PSR: April 07, 2017

April 07, 2017

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This week in: Peace & Security Publications |
IPSI | Africa | Americas | East Asia | Middle East | South Asia

Featured Report
Unwilling or Unable: Israeli Restrictions on Access to and from Gaza for Human Rights Workers

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) discusses the difficulties human rights workers face to work in the Gaza Strip due to Israel’s travel restrictions to and from Gaza. HRW recommends, among other things, that Hamas authorities in Gaza take steps to protect human rights activists and allow them to document violations by all sides, including Hamas and armed Palestinian groups inside Gaza.

This week in Sub-Saharan Africa

 DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO: UN cuts troops to biggest peacekeeping mission

On Friday, after difficult negotiations, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to cut 500 troops as well as reform the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo. The resolution authorizes peacekeeping forces to intervene across the entire country, replaces some troops with specialized units, establishes a strategic review, and proposes a dialogue between the Congolese government and the UN on an exit strategy. U.S. Ambassador Haley commented that she was “very proud” of the move, however, the UN ambassador to the DRC expressed his fears over the Security Council’s failure to include disarmament and security and justice sector reform as priorities in the new mandate. Comment: This is the first cut since the Trump administration began its review of the 16 peacekeeping missions as part of its proposed budget cuts and UN operations reforms. The council’s review of the DRC mission, which is the largest and most expensive with nearly 20,000 troops and a budget of USD 1.2 billion, comes amid warnings that violence is spreading before the upcoming elections. (Al Jazeera 1, 2, AP 1, 2, The Guardian)

GAMBIA: Critical first elections in the country’s democratic transition

On Thursday, Gambians continued to secure the transition from former President Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorship by democratically electing a new national parliament. The vote, which is crucial in determining the direction of the transition, is between 239 candidates vying for only 53 seats. Due to internal tensions, the coalition of eight parties that backed President Barrow during the presidential election are running separately against Jammeh’s former ruling party, Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), as well as approximately 42 other independent candidates. Comment: Local media cite concerns by Gambians about the emerging divisions in the coalition which could prevent coalition parties from winning a majority, thus limiting Barrow’s ability to enact the transition policies he promised. The European Union, African Union, and ECOWAS have deployed observers to monitor the elections, the results of which will be announced on Friday. (AllAfrica, Al Jazeera, AP, BBC)

SOUTH AFRICA: Rift in the ANC deepens after cabinet reshuffle

In the wake of President Zuma’s cabinet reshuffle last Thursday, allies of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), notably South Africa’s largest trade union and South African Communist Party, have called on Zuma to quit. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) stated that “the time has arrived for him to step down…We no longer believe in his leadership abilities.” All of the country’s main opposition parties condemned the cabinet purge, as well as half of the ANC’s ‘Top Six’ officials, including the deputy president and secretary general. Comment: Late Thursday night, Zuma fired half of his cabinet, including respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, which led the rating agency Standard & Poor to downgrade South Africa’s credit rating to ‘junk’ status. The reshuffle led to an official request by the opposition Democratic Alliance for a no confidence vote, but on Wednesday, the ANC announced its continued backing of Zuma. (Al Jazeera, BBC, The Guardian 1, 2, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Jessica Himelfarb

This week in the Americas & Caribbean

ECUADOR: Opposition candidate claims fraud in presidential elections

On Sunday, the National Electoral Council (CNE) of Ecuador announced Lenin Moreno as the winner of the presidential elections based on the count of 96.5 percent of the votes. The opposition candidate, Guillermo Lasso, immediately stated he will contest the results alleging fraud in the run-off elections. That same night, hundreds of people gathered around the CNE building to protest the electoral results. Comment: The electoral college has yet to officially confirm the results of the presidential election. However, the CNE reported Moreno’s narrow two-point win over Lasso. The government’s candidate victory would not only mean the continuity of the ten year-long ruling of current President Rafael Correa’s party, but also a halt to the region’s recent trend of voting out left-leaning candidates in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Peru.(El Comercio, El Nuevo Herald, El País, El Universo,  Al Jazeera, CNN, Miami Herald)

PARAGUAY: At least one dead during protests in Asunción

On Friday, around 200 demonstrators set the congressional building of Paraguay on fire after the press published leaked results from a closed-door special session of the Senate, where senators voted to bring a constitutional amendment to abolishing the presidential term limit to the floor for discussion. The amendment and the vote’s secrecy sparked a violent riot in Asunción, resulting in the death of one person due to police repression. Non-violent protests continued throughout the week where protesters collected signatures demanding the immediate withdrawal of the proposed amendment, demonstrators have indicated that they will stop protesting once they get a commitment from Present Cartes that he will not seek a second term. Comment: The Paraguayan constitution of 1992 came after 35 years of military rule under the dictatorship of General Alfredo Stroessner and limits the president to a single five-year term. The proposed modification of the electoral rules of the country would allow former presidents to participate in the upcoming 2018 elections. (Infobae, 1, 2, Telesur, Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, Reuters)

