Weekly Report: February 22, 2019

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: February 14, 2019

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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)

Weekly Report: February 8, 2019

Cuba

Cuba is now in the middle of the ongoing tensions between Colombia’s ELN rebel group and the Colombian government, as leaders from the rebel group have said that they will not leave Cubawithout confirmation from Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez that he will adhere to conditions agreed to by the previous president of Colombia. The conditions set by Marquez’s predecessor agree to: “guarantee guerrilla commanders safe return to Colombia or Venezuela within 15 days of peace talks, and to bar military offensives for 72 hours”. President Marquez has asked Cuba to extradite those representing the group. Cuba has been the previous site of peace talks between the group and the Colombian government, and have openly stated that while they denounce the car bombings confirmed to be caused by the rebel group, they will still follow the protocol of the conditions as it has been previously established.

Gabon

An anti-government activist has been released after being held 17 months for creating videos deemed hostile to President Ali Bongo. Herve Mombo Kinga was initially charged with spreading propaganda and insulting the president, and faced 8 years in prison. Mombo Kinga was released on Tuesday after the judge threw out the case.

Bolivia

A devastating mudslide in Bolivia has caused significant damage, resulting in at least 14 people killed and around 50 injured. The mudslide comes amidst economic concern, as Brazil and Argentina, Bolivia’s biggest natural gas export customers, have announced that they plan to boost their own economies by becoming their own outputs and work to further access the global market. As the 2019 presidential elections approach, Bolivia remains in a debt thatsteadily increased during Evo Morales’s presidency.

Nicaragua

The wave of oppression launched by Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua continues to restrict freedoms and force the regime’s opponents to flee. The crackdown began soon after a huge number of protests in April calling for Ortega’s resignation. Since the crackdown began, 324 people have been killed and thousands more have either been arrested or forced to flee the country. One of the greatest targets has been the media, with many journalists being arrested, and opposition media sources being shut down. Despite sanctions from the U.S., Ortega says he will not step down. As long as he stays in power, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans will continue to flee to nearby Costa Rica.

North Korea

A confirmed second summit meeting between North Korea and the United States is set to take place February 27th and 28th in Vietnam. President Trump has said that “the meeting is set” and that he sees a “good chance” of reaching a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Last week, Trump even praised North Korea on their “tremendous progress” in denuclearization negotiations.

Despite Trump’s praise and optimism, a report was recently released showing that North Korea is attempting to hide and protect its weapons. The report was submitted to the UN Security Council sanctions committee on Friday, February 1. In this report submitted to the UN Security Council, sanctions monitors stated that, “The North Korean nuclear and missile program remains intact and shows no change in North Korea’s behavior”.

Myanmar

Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry has begun to protest the number of Rakhine Buddhist and tribal groups that are fleeing from the violence in Myanmar. Bangladesh has already taken in over 1,000,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees, and are struggling to keep up with new refugees trying to escape violence between the military and insurgent groups. Bangladesh has reached out to Myanmar’s government, asking them to take “effective and urgent steps” to stop the violence. The protest comes shortly after Angelina Jolie addressed a group of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, calling for improved conditions and a commitment to ending the violence.

United States

President Donald Trump delivered his much-anticipated State of the Union Address on Tuesday, February 5, touching on both his infamous wall and upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February. Trump confirmed that he plans to send another 3,750 troops to the southern border with Mexico, and again mentioned his desire for building a wall by stating: “In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall – but the proper wall never got built. I’ll get it built”. In this State of the Union Address, he confirmed his second meeting with Kim Jong-un, while adding, “If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea”.

Protestors gathered at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Virginia on Monday, February 4th to challenge Governor Ralph Northam’s position of power after racist photos of him were released. The photos date back to his medical school career, showing two people, one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan mask and robe, and another in blackface. Northam announced that he was still going to continue serving the remainder of his term, which would be until 2022. Around 100 protesterswere present in Richmond, carrying signs both calling for Northam’s resignation and advocating for him to step down.

Cambodia

A new report shows that 17 survivors of recent acid attacks in Cambodia did not receive free government treatment – a right they are supposedly entitled to. Legislation introduced in 2012 was meant to stop the crime by holding attackers responsible and providing the necessary recovery aid for free. While the number of attacks has gone down since the legislation was introduced, acid is still readily available for purchase on the streets, and many attacks still go unreported. Additionally, doctors interviewed had no idea that acid attack survivors should be treated free of charge.

Sam Rainsy, an opposition leader and acting president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party currently living in exile, has said that his return to Cambodia this year is “imminent”. He hopes that his return to the country will encourage Cambodians to rise up against the current prime minister, Hun Sen. In response, the General Immigration Department has ordered his immediate arrest, should he return to the country.

Mexico

This week the massive border strikes in Mexican border city Matamoros are potentially coming to a close. The uproar began in mid-January, following President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s announcement of his plans to double the minimum wage in Mexico’s border zones, responding to shockingly low wages as some laborers make less than $1 an hour. The President was supposedly unaware that some union contracts at the plants are indexed to minimum wage increases. At this point in the mass strike, 44 of the 48 factories have compromised with 20%pay increases.

President Donald Trump announced his plan to send 3,750 troops to the southern border with Mexico during his State of the Union Address given on Wednesday, February 5. The soldiers jobs while at the border will be to be help border-patrol agents, install miles of razor wire, and continue surveillance work in the area.

A small Arizona town that borders Mexico has called the recently installed wall of razor wire along the border fence inhuman, fueled further with information that US troops installed more wire this past weekend. The city council is scheduled to vote on a proclamation condemning the wire. Mayor of the small town of Nogales, Arturo Garino said, “That wire is lethal, and I really don’t know what they’re thinking by putting it all the way down to the ground”.

Maldives

Former Maldives president Yameen Abdul Gayoom, and a former Cabinet minister have been charged with money laundering. The case comes from a “shady deal” to develop certain islands for tourism, and a mysterious 1 million dollars in Yameen’s account. The president was elected out of office last year, and the Maldives’ new president has vowed to investigate corruption charges surrounding Yameen’s presidency.

