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November 24 – November 30

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This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Opposition candidates form joint ticket ahead of elections


Last Friday, Felix Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDSP) and Vital Kamerhe of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UCN) agreed to join forces ahead of the December 23 vote. According to the agreement, Tshisekedi will be on the ticket for the presidency and will choose Kamerhe as prime minister if elected. Both opposition leaders recently backed out of a pact to support businessman Martin Fayulu as the joint opposition candidate following widespread demonstrations in the capital Kinshasa against Fayulu’s candidacy. Fayulu is still running with the support of other opposition parties and major figures such as former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, but lack of support from the UDSP and UCN dampen his prospects for success. Comment: Tshisekedi, Fayulu, and the handpicked Kabila successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, are the three frontrunners in the coming elections. The approaching election could mark Congo’s first ever democratic transition of power; however, external observers remain skeptical due to ongoing violence, widespread corruption, and extensive accusations of fraud in past elections. (Africa News, France24, Reuters)

MADAGASCAR: Presidential vote heads to second-round runoff


On Wednesday, Madagascar’s High Constitutional Court announced that the presidential election will proceed to a decisive second-round runoff on December 19 between former presidents Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina. Incumbent President Hery Rajaonarimampianina did not earn a spot in the runoff, earning only 8.82 percent of the vote, while his competitors each gained over 35 percent of the ballots. Rajaonarimampianina argued the election was marred by fraud and irregularities, but the High Constitutional Court and EU observer mission upheld the results, noting that significant abnormalities were not present. Comment: Madagascar is hoping for its second peaceful elections since 2009, when a Rajoelina-led coup overthrew then-President Ravalomanana, prompting global investors to shy away from Madagascar’s already struggling economy. Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries, as 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. (Africa News, The East African, Punch, Reuters)

SOUTH AFRICA: Minimum wage bill becomes law

On Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the national minimum wage bill into law, set to take effect on January 1, 2019. The new law will raise the minimum wage to ZAR 20, equivalent to USD 1.45, thereby increasing the wages of more than six million South Africans who currently earn salaries at a lower rate. Ramaphosa stated that the new law is a good “first step towards addressing the clamor for a living wage” despite not completely solving the issue of income inequality. Comment: Proponents of the minimum wage argue that it will lessen wage inequality and stimulate economic growth. Critics contend that it will raise unemployment because employers will not be able to afford the increased wages. Furthermore, the Commission for Gender Equality has criticized the bill for excluding care workers from its protections. (Daily Maverick, The South African, Times Live, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Matan Ayash

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

ARGENTINA: Human rights group requests investigation of Mohammed bin Salman war crimes


On Monday, Human Rights Watch filed a writ calling for the prosecution of Saudi crown prince and defense minister Mohammed bin Salman. The human rights group urged the Argentinian government to investigate the leader for his alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and any crimes against humanity in the ongoing war in Yemen. Argentinian law recognizes universal jurisdiction for war crimes and torture, meaning authorities are able to investigate and prosecute crimes regardless of where they were committed. Despite the calls for investigation and prosecution, bin Salman arrived in Buenos Aires on Wednesday for the G20 Summit of world leaders. The Foreign Minister of Argentina pointed out that he will be protected by diplomatic immunity while he travels, and his trip is too brief for a case to reach the Supreme Court, which is the only way for a case involving diplomatic immunity to be decided. Comment: The Washington Post reported that bin Salman ordered the brutal killing of Saudi critic and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in early October. Along with reported war crimes committed by the Saudi coalition in Yemen, the incident has caused outrage against bin Salman and Saudi Arabia internationally. (BA Times 1, 2, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Human Rights Watch)

FALKLAND ISLANDS: UK and Argentina announce new flight route to Falkland Islands


On Tuesday, following two years of negotiations between the UK and Argentina, the Falkland Islands Government confirmed that a deal was reached to establish a second regular commercial flight to the islands. The route, which has no start date as of yet, will operate weekly between São Paolo, Brazil and the Mount Pleasant airport in the Falklands, stopping in Cordoba, Argentina for one round-trip a month. While flying through Buenos Aires would be 400 miles shorter than Cordoba, and allow for more connecting flights, a direct flight from the capital was reportedly politically unacceptable. Comment: Both Argentina and the UK officially claim the islands, which operate a self-sufficient government reporting to the British government. In 1999, the UK and Argentina came to an agreement on the sole existing commercial flight – a weekly flight from Chile which stops monthly in southern Argentina – and framework for establishing future flights. While Argentina hopes for increased links with the islands, the UK believes another flight will increase tourist traffic. (Mercopress, Penguin News, Independent)

NICARAGUA/UNITED STATES: Sanctions placed on two top Ortega officials, including first lady/VP

