This week in Peace & Security, brought to you every Friday
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December 1 – December 7

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

Featured Publication

The Global Terrorism Index 2018 was written, researched, and produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace. This annual report, now on its sixth edition, provides a comprehensive analysis of the major global statistics, economic trends, and key patterns in terrorism over the last 20 years.

This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

MALAWI: New law prohibits candidates from buying support


On Saturday, the Political Parties Act officially came into effect in Malawi, banning politicians from “using cash payments and other incentives to buy support” ahead of key elections scheduled for May 21, 2019. Those who break the new law will face fines of MWK 10 million, USD 13,600, or up to five years in prison. In the past, it was common practice among politicians at all levels to use cash payments and gifts to guarantee support at the polls. Comment: University of Malawi political scientist Henry Chingaipe states that the “new law will help clean up politics,” as Malawians can now “vote out of conscience” instead of being bought with political handouts. The May 2019 elections will feature incumbent President Peter Mutharika of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, former President Joyce Banda of the People’s Party, and Vice President Saulos Chilima of the United Transformation Movement. (Nyasa Times, Africa News, Times Live)

NIGERIA: President states he is alive, denies reports of being an imposter


On Sunday, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari denied allegations that he had “died and been replaced by a Sudanese imposter.” Buhari was being treated in Britain for an undisclosed illness last year for five months, seriously calling his health into question. His prolonged absence and lack of public appearances prompted widespread belief in an unsubstantiated viral theory that Buhari had died and been replaced by a Sudanese lookalike named Jubril. In a speech to Nigerians in Poland, Buhari stated, “It’s real me, I assure you. I will soon celebrate my 76th birthday and I will still go strong.” Comment: Buhari, 75, is seeking reelection in February 2019, but critics continue to argue that he is not in good enough health to adequately lead Nigeria, and his credibility has taken a hit due to prolonged absences. In addition to questioning his health, opponents point to Buhari’s failure in defeating Boko Haram, which was a point of emphasis during his 2015 campaign. The Islamic extremists continue to carry out attacks in Nigeria’s northeast and the Lake Chad region, killing 39 soldiers in November alone. (African Arguments, Daily Post, Vanguard, BBC, Reuters)

SUDAN: Lawmakers support amendment to extend president’s rule

On Tuesday, 294 lawmakers, a majority of the 581-seat parliament, voiced their support for a constitutional amendment to extend presidential term limits, thus allowing President Omar al-Bashir to run for a third term. Bashir, in power since 1989, would have had to step down at the end of his term in 2020, but if this constitutional amendment passes, it would allow him to seek reelection. The ruling National Congress Party, which holds the overwhelming majority of seats in parliament, previously stated its intention to nominate Bashir in the coming 2020 elections. Comment: Opposition figures fear that this is the first step to Bashir becoming president for life, while proponents of this bill believe that it is in Sudan’s best interest for Bashir to remain president in order to maintain much-needed stability. Sudan’s longtime ruler is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes pertaining to his role in the “killings and persecution in Sudan’s Darfur province between 2003 and 2008.” (Sudan Tribune, Daily Nation, The Star, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Matan Ayash

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

BRAZIL: Bolsonaro considers making indigenous affairs responsibility of agriculture ministry


On Monday, the future chief of staff for right-wing Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro stated that Bolsonaro is considering putting indigenous affairs under the ministry of agriculture. While the plan has not officially been decided upon, some Brazilians are concerned that this proposal would give farmers the upper hand in land disputes. In 2017 alone, 71 activists and indigenous people were killed in farming or logging related land conflicts in Brazil, six of whom were members of indigenous tribes protecting land in the Amazon rainforest region. Currently, indigenous affairs are the responsibility of the National Foundation for the Indigenous People (FUNAI). Comment: Indigenous reservations make up about 12.5 percent of Brazil’s territory, and 517,000 natives (two-thirds of Brazil’s indigenous population) live on a reservation. Reservations are also important for environmental purposes, as they cover much of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and biodiversity. The proposal is in line with Bolsonaro’s campaign statements – he has said no new reservations will be created during his tenure, that indigenous reservations should be opened to commercial use, and that indigenous people should integrate themselves. (Telesur, Reuters, VOA)

