In Memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

In Memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

The World This Week: September 20, 2020

North America

On Friday night, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away due to complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. While an outpouring of condolences immediately began flooding that night, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement that he planned on bringing the next Trump nominee to the Supreme Court for a vote of the floor. In what can only be described as sheer hypocrisy, Republican Senators that relied on the “Biden Rule” to withhold a vote on the floor for President Obama appointee Merrick Garland for about eight months back in 2016 have now called for a floor vote on a new Supreme Court Justice with less than forty-five days until the election. Republican Senators Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) have pledged not to vote for a new nominee until after the election. If another Republican Senator refuses to vote for Trump’s nominee, McConnell will likely delay the floor vote. Please take a moment away from the political hysteria of Ginsburg’s passing, and remember the grief her family and those she inspired are experiencing. Ginsburg was a trailblazer, a feminist icon, and an incredible jurist, but she was also a human being whose death should be mourned in peace.

Last Tuesday at the White House, President Trump hosted the signing ceremony of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The Trump Administration has called the normalization of foreign relations between the three nations a major win for President and the “new dawn for the Middle East.” The U.S. incentives the UAE to the normalize of relations with Israel by committing to sell them F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and other advanced weaponry. Growing fear Iranian regional hegemony and the new generations of Arab leaders’ apathy towards Palestinians will likely lead to further normalization between Arab states and Israel.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sally, hundreds of thousands are still without power along the Alabama coast and Florida Panhandle. Millions of dollars of damage. Hurricane Sally is just the latest Hurricane to hit Gulf Coasts states during this, particularly extreme hurricane season. In parts Florida, four months of rain fell in four hours. Tropical storm Beta will likely hit Texas in the coming week. The contributing factor to this extreme hurricane season and the wildfire still ranging in California is climate change.

Also, on Friday, the Pentagon announced it would send Bradley fighting vehicles, advanced radar, and more fighter jet patrols to northeast Syria. The announcement is likely a response to an incident three weeks ago where a Russian armored vehicle rammed an American patrol, injuring seven Americans. An additional 100 military personnel will reinforce the more than 500 already deployed to the region. Central Command spokesman Cpt. Bill Urban, stated in an email, “these actions are a clear demonstration of U.S. resolve to defend coalition forces and to ensure that they are able to continue their defeat-ISIS mission without interference.” This announcement came on the same day President Trump claimed American military personnel “are out of Syria.”

Central Asia

Uzbekistan and Sweden have reached an asset return agreement. This agreement is centered on assets, totaling in hundreds of millions of US dollars, which once belonged to Gulnara Karimova, daughter of former Uzbek leader Islam Karimov. Her assets were frozen as a result of lengthy corruption charges. The primary concern over this agreement is ensuring current officials cannot use the returned funds to engage in further corruption. 

Far less lucrative, but potentially impactful accusations of bribery have been levied against Dastan Djumabekov, speaker of parliament and member of the Kyrgyzstan Party. This party has promised a 1000% increase in suyunchu payments, a financial program which issues cash payments to new mothers. Currently, the payment is worth $50. Under the Kyrgyzstan Party’s plan, it would be worth $630. Djumabekov is accused of using the funds of his office to fund a test-trial of this policy, which would be a violation. However, little is expected to be done on this matter, as the machinations of the Kyrgyzstan government have been known to bend the rules on behalf of the Kyrgyzstan Party.

Asia Pacific

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday visited a Tokyo shrine linked to Japan’s militarist past, waiting only three days after his departure from office to resume a longstanding practice that had angered Asian neighbors. Mr. Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine on Dec. 26, 2013, a year after taking office, prompting a rare rift with the U.S. At the time, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said it was disappointed that Mr. Abe had “taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors.”

This week, China released details of the raids on its journalists last week after Australia pulled two of its journalists out of China, shedding further light on the mounting tensions between Australia and China that led up to the diplomatic standoff over the two men. The searches by Australian authorities were part of an investigation into possible Chinese foreign interference, according to court documents.

TikTok owner ByteDance Ltd. and Oracle Corp. have already gained President Trump’s blessing to their deal,but another hurdle remains: Beijing still has to sign off too. 