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order declaring the situation in Nicaragua to be a national security threat and allowing the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to place sanctions on two members of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s inner circle: Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo, as well as personal aide and former national security adviser Nestor Moncada Lau. OFAC can now freeze any property held by Murillo or Moncada Lau in the U.S., and sanctions bar U.S. individuals, banks, and companies from doing business with them. Nicaragua claims that the sanctions are a continuation of U.S. imperial designs on the country, while the U.S. says they have targeted individuals responsible for the approximately 500 deaths in the country amidst government crackdowns on protests since April. U.S. officials also say sanctions are an attempt to prevent dictators from looting the country’s wealth and pressuring Ortega politically to hold elections. Comment: Protests first broke out in Nicaragua in April against proposed social security reforms and have been ongoing against Ortega’s regime and increasing repression. Since then, there have reportedly been 500 deaths and over 2,000 injuries, and President Ortega has declared protests illegal. The U.S. had imposed sanctions on a set of four other high-ranking officials, and the Senate yesterday passed a bill which calls for increased sanctions and pushes the U.S. to use influence in multilateral lending institutions to restrict loans until Nicaragua institutes reforms. (La Prensa 1, 2, 3, BBC, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Tabitha Niemann

This week in East Asia & Pacific

CHINA: Award winning photographer detained in Xinjiang

On Tuesday, Xu Xiaoli, wife of famous Chinese photographer Lu Guang, announced her husband disappeared in the Xinjiang region earlier this month while on a visit to meet fellow photographers. She claims to have lost contact with Guang on November 3, shortly before he was scheduled to leave Xinjiang and meet a friend in Sichuan province. Authorities in Guang’s home province of Zhejiang told Xu he had been arrested by Kashgar police in Xinjiang along with another photographer but did not provide further details. Guang won several awards, including the prestigious World Press Photo, for his photography chronicling the consequences of China’s rapid industrialization, like poverty, pollution, and addiction. Such gritty subjects are typically avoided by the Chinese press out of fear of government reprisal. Comment: The strict surveillance and mass detention of Uighurs into re-education camps in the Xinjiang region has led to international condemnation, to which China has responded by attempting to clamp down on the flow of information out of the region. Several China experts speculate Guang’s presence in the region made authorities nervous, and he might have photographed something that China does not wish the international community to see. (South China Morning Post, The Guardian, Reuters)

NEW ZEALAND: Huawei 5G technology banned


On Wednesday, telecommunications company Spark announced that New Zealand intelligence services refused its request to use 5G mobile network technology built by Huawei Technologies, a Chinese telecommunications equipment company. The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) cited “significant national security risks” in its rejection of Spark’s bid, which would have been the first rollout of 5G technology in New Zealand. There is some international concern, especially within the U.S., that Huawei’s hardware could be utilized by Chinese authorities to conduct espionage. Huawei technology is implemented in New Zealand’s 4G network, but the GCSB says that the increased vulnerability of 5G networks means the presence of Huawei technology would constitute a major cyber risk. Spark expressed disappointment in GCSB’s decision but remains committed to launching its 5G network in the mid-2020s. Comment: New Zealand is not alone in its concerns about Huawei; earlier this year, Australia banned Huawei 5G network hardware citing similar security risks, and the U.S. has been cautioning allies against using Huawei technology in their 5G rollouts. (Straits Times, Fortune, Telegraph, Reuters)

PHILIPPINES: Duterte announces new anti-Communist death squad


On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte announced his intention to create a new ‘Duterte Death Squad’ to hunt Communist rebels, alarming rights groups and Filipino liberals. Duterte claimed his new death squad would target the New People’s Army (NPA), a Communist militia that has been waging an insurgency against the central government since the 1970s, which has killed an estimated 30,000 people. Duterte alleges the NPA uses “sparrow” groups to carry out targeted assassination, and the creation of the Duterte Death Squad will allow him to “match their talent…for assassinating people.” However, the founder of the Filipino Communist Party, Jose Maria Sison, claims that sparrow units were only used in the 1970s-80s, and that Duterte is lying about their continued existence to provide justification for the “illegal” formation of a hit squad. Comment: Rights groups condemn the creation of a Duterte Death Squad as an intensification of the violence in a nation already plagued by a drug war, which has killed between 15,000 and 20,000 people. Human Rights Watch decry Duterte’s announcement as “a declaration of open season against rebels,” while Amnesty International stated that the existence of a Duterte Death Squad means that “anyone can be a target.” (The Jakarta Post, Japan Times, SBS, Straits Times)