Zimbabwe

This week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe has blamed the violently escalating protests on western countries and “rogue NGOs”. Mnangagwa specifically mentioned the United States, stating: “the west does not care about human rights…I’m (certain that) the US is more worried about their interests in the region than anything else. They would accept a dictator as long as they are pliable and do their bidding”. Violence has continued since mid-January, and at this point in the protests there are at least 12 deaths of citizens and several cases of beatings, torture, and arrests being monitored by the Human Rights Watch.

The Zimbabwe Teachers Union and the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) planned to strike earlier this week, demanding a raise in wages amidst the economic crisis that sparked the previous protests. Despite their anger and desire for immediate change, thereremained a poor turnout as many were fearful of response from security forces; video footage of police response to protestors last month was alarming and clearly deterring to many. Some children were reportedly sent home on Tuesday morning, while others attended school but werenot taught lessons due to the strike.

In the midst of chaos, Mnangagwa invited opposition candidates from the 2018 elections to further discuss the post-election dialogue, perhaps in a final effort to bring some calm and cooperation to Zimbabwe.

Laos

Victims of July’s dam collapse in southern Laos are still suffering from the effects of this disaster. Those who lost their homes were forced to move into temporary housing, and still haven’t been relocated 6 months later. Though better than the tents they initially were sent to, the houses they are in now are overpacked and unsanitary, causing many cases of dengue fever and malnutrition. Compensation for those who lost family members has been disbursed, but thecompensation for those who lost their homes has yet to be approved by the government.

Vietnam

Vietnam is the official host country of the second summit meeting for denuclearization talks between United States President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, set to take place February 27 and February 28. Vietnam is a prime location, clearly well thought out as it offers some advantage to both countries. For Kim Jong-un, Vietnam is relatively close to North Korea, and certainly a shorter travel distance than potential other options for location. For the United States, the choice of Vietnam is symbolic, telling of the history of the previously warring United States and Vietnam that today are able to have positive relations since the end of the war.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Recently elected president Tshisekedi has begun to face some of the first challenges of his presidency, including a number of strikes, as well as calls for “peaceful resistance” coming from his rival candidate Martin Fayulu. The stikes began last week, coming from a variety of sectors, including firefighters, maritime transport workers, and private sector employees. Most of the workers are suffering from many months of back-pay and are taking the opportunity of new leadership to demand changes.

Colombia

Colombia has been opening their borders to millions of people, so many that numbers are beingcompared by the United Nations to the movement of migrants across the Mediterranean in 2015. Colombia has specifically opened its borders to Venezuelan migrants; the UN has estimated that around 5,000 Venezuelans have been leaving their country each day as the economic crisis worsens. Along the border, aid workers and volunteers have noted the sudden and somewhat recent rise of Venezuelan migrants in the area. “I’ve never seen a government trying this hard to register people and leave the borders open”, said deputy director for the International Rescue Committee, Trisha Bury.

The United States is attempting to send aid to Venezuela as the crisis steadily worsens; United States trucks with aid, food, and medicine is headed for Cucuta, a border city between Colombia and Venezuela. US-supported leader Juan Guaido has been attempting to receive humanitarian aid, but opposition leader Nicolas Maduro has been clear about his rejection of any help from the United States.

Venezuela

Tensions continue to rise both within Venezuela and worldwide as more and more countries begin to weigh in and take sides regarding the presidential crisis. As of February 4th, most EU member states, including the U.K., France, Germany, and Spain have joined the United States in backing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president. On February 5th, eleven of the fourteen members of the Lima Group, which includes Canada and Latin American countries, also announced their support for Guaidó. The support for Guaidó coming from outside countries has angered Maduro, who said when asked about the possibility of war that it “depends on the level of madness and aggressiveness of the northern empire and its Western allies”. Many fear that this statement means that Maduro could be warning of a civil war within the country, also stating that President Trump could “repeat a Vietnam in Latin America” by sending military intervention. The EU remains that they will recognize Guaidó as interim president until Maduro calls for a new election.

The people of Venezuela have also become vocal in their calls for a new election, taking to the streets to protest Maduro’s presidency. On February 2nd, tens of thousands of protesters gathered, hoping to give Maduro the final push to step down, though their efforts were unsuccessful. Maduro remains insistent that he will hold his position, and also remains unwilling to accept any foreign aid. Years of food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation have led to the current crisis, forcing thousands of Venezuelans to flee across the Colombian border every day. Many countries, including Canada and Germany, have pledged to send almost 50 million dollars in aid, but most efforts have been blocked by Maduro. On February 8th, two US trucks carrying food and medicine supplies were stopped at the border by a blockade. While Guaidó has called on the country’s armed forces to let the aid in, the military remains loyal to Maduró, who fears that the aid could be a cover for an invasion to oust him.

Malaysia

The recent clearing of Ipoh’s Kledang Hill is causing concern in Malaysia, as the reasons for clearing and stripping of the hill remain completely unknown. There has been a loss of hundreds of trees at this point in the clearing process, despite the hill being a part of Kledang-Saiong Forest Reserve, making it part of a protected and preserved region. Field officer Sahabat Alam Malaysia Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman has stated that the “lack of information about the project invited suspicions that the clearing activity was illegal”.

Philippines

An award-winning journalist, Maria Ressa, has been arrested on tax evasion charges, but now faces libel charges for an allegedly defamatory article published in 2012. The charges carry up to 12 years of jail time. The charges have been criticized by both Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International, who have called them absurd and demanded an end to her harassment.

The Philippines has declared a measles outbreak following 1,813 measles cases and 26 deaths from the disease as of January 26th, which is a 74% increase since 2018. There is now concern for the 2.4 million children who have not been vaccinated. While the country has tried to encourage vaccinations, many parents fear that there may be complications related to a dengue vaccine. As a result, vaccination rates have dropped to 60% in 2017, well below the target goal of 95%.