CUBA: Mobile internet rolls out, at a cost


On Thursday, Cubans were able to begin subscribing for 3G mobile internet for the first time through state-run telecoms company ETECSA. Though almost half the country’s citizens have cell phones, the price packages for 3G access will likely put the service out of reach for many: with the average state wage at just USD 30 per month, mobile internet service ranges from USD 7 (for 600MB) to USD 30 (for 4GB) per month. Some are concerned with the reliability of the service, as an earlier 24-hour test resulted in the disruption of SMS messaging across the island. Until 2013, internet access was limited to tourist hotels on the island. Since then, hotspots were extended to internet cafes and public plazas, and in 2017 home access was allowed but the service’s price is similarly prohibitive for many. Comment: Cuba is considered one of the least connected countries in the Western Hemisphere, and has one of the world’s lowest rates of internet use. Since President Obama and Raul Castro began cooling tensions in 2014, internet use in Cuba has been expanding rapidly. Proposed revisions to Cuba’s new draft constitution include one article on the ‘democratization of cyberspace’ and another condemning use of the internet for ‘subversion’. (Havana Times, Reuters, Al Jazeera, BBC, Local 10)

VENEZUELA: UN urges U.S. and EU aid to refugees

On Tuesday, the United Nations predicted an escalation of the Venezuelan refugee crisis and said it would seek USD 738 million from the U.S. and the European Union to assist neighboring countries in coping. The UN assessed that the South American countries taking in refugees have exhausted their own resources, and in taking in more refugees, may face increasing violence. The UN appeals for humanitarian aid from donors annually, with this year’s appeal totaling USD 21.9 billion, not including appeals for Syria. It was the first time Venezuela has been listed as a humanitarian crisis and included in the appeal. Comment: Venezuela has been facing a socio-economic crisis for the past several years, and today suffers from severe hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, and a repressive government. Over three million people have fled, mostly since 2015. Colombia alone has taken in a million refugees, while Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador have accepted hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans. (El Tiempo, Estadao, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Tabitha Niemann

This week in East Asia & Pacific

AUSTRALIA: Controversial encryption bill one step closer to law

On Tuesday, Labor and Coalition, the two major political parties in Australia, reached an ‘in-principle’ agreement on a pending bill that would grant Australian police the authority to order companies and websites to build backdoors into their devices and platforms in order to help law enforcement decrypt communication. The Assistance and Access Bill will likely pass later this week as the in-principle agreement between Labor and Coalition contained concessions from each side, including Labor retreating from its demand to limit the number of agencies granted access to the new powers and Coalition allowing Labor to include a provision specifically defining “backdoors.” Australian law enforcement and intelligence officials have applauded the Assistance and Access Bill, saying it would help them apprehend terrorists and sex offenders, 95 percent of whom utilize encrypted messaging platforms. The numerous opponents of the bill, who range from politicians to members of the technical community, condemn it as a dangerous expansion of law enforcement power that will make it easier for hackers to exploit devices. Comment: The “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance between the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand has long called for increased access to encrypted communications. Earlier this year, the coalition declared its willingness to force companies to create backdoors if they refused to build them for their governments. (News, The Guardian 1, 2, Tech Crunch)

CHINA: Belt and Road Initiative agreement reached with Portugal


On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa signed a memorandum of understanding bringing China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects to Portugal. The agreement includes China developing the southwestern port of Sines, improving network connections, and investing in electric transportation. President Xi lauded Portugal as a strategically located country that “links the Silk Road and the maritime Silk Road” as it is the closest European destination for Asian ships sailing through the Panama Canal. Another agreement signed during President Xi’s visit to Lisbon entailed Portugal’s use of Huawei technology in its 5G network rollout, which other nations have avoided due to espionage concerns. Comment: Portugal’s BRI deal comes on the heels of several EU nations agreed upon a framework regulating foreign investment last week. Prime Minister Antonio Costa decried the regulations as “protectionism,” and the head of Portugal’s trade agency declared that having signed the BRI agreement, Portugal will now seek investment in its automobile and agriculture industries. (South China Morning Post, AP, Reuters)

INDONESIA: Separatist attack on construction workers kills 31


On Sunday, the West Papau National Liberation Army (TPN), an armed separatist group seeking Papuan independence from Indonesia, attacked construction workers in central Papua, killing 31. TPN fighters were holding a ceremony to celebrate the 57th anniversary of Papua’s independence from Dutch colonial rule when they noticed construction workers snapping photographs of them, which angered the fighters and provoked the violence. The construction workers were building bridges for a trans-Papua road, an infrastructure project spanning 278 kilometers of roads and bridges meant to connect remote villages to the rest of Papua. The TPN disputes that the victims were civilians, claiming the workers were in fact Indonesian military personnel. A joint operation by Indonesian military and police has been initiated to track down the TPN perpetrators. Comment: The TPN attack comes at the end of a weekend rife with protest across West Papau, as the December 1 Independence Day anniversary of freedom from Dutch colonial rule now rallies sentiment for independence from Indonesian control. 600 protesters were arrested over the weekend in West Papau and Indonesia, many for performing the illegal act of raising the West Papaun national Morning Star flag. (The Asean Post, The Jakarta Post, Radio NZ, The Guardian)

