This week in Peace & Security, brought to you every Friday
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November 3 – November 9

This week in:
Africa | Americas | East Asia | Europe & Central Asia | Middle East | South Asia

Featured IPSI Alumni

This week Billene Seyoum was named the Press Secretary to new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Billene is an alumna of the 2012 IPSI Bologna Symposium and served as a summer staff member for many more. Read more about her appointment here.

This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

CAMEROON: Dozens of children released following mass kidnapping


On Wednesday, 78 children and a driver were released after being kidnapped from a local school on Sunday by an armed separatist group near the city of Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon’s Anglophone northwest region. According to army spokesperson Didier Badjeck, the kidnappers liberated the children after the military discovered their location. The kidnappers, identified as the armed separatist group “Amba boys,” continue to hold the school principal, a teacher, and two additional students. Asked if he would pay ransom for the remaining hostages, Badjeck said that they “will pay ransom only as last option.” Comment: Other similar kidnappings have occurred in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions over the course of the worsening crisis, but this incident marked the highest number of people abducted at once. Armed Anglophone separatists continue to accuse President Paul Biya’s French-speaking government of marginalization of the English speaking community, but Biya’s government denies these claims. (Journal du Cameroun, AP, BBC, Reuters 1, 2)

MADAGASCAR: Millions vote in presidential election


On Wednesday, millions of Madagascans cast their votes in the high-stakes presidential election, seeking to address the issues of unemployment, poverty, and corruption currently plaguing the Indian Ocean island nation where 80 percent of people live in poverty. Incumbent President Hery Rajaonarimampianina is seeking reelection to a second term, and his two main opponents in the crowded 36-person field are former heads of state Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, each of whom experienced serious political crises while in office. Civil society groups have repeatedly accused the three frontrunners of using the office of the presidency for their own monetary benefit, an accusation each one denies. Comment: If no single candidate gains more than 50 percent of the vote, which analysts expect to be the case, then a second round of voting between the top two candidates will take place on December 19. Cristian Preda, head of the EU’s observer mission in the country, stated that his team hasn’t found any irregularities in the election, which is “key for the restoration of Madagascar’s democratic credentials.” (Daily Nation, BBC, Reuters)

TANZANIA: Government officials set to crack down on homosexuality

On Monday, the EU recalled its ambassador to Tanzania, primarily citing the “deterioration of the human rights and rule of law situation in the country.” This move follows last week’s comments by Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda that he would organize a surveillance team to further crack down on gay activity as part of a broader concentrated effort “against prostitution an immorality.” Despite the government attempting to distance itself from Makonda’s comments, police arrested 10 people on Wednesday for allegedly conducting a same-sex wedding in Zanzibar. Comment: Same-sex relations are illegal in Tanzania, but Makonda’s comments signal even further corrosion of LGBT rights in the east African country. Anti-gay sentiment has steadily increased since President John Magufuli’s election in 2015. (AP 1, 2, BBC, The Independent)

Researched/Written by Matan Ayash

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

BRAZIL/CUBA: Bolsonaro threatens to cut diplomatic ties with Havana


On Friday, Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro said there is “no point” in maintaining diplomatic relations with Cuba, commenting on the country’s disrespect for human rights. In an interview with the newspaper Correio Braziliense, the newly elected leader criticized the Mais Medicos program, through which over 11,000 Cuban doctors work in rural or poor parts of Brazil, saying 75 percent of the doctors’ salaries went to the Cuban government, and their children had to stay in Cuba. Calling this “torture for a mother,” he questioned if Brazil will be able to keep diplomatic ties with a country that “treats its people this way.” He also said the program, which was initiated by former president Dilma Rousseff, would be allowed to continue only if the doctors receive full pay and are allowed to have their children with them. Comment: Brazil has maintained strong diplomatic ties to Cuba since the 1980s, but Bolsonaro seeks to strengthen Brazil’s relationship with the U.S. even at the expense of long-standing regional relationships. The strategy may be paying off for Brazil, as U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton praised Bolsonaro on Thursday as a positive sign for Latin America. (Folha de Sao Paolo, Reuters, The Guardian)

UNITED STATES/CUBA: UN General Assembly passes resolution condemning embargo


Last Thursday, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution which urges states to refrain from interfering with freedom of trade and navigation, specifically calling on the U.S. to halt the ongoing embargo against Cuba. 189 countries voted in favor of the resolution, with the U.S. and Israel voting against and Ukraine and Moldova not voting. Cuba’s Foreign Minister claimed the embargo is a violation of the human rights of Cuban citizens, and said the U.S. has no moral authority when it comes to human rights. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley stressed that the reason for the blockade is the freedoms of the people of Cuba, and indicated again that the country has no intention to back down from the blockade. Comment: The U.S. embargo against Cuba was first imposed during the Eisenhower administration and maintained for almost 60 years, despite annual UN resolutions condemning it. When President Obama restored relations with Cuba, the U.S. abstained from voting on that resolution for the first time in 25 years. The Trump administration has taken a harsher tone with Cuba, including announcing new sanctions late last week. (Havana Times, Al Jazeera, AP, UN)

