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October 13 – October 19

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IPSI | Africa | Americas | East Asia | Europe & Central Asia | Middle East | South Asia

This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

COMOROS: Two shot dead during clashes over constitutional amendment


On Wednesday, soldiers shot dead two demonstrators and injured four on Comoros’ Anjouan Island, as protests erupted in opposition to constitutional changes lengthening presidential term limits. In August, President Azali Assoumani announced an extension of term limits following a successful referendum, thereby clearing the way for him to run for reelection in 2019. The opposition staunchly contests the new amendment, calling the referendum illegal. According to government officials, the “criminals” who participated in the protests and barricaded roads “have been identified and will face justice.” Comment: Under the previous system, the presidency rotated between the country’s three major islands: Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli. Protesters worry that Assoumani’s potential reelection would “deny Anjouan its turn to occupy the presidency from 2021.” (Journal du Cameroun, Times Live, Reuters, VOA)

GAMBIA: Government launches truth and reconciliation commission


On Monday, Gambia launched the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC) to investigate the human rights abuses committed during the 22-year dictatorship of former President Yahya Jammeh. The 11-member commission is tasked with mending Gambian society following “years of extrajudicial killings, torture and abuses.” The TRRC possesses the authority to subpoena suspected perpetrators, hopefully leading to the prosecution of Jammeh, who fled to Equatorial Guinea in 2017. Comment: President Adama Barrow emphasized that victims will be the central focus of this commission, promising to bring justice to all those affected by the widespread abuses of power. Barrow claimed the presidency in 2017 following a surprise election victory over longtime leader Jammeh. At a rally on Monday, Barrow proudly announced that the nation’s “dark days” are over. (The Point, Africa News, AP)

SOUTH AFRICA: Hundreds protest lack of pay at weapons manufacturer

On Wednesday, nearly a thousand workers protested over lack of pay at the state-owned weapons manufacturer, Denel, which is currently in the midst of a financial crisis. According to security officials, demonstrators obstructed roads, threw rocks, and clashed with police. The protest began following the company’s announcement that November salaries are not guaranteed. Denel’s financial struggles continue to persist despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent appointment of a new board at the company, which ties into his comprehensive plan to “improve the governance and finances of state firms.” Comment: According to a report released this week by South African research organization Municipal IQ, the number of protests related to “public anger over poor government services and poverty” has reached a record high in 2018, as President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government struggles to lift the country out of a recession. (The Citizen, Times Live, Reuters 1, 2)

                                                                                             Researched/Written by Matan Ayash

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

EL SALVADOR: Thousands celebrate Oscar Romero’s canonization


On Sunday, Pope Francis canonized the martyr Oscar Romero at a mass in Saint Peter’s Square, with thousands of Salvadorans viewing in person, at home, or on screens in public squares across El Salvador. The former Archbishop of San Salvador was assassinated in 1980 – his last sermon was a plea to the army to end repression. Romero fought for social justice and human rights and urged support for the poor at a time when his country was engulfed in violence. Comment: Pope Francis’ canonization was the final step toward Sainthood for the revered figure; Saint Romero is the first from El Salvador. Romero’s popularity with leftists may have caused the process to take even longer, as right-wing cardinals argued that elevating him would embolden Marxist revolutionaries. (Diario Latino, Buenos Aires Times, Telesur TV, AP, NPR)

JAMAICA: Human rights commission to investigate law criminalizing homosexuality


On Tuesday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said it will look into Jamaica’s ‘anti-buggery’ laws, which criminalize sex between men. The case against the law, brought by a gay man and lesbian woman living in exile, claims that it also legitimizes violence against LGBTQ people, a claim backed by a Human Rights Watch report on anti-buggery laws in small Caribbean states. The case was first brought six years ago, and the IACHR says that if proven, the law could be in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights. Comment: According to London-based NGO Human Dignity Trust, 73 jurisdictions have laws criminalizing private, consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex. It is unclear how much of an impact an IACHR recommendation would have – around 90 percent of Jamaicans support the current laws. (Caribbean News 360, Jamaica Observer 1, 2, Human Dignity Trust 1, 2, Human Rights Watch, IACHR)

NICARAGUA: Thirty protesters freed after condemnations

On Tuesday, the Nicaraguan government released approximately 30 protesters that were arrested on Sunday, giving in to domestic and international demands. A peaceful protest, now commonplace in Nicaragua, was scheduled to begin at 0900 hrs local, but riot police and paramilitaries were in place hours before that. According to human rights groups present at the event, government forces used stun grenades and disproportionate force to arrest protesters. The police claimed protesters were arrested for gathering without a permit. Comment: Although the release of these prisoners is hailed as a positive sign, approximately 500 Nicaraguans remain in jail for protesting the government. Protests began in April as a reaction to pension reform, but today push for the resignation of President Ortega and his wife, as well as Vice President Rosario Murillo, following years of increasingly repressive rule. (Today Nicaragua, BBC, Tico Times, Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights)