Thailand

Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya has announced that she will run for Prime Minister with the Thai Raksa Chart Party. The move comes as a surprise to many, as the Thai royal family has not been involved in politics for years, and the era of absolute monarchy ended 86 years ago. If she were to win the position, she and her brother, who is set to be coronated as king in May, would hold two major power positions in the country. Many hope that if the princess is elected as prime minister, she will bring democracy and development back to the country, and force the junta rule to finally end.

Other news:

Sudan – There have been ongoing protests in Sudan, actively threatening the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir, who has previously been accused of war crimes. Protests initially began in December of 2018 when the government tripled the price of bread. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, and pharmacists were all involved in the protests taking place in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. Bashir delivered a speech following the ongoing protests, promising growth and action to be taken within the country, saying, “The youth, for whom we have built universities, have to be ready to continue with the mission of building a new Sudan”. The Human Rights Watch has reported that at least 51 people have been killed in protest-related violence. (Al Jazeera)

Weekly Report: February 1, 2019

Cuba

As the Cuban government makes the decision to push for legalization of gay marriage, Evangelical churches and their members have made their lack of support clear, causing concern that the reform will be rejected. The legalization of gay marriage will appear sometime this month in a state-proposed constitutional reform in a nationwide referendum. Pastors have been encouraging widespread “no” votes.

This vocal rejection of gay marriage is not new from the Cuban evangelical churches; in December of 2018 as the conversation began in favor of changing the language for the description of marriage to the union of “two people”, protests broke out from members of evangelical churches.

Gabon

Gabon’s president, Ali Bongo, returned to the country on January 15th, about one week after a failed coup attempt. The visit was short-lived, as the president returned to Morocco for further treatment just one day after his arrival. Bongo has been president since 2009, but after suffering a stroke in October, doubts of his ability to lead became evident. The coup attempt was executed by a group of soldiers seizing control, but was shut down quickly by those loyal to the president.

Bolivia

Bolivian president, Evo Morales, has secured the position as official candidate of his Movement for Socialism party after winning the primary election this week. This means that Morales will be able to run for a fourth presidential term, a move rejected by 51.3 percent of voters in a referendum in 2016, but approved by the Bolivian Supreme Court in December.

Nicaragua

There has been an ongoing closure of human rights organizations both local and internationally based in Nicaragua, prompting investigations of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government, questioning its oppressive and potentially harsh nature. Alvaro Leiva, secretary of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) has called this a “crisis of repression”,stating that Ortega’s government is repressing fundamental rights.

The staff of the ANPDH previously received a number of threats, forcing the closure of their offices in Central America for safety reasons.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and two members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also been forced out by Ortega, signaling significant and further concern.

This week, the European parliament openly denounced Nicaragua’s tactics, calling the situation a “democratic crisis”.

North Korea

US Intelligence has released a report stating that North Korea is unlikely to give up their nuclear weapons. In June of 2018, President Trump met with Kim Jong-un to agree upon a path todenuclearization, but this report shows that little has been done to actually remove nuclear threats from either country.

Myanmar

Myanmar has experienced a resurgence of violence between security forces and the Arakan Army, resulting in a total of 26 deaths total from both sides. Myanmar officially classified the Arakan Army as a terrorist organization on January 18.

The Rakhine state founded the Arakan Army in 2009 with a primary goal of self-governance. The increasingly tense relations between the Arakan Army and the security forces continues to negatively affect the ongoing goal of achieving peace in the region.

United States

On January 26th, President Trump announced that he would back a deal to temporarily end the 35 day government shutdown, providing funding for federal agencies until February 15th. Despite making a concession on temporarily reopening the government, Mr. Trump still insists that the border wall will still be built.

Cambodia

Cambodia has been under the public eye since the release of the EU threat, warning the country that they would impose significant sanctions and remove trading preferences if the country did not actively address and investigate a number of human rights concerns occurring within the country.

Sam Rainsy, a member of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is involved in similar negative relations with Cambodia, as the country has renewed calls for Rainsy’s arrest under charges of defamation. Rainsy will reportedly return to Cambodia by March of 2019, despite threats of his arrest.

Mexico

A pipeline explosion in central Mexico last week has now killed 114 people, with another 33 people still hospitalized. The explosion was caused by oil thieves illegally tapping into the pipeline, creating a gasoline spill, which quickly caught fire.

Teacher protests in the western state of Michoacan have blocked railways for over two weeks, creating growing fears of a food shortage in the area. Because of the block, trains have not been able to deliver important staples such as corn flour and wheat flour since January 14. As many as 252 trains carrying 2.1 million tons of goods have been unable to operate during this time.

Maldives

There is significant concern over threat to personal freedoms in the Maldives after news of a young woman in Narifuri, an island north of the Maldives, was sentenced to death by stoning on charges of adultery on January 7, 2019. Despite the Maldives Supreme Court overturning the ruling within a day, many continued to take to social media to debate the religious undertone existing behind the ruling. Ibrahim Ismail, a chairman of Mandhu College in the Maldives,challenged posts from Islamic clerics, arguing the young woman’s sentence was defensible. The tense debate over social media eventually escalated to open threats being made towards Ismail from Islamist groups, and signs of an assailant breaking the glass of his office window.

This news is somewhat shocking, as it was reported that there have been notable human rights improvements in the Maldives since the election of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in 2018.

Zimbabwe

Women in Zimbabwe gathered on Wednesday to protest the recent allegations of sexual violence by military forces in the country. Police have claimed that there was only one report of rape, though many women’s rights groups have argued otherwise. These allegations, along with the deaths of at least 12 people and ransacking of people’s homes are all part of the government’s violent response to a 3-day shutdown caused by protests regarding rising fuel prices a few weeks ago.

Over the past few weeks, living costs have more than doubled, and the salaries people are receiving aren’t even enough to afford the transport to and from work. Zimbabweans fear that the government crackdown could lead them back to levels of suppression last seen during the era of President Mugabe, who was ousted in November 2017.

Laos

Shortly after the news of three Thai political activists being reported missing had reached human rights organizations,  two bodies were found along the Mekong River prompting concern in late December. On January 22, 2019, it was reported that the bodies matched the DNA to two of the political activists that had previously been reported missing. The Human Rights Watch has urged the Lao government to further investigate the disappearance of the activists.

