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December 8 – December 14

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

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This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: Two killed at opposition rally


On Wednesday, police forces fired live bullets and teargas to disperse supporters of opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu, who were holding a rally in Congo’s second-largest city, Lubumbashi. At least two people died and over 40 more injured as a result of the attacks. According to Fayulu, police also delayed his envoy from reaching rallies on both Tuesday and Wednesday. The presidential hopeful blames current President Joseph Kabila for the oppressive tactics utilized by police. Comment: Fayulu is one of two main candidates challenging ruling party contender and handpicked Joseph Kabila successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary in the approaching December 23 elections. Presidential campaigning efforts have been largely peaceful to this point, but recent incidents in the southeast Katanga region are cause for concern, as citizens fear a repeat of the 2006 and 2011 elections that were also plagued by violence, aggression, and widespread instability. (Africa News, BBC, Reuters)

RWANDA: Prosecutors to appeal acquittal of government critic


On Wednesday, Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Agency stated that it will appeal the exoneration of government critic Diane Shima Rwigara and her mother Adeline Mukangemanyi Rwigara. The pair was accused of “inciting insurrection among the population [and] discrimination and sectarian practices,” but the Kigali High Court found them not guilty of all charges last week, stating that criticisms of the government were part of their rights to freedom of expression. The opposition leader faced 22 years in prison and was “pleasantly surprised” with the three-judge panel’s ruling in her favor. Comment: Rwanda’s government under President Paul Kagame has long been accused of suppressing dissenting opinions and free speech within the country, so critics view this acquittal as a step in the right direction. Prosecutor General Jean Bosco Mutangana believes the prosecution has ample evidence to appeal the High Court’s ruling, and he is not concerned with the potential “political tones” of that decision. (New Times, Africa News 1, 2, Daily Nation)

SOUTH SUDAN: Ebola vaccinations set to begin

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that South Sudan will begin receiving Ebola vaccinations as soon as next week because the country is at “very high risk” due to the existing outbreak in neighboring Congo. The country’s health ministry plans to target healthcare workers on the frontlines in high risk areas bordering the Congo. The ministry is prepared to begin vaccinations on December 19 in the capital Juba, after it receives 2,000 doses of the vaccination. Comment: To date, there have been no reported cases of Ebola in countries bordering the DRC, but WHO officials have nonetheless started to take precautionary measures due to the scope and magnitude of the ongoing epidemic. Congo’s health ministry has reported close to 500 cases since the outbreak began in August, resulting in almost 300 deaths. (The East African, New Vision, AP, Bloomberg)

Researched/Written by Matan Ayash

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

BRAZIL: Bolsonaro government to withdraw from UN migration pact


On Monday, Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s incoming immigration minister Ernesto Araújo announced the new government’s intention to withdraw from a United Nations pact on rising migration. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM) was drafted between 2015 and 2018, in light of increasing migration to Europe from Syria and Africa, and 193 member states agreed to its wording in July (every UN member except the United States). Only 164 of those states formally ratified the non-binding pact on Monday, with ten officially stating their intention not to adopt the agreement (including Chile) and others putting votes to national legislatures (including Italy). In Brazil, Araújo argues that immigration solutions should be tailored to each country rather than be treated as a global issue. He said that Brazil will continue to welcome Venezuelans fleeing the Maduro regime. Comment: Brazil’s government affirmed support for the pact under current President Temer on Monday. The Foreign Minister defended the pact after Araújo claimed it infringed on national sovereignty by reiterating that it is a non-binding document. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has taken a hard line on immigration. In 2015, he called immigrants to Brazil the “scum of the earth.” (Estadao, O Globo, Reuters, Bloomberg)

NICARAGUA: Business leaders demand Ortega release prisoners, hold elections


On Wednesday, Nicaraguan business leaders sent President Daniel Ortega a letter demanding the release of political prisoners, the end to repression, a return to dialogue, and that the government hold early, free elections. The letter was signed by leaders of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), and the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUNIDES). Comment: Since April, hundreds have been killed and hundreds more detained in protests against increasing repression at the hands of the Ortega government. The OAS and UN have called for early elections, without which Ortega will remain in power through at least 2020. At the outbreak of the protests, COSEP was influential in pushing President Ortega to back down from controversial social security reforms. (La PrensaNew York TimesWall Street Journal)