VENEZUELA: Supreme Court backtracks on move to take over the National Assembly

The Supreme Court reversed their annulment of the Venezuelan legislature after the action triggered massive protests in Venezuela, as well as international concern. Last Wednesday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court decided to annul the powers of the legislative assembly, ruling Congress “in contempt” and announcing that court appointed judges would take over all parliamentary capacities. Regional and international media called the move a coup, a disruption of the constitutional order, and anti-democratic. Comment: The Supreme Court’s takeover would have allowed President’s Maduro United Socialist Party to control all three branches of government. Analysts suggest that internal and external pressures forced Maduro to urge the court to review their ruling for the sake of “institutional stability”. (El Diario, El Nuevo Herald, Univision, BBC, CNN, The Economist, NRP, Reuters)

Researched/Written by Silvina Zbikoski

This week in East Asia & Pacific

NORTH KOREA: Ballistic missile fired into the Sea of Japan

On Wednesday, North Korea fired a medium range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on the eve of China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to the U.S. South Korea’s defense ministry said the missile flew approximately 60 km. North Korea has already conducted a number of missile tests this year despite being banned from any nuclear or missile tests by the UN. North Korea’s nuclear and missile program are expected to be discussed between the Chinese and the U.S. president during their meeting. This week, South Korea also test-fired a long-range missile capable of reaching any part of North Korea. Comment: Donald Trump warned that the U.S. will act without Chinese co-operation if China stalls on the issue.  Both Japan and South Korea have condemned the missile test as a challenge to the UN and a threat to peace and safety to the international community. (Channel News Asia 12, Al Jazeera, BBC, The Guardian)

PHILIPPINES: Ceasefire reached between government and communist rebels

On Wednesday, the Philippine government and the communist rebel negotiators reached an agreement on an interim joint ceasefire that is expected to lead to a comprehensive settlement of a decades-long insurgency. Both sides expect the ceasefire to prevent the reoccurrence of violence and lead to a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms. Wednesday’s ceasefire addresses issues such as buffer zones, armed groups in local communities, the prohibition of hostilities and the so-called revolutionary taxes. The ceasefire also includes a provision for the formation of a joint ceasefire committee and a possible third party monitoring compliance of parties. Comment: Peace talks between the rebels and the government are being brokered by Norway and took place in the Netherlands. The communist rebels waged protracted guerrilla warfare for nearly five decades, killing more than 40,000 people. (Channel News Asia, The Inquirer, GMA NetworkThe Philippine Star)

SOUTH KOREA: Presidential candidates elected

On Tuesday, South Korea’s centrist People’s Party elected Ahn Cheol-soo as its nominee, while on Monday, the Democratic Party of Korea picked Moon Jae-in as its candidate for the May 9 presidential election. Ahn Cheol-soo hopes to unite conservatives and moderates, while the liberal front-runner, Moon Jae-in, holds a significant lead in the polls. The conservative party, Liberty Korea, has been lagging in the polls due to former president Park’s corruption scandal. Ahn and Moon are seen as frontrunners in this year’s presidential race. Both men competed for liberal votes in the 2012 election before Ahn dropped out of the race. Comment: This year’s presidential election will proceed a year ahead of schedule due to Park’s impeachment for her involvement in a corruption scandal. (Asia Nikkei, Korea Herald, Korea Times, NHK World)

Researched/Written by Kanstantsin Ivanou

This week in Europe & Central Asia

GERMANY: Government investigating 20 Turks over alleged espionage

On Thursday, German newspaper Die Welt (DW) reported that German authorities opened investigations against 20 Turkish citizens suspected of conducting espionage inside of Germany, based dossiers that Turkey itself provided to Germany. Those being investigated by Germany include members from the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) and religious authority Diyanet. The dossiers contain telephone numbers and photographs of over 300 individuals, including two German politicians. Turkey suspects the individuals listed in the dossiers of being followers or supporters of U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accused of organizing a failed military coup last July. Comment: The German investigations are part of a wider probe being carried out by German, Austrian, and Swiss authorities who believe Turkey may have a global network of informants that have carried out espionage in at least 35 countries. German and U.S. officials, among others, have reported that there is no substantial evidence that Gulen or any of his followers organized the July coup. (DW, Euractiv, Reuters 1, 2, The Independent)

HUNGARY: Bill passed targeting Central European University, thousands protest in Budapest

On Tuesday, parliament passed a new law requiring foreign universities that have campuses in Budapest to also have a campus in their home country. The Central European University (CEU), funded by George Soros, is the only international college in Hungary without an overseas branch. U.S. leaders, European leaders, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have all condemned the move as an affront on academic freedom. The protests by professors, students, and civilians against the bill began Sunday, and resumed Tuesday after the law was passed. Comment: Several other NGOs funded by Soros have also been recently targeted by the government, including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, and Transparency International Hungary. CEU was founded in Budapest in 1991, has 1,400 students, and offers both Hungarian and U.S. degrees.  (Hungarian Free Press, HRW, Reuters, BBC)