Vietnam

Five former top public security officers have been sentenced to jail for “abusing position and power while performing duties”. Three have also been charged with disclosing state secrets, facing a sentence of 11 to 12 years.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is feeling hopeful with the newly elected president, Felix Tshisekedi. In January 2019, Tshisekedi gave a speech stating that the DRC will not be a country of “division, hate, or tribalism”. The nation post-Kabila is one that exists with deep distrust in the government, perhaps one of Tshisekedi’s most difficult jobs to perform relatively quickly in his new leadership position.

Tshisekedi has already inspired monumental change within the country; this week around 50 rebel recruiters from the Kasai region, out of respect and recognition for Tshisekedi as their new president, made the decision to surrender; authorities estimated nearly 1700 militia fighters in the region.

Columbia

Since Maduro’s inauguration in Venezuela, the number of people crossing into Columbia to escape food shortages and hyperinflation has dramatically increased. Human rights groups on the border hope that this influx of migrants will draw enough attention to bring necessary support for aid groups. The IRC showed a 21 percent increase in migration to Columbia between late 2018 and January 2019, with over 1000 people per day crossing the border in January.

Venezuela

Early this week, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela accused Guaido of “violating the constitution and laws”, and alleged that the United States was staging a coup to remove him from a power position. Both actions prompted officials from the UK, Spain, Germany, and France to intervene on Saturday, January 26, threatening Maduro to hold elections within 8 days of their message, or they would be forced to recognize Guaido as the presidential power.

The escalating tensions in Venezuela reached the United Nations, as the UN Human Rights chief, Michelle Bachelet’s office released reports stating that “security forces and pro-government armed groups have shot at least 20 people during protests taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday”.

On Tuesday, January 29, Venezuela’s attorney general announced Guaido was under investigation, and would be both banned from the country and subject to frozen bank accounts. The United States has been active in support for Guaido; John Bolton, the US National Security Advisor, tweeted: “Let me reiterate – there will be serious consequences for those who attempt to subvert democracy and harm Guaido”.  Guaido’s team has made it clear that their future plans are nonviolent; a Guaido-appointed diplomat, Carlos Vecchio, has been meeting with USofficials in the hopes of beginning the process of a legitimate election.

While the United States has been a strong supporter of Guaido, the most notable nations supporting Maduro include Russia, China, Cuba, and Turkey.

Malaysia

Malaysia crowned their 16th king, Sultan Abdullah, on Thursday – about a month after the former king, Sultan Muhammad V suddenly stepped down. Sultan Muhammad V had only held the position for 2 years, and the palace gave no reason for his resignation.

Malaysia has been stripped of hosting the world para swimming championships after their decision to ban Israeli athletes from competing. Malaysia stated that they stand with their decision, on the ‘ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight.”

Philippines

At least 21 people have been killed in a double bombing on a Catholic church on Jolo Island. The attack, executed during Sunday mass, has been claimed by the Islamic State. The attack comes just a week after a successful vote for the majority Muslim region to be ruled autonomously – part of a peace deal between the national government and the rebel group ‘Moro Islamic Liberation Front.’ While overall the vote passed in an overwhelming victory, Jolo Island voted not to pass the deal.

Other news:

Brazil – 65 people are dead and 300 more are missing following the collapse of a dam in southeastern Brazil. The dam burst on January 25th, and residents in the surrounding area had little to no warning. Search and rescue efforts were hampered and 3000 people were forced to evacuate on January 27th when fear of another dam collapsing became evident. On Monday, 2 engineers and 3 employees of the mining company Vale SA were arrested as a result of the disaster.


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Weekly Report: December 7, 2018

One of Colombia’s top wanted drug lords, named “Puntilla” was killed by authorities this week. (Colombia Reports)

One of Colombia’s top wanted drug lords, named “Puntilla” was killed by authorities this week. (Colombia Reports)

Syria

According to a human rights group, a U.S. citizen who was held captive by Assad’s government for three years was killed. Layla Shwekani was born in Damascus and spent her childhood there, but then moved to the United States. Layla was known as a humanitarian activist. She returned to Syria in 2015, and then was detained in 2016. Soon after, she was reported dead.

Bolivia

Presented before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, Óscar Ortiz, the leader of the Democratic Social Movement requested “urgent treatment” for the February 21st referendum. The appeal is against the enabling of Evo Morales to run for presidential candidacy in the upcoming elections in Bolivia. Along with the appeal, the Democratic Social Movement began holding a signing throughout the country, on a national level, in order to disable Evo Morales from running for president.

Three separate mobilizations of people are making their way towards La Paz. The three groups began in Beni, Konani, and Chulumani. Their goal is to demand that the electoral tribunal not qualify Evo Morales. Once they arrive in La Paz, they intend to hold a peaceful vigil in front of the TSE. Further, they are not ruling out a hunger strike. The mobilization of people intends to hold their strike until the TSE listens to their demands.

Nicaragua

This week, several civil society organizations will stand before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) and speak of the repressions which continue to unfold through Nicaragua due to the actions of Daniel Ortega’s regime. The objective of the hearing was to update information on the human rights crisis. Civil society groups made a strong demand that the IACHR halt all repressions, and document the crisis through on-site visits. In all, they hope to continue support from IACHR.

North Korea

Although talks between the United States and North Korea have confirmed a disarmament of nuclear weapons within North Korea, new satellite images deem these talks false. New images of an expanding missile base, capable of deploying weapons able to reach the United States have come into a new light. The base is located next to the border of China, and the location leads experts to believe that it is in this specific place because it would reduce the likelihood of a preemptive strike from the United States.

Myanmar

While the United States has continued to label the mass killing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar an “ethnic cleansing” rather than a “genocide,” this week a US-Hired Law Firm inched its way into labeling the horrific events as a Genocide. Thus far, the American government has been criticized for their lack of recognition towards the atrocities of the Rohingya people. In September, a 20-page report based on this law firms investigation found that “recent violence in northern Rakhine State was extreme, large-scale, widespread, and seemingly geared toward both terrorizing the population and driving out the Rohingya residents.” After the report, more pressure was put on the Trump Administration to label the massacre as a Genocide, rather than ethnic cleansing.