VENEZUELA: EU and US extend sanctions on Maduro regime

On Tuesday, the EU announced that sanctions against President Maduro’s regime in Venezuela will continue until at least November 2019. These sanctions were originally imposed in November 2017 for human rights violations and the undermining of democracy and the rule of law, with the hope of encouraging solutions to bring political stability rather than hurting the Venezuelan people. The EU placed an embargo on arms sales and other “equipment for internal repression” as well as travel bans and asset freezes for high-level Venezuelan officials. The U.S., meanwhile, has a larger list of Venezuelan officials banned from traveling to the U.S. or doing business with U.S. persons or companies, and late last week added the Venezuelan gold industry to the list of sanctioned sectors. Comment: Under the leadership of Hugo Chavez and Maduro since 2013, an economic and political crisis has caused hyperinflation, poverty, and increased crime. In May, Maduro won re-election, but Venezuelan opposition claims that the vote was illegitimate. With opposition boycotts, the government claimed turnout was 46 percent (though the opposition claims it was closer to 30 percent). (Veja, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg, Reuters 1, 2)

Researched/Written by Tabitha Niemann

This week in East Asia & Pacific

AUSTRALIA: Government blocks Chinese takeover of pipeline company

On Wednesday, Treasurer Josh Frydenburg announced that the Australian government will nix a proposed USD 9.4 billion bid by the Chinese CK Group for the Australian gas pipeline company APA group, citing national security concerns. Frydenburg said that the sale of APA, which owns more than 43,700 kilometers of pipeline, would lead to an inappropriate amount of Australian energy infrastructure in the hands of foreign actors. If the deal had been approved, CK Group would have owned about half of Australia’s pipelines. The Australian competition regulator, Foreign Investment Review Board, approved the acquisition in September, but Frydenburg contends the group’s assessment did not consider concentration of foreign ownership. Comment: Australia, widely viewed as the most China-dependent developed economy in the world, has blocked several deals with Chinese companies in recent years, including CK, Huawei, and ZTE. All have been met with criticism from Beijing, as Wednesday’s decision likely will as well. (The Sydney Morning Herald, Bloomberg, The Republic)

CHINA: New stealth fighters showcased at airshow


On Tuesday, China flashed its improved Chengdu J-10B stealth fighter jet at the Zhuhai Air Show, underlining the technological advancements China is making in its air power. The J-10s on display were outfitted with a new Chinese-made WS-10B3 engine, which is capable of abruptly changing the J-10’s thrust direction, a valuable tool for rapidly dodging or approaching enemy aircraft. The prototype J-10B is one of the newest jets in the Chinese arsenal, having been unveiled at Chengdu Aircraft headquarters only months before the air show. Defense experts say the WS-10B3 is a milestone in Chinese plane propulsion technology, as engines present the most challenging engineering hurdles. Comment: Despite being an impressive milestone, some aircraft experts are skeptical the WS-10B3 will actually be standard equipped on J-10s in the Chinese air force. According to them, the added weight such an advanced engine brings to a light plane like the J-10 outweighs the propulsion benefits it offers; it’s more likely the new engine will be equipped to the heavier, fifth-generation J-20. (Business Insider, Defense News, Financial Times)

JAPAN/PHILIPPINES: Japan loans Philippines JPY 38 billion for railway repairs


On Wednesday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin and Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda signed an agreement finalizing the details of Japan’s JPY 38 billion, roughly USD 336 million, loan to the Philippines to rehabilitate Manila’s dilapidated Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3). The MRT-3 is the preferred choice for commuters wanting to avoid the capital city’s infamously bad traffic, but has been plagued by closings and delays in recent years due to track, door, and air conditioning issues. The money will be allocated to improving MRT-3’s safety, comfort and speed. Locsin stated that Japan’s help, “has no agenda but friendship,” and elevated the relationship between the countries to a “strategic partnership.” Comment: In addition to money for mass transit repairs, Japan agreed to donate unneeded UH-1H helicopter parts worth JPY 10.6 billion, roughly USD 93.6 million, to the Philippine Air Force. Ambassador Haneda stated the donation will aid Filipino humanitarian activities and marks a “closer partnership between our defense agencies.” (Japan Times,Philippine News Agency, Rappler)