                                                                                       Researched/Written by Tabitha Niemann

This week in East Asia & Pacific

NORTH KOREA: Pope expresses interest in visit

On Monday, the head of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party announced that Pope Francis wants to visit North Korea next spring, accepting the invitation that Kim Jong Un extended last week. South Korean President Moon Jae-In is expected to meet with Pope Francis on Thursday, as part of the Asian leader’s tour of Europe, and discuss the matter further. North Korea and the Vatican currently have no diplomatic relations, and while North Korea’s constitution guarantees “freedom of religious beliefs,” the regime is officially atheist and cracks down on religious activity held outside of state-run places of worship. Comment: Pope Francis has been a vocal advocate of the pacification of the Korean Peninsula, directing followers to pray for the countries and calling upon Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in to act as “artisans of peace.” If this meeting occurs, it will be a significant “qualitative step” towards peace, according to the bishop of South Korea. (South China Morning Post, Reuters, Al Jazeera)

SOUTH KOREA: Refugee status denied to Yemeni migrants


On Wednesday, the South Korean Ministry of Justice declined to grant refugee status to 481 Yemeni migrants who arrived on the island of Jeju earlier this year, taking advantage of the area’s no-visa entry policy meant to encourage tourism. 362 were granted one-year humanitarian stay visas, 34 were flatly rejected, and 85 are still being processed. The influx of Yemenis triggered widespread anti-immigration backlash among the South Korean public, with 700,000 people signing a petition urging stricter refugee laws, which were adopted in June. Comment: South Korea is extremely selective in its granting of refugee status. Since 1994, only 4.1% of applications have been approved. (South China Morning Post, Reuters, New York Times)

TAIWAN: U.S. Navy research ship docks at port, angering China


On Monday, the Thomas G. Thompson, a research ship operating under the U.S. Office of Naval Research, docked in Kaohsiung, a port city in southwestern Taiwan. China, which does not recognize Taiwan’s independence, expressed “solemn concerns” over the ship’s mooring and cautioned the U.S. against interacting militarily with Taiwan. The Thompson stopped In Kaohsiung for four days to refuel, its fourth such stop since embarking on an international oceanic research project in May. It leaves for Australia on Thursday. Comment: Though Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu publicly announced that “the vessel’s visit has nothing to do with the military,” speculation in the media abounds. Some allege the Thompson was testing whether the port is large enough to dock bigger U.S. naval ships during the planned show of force in the Taiwan Strait next month. (Focus Taiwan, Taiwan News, South China Morning Post)

                                                                                     Researched/Written by Christian Vickland

This week in Europe & Central Asia

GERMANY: Hundreds of thousands march against populism


On Saturday, over 200,000 protested in Berlin against the rise of far-right populism across the nation. Various NGOs, labor unions, and rights groups organized the protest with messages against racism and xenophobia. The main message of being “indivisible” included support for the more than one million migrants who have moved to Germany since 2015. Comment: In August, thousands gathered in Chemnitz for far-right protests against migrants after police detained two immigrants as suspects for murdering a German man. Prime Minister Angela Merkel continues to face political opposition for her policies that allowed so many immigrants into the country. (DW, BBC, RT, Reuters)

RUSSIA: Orthodox Church breaks ties with Constantinople Patriarchate


On Monday, the Metropolitan Ilarion announced the Moscow Patriarchate’s decision to break ties with the Constantinople Patriarchate over the choice to pursue autonomy for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The decision means that priests will no longer be able to serve together, and worshippers from one patriarchate will be unable to receive communion in the other. The Constantinople Patriarchate, acting as the “first among equals,” declared last Thursday that it would begin the process to fully recognize independence for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which will make it fully autonomous from the Russian Orthodox Church. Comment: The Moscow Patriarchate similarly broke ties in 1999 over the creation of the Estonian Orthodox Church under the Constantinople Patriarchate, but they reestablished relations after a few months. This current break is just one aspect of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine that includes disputed territory in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. (Meduza, Sputnik, Balkan Insight, Radio Free Europe)

REGIONAL: EU council approves chemical weapons sanctions regime

On Monday, the EU Foreign Affairs Council approved a new regime to more easily impose sanctions on individuals or companies that participate in or contribute to the development and use of chemical weapons. According to the press release, sanctions “consist of a travel ban to the EU and an asset freeze for persons, and an asset freeze for entities.” EU leaders still need to place specific names on the sanctions list, and other forms of restrictive measures will continue to require individual nations’ approval. Comment: This new regime comes after repeated accusations that Syria and Russia have used chemical weapons. Imposing such sanctions will likely deepen the divide between Russia and the EU. (Radio Free Europe, Yenisfak, EU)