TAIWAN: Same-sex marriage legalization referendum fails


On Saturday, voters in Taiwan backed a referendum defining marriage as being between a man and a woman and rejected a referendum guaranteeing marriage rights to same-sex couples, marking a major blow to gay rights campaigns on the island nation, which is widely seen as one of the more progressive Asian states. The referendum negated a May 2017 high court ruling which declared homosexual couples have a legal right to marry, which many hoped would pave the way for Taiwan to become the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage. In addition to cementing marriage as heterosexual, voters passed a measure banning homosexual topics from being taught in elementary and middle schools and rejected one mandating that gender equality be part of school curriculum. Comment: The referendums were part of local elections which were disastrous for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which lost several key seats to the pro-China Nationalist Party. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen resigned her role as head of the DPP, accepting responsibility for the party’s heavy losses. China, which President Tsai accused of meddling in the election, applauded the DPP’s losses, claiming it underlines the Taiwanese people’s desire for friendly relations and eventual unification with Beijing. (South China Morning Post, Taiwan News, Business Insider)

Researched/Written by Christian Vickland

This week in Europe & Central Asia

FRANCE: President Macron acknowledges anger behind protests, does not change tax


On Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron recognized the frustration behind the “yellow vest” protests while not backing down from the controversial tax that instigated them. The protests began two weeks ago in response to a proposed diesel tax increase when the price of diesel has already risen by about 20 percent in the past year, but they have spilled over into feelings of President Macron being out of touch with the general population and ignoring struggles of low-income residents. Macron admitted that it may be necessary to make some adjustments to alleviate the tax burden on the poorest drivers, but he asserted that the increase was a necessary step towards reducing reliance on fossil fuels and alleviating the effects of climate change. Comment: The yellow vest protests have no clear organizer, but they seem to be largely composed of residents from more rural communities. The vests worn are the same kind that all drivers in France are required to keep in their cars to wear outside in case their vehicles break down. (France 24 1, 2, BBC, Reuters 1, 2)

RUSSIA/UKRAINE: Russia seizes ships, Ukraine declares martial law


On Sunday, Russian federal security services attacked and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels attempting to enter the Azov Sea through the Kerch Strait. Russian officials contend the ships performed dangerous naval maneuvers and were illegally sailing in Russian territorial waters, based on Crimea’s annexation. Ukrainian officials argue the vessels were following all international norms and regulations for passing through the Kerch Strait. In response to the seizure, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko declared martial law in parts of Ukraine most vulnerable to Russian aggression, effective Wednesday, and scheduled to last for 30 days. Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg called for Russia to immediately release the seized vessels and sailors. Comment: The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine began with a popular uprising that ousted pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, with Russia subsequently annexing Crimea and supporting separatists in Eastern Ukraine. This latest incident seems to focus again on the issue of whether Russia’s annexation of Crimea was legal. (Kyiv Post, Tass, BBC, Radio Free Europe 1, 2, Reuters)

TURKEY: Soros Foundation to cease operations in country

On Monday, the Open Society Foundations announced that they would cease operations in Turkey because of “an increasingly hostile political environment and a number of baseless accusations.” The group, which advocates for democratic and open societies and was founded by U.S. billionaire George Soros, is being investigated for connections to the 2013 anti-government Gezi Park protests. On November 16, police detained 13 individuals, some with ties to the Open Society Foundations, for supporting the protests; most have since been released. Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly accused Soros of seeking to divide nations and being behind the Gezi Park protests. Comment: Hungarian President Viktor Orban has also accused Soros of seeking to undermine the government in Hungary. There has been little to no evidence presented to substantiate claims that Soros is undermining those governments. (Daily Sabah, BBC, Reuters, Open Society Foundations)

Researched/Written by Lars Spjut

This week in the Middle East & North Africa

EGYPT: New human rights organization created to protect the state


On Monday, Egypt created the High Permanent Commission for Human Rights to combat allegations from the international community on Egypt’s poor human rights record. One human rights lawyer said, “This is a body that will seek to improve the image of the country, not actual human rights”. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 40 lawyers and activists have been arrested since October. A cabinet statement said the mission of the organization is to “respond to claims” of human rights abuses and project a “unified Egyptian vision.” Comment: Since coming to power in 2014, President Sisi has cracked down on dissidents, the Muslim Brotherhood, and non-governmental organizations. One of the main tasks for this new commission is to deal with the United Nations Rights Council, which will be reviewing Egypt’s record in 2019. (Al Jazeera, AP, New York Times)