NORTH KOREA: U.S.-North Korea meeting suddenly cancelled


On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department announced Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol in New York would be rescheduled one day before it was set to take place, without providing a reason for the cancellation. The meeting was slated as preparation for a second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, which the two nations are reportedly still pursuing. The State Department said a meeting between Pompeo and Chol would take place “when our respective schedules permit.” Comment: This cancellation comes as denuclearization efforts are stalling. North Korea has refused to declare the extent of its nuclear capabilities or allow inspectors into the country, and recently threatened to resume its nuclear arsenal buildup if sanctions are not eased. (ABC, CNN, NBC)

Researched/Written by Christian Vickland

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This week in Europe & Central Asia

FRANCE: President Macron calls for European defense force


On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron announced his intention to advocate for a “true European army” that could respond quickly to security threats and natural disasters. He indicated that this force could address threats both from Russia and the United States if necessary. In connection with this call, France hosted a nine-country meeting on Wednesday to discuss each country’s defense capabilities and create plans for jointly responding to conflicts or disasters. In addition, President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission also voiced his opinion that the EU will likely form its own army in the future.  Comment: Last December, most EU member states decided to increase cooperation among their militaries. Britain has been one of the main opponents to an EU military force, so the upcoming Brexit will decrease opposition to such a proposal. (France24, Independent, RT, Reuters)

GREECE: Leaders make initial agreement to allow clearer separation between church and state


On Tuesday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Archbishop Ieronymos of the Church of Greece agreed that the government would continue to pay wages for clergy through a new system while the Church will not oppose proposals to make the country “religion neutral.” The new wage system involves the state providing the money for clergy salaries as an annual subsidy put into a special fund, so priests will no longer be officially considered civil servants. This initial agreement will need to be approved by the cabinet, parliament, and church leaders. Comment: This decision came amid ongoing discussions to amend the Greek constitution, which is expected to maintain at least one reference to Greek Orthodoxy in the preamble. Some church leaders oppose the deal for making any concessions, while some government leaders feel that it is inappropriate to continue funding priests at all considering the country’s ongoing financial difficulties. (Ekathimerini, BBC, Euronews, Reuters)

UKRAINE: Civil activist dies from acid attack injuries

On Sunday, Kateryna Handzyuk, a prominent anti-corruption activist in Ukraine, died from injuries sustained in an acid attack in Kherson on July 31. In response to her death, activists called for the government to investigate violence against civil activists more seriously; there are at least 55 unsolved attacks in the country since 2017. Police are investigating a group of five suspects in connection with Hankzyuk’s attack, but critics still claim that police have not acted quickly enough in this case. Comment: After Handzyuk’s death, President Petro Poroshenko called for law-enforcement agencies to bring the killers to justice. In response to activists’ criticism, Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko announced on Tuesday that he will offer his resignation to alleviate concerns that law enforcement leaders are not taking the matter seriously. (Kyiv Post, Radio Free Europe 1, 2, TASS)

Researched/Written by Lars Spjut

This week in the Middle East & North Africa

EGPYT: President Sisi reviewing law restricting NGOs


On Sunday, at a World Youth Forum, President Sisi said he might review a law that effectively banned non-governmental organizations (NGOs) last May. The law restricted developmental and social work, with violations of the law bringing up to five years in jail. Government officials have defended the law by saying that foreign-funded NGOs are a threat to Egypt’s national security. Charities have also been affected by this law and are vital to helping the poor in Egypt. Comment: President Sisi said the law needed to be more balanced and that “this is not just political talk”. However, Gamal Eid, founder of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, did not believe Sisi was serious about altering the law anytime soon. Eid said it was likely outside pressure that was making Sisi think about changing the law at the moment. (Arab News, New York Times, Reuters)

IRAQ: Foreign Ministry pushes back on U.S. interference


On Saturday, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement disagreeing with the U.S. Embassy, which tweeted that Iran needs to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and demobilize pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias. These militias were vital in the fight and ultimate defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and were absorbed into the security forces earlier this year. Iran and the United States have been vying for influence ever since the 2003-U.S. led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein. Comment: Iraq imports substantial amounts of gas, energy, and food from Iran and was worried the new sanctions on Iran could hurt them; however, the U.S. told Iraq it will receive a waiver to continue importing those needs from Iran. Both Iran and Iraq are Shi’ite majority countries and the U.S. sees Iran having too much influence in the domestic politics of Iraq. (Arab News, Kurdistan24, Middle East Eye)