REGIONAL: Singapore accuses Malaysia of territorial encroachment


On Tuesday, Singapore publicly accused Malaysia of encroaching upon its maritime border with a planned expansion of the Johor Bahru port, which it claims crosses into Singaporean waters. Singapore’s Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan Khaw also claimed that Malaysian ships have been regularly intruding in Singapore’s territorial waters off the coast of Tuas. Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke issued a rebuttal to Singapore’s allegations, stating that the proposed new limits of the Johor Bahru port are well within Malaysian maritime limits, and charged Singapore with violating Malaysian territorial sovereignty via its instruction to civilian vessels to ignore the new Johor Bahru port boundaries. While both sides agree that they want to seek a resolution “amicably,” Minister Khaw stated that Singapore is prepared to take action to defend its territorial integrity. Comment: Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965 sparked airspace and maritime border disputes that continue to this day. Malaysia claims that its port expansion stays within its territory as delineated in a 1979 map created to mark borders between Malaysia and its new neighbor; Singapore never accepted the map and therefore rejects the validity of the border. (Nikkei, South China Morning Post, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Christian Vickland

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This week in Europe & Central Asia

GEORGIA: Thousands protest presidential election results


On Sunday, about 25,000 protestors demonstrated in Tbilisi against the results of the November 28 presidential election runoff, claiming the vote was unfair. Salome Zurabishvili, backed by the ruling party, won with 59.5 percent of the vote and will be Georgia’s first female head of state; however, Grigol Vashadze, the opposition candidate, stated that he will fight the results of this election and push for a snap parliamentary election. While international observers expressed concerns that the ruling party mixed party and government funds during the campaign, they said that the election itself was competitive. Comment: Former President Mikheil Saakashvili, who lives in the Netherlands and was convicted in absentia of crimes while in office, supports Vashadze’s efforts to oppose the election results. The outcome is unlikely to generate significant unrest. (Georgian Journal, Al Jazeera, Radio Free Europe, Reuters)

KOSOVO: Members of parliament refuse to leave government building in tax protest


On Sunday, nine lawmakers from the Lista Srpska party, who represent Kosovo’s ethnic Serb minority, spent the night in their offices in the parliament building as a protest against the high tariffs placed on Serbia. Kosovo initially levied a 10 percent tax on goods from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in early November but raised it to 100 percent on November 21 in response to what it called an “aggressive campaign” against Kosovo internationally. The day before, Kosovo failed its third bid to join Interpol. Kosovar leaders promised to remove the tariff if Serbia and Bosnia recognize Kosovo’s independence, while the EU and the U.S. have both opposed the tariff as a barrier to regional stability. Comment: Last week, four mayors of majority ethnically Serbian towns in northern Kosovo resigned over this same tariff, some citing concerns over lack of food due to the limited imports. The EU requires Serbia and Kosovo to resolve their differences before being eligible to apply for EU membership. (Balkan Insight, BBC, Radio Free Europe 1, 2)

SLOVAKIA: Prosecutor orders detained activists freed

On Tuesday, general prosecutor Jaromir Ciznar ordered the release of 12 Greenpeace activists being held for scaling a coal mine’s tower on November 28 to display a sign calling for an end to the use of coal. This action overruled a district court’s ruling from Sunday that the protestors would be held until their trial, which was intended to prevent them from causing more harm in the interim. Prosecutors have not dropped charges, which currently include threatening the “operation of a facility of public interest” and could result in one to five years in jail. The mining company claims the protest endangered the lives of 342 miners since it forced the shutdown of an important elevator and disrupted operations for five hours. Comment: Ciznar also pointed out that the charges could still be changed or dropped before prosecution. Environmental activists staged a similar protest in Poland leading into UN climate talks on Sunday. (Spectator, Yle, Reuters, Greenpeace)

Researched/Written by Lars Spjut

This week in the Middle East & North Africa

IRAN: New stealth warship launched


On Saturday, Iran unveiled its newest naval destroyer, the Sahand. The radar evading ship can stay at sea for up to five months at a time. Iran started building its own ships in 2010 because of international sanctions connected to its nuclear program and support for Hezbollah and other groups in the region. Most of Iran’s naval ships are actually U.S. built and date prior to 1979, when the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran was toppled. Comment: Senior Iranian officials said that if Iran is not allowed to export its oil, other countries will not be allowed to export their oil through the Strait of Hormuz either. In August, Iran unveiled a domestically built fighter jet, as it builds up its own arms industry. The Supreme Leader of Iran has said that Iran must be ready to ward off any enemies through military capabilities. (Al Jazeera, New Arab, RFERL, Reuters)