                                                                                                  Researched/Written by Lars Spjut

This week in the Middle East & North Africa

ISRAEL: Supreme Court will hear deportation case against US student


On Sunday, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed the deportation of Lara Alqasem until they could hear her case. Alqasem, on a student visa, was unable to enter Israel on October 2 because she had been the president of her college’s Students for Justice in Palestine group, which supports a boycott of Israeli products. In 2017, Israel created the law to punish pro-Palestinian groups that advocated boycotting Israel. Her detention has set off debates within Israel on whether this anti-boycott law hurts Israel’s democratic values and image worldwide. Comment: Israel sees these boycott groups as advocating for its destruction through economic means. Before beginning the study abroad program, Alqasem left her role as president and promised not to advocate for any such groups while in Israel. (Arab News, Lebanon News, Reuters)

LIBYA: Probe into rebel commander’s death reopened


On Monday, General Khalifa Haftar ordered the military prosecutor in the east to reopen the case of the killing of rebel commander Abdel Fattah Younes in 2011. Younes was close to Gaddafi, but defected early in 2011 and became a rebel military commander. His death created a widening split between Islamists and secular, military figures. A previous investigation accused Ali Essawi, who was just appointed the economic minister for the western Libyan government, of being behind the murder during the civil war. Comment: This case will likely exacerbate tensions between east and west. Eastern Libyan tribes saw Essawi’s appointment as an attempt to provoke tensions.  (Al Jazeera, Arab News, Reuters)

YEMEN: President Hadi fires prime minister over economic troubles

On Monday, Ahmed bin Dagher was fired for the economic collapse of the country. President Hadi blamed him for “negligence” on the economic crisis and the fall of the Yemen currency. The Yemeni currency, the riyal, has dropped in value by 50 percent since the civil war began. Dagher had been the prime minister for two years but had been at odds with certain southern groups and the United Arab Emirates. Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed has been tapped to become the next prime minister. Comment: Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, with 22 million people needing aid and 8.4 million starving. Furthermore, the UN has called the conflict in Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis at the moment. (Al Jazeera, Gulf News, Reuters)

                                                                                           Researched/Written by Tyler Spyrison

This week in South Asia

AFGHANISTAN: Back-to-back election rally attacks ahead of parliamentary elections


On Wednesday, Abdul Jabar Qahraman, a prominent Afghan parliamentary candidate, died in an explosion at his campaign office in Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern Helmand province. At least three other people died and seven wounded by the explosives. At a separate attack three days prior, 22 people died and 36 wounded at an election rally in northeastern Afghanistan for Nazifa Yousufi Bek, a female parliamentary candidate. She was not killed or injured in the blast. The Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks and continued to warn of further violence against Afghans who participate in the upcoming parliamentary election on October 20. Comment: Qahraman is the 10th candidate to be killed in the past two months. Another two have been abducted and four others have been wounded in attacks. Both ISIS and the Taliban have vowed to disrupt the vote at all costs as they see the election as a tool to advance foreign interests in the region. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban officials face-to-face in Doha last week for the second time to discuss strategies to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. (Al Jazeera, Radio Free Europe, Reuters 1, 2)

INDIA: Ancient temple opens doors to women after historic Supreme Court ruling, violence ensues


On Wednesday, the Sabarimala temple in Kerala re-opened for the first time since the Supreme Court ruled last month that women of all ages are permitted to enter, lifting the ancient ban on women between 10 and 50 years old. Despite heavy police security, both female journalists covering the story and female worshippers completing pilgrimage to the temple faced violent attacks from crowds of protesters who used sticks, batons, and stones to bar their access to the holy site. The protesters clashed with hundreds of police and government security forces who arrested at least seven people for damaging police and civilian vehicles. Kerala’s state government said it would continue to enforce the court ruling, deploying 500 extra police to ensure free access to the remote temple reached by an uphill hike that takes several hours. Comment: Since the 12th century AD, women of reproductive age were restricted by law from entering the Sabarimala Temple because its deity, Lord Ayyappa, is considered by devotees to be celibate. On September 28, 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that banning women of reproductive age infringed on their right to worship and all discrimination on age and gender should be removed. Since the ruling, conservative Hindu groups have threatened violent protests and mass suicides to prevent women from entering the temple. (NDTV, Indian Express, South China Morning Post, Al Jazeera, Reuters)

MALDIVES: Supreme Court rejects president’s plea for new election after recent defeat

On Tuesday, Supreme Court judges rejected allegations of vote rigging in Abdulla Yameen’s official petition for a new presidential election on Sunday. Despite publicly congratulating president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on September 23 and accepting defeat in a televised address to the nation last Wednesday, Yameen filed a petition on Sunday for the Supreme Court to annul the result and call for new elections. Ahead of the court hearing in the capital Male, the U.S. warned that appropriate measures would be taken if Yameen fails to ensure a smooth transition of power on November 17 when Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is sworn in as president. Comment: During Abdulla Yameen’s five-year term as president, he consistently either jailed political opponents and dissidents or forced them to flee through intimidation. In February, Yameen declared a state of emergency and suspended the court, parliament, and constitution when he was about to be impeached. Local media reported last week that four out of the five election commissioners have fled the country and sought refuge in Sri Lanka following death threats after Yameen lost the election. (South China Morning Post, Straits Times, Saudi Gazette)

                                                                                       Researched/Written by Sloane Katleman

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