SAUDI ARABIA: Government looked to Israel for hacking technology


On Sunday, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper reported that the Israeli company NSO Group Technologies held talks with Saudi Arabia in Vienna in 2017 on a system that hacks mobile phones, which was just months before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam started a purge of people who could be political threats. NSO created the Pegasus 3 software, which is an “espionage tool so sophisticated that it does not depend on the victim clicking on a link before the phone is breached.” Comment: Both the Haaretz and Edward Snowden, the former NSA whistleblower, said Saudi Arabia used Pegasus to track dissidents living abroad, including Jamal Khashoggi. NSO stated it broke no laws and that its software is for combating crime and terrorism. (Al Jazeera, Haaretz, Middle East Monitor)

TUNISIA: Activists and journalists protest Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince

On Monday, a small protest broke out in Tunis against Saudi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) planned visit on Tuesday. Salman plans to visit multiple Arab states, his first tour abroad since journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death. Thirteen civic and rights groups organized the first Arab protest against MBS, at Habib Bourguiba avenue in Tunis, the same spot in 2011 for mass protests against then ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Comment: Tunisia is one of only a few Arab states that allow demonstrations in its country. One journalist said, “The Tunisian revolution… cannot agree to receive him (bin Salman) and allow him to clean himself of a murder,” but Saudi Arabia has said MBS had no prior knowledge of the murder in Istanbul last month. (Africa News, Al Jazeera, Gulf Times, Washington Post)

Researched/Written by Tyler Spyrison

This week in South Asia

AFGHANISTAN: President announces plan for peace engagement with Taliban


On Wednesday, President Ashraf Ghani delivered a speech outlining a roadmap for future peace negotiations with the Taliban, including hopes to incorporate the group in a “democratic and inclusive society” which respects the constitutional rights of women and excludes “terrorist networks” from the political process. Ghani also announced the formation of a negotiation team led by presidential chief of staff Salam Rahimi that will include 12 qualified men and women. Speaking during a two-day United Nations conference in Geneva focused on reform and development in Afghanistan, Ghani stated that the peace plan with the Taliban will take at minimum five years to implement and highlighted the crucial support of Afghan people during the presidential election next year. Comment: Also during the conference, the EU signed an aid package worth USD 535 million to assist Afghanistan in public sector reform, healthcare, elections, migration, and displacement challenges. Earlier this month, Taliban officials held three days of talks with U.S. special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar aimed at renewing the peace process. The Afghan government, however, was not involved in these talks due to the Taliban’s demand for the withdrawal of international forces as a precondition for talks with the Afghan government. (Morung Express, Al Jazeera 1, 2, RFERL, Reuters)

PAKISTAN: Arrest of TLP leader triggers protests and violence


On Friday, government authorities arrested Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a prominent cleric and leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, an ultra-right, conservative Islamist group. Earlier this month the TLP led mass protests that shut down major cities in order to demand enforcement of stricter application of blasphemy laws and the execution of Christian woman Asia Bibi. Rizvi urged his supporters earlier in the day to start protesting in the streets if he was arrested, and late on Friday night his son said he had been taken away in a raid on his religious school, or madrassa, in Lahore. Violent protests erupted in the southern Punjab province with TLP supporters clashing with police, resulting in five people wounded and more than 300 arrested. Comment: The supreme court is still reviewing multiple appeals against the overturning of Asia Bibi’s death sentence last month. The TLP ended their initial protests following negotiations with the government which included an agreement to open a review of the court’s decision on Bibi and to impose a travel ban while the court reviews her case. Bibi and her family are in hiding after her release, and the TLP said any sign of allowing her to leave the country would result in new protests. Khadim Hussain Rizvi will remain detained under house arrest for 30 days. (Al Jazeera, South China Morning Post, Reuters 1, 2)

SRI LANKA: Top military official detained over alleged involvement in war crimes

On Wednesday, Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, Sri Lanka’s highest ranking military official, was ordered to be held in custody for a week pending investigations into the abduction and killing of 11 young men, mostly Tamils, between 2008 and 2009. The court issued 3 arrest warrants for Wijegunaratne for allegedly protecting the chief suspect in the murders, naval intelligence officer Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi, by helping him travel to Malaysia to evade arrest. The leading court magistrate denied bail for Wijegunaratne after the court showed evidence he tried to abduct a key witness over the weekend, and sought to have an investigator removed from the case. Wijegunaratne’s entourage also attacked and injured journalists outside the courthouse earlier in the day. Comment: Once he returned from Malaysia in August, Hettiarachchi was arrested for the killings during the closing stages of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war that ended in May 2009 with a Rajapaksa-led government defeat over Tamil separatists. The final days of the offensive were marked by major abuses, according to rights groups. A UN panel has said at least 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final stages of the war. This will be the first trial for a member of the Sri Lanka military for their role in human rights abuses during the war. (Times of India, South China Morning Post, BBC)

Researched/Written by Sloane Katleman

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