SAUDI ARABIA/QATAR: Intellectual property dispute at the WTO


On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia told the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it could not settle the dispute with Qatar because of national security issues. Qatar launched the dispute with the WTO, which has a dispute settlement mechanism for these types of claims, in October over Saudi Arabia blocking its broadcasting outlet beIN and for not doing enough to tackle piracy issues. The piracy problem between the two countries escalated during the last FIFA World Cup, where a program called BeoutQ, transmitted out of Saudi Arabia, stole signals from beIN and illegally broadcast the games all over the Middle East. Comment: In 2017, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt formed a blockade against Qatar because of its supposed support of terrorism and destabilizing actions in the region. At the WTO, the U.S., UAE and Egypt supported the Saudi stance while the European Union and Turkey defended Qatar on the matter. (Al Jazeera, New York Times, Your Middle East)

YEMEN: Prisoner swap deal struck

On Tuesday, the Yemeni government and Houthis agreed to a large prisoner swap in hopes of building confidence between the two warring parties. The deal will see up to 2,000 pro-government and 1,500 Houthi prisoners returned to their respective groups. The UN backed peace talks were held in Stockholm on Wednesday, where the UN hoped to start confidence-building measures including; a ceasefire in Hodeidah, the Saudi-United Arab Emirates coalition halting airstrikes and the Houthis stopping drone and rocket fire. Comment: This progress comes at a time of dire warnings for the future of Yemen. According to the United Nations Humanitarian office, they will need to provide food for twelve million people in the region in 2019. (Al Jazeera, Independent, Middle East Eye)

Researched/Written by Tyler Spyrison

This week in South Asia

INDIA: New Delhi fined over toxic smog


On Monday, the National Green Tribunal, India’s environmental watchdog, fined the New Delhi government USD 3.5 million for failing to enforce anti-smog rules and reduce pollution. The Tribunal blamed the city administration’s lack of oversight after it was revealed that some polluting industries were burning harmful waste in the open. The penalty comes after the Tribunal conducted hearings with testimony from city residents who claimed that factories were not following laws on trash fires. Though New Delhi has shut down power plants and banned heavy trucks from the city in a bid to curb smog, the city administration has accused the governments in nearby Punjab and Haryana for crop fires that frequently burn and send smoke eastward to New Delhi. Comment: New Delhi was ranked first on the World Health Organization (WHO) list of 20 most polluted cities in the world in 2018, 14 of which are in India. The haze in New Delhi has levels of airborne pollutants that routinely eclipse safe limits by more than 30 times. An estimated 1.1 million Indians die prematurely from air pollution every year. (NDTV, Straits Times, South China Morning Post, Channel News Asia)

PAKISTAN: TLP leaders face terrorism and sedition charges


On Saturday, Pakistani Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said at a press conference that the government decided to take legal action against TLP leadership, bringing terrorism and sedition charges to Khadim Hussain Rizvi and three other senior leaders. Rizvi, an influential cleric and leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, led violent protests in early November after the Supreme Court overturned the death penalty for Asia Bibi in October, which paralyzed major cities for multiple days and resulted in the arrests of over 3,000 protesters. Rizvi urged TLP supporters to kill the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Asia Bibi as well as overthrow the government and the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Chaudry announced that the TLP leaders charged with sedition and terrorism charges could face life imprisonment if convicted. Comment: After the first large scale protests in early November, the government signed an agreement with TLP leaders to bring a quick end to the violence; however, they launched a crackdown weeks later when the TLP threatened to launch another protest. On November 24, Rizvi was detained by authorities in order to “maintain law and order,” but more protests by the TLP followed, causing police to launch another crackdown on hundreds in the Punjab province and the port city of Karachi. (Straits Times, South China Morning Post, Al Jazeera, Reuters)

SRI LANKA: Court bars Rajapaksa government from taking power

On Monday, the Court of Appeals temporarily barred disputed prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his cabinet from taking power, citing “irreparable damage to the country.” Rajapaksa and President Sirisena have refused to back down despite losing two no confidence votes in parliament last month. The Court of Appeals will sit again on December 12 to deliver a verdict on this case. In a statement, Rajapaksa declared he did not agree with the court’s decision and planned to file an appeal with the Supreme Court this week. Comment: Sri Lanka has been in a political crisis since October 26 when President Sirisena fired prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Rajapaksa, the former leader accused of corruption and human rights abuses. After Sirisena and Rajapaksa did not receive a majority in parliament, Sirisena dissolved the 225-member parliament and called for snap elections, both moves which were temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court and is expected to deliver a verdict on the case on December 7. (Straits Times, South China Morning Post, Al Jazeera, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Sloane Katleman

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