USA

After former U.S. Ambassador of the UN, Nikki Haley resigned just months ago, president Trump has nominated a new candidate named Heather Nauert. Nauert is the State Department spokesperson and previously worked as an anchor for Fox News. Among many of her roles as an ambassador, she will be responsible for maintaining international support for economic sanctions against North Korea and continue Trump’s support for Israel.

This week, President Trump has threatened a partial shut-down of the government if Congress does not give him money to build a wall between the US-Mexico border. Although, as of Thursday, US Congress approved a 2-week stopgap spending bill to avert a government shut down. Before the bill expires, Congress is expected to consider a $450 billion bill to fund several agencies including the Department of Agriculture, State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security. Trump has also demanded $5 million for his plan to build the wall.

Cambodia

Cambodia’s supreme court began to hear an appeal against the conviction made in 2017 about a defamation case involving CNRP leader Sam Rainsy. Rainsy is now living in exile outside of Cambodia. Although, some are calling this a move to divide the opposition. Accordingly, ruling-party lawsuits against CNPR have blocked the development of democracy within Cambodia. It all causes great concern for civil society groups, citizens, and human rights groups.

Mexico

There are indications this week that Mexico will push for tariffs on steel and aluminum against the United States. The foreign affairs undersecretary for North America believes that the tariffs imposed by Mexico on June 1st were not strong enough, and further regrets the decision to sign the new North American free trade pact, now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. He believes that tariffs should be “like-for-like,” in other words, something symmetrical.

The Maldives

On Sunday, the President launched a campaign to ban single-use plastics. Accordingly, more than 280,000 plastic bags are used daily in the capital alone, and it is at a “worrying” level in President Solih’s terms. Although the Maldivian economy is dependent on natural resources, the increase of dumping garbage into the sea has proven to do the most damage to life in the sea. Solih hopes that his initiative will spark others to reduce single-use plastic.

Zimbabwe

According to the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority, the country is “running out of fuel.” Apparently, Zimbabwe has exhausted a $60 million worth of fuel which was only imported last week. This is equivalent to about 100 million liters of fuel, which is suspected to be gone within 2.5 weeks time.

Laos

In a meeting held in Vientiane this week, the governments of Laos and Cambodia discussed further efforts to de-escalate tensions in a disputed border area. During the meeting, the two agreed on prohibitions on a variety of activities in the area, but have a view of a future resolution. The two countries continue to maintain bilateral talks and cooperation.

Vietnam

The state media in Vietnam announced a new way to crack down on corruption. There is now a telephone hotline number where people can report accusations of police corruption. In order for reports to be deemed liable, callers must declare their full name, telephone number, and substantiated information. The hotline had previously been used to report traffic police only, but it is now used for any type of police corruption.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Amid clashes between The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army and rebels, 18 people were killed. This recent violent outbreak is only 3 weeks before elections, which will replace president Joseph Kabila. The clash took place in South Kivu, an area known for ethnic tensions. The rebels are loyal to a former general named Yakutumba, which is an armed group in the region against Kabila and an ally of the National Liberation Front.

Colombia

One of Colombia’s most prominent drug lords called “Puntilla” was killed by authorities this week. He was formally Colombia’s most wanted drug lord and had overseen drug trafficking routes to Venezuela and Brazil. Police have been trying to arrest him ever since his controversial prison release back in 2016 when a judge released him after lacking evidence to prosecute Puntilla.

After the peace talks in 2016, fires responsible for deforestation jumped sixfold, labeled an”unforeseen cost” in Colombia. Formally Guerilla-controlled areas now see an absence of all control by both government and FARC, and in those areas, there is a 600% increase in fires. Because there is a lack of control and protection in the vulnerable areas, the burning of forests shot up. Now, more than 40 soccer fields worth of land is lost every single day in Colombia.

Venezuela

In light of the sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the United States, President Erdogan from Turkey fired back at the US claiming “political problems cannot be resolved by punishing an entire nation.” This year, Turkey has become the largest importer of non-monetary gold from Venezuela, and Erdogan continues to strengthen trade ties between the two countries.

According to Reuters, Venezuela intends to import over 300,000 barrels per day of refined products in an attempt to ease fuel shortages plaguing the country. Although it is the country with the worlds largest crude reserves, they have yet to fulfill the demands locally and with customers like China and Russia.

Malaysia

December 10th marks the International Human Rights Day. Although Malaysia intends to hold a rally, there are reports of a security threat for the event this year. Without giving too much detail, the Royal Malaysia Police informed the prime minister’s office that the threat could even border on national security. The rally has been postponed, although some parties are continuing to follow through with their plan and intend to do so peacefully.

Other News

Palestine — After going on a hunger strike, a Palestinian social justice activist was tortured and punished. (Amnesty International)

China —China and North Korea held talks on Friday after a lack of progress from the international community to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. (Fox News)

Yemen — After two years, the Houthi’s and the Yemeni government are holding peace talks in Sweden. (NPR)


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Weekly Report: November 23, 2018

This week, we're sharing news from Syria, Bolivia, Nicaragua, North Korea, Myanmar, USA, Cambodia, Mexico, the Maldives, Zimbabwe, Laos, Vietnam, DRC, Colombia, Venezuela, Malaysia and more.

Syria

On Saturday, at least 40 people were killed in a US-led airstrike in an area along the border of Iraq. While the strike was against the Islamic State, civilians were killed by the coalition. The coalition spokesperson denied allegations of civilian killing, although Syrian medics and media outlets have said otherwise.