RUSSIA: Suicide bomber claims 14 lives in St. Petersburg

On Monday, a bomb detonated inside a subway train underneath St. Petersburg killed 14, including the suicide bomber, and injured another 55 people, according to the Russian Health Ministry. A second bomb was found at another subway station the same day, but was safely deactivated. On Tuesday, Russian investigators identified the suicide bomber as 22-year-old Akbarzhon Jalilov, a Russian citizen from Kyrgyzstan. Comment: Many Russian cities, such as Moscow, have faced similar transit-based terror attacks in recent years, but this is the first to occur in St. Petersburg. On Wednesday, Russian investigators arrested seven individuals suspected of recruiting members for the self-proclaimed Islamic State, but no group has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack. (RT, Reuters, AP)

Researched/Written by Kenneth Davis

This week in the Middle East & North Africa

BAHRAIN: Newly approved amendment gives military courts right to try civilians

On Monday, Bahrain’s King Hammad bin Isa Al Khalifa approved a constitutional amendment giving the military court the right to try civilians who “threaten the security of the state.” The upper and lower houses of parliament approved the amendment, prior to the King. The move was justified as necessary in the fight against supposed “Iran-linked anti-government cells that have targeted the state.” Comment: Iran has continuously maintained that it has no involvement in the Shia opposition within Bahrain. Military courts in Bahrain were previously limited to exclusively trying members of the armed forces and other branches of the security sector and could only try civilians during a state of emergency. (Al Jazeera, Middle East Monitor,Kuwait News Agency)

IRAQ: ISIS second in command killed in airstrike

On Sunday, Ayad Al Jumaili, believed to be the self-proclaimed Islamic States’ second in command, was killed in an Iraqi airstrike near the Syrian border. The group’s director of administrative affairs, Salem Mudafar Al Ajmi was also killed during the same air strike. In a separate operation, two of the group’s commanders were killed in the Anbar province. Comment: These air strikes are part of Iraq’s continued push to liberate more areas in Mosul. More than 300 civilians have been killed in western Mosul since Iraqi forces and the U.S. led coalition began their offensive last month. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still trapped inside of self-proclaimed Islamic State-held west Mosul. (Rudaw, Al Jazeera, Asharq Al Awsat)

SYRIA: Use of chemical weapons suspected in attack on Idlib

On Tuesday, more than 80 people, including children, were killed in a suspected toxic gas bombing in rebel-held Idlib, Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those affected experienced choking, fainting, and foaming from the mouth, symptoms known as reactions to toxic gas. Western governments and the opposition claim that the Syrian Army and Russian forces dropped the chemical bombs. Both Russia’s defense ministry and the Syrian government deny any involvement. An autopsy conducted by the Turkish medical center on three of the dead confirmed that chemical weapons caused their deaths. Comment: This is the third time the Assad regime has been accused of using chemical weapons. In August 2013, Western states accused Assad of using Sarin gas outside of Damascus, killing hundreds, which was confirmed by a United Nations investigation. (Al Jazeera 123RT, New York Times)

Researched/Written by Raghda Karajah

This week in South Asia

AFGHANISTAN: UNHCR cuts grant for voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees

On Sunday, a UNHCR spokesperson announced that cash grants for Afghan refugees in Pakistan who voluntarily return home to Afghanistan will be reduced from USD 400 to USD 200 due to budget cuts. Voluntary repatriation resumed on Monday after a routine winter break, and 16,000 Afghan refugees are currently registered to return home. The original amount covered the refugees’ basic needs during their return, while the reduced amount is only sufficient to cover transportation costs. Comment:In 2016, 370,000 Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan through this grant program. The cash grants were previously set to end in mid-December of 2016, the start of a routine winter break, but the grant program resumed March 1. (Dawn, The Nation, Al Jazeera)

NEPAL: Immigration officials accused of facilitating human trafficking

On Friday, a parliamentary panel investigating reports of abuse against Nepali migrant workers in the Middle East reported that despite strict screening measures for women traveling to Gulf nations, thousands of women are still being trafficked through Nepal’s international airport. Half of the nearly 500 migrant workers the panel interviewed said they had passed through the airport unquestioned, a violation of the screening process as immigration officials are required to interview women traveling to Middle Eastern countries. Immigration Department official, Ganga Ram Gelal, said there would be an investigation into the airport’s officials, and those found guilty of colluding with traffickers would be punished. Comment:Per the panel, traffickers take women to these countries on visitor visas with the promise of good jobs but then sell them to employers as maids, often unpaid, once they arrive. Those interviewed as part of the investigation had escaped their employers and reported being overworked, beaten, and raped. (The Himalayan Times, Jakarta Globe, Reuters)

PAKISTAN: Suicide attacker targets census team, kills six and injures 18 

On Wednesday, a suicide attacker detonated near a van carrying a census team, killing six military personnel and census enumerators. The Tehreek-e-Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Prior to this attack, at the commencement of the census effort, the military deployed 200,000 troops to provide security for the 119,000 enumerators. Comment:Last month, Pakistan commenced its first door-to-door population census since 1998. The census has been politically charged due to concerns that the results will show a changing demographic and force electoral constituency boundaries to be redrawn. (Dawn, The Nation, Al Jazeera)

Researched/Written by Kaleigh Thomas