YEMEN: Saudi-led forces resume attacks on Hodeidah

On Monday, there were reports of intense fighting between Houthi’s and the Saudi-led coalition on the outskirts of the western port city, Hodeidah. The recent fighting has been around an airport, hospital and university to the south and east of the city. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates believe taking Hodeidah would be a major victory because it’s the Houthi’s only port and it supplies the capital of Sanaa, which would strangle the capital and force the Houthi’s to settle for peace. Comment: These reports of escalation around Hodeidah comes as UN, U.S. and UK officials have pressed for an end to the conflict and pressure has mounted on Saudi Araba since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Many see this as a perfect time to bring the conflict in Yemen to an end and refocus on the massive humanitarian problems facing Yemen. (Al Jazeera, Arab News, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Tyler Spyrison

This week in South Asia

BANGLADESH: UN discourages dangerous repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar


On Tuesday, the United Nations investigator and special rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, urged Bangladesh to drop plans to start repatriating hundreds of thousands of refugees to Rakhine state on November 15. The UN refugee agency warned the Rohingyas would likely face a high risk of persecution, and conditions in the Rakhine state were not yet conducive to their return. Further, Lee said she received credible information that refugees in the Bangladesh camps are in daily fear of their names being called to be repatriated. The statements from the UN follow reports in recent weeks that Bangladesh and Myanmar governments have failed to provide guarantees that the Rohingyas would not suffer the same persecution and mass violence if they returned to their home communities in Myanmar. Comment: More than 720,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh from northwestern Myanmar in August 2017 after brutal mass attacks from the Myanmar military. Three months ago, UN investigators released a fact finding report accusing the Myanmar military of acting with genocidal intent, and called for the country’s commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, and five generals to be prosecuted under international law. (BDNews24, Middle East Eye, Al Jazeera, Reuters)

PAKISTAN: Government strikes deal with protesters after Asia Bibi’s acquittal


On Friday, protests were called off after the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party, the most vocal group against the controversial court ruling and leader of recent mass protests, reached a deal with government authorities. In the deal, the TLP received assurance that Asia Bibi will be placed on an exit control list and not allowed to leave Pakistan. The government also confirmed they will not oppose a review petition filed against the Supreme Court’s verdict, and that all protesters since Asia Bibi’s acquittal will be released. In return, the TLP urged supporters on the streets to end the protests and disperse peacefully. Pakistan Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry later clarified in a statement that despite the deal with the TLP, all precautions will be taken to ensure Asia Bibi’s safety, and the deal had to be made in order to bring an end to the mass protests and violence that engulfed Pakistan since last week. Comment: Last Wednesday, Supreme Court judges overturned Asia Bibi’s death sentence, citing insufficient evidence to prove the 2009 blasphemy charges against her. The announcement triggered violent protests across the country with groups, led by the TLP, blocking major highways and roads, torching vehicles, damaging property and attacking policemen. At the request of the UN earlier this week, Bibi’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook fled to the Netherlands and will apply for asylum. As of Wednesday evening, reports surfaced that Asia Bibi and her immediate family have flown out of the country, but their destination is unknown. Bibi’s departure, if confirmed, will most likely have implications regarding the deal between the Pakistan government and the TLP. (New Indian Express, Straits Times, Reuters, Al Jazeera, BBC 1, 2)

SRI LANKA: Political chaos continues as two prime ministers fight for legitimacy

On Monday, President Sirisena announced that parliament will reconvene for a majority vote on November 14, upsetting many who expected parliament to reconvene on November 5 after Sirisena abruptly suspended parliament on October 27. The day before, on October 26, he fired Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former president Rajapaksa. On Tuesday, Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya sent a letter to diplomats and foreign missions condemning President Sirisena’s actions as an undemocratic, illegal attempt to perform a “bloodless coup,” and that the majority of parliament do not support his unconstitutional actions. Karu has also accused Sirisena of delaying parliament further in order to gather support for Rajapaksa by offering bribes to current parliament members if they vote for Rajapaksa on November 14. Since October 26, at least 8 members of parliament have abandoned their support of Wickremesinghe and accepted ministerial posts under Rajapaksa. Wickremesinghe is working out of the prime minister residence while Rajapaksa is now based out of the main prime minister office. Comment: At a rally on Monday, Sirisena further stirred controversy when he defended his decision to fire Wickremesinghe as legal, arguing that he had to remove Wickremesinghe because he and his “butterfly gang” allegedly “worshipped Western embassies” and embraced economic policies that weren’t right for the country. Human rights groups and independent media expressed outrage at the perceived homophobic comments. In Sri Lanka, “butterfly” is considered a derogatory term for “homosexual.” Overall, the political chaos will likely hurt the country’s economy as Japan and the United States have frozen over USD 500 million in aid to Sri Lanka. On Wednesday, the new U.S. ambassador to Sri Lanka, Alaina Teplitz, met face to face with parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya to discuss solutions to the crisis. (Colombo Gazette, Colombo Telegraph, Daily FT, South China Morning Post, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Sloane Katleman

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