Between November 28-29th, Russia, Turkey, and Iran are going to hold a meeting to discuss talks about Syria. The meeting will take place in Kazakhstan and members from the Syrian government along with delegates from the Syrian rebels are supposed to attend.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration developed new sanctions which will harm both Syria and Iran. The Trump administration is under the impression that an Iranian company posing as a pharmaceutical and medical business is having money funneled out of Iran’s central bank, and into a state-owned Russian bank account. Furthermore, it is believed that the money is being used to aid Syria in paying for Russian oil. Another accusation is that President Assad facilitated “hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars” towards Hezbollah and Hamas. Now, new sanctions will be imposed on both Syria and Iran due to Iran’s continuous support of the Assad regime and funding towards “terrorist organizations.”

Bolivia

As stated in the memorandum of understanding between Bolivia and Paraguay, Bolivia is working on creating a technical team to form the gas pipeline project. The Bolivian proposal will be presented before the established 90-day deadline. Bolivian natural gas is accordingly the most competitive in the region, given imports from other countries is far more expensive.

Throughout the government of Carlos Mesa, Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé, and Evo Morales, many laws and decrees were issued in financing and constructing the two highways which are under investigation in the Lava Jato case. While many of the laws were established prior to Morales’ presidency, all of the construction and payments were made during his time in office. Although, the most recent report to investigate several officials is claimed to be biased. There are four individuals on the list of people who participated in the construction of the highways, who are not being investigated.

It has been reported that in the past six months alone, $1,500 million worth of products illegally entered into the Bolivian border from Peru and Chile. The government of Bolivia declared that they plan to build 25 new border posts until 2019. Since November 15th, the government has sent 8,000 militants to the border and so far have destroyed 12 smuggling routes. In October of this year, 118 illegal routes were discovered and had previously been used to smuggle contraband across the border. The first installation of a border post will be on the 28th of November along the border of Chile.

This week, a scandal broke out about people being registered as militants for specific political organizations when they never registered at all. This is believed to be at the hands of the TSE, who are now being accused of electoral crimes of falsified document use, computer manipulation, and alteration of the Electoral Roll. The TSE is in charge of keeping data about citizens accurate, and by having individuals falsely registered, they are breaking the penal code in Articles 198, 199, and 203.

Nicaragua

In a statement on Friday, the president of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) expressed great concern about human rights abuses of political prisoners in Nicaragua. Margarette May Macaulay, the president, refers to the unsanitary conditions of the prisons, along with the negligent medical care. Further, Macaulay believes that prison officers are imposing “maximum security regimes without objective criteria.”

In an effort to protest against the government of Nicaragua, Nicaraguan diaspora who are in the United States is calling for a strike between December 1st-15th. The rules of the strike are to avoid sending money to Nicaragua between those days. The diaspora is doing this through peaceful means of resistance.

At the Ibero-American summit which took place last Friday, the crisis occurring in Nicaragua failed to make it to the table for discussions. Only the president of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado made an explicit report about it. Ortega was originally supposed to attend the summit held in Guatemala but decided to cancel last minute.

The ex-political secretary of the FSLN at the Central Bank, Ligia Gómez, confessed about the realities of working for the government. Gómez testified that the government of Daniel Ortega had planned out the repressions of civic protesters since April 18th. While the past seven months of repression and human rights violations are incredibly evident, the confirmation through confessions from an ex-official is incredibly validating for the public. This recent admittance was seen as “tremendous,” according to the legal advisor from the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (Cenidh).

Since November 2nd, the political symbol Alex Vanegas has been locked up in jail. According to 100 Noticias, he is being illegally detained and psychologically tortured by the Sandinista police. Accordingly, today an appeal was made to release him. Although, this is Alex’s 6th time being illegally detained.

North Korea

Although there are talks on the way for North Korea to end its nuclear program, the newly tested “ultramodern tactical weapon” which is unidentified, shows a desire to both upgrade weapons and reassure its military. The observation of the weapon last week is further complicating the already stalled talks with the United States concerning nuclear weapons. Officials believe that the new, unidentified “steel wall” of a weapon is Kim’s idea of transitioning from the traditional military; nearly 1.3 million people strong, to high-tech weapons.

A report came out this week that in early November, a retired North Korean Official was arrested for speaking out against Kim Jong Un. The arrest took place once the official was made aware that he was under investigation, and attempted to flee the country. The official had accordingly disapproved of a new construction plan and felt that Kim did not care about “the lives of the people.” He spoke of this to a close friend, who then reported it to authorities.

On Tuesday, North Korea blew up ten DMZ guard posts at its southern border. Officials believe that North Korea did this to meet their November 30th deadline. Meanwhile, South Korea is also in the process of taking down ten of its own concrete guard posts. After meeting in September, the leaders of both nations agreed upon demilitarizing their joint security area.

Myanmar

On Sunday, four people were injured in a Rohingya Camp after a police raid and shooting. This came after the Myanmar police were informed of two men in the camp attempting to smuggle individuals out by boat just a few days prior. Nearly 20 officers entered the camp and detained the two men. According to Reuters, some civilians began to throw rocks and get violent with the police, and the officers began shooting at civilians in return. While nobody was killed, two people are in critical conditions.

In September, two Reuters reporters in Myanmar were found guilty of breaking the country’s “Official Secrets Act.” Their arrest and charge for being jailed for seven years have raised questions about Myanmar’s ability progress towards democracy. While Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi stated that their jailing had nothing to do with being reporters, but rather for their lack of ability to handle “official secrets,” there is evidence of this case being a police set up and further lacks proof of the crime. Given the lack of evidence of their crime, Myanmar’s court has now allowed an appeal to proceed.

USA

While President Trump is attempting to restrict asylum seekers from crossing into the United States along the Southern Border, there are two legal challenges. It is believed that the Trump administration's proclamation is violating federal law because it bypasses the law which states that it is necessary to have at least 30 days notice of a change in government regulation. Furthermore, the language limits asylum seekers to official ports of entry. Under the current law, asylum seekers may already be in the United States if they wish to apply for Asylum, even if they entered the country illegally. Further, as of Monday, a federal judge blocked Trump’s asylum ban temporarily.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is aiming to reset its decade-old proposal on biofuel by November of 2019. The reset in policy is likely to cause friction between two large industries in the United States: corn growing and oil companies. While corn growers want the highest possible targets in order to activate investment, oil companies want the opposite because of high costs. Current policy requires refineries to blend in increasing amounts of corn-based biofuels into U.S. gasoline, which costs oil companies “a fortune.” Further, partly due to high costs, production has fallen. Given slow production, the new policies will aim to create goals which are more realistic and manageable.