REGIONAL: White House says Russia will withdraw bombers deployed to Venezuela

On Wednesday, the White House announced that two Russian long-range strategic bombers, along with a transport aircraft, a passenger plane, and approximately 100 Russian pilots would return to Russia on Friday after a brief deployment to Venezuela. The aircraft arrived in Venezuela on Monday for what the government described as air force exercises, setting off a diplomatic spat between Russia and the United States. Colombian President Ivan Duque said the exercises are an “unfriendly act” against the continent, while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter that these actions amounted to “two corrupt governments squandering public funds and repressing freedom while their people suffer.” Comment: The deployment comes a week after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s visit to Moscow, during which he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two countries have long been allies but grown closer in recent years, with Maduro claiming the U.S. is attempting to overthrow him. Russian bombers also landed in Venezuela in 2008 and 2013, but the Venezuelan defense minister says the latest deployment is a “new experience.” (Buenos Aires Times, La Prensa, BBC, The Telegraph)

Researched/Written by Tabitha Niemann

This week in East Asia & Pacific

CHINA: Canadian former diplomat detained

On Monday, Chinese state security arrested former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig in Bejing, where he is currently being detained. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang claimed he had “no information” as to why Kovrig was seized but stated that Kovrig’s employer, the International Crisis Group (ICG), is not registered in China, therefore any staff working within the country on behalf of the ICG violates Chinese foreign nongovernmental organization (NGO) law. The ICG said it has had no contact with or information on Kovrig since his detention Monday night. Canadian and U.S. officials have expressed concern about the seizure of Kovrig, who worked at Canada’s embassy in Beijing from 2014 to 2016 and has been researching northeastern Asia security issues for the ICG since 2017. Comment: The detention of Kovrig is widely viewed as Chinese retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese telecom firm Huawei’s chief financial officer, on 12/1 at Vancouver International Airport. The U.S. is requesting the extradition of Meng so she can face fraud charges for violating Iran sanctions. While the Canadian Public Safety Minister said there is no evidence linking Kovrig’s arrest to Meng’s arrest, other Canadian politicians were not so reticent; former Liberal leader Bob Rae tweeted “of course it’s clear” why Kovrig was detained – “it’s called repression and retaliation.” (Japan Times, South China Morning Post, CBS News, The Guardian)

JAPAN: Military announces new aircraft carrier, purchase of F-35s


On Tuesday, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JSDF) announced its plan to convert its largest warship, the JS Izumo helicopter destroyer, into an aircraft carrier, as well as the purchase of 147 F-35 stealth fighter jets from the U.S. The JS Izumo is a 250-meter long warship currently capable of carrying 14 helicopters; after its transformation, which Parliamentary Vice Minister for Defense Keitaro Ohno claims will be inexpensive and rapid, the Izumo will be able to carry roughly a dozen of the 40 purchased F-35Bs, a stealth fighter capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings. The remaining 107 F-35s are of the F-35A variety, which is sleeker and boasts a longer range than the F-35B, and will replace Japan’s aging fleet of F-4 fighter-bombers and F-15 tactical fighters. One tradeoff of the transformation is that the Izumo’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities will be hindered, as it will no longer be able to carry as many SH-60k ASW helicopters and ASW equipment, perhaps signifying that Japan’s emphasis has moved away from deterrence to strike capabilities. Comment: Critics of the upgrades claim they violate Japan’s pacifist principles, which are enshrined in the constitution that restricts the JSDF to self-defense. However, Vice Minister Ohno stated that while in the past the mere existence of the JSDF was enough to deter aggression, Japan must modernize to “meet the real situation. We have to respond to China in the Pacific.” (The Diplomat, Military Times, Time, Vox)

NORTH KOREA: U.S. places sanctions on three senior officials


On Monday, the U.S. placed sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s right hand man Choe Ryong Hae, Minister of State Security Jong Kyong Thaek and Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department Pak Kwang Ho, over the regime’s violations of human rights, strict censorship, and detention of Otto Warmbier that ended in his death. The sanctions, which were imposed by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, freeze any U.S. assets the three men hold and prohibit any financial transactions between the named individuals and anyone in the United States. North Korean officials have yet to comment on the sanctions, although President Trump’s November 29 renewal of sanctions for human trafficking was condemned by North Korea as “an unpardonable political provocation.” Comment: Monday’s sanctions mark a further deterioration in U.S.-North Korea diplomatic relations, which stalemated this June after a summit in Singapore during which North Korea pledged to denuclearize and the U.S. gave security guarantees. North Korea has not taken steps to denuclearize, though Trump administration officials hope a second meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un tentatively scheduled for early 2019 will lead to progress. (The Guardian, USA Today, Reuters)

