights Council calling out the worsening human rights situation and urging the council to support the adoption of a resolution to “maintain a monitoring and repor­ting mandate on the human rights si­tu­ation in Eritrea”.

Mr. Isaias first took power in 1993, and there has not been an election since. The government has banned all opposition parties and private media, as well as arresting critics and enforcing a military draft, forcing tens of thousands of young people to flee into Europe. Many had hoped that a peace deal with neighboring Ethiopia would open up political space, but Isaias remains as authoritarian as ever.

Hong Kong

On June 10th, Agnes Chow, a prominent student activist from Hong Kong went to Tokyo to present the protestors’ case to Japanese media and politicians in a bet to get their backing, vowing to resist the extradition bill. In response to the extradition bill proposed by the pro-Beijing Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, the United States declared that the bill puts Hong Kong’s special status under the 1992 Hong Kong Policy act in jeopardy. The act allows the semi-independent entity to be treated as distinct from China in trade and economic matters — if the United States abrogates the special status, Hong Kong would be struck by the ongoing tariff war between the US and China.

On June 12th, as Hong Kong’s lawmakers got ready to debate the bill, the legislative session was delayed due to the protests that shut down parts of the city. The police responded to the protests by using rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas and by employing violence, brutalizing the peaceful protesters, leaving 72 people injured. After the imprisonment of the leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, the mood in Hong Kong is much darker, as protesters don hard hats and refuse being photographed in fear of reprisals. The encrypted messaging application Telegram, used by the protesters was also a target of a major hacking campaign, most likely carried out by Beijing. As the final vote on the bill is scheduled for June 20th, the protesters are getting ready to continue their manifestations this weekend and next week.

 

Other News

Algeria – Algeria’s peaceful protest movement continues throughout this week, the grassroots movement known as “Hirak” among Algerians demanding a civilian-led transition to democracy. Algerian Army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah pushed out former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika about two months ago, and mass peaceful protests have persisted since. The military and protestors have yet to turn violent, one prominent sociologist of Algeria citing the reason for this among Algerian generals being, “because they are not sure their troops will be loyal to them.”

Moldova – After an inconclusive election in February, a coalition was formed between the pro-Russian Socialists and the pro-EU ACUM on June 8th, in a bet to unseat the Democratic Party, run by a prominent oligarch, Vlad Plahotniuc. The coalition was immediately challenged by Plahotniuc’s party, backed by the Constitutional Court, for missing a June 7th deadline. The court proceeded to unseat Socialist president Ivan Dodon, appointing former Democratic Party Prime Minister Pavel Filip as interim president, who called snap elections. The rival governments are vying for power, as the coalition Prime Minister Maia Sandu, with the support of Russia and European countries, tells civil servants to ignore the orders of the outgoing government.

Lebanon – Though Lebanon hosts over 1 million Syrian refugees, the country has remained firm on preventing the refugees from creating permanent settlements. Lebanese authorities have extended the deadline for refugees to deconstruct their settlements to July. The Lebanese policies continue to put strain on the refugees, many of which have been displaced for years now.

 

Weekly Report: 10 June 2019

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

Gabon

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

Bolivia

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

Nicaragua

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

North Korea

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

Myanmar

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

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

United States

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

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

Cambodia

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

Mexico

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

Zimbabwe

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

Colombia

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

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

Venezuela

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

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

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

Philippines

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

Thailand

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

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

Read more here.

Vietnam

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

Image result for iran flag   Iran

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

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

Image result for sudan flag  Sudan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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