Cambodia

Last week, the UN tribunal convicted the last two living leaders of the Khmer Rouge genocide for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Although, Cambodia continues to reiterate its end to continuing the tribunal. The 1970s genocide killed nearly 1.7 million people. While two leading men were convicted, there are still four other people who are being prosecuted. Their prosecutions have continued to be stalled. The tribunal is a mix of Cambodian officials, and international prosecutors and judges. Without the aid of the Cambodian members of the tribunal, the convictions cannot take place.

Mexico

On Sunday, civilians in the Tijuana district of Mexico began to protest against the thousands of Central American migrants who appear to be lingering around their border city. The group of protesters began to chant the Mexican national anthem and waved flags, urging the Central American migrants to go back home. The migrants may have to stay in the Tijuana area for months as they wait to claim asylum into the United States. The Tijuana mayor labeled the mass amount of people an “avalanche” which could end up staying for at least six months.

The incoming president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will officially take office on December 1st of this year, has come up with a new plan to eradicate the increasing crime rate in Mexico. This week, lawmakers from Obrador’s party proposed a new bill which would combine forces of both civilian and military police to create a national guard, under one military command in order to prevent crime within Mexico. The incoming president faces criticism of his plan, given he is coming into office as the murder rate in Mexico is at an all-time high, and as the police forces continue to be plagued with corruption. Critics are afraid that Obrador will have similar short-term thinking to his predecessors.

The Maldives

On Saturday, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was sworn in and officially declared as the seventh president of the Maldives. In his inaugural speech, Solih reiterated that he intends to bring peace again to the country by implementing judicial reform, seeking the truth behind unsolved murder cases, and rehabilitating fundamental rights and freedoms. Furthermore, Solih seeks to maintain good relations with international actors, specifically India, and reshape foreign policy to focus more on human right, climate change, and democracy. Thousands of civilians attended his ceremony at the national stadium in Malé.

While Solih generally maintains support in the public spotlight, there are a few criticisms of his newly appointed coalition cabinet. Among the new cabinet are a variety of members from the four coalitions. On social media, some disapproved out of fear of under qualifications, allegations of corruption, and potential conflicts of interest. The administration is also the largest seen in Maldivian history.

Just days after Solih became president, there are plans for the Maldives to pull out of the Maldives-China free trade agreement. In a commentary, ex-president Mohamed Nasheed believes that the pact is incredibly one-sided and that the Maldivian parliament will not approve the necessary law for the trade deal to come into action. China has yet to respond to this commentary.

Zimbabwe

Reported by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR), doctors in Zimbabwe allegedly were forced to describe bullet wounds as stab wounds. Doctors say that state agents forced them to false diagnose in order to cover up the violence carried out by authorities and security services during the violence which took place after elections this year. There were several cases of injuries and death due to gunshot wounds but went reported as stabbings. Military personnel has denied allegations of killings on August 1st after the elections.

Laos

This week marks the 50 year anniversary of the United States dropping its biggest bombing campaign on Laos in history. 50 years ago, more than 20 million tonnes of bombs were dropped on the small country. To this day, citizens in the country are still facing struggles given the leftover explosives that have not been deactivated yet. Nearly 80 million unexploded bombs are still hurting and killing innocent men, women, and children. Now, Laos is hoping for as many resources necessary to deactivate the remaining explosives.

Vietnam

This week, Vietnam and India have agreed to increase trade and relations between the two countries. In a press conference, expansions in trade, defense, and security are among the areas which India and Vietnam discussed further cooperation. The plan is to reach $15 billion by the end of 2020 in their bilateral trade volume; surpassing their $12.8 billion from last year.

Furthermore, Russia and Vietnam also plan to step up bilateral trade ties by 2020. By 2020, they wish to triple trade from their previous $3.55 billion to $10 billion. Mainly, cooperation will be emphasized on the oil and gas industries. Effect trade is made possible since the 2016 singing of the Eurasian Economic Union trade deal.

On Thursday, Vietnamese officials began to protest a move of China to build a new platform, likely to be used for military purposes, in the South China Sea. Accordingly, the new platform is in violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty. This is just the most recent of numerous actions taken by China regarding the South China Sea to infringe on national sovereignty. In a meeting, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson denied the building of the infrastructure is a violation of International law or Vietnam’s sovereignty.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Over the weekend, there was a deadly attack in Beni, the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak. Clashes broke out just meters away from the local emergency center. In total, seven Malawian and one Tanzanian peacekeeper were killed. Both the United Nations and the World Health Organization resumed work. Further, in the latest Ebola report, there are 166 confirmed deaths, and 47 probably deaths due to the disease.

Colombia

President Duque claims that the top ELN leader, Gabino, is in Cuba. Duque believes that the supreme leader traveled from Venezuela to Cuba, even though he has an international arrest warrant, issued by Interpol. Accordingly, many ELN members are in Cuba with permission from the government in order to negotiate peace talks with Duque, although the president continues to fail in negotiating with the group. Anonymous sources stated that Gabino traveled to Cuba for medical treatment, but this is neither confirmed or denied. Duque is certain that Gabino is on the island, and wants to know why.

On Monday, violence unfolded in the Bogota refugee camp, home to Venezuelans. The tent camp, El Camino, set up directly for Venezuelan refugees who have fled their home country due to the economic and political crisis, is facing food shortages. Because of the lack of food, people in the camp began to violently react and riot against one another. Authorities in the camp denied the accusations of inhuman conditions and humanitarian shortfalls and insisted that the city of Bogota maintains open doors for those affected by Venezuela’s crisis.