PHILIPPINES: Martial law in Mindanao extended through end of 2019


On Wednesday, the Philippine Congress voted 235-28 to extend martial law and suspend habeas corpus in the southern island of Mindanao for 12 months to prevent Islamist militants in the region from regrouping. Wednesday’s vote marks the third extension of martial law in Mindanao, which has been in place since May 2017 when a coalition of Islamist groups seeking to establish a caliphate captured the city of Marawi, which was recaptured by Philippine soldiers after a bloody five-month siege. President Rodrigo Duterte strongly advocated for the martial law extension, declaring that communists and terror groups like the Abu Sayyaf Group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and Daulah Islamiyah remain a serious threat in the region. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo praised Congress’s vote, stating that “public safety demands decisive action” and that Duterte’s “primordial mandate is to protect and serve the people.” Comment: Though the measure passed with roughly an 8:1 yes-no ratio, its opponents were vocal. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman declared the extension to be an admission of failure by the military and police, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao expressed fear that human rights violations will continue to increase under extended martial law, and Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon condemned the extension as unlawful given there is no armed rebellion currently underway, which is a legal prerequisite for the institution of martial law under the Philippine Constitution. (ABS-CBN, Manila Times, Philippine Star, South China Morning Post)

Researched/Written by Christian Vickland

This week in Europe & Central Asia

ARMENIA: International monitors praise election process


On Monday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declared that Sunday’s parliamentary elections respected fundamental freedoms and reflected voter support for the electoral process, but that newly elected leaders should continue positive reforms. According to their statement, “The general absence of electoral malfeasance, including of vote buying and pressure on voters, allowed for genuine competition.” In the election, the My Step party, which supports acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, received 70.4 percent of the votes cast. The former ruling Republican Party (HHK) received only 4.7 percent of the votes, failing to gain enough support for a seat in the 101-member parliament. Comment: Nikol Pashinian resigned as prime minister in October to trigger these snap elections. He became prime minister after leading a popular campaign to remove the previous prime minister and current head of the HHK, Serzh Sarkisian, in April. Sarkisian had served as president for ten years, then broke his vow not to become prime minister after a constitutional amendment that transferred power to the position of prime minister. (Armen Press, Radio Free Europe 1, 2, OSCE)

SWEDEN: Search for prime minister continues


On Monday, the Centre Party said it would vote against Stefan Lofven of the Social Democrat party as prime minister on Friday, citing his failure to commit to lower income taxes and more liberal labor laws. Lofven has been serving as acting prime minister since a vote of no confidence against him following the September election. His Social Democrat party won only 17.5 percent of that vote, making it difficult to create a broad enough coalition to form the government. Without support from the Centre Party, Lofven is unlikely to have enough votes, and lawmakers will be forced to seek a new candidate. Friday’s vote will mark a second attempt to confirm a prime minister; a fourth failure will trigger a new round of elections. Comment: Previously, parliament has always confirmed the first candidate for prime minister that has been presented following elections. If Friday’s vote fails, Sweden will be unable to send an official head of government to the EU summit this weekend. (The Local SE 1, 2, Irish Times, Reuters 1, 2)

UZBEKISTAN: Country removed from list as “country of particular concern”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released an updated list of “countries of particular concern” in terms of religious freedom, and Uzbekistan was removed from the list for the first time since 2006. It remains on a Special Watch List but faces less risk of economic sanctions after being upgraded in status. Since taking office in 2016, President Shavkhat Mirziyoev has made significant progress in lifting repressive policies that restricted the ability to practice religion outside of officially sanctioned mosques.  Comment: In the 20 years that the United States has kept this list on religious freedom, Uzbekistan is the second country to be removed; Vietnam was the first. President Mirziyoev has pursued policies to promote greater business investment in the country. (Trend, Radio Free Europe 1, 2, State Department)

Researched/Written by Lars Spjut

This week in the Middle East & North Africa

IRAN: Court jails 30 for economic crimes


On Sunday, 30 men were sentenced for up to 20 years in jail for economic crimes. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei established the new revolutionary courts in August to “fast track” crimes in profiteering and corruption, one reaction to the struggling economy since U.S. sanctions were re-imposed in November. The 30 men were found guilty of bribes, embezzlement and “disrupting the economy,” on top of their jail terms they received fines, lashes, and seizing of their assets. Comment: Iranian officials blamed the U.S., Israel, and others for the economic downturn and for fomenting unrest in the country. Since the beginning of 2018, the rial has lost 65 percent of its value, which has made the cost of living skyrocket. (Iranian, QatarTribune, Reuters, YourMiddleEast)