A new decree to stop the number of assassinations of political leaders in Colombia has been put in place by president Duque. Since the president took office, killings of social leaders have increased severely. Since the peace signing with FARC, 416 leaders have been assassinated. The imposed decree states that the government will provide protection for all human rights defenders with a Plan of Timely Action (PTA) designed to find warning signs before a killing. The specific groups who are being targeted include anti-corruption campaigners, representatives of coca-growing communities, rights defenders, among others.

Venezuela

In a surprising move, the Trump administration is considering pushing Venezuela on their list of state sponsors of terrorism. This list is intended for governments who repeatedly are questioned on their provision for supporting acts of international terrorism. The U.S. list so far only includes Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Lawmaker Marco Rubio has specifically pushed for this action, citing Venezuela's ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon and FARC in Colombia. Venezuela has long been accused of state-sponsored terrorism, but the threats have been downplayed because there is a lack of concrete evidence. While this action is up in the air, the United States has yet to make a final decision on the matter.

Malaysia

Investigations recently opened up about a submarine deal which took place 16 years, when the former prime minister, Najib Razak was in a position of power. Since losing elections in May of this year, Najib has continued to face many allegations of corruption. While he pleads not guilty to all of them, investigators with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) are currently inspecting the possibilities of scandal during a 2002 sale of Scorpene-class submarines by a company based in France. While there is not enough evidence at this point in the investigation to convict Najib of any crimes, it is certainly on the radar of MACC.

In its newest attempt to get to the bottom of degree fraud, Malaysia has developed a blockchain certificate verification system. Fake degrees have become an ever-present dilemma facing Malaysia, for obtaining a false degree not only damaged the reputation of Malaysian universities but also poses a threat to students who rightfully obtained a university degree. The NEM blockchain possesses unique qualities regarding the ability to accurately trace falsehoods.

Other news:

The Philippines — As the government continues to tighten their grip on media freedoms, artists are fighting back through their work. (Al Jazeera)

Saudi Arabia — After their neighboring country, Germany decided to halt arms sales to Saudi, Finland, and Denmark decided to do the same. (Washington Post)

Palestine — Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy for Yemen, is expected to arrive in the country in order to push towards peace between the Houthis and the Yemeni government. (Al Jazeera)

China —Civil rights activist, Huang Wenxun, has been re-detained after being released from a three-year prison sentence. Accordingly, he was arrested for celebrating the October 10th, the founding of the 1911 Republic of China. (RFA)

Yemen — Due to international requests for a ceasefire between the Saudi-UAE alliance and the Houthis in Hodeidah, the coalition is finally coming to a halt. This is after weeks of fighting between the two groups. (Al Jazeera)


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The Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies

The Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) is a non-profit, non-governmental, international network, oriented to educational work related to strategic nonviolent conflict.

CANVAS produces a weekly report on several countries where nonviolent resistance can play an important role in confronting challenges to democracy.

The core of CANVAS’s work is rather to spread the word of “people power” to the world than to achieve victories against one dictator or another. Their next big mission should obviously be to explain to the world what a powerful tool nonviolent struggle is when it comes to achieving freedom, democracy and human rights.

Headquartered in Belgrade, CANVAS is run by Slobodan Djinovic and Srdja Popovic. It operates a network of international trainers and consultants with experience of successful democratic movements. CANVAS is a non-profit institution which relies solely on private funding; there is no charge for workshops and revolutionary know-how can be downloaded for free on the Internet.

CANVAS was founded in 2003 by Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Dinovic as an organization that advocates for the use of nonviolent resistance to promote human rights and democracy. Since then, CANVAS has worked with pro-democracy activists from more than 50 countries, including Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma, Venezuela, Ukraine, Georgia, Palestine, Western Sahara, West Papua, Eritrea, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tonga, Tunisia and Egypt. CANVAS works only in response to requests for assistance and offers free trainings to activists.

CANVAS disseminates its knowledge through a variety of media, including workshops, books, DVDs and specialized courses. Members regularly teach and present an academic version of their Core Curriculum, and hold workshops on strategy and organization of nonviolent struggle at variety of educational institutions worldwide, including at Harvard (Kennedy School Of Law), the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (TUFTS, Boston, MA), Johns Hopkins (SAIS), Columbia University, Rutgers (NJ), Colorado College (CO), and Georgetown University (DC).

In 2006, Popovic and two other CANVAS members – Slobodan Dinovic and Andrej Milivojevic – authored a book called Nonviolent Struggle: 50 Crucial Points, a how-to guide for nonviolent struggle. Srdja Popovic and CANVAS won several awards, including the Paul Lauitzen Award for Human Rights (November 2010) and the Jean Mayers Award by Tufts University (February 2016).

Srdja Popovic

Srdja Popovic was one of the founders of the Serbian nonviolent resistance group Otpor! Otpor!’s campaign against Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was successful in October 2000 when thousands of protesters took over the Serbian Parliament. After the revolution, Popovic served a term as a member of the Serbian National Assembly. In 2003, Popovic and others started the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). CANVAS has worked with activists from 46 different countries, including Zimbabwe, Burma, Iran, and Venezuela, spreading knowledge of the nonviolent strategies and tactics used by Otpor! In November 2011, Foreign Policy Magazine listed Srdja Popovic as one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers” of 2011 for inspiring the Arab Spring protesters.  In 2012 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2014 he was listed as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum in Davos. “Srdja is also the author of the recent book Blueprint for Revolution, a fun and humorous look at nonviolent activism worldwide.”

Slobodan Djinovic

Slobodan Djinovic became one of the co-founders of the Serbian resistance movement OTPOR! while he was a student at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Belgrade in 1998. OTPOR! went on to topple Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic through a mass nonviolent campaign. Subsequently, Slobodan went on to found one of the first internet companies in Serbia, and currently serves as CEO of Orion Telecom. He also serves as co-founder and Chairman of CANVAS, the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, an educational organization that trains activists from around the world in the strategies and tactics on nonviolent struggle. He has co-authored two CANVAS publications: Nonviolent Struggle: 50 Crucial Points and The CANVAS Core Curriculum. Slobodan also has a certificate from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Visit the CANVAS website


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