ISRAEL: Soldiers raid West Bank news agency


On Monday, Israeli troops stormed the official Palestinian news organization, the Wafa, in Ramallah. The previous day a suspected Palestinian gunman opened fire on Israelis waiting at a bus stop in a nearby settlement. The Wafa reported Israeli troops entered the main office, went to the server room and took copies of potential evidence of the attack. It remains unclear if the Wafa raid was related to the shooting the day before, as Israeli troops were seen searching nearby villages on Monday and requesting video footage from other businesses through Ramallah. Comment: The Palestinian journalist union described this act as a “blatant violation” on all Palestinian media. Hamas claimed responsibility for the bus stop attack on Sunday and there was an additional attack on Thursday, which killed two Israelis. Israel stated it had killed two Hamas gunmen that were accused of carrying out the attack on Sunday. (Haaretz, JordanTimes, MiddleEastEye, Reuters)

SYRIA: Demobilization begins

On Monday, the Syrian military announced some conscripted and reservists’ officers would be demobilized. The demobilization comes as the Syrian government has recaptured most of the country and is no longer fighting on multiple fronts. The Syrian Civil War turned towards President Bashar al-Assad in 2015 when Russia began providing airstrike support and Iran began backing militias on the ground. Conscripted officers who served an additional five years, on top of their original 18-month term, will demobilize in January. Reservist officers who joined in 2013 and have served five years will also demobilize in January. Comment: After the conflict erupted in 2011, the Syrian army saw massive desertions, defections, and casualties, so the army had to rely on Shi’ite militia groups, especially Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Demobilization started in May after the government recaptured East Ghouta, which was the last rebel stronghold around Damascus. (JapanTimes, National, Reuters, Statoperator)

Researched/Written by Tyler Spyrison

This week in South Asia

BANGLADESH: Campaign for election begins, violence ensues


On Monday, the campaign for the December 30 general election, which will select members for the Jatiya Sangsad, or the Bangladesh Parliament, officially began. The incumbent prime minister, Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League Party, faces no opposition candidate in her race for a fourth term. On the eve of the campaign launch, leaders from the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), the main opposition to Hasina, said that 2,000 of their supporters and potential candidates had been arrested since November and accused the government of rigging the election in Hasina’s favor. Since the start of the campaign on Monday, more than 100 have been injured and two killed in election-related riots and clashes between mobs. Comment: Bangladesh’s parliamentary election in 2014 was also marred by political violence. Prime minister Hasina won the election almost unanimously but was unchallenged after a boycott by the BNP, who said the vote was rigged and corrupt. (Dhaka Tribune, Times of India, South China Morning Post, Al Jazeera, Reuters)

INDIA/PAKISTAN: War of words between governments as clashes continue in disputed region


On Wednesday, External Affairs Minister of India Sushma Swaraj called upon Pakistan to stop the alleged illegal occupation of Kashmir and Jammu, which the Indian government argues is an integral part of Indian territory. Swaraj claims that Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 square kilometers of Indian territory in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir under the ‘Boundary Agreement’ signed between China and Pakistan in 1963. Comment: Rebels have been fighting Indian control of Jammu and Kashmir since 1989, and Swaraj’s condemnation from India comes at a time of heavy violence between rebels and Indian security forces in these disputed regions. India accuses the Pakistan government of arming and training these rebels, a charge Pakistan consistently denies. Last month, Indian forces intensified operations against fighters in the region killing more than 30 rebels including some top commanders. This week, security forces killed three rebels of Lashkar-e-Taiba, including two teenagers aged 14 and 17, in a gunfight in the outskirts of region’s main city. Their funerals this week sparked outrage and more violence against security forces. (Greater Kashmir, The Kashmir Walla, NDTV, South China Morning Post, Al Jazeera)

MALDIVES: President applies to rejoin the British Commonwealth

On Friday, newly elected president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih announced that the Maldives has applied to rejoin the Commonwealth, reversing a policy of isolation under former president Abdulla Yameen who was defeated by Solih in the September election. Solih wrote to Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland outlining his government’s commitment to rejoining the organization, highlighting the new administration’s beliefs in “the values of democracy, good governance, human rights, gender equality and sustainable development” in the Maldives. Comment: Two years ago, Yameen pulled the Maldives out of the Commonwealth after the organization mounted pressure on him to protect human rights and the rule of law amid a government crackdown on dissent. Solih took office last month after winning a landslide election victory despite Yameen waging a crackdown on his political rivals and jailing most of the opposition. Since Solih’s election, political prisoners have been freed and opposition figures in exile have returned home. (Dhaka Tribune, Times of India, Independent, ChannelsTV)

Researched/Written by Sloane Katleman

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