On Friday, Beijing flew military aircraft close to Taiwan on a day that a senior American diplomat, met with Taiwan’s president as part of a series of recent U.S. moves to improve ties with the self-ruled island. Undersecretary of State Keith Krach, the highest-ranking State Department official to visit the island since Washington cut formal ties with Taipei four decades ago


After a COVID-19 outbreak was discovered last month in Auckland, New Zealand finally reported no new cases of the virus this week. Community transmission has also been severely limited, with all recent cases found in travelers returning home after quarantine periods. The Auckland outbreak’s origin has not been identified, but authorities believe it came from abroad.

Vanuatu is one of a number of countries benefitting from an increase in citizenship sales (trade in ‘honorary citizenship’ for investment) during the ongoing pandemic: in August, Vanuatu recorded earnings of $84.6 million so far in 2020. Chinese mainlanders make up the majority of citizenship purchases, which cost an average of $130,000. However, there is no clear distinction between regular Vanuatu passports and those granted to honorary citizens, despite the legal differences between the latter group and Vanuatu nationals—this may cause problems at points of entry. Some legislation is in place to create a separate economic passport for honorary citizens, and the integrity of the regular passport remains important to the government.

French New Caledonia plans to hold its next independence referendum on October 4. Advocates want to regain control over Kanaky-New Caledonia’s foreign affairs, economic interests, and national interests. French president Emmanuel Macron has marked New Caledonia as part of its plans to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region, but residents would like the option to decide for themselves as a free state—including potential cooperation with China and other countries.

Middle East and North Africa

Many former and current officials say the legal risks have greatly increased for the U.S. over the Saudi strikes in Yemen. State Department officials have raised alarms about the risk in aiding airstrikes that kill civilians. However, the Trump administration has ignored these warnings and continues to sell weapons to Gulf nations. Since the war in Yemen began in 2015 more than 127,000 people have died including 13,500 civilians. 

Five Afghan migrants were charged with arson for the alleged involvement in fires that destroyed the majority of the migrant camp called Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos. The Greek government accused the migrants of starting the fire at Moria because they were angry at the isolation measures imposed to curb the coronavirus outbreak. People from 70 countries have found refuge at Moria, most from Afghanistan. More than 12,000 people fled the camp after the fire and are short of food, water and shelter The German government has now agreed to take in 1,553 migrants from Moria. 

The Libyan Prime Minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, announced his decision to step down by the end of October. The United Nations welcomes his decision. The Government of National Accord (GNA) has long been at odds with General Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA). Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General Stephanie Williams approved the decision in a statement, saying it “comes at a decisive turning point in Libya’s longstanding crisis when it is clear that the situation is no longer sustainable.” 

Researchers say Iranian hackers have found a way into encrypted apps. The operation targets domestic dissidents, religious and ethnic minorities and antigovernment activists abroad. It can also be used to spy on the general public inside Iran. The reports suggest major advancements in Iranian intelligence hackers and come during warning from Washington that Iran is using cybersabotage to try to influence American elections. 

Sub Saharan Africa

As promised, we are continuing to monitor the ongoing political situation in Mali. The best way to put it is that the situation remains uncertain after the military junta, known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (NCSP), failed to meet the September 15th deadline to appoint a civilian leader after the August coup. This deadline was put in place by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in order to speed up the process for new elections in Mali. The NCSP has hinted that they will choose to appoint either a soldier or a civilian as the head of a transitional government until new elections can be held, but ECOWAS has stipulated it must be a civilian-led transitional government. The NCSP and West African leaders have generally agreed that the transitional government in Mali can remain in power for 18 months until new elections can be held.

This past Tuesday, on September 15th, six West African presidents met with the NCSP in Ghana to discuss next steps. ECOWAS and the African Union suspended Mali’s membership to both organizations, and ECOWAS is maintaining sanctions on Mali until new elections are held in an effort to keep up the pressure on the NCSP. The NCSP has proposed a plan to absolve the perpetrators of the coup (themselves) of legal liability for overthrowing democratically elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. While the AU, ECOWAS, and NCSP continue to walk this tightrope, the political future remains uncertain as Mali continues to battle jihadist insurgencies which have destabilized broad swaths of the country. The situation in Mali will continue to be discussed in future editions of TWTW as it is a fluid and evolving situation.

In Kenya, since schools have been closed due to COVID-19, the country has seen an uptick in cases of female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM has been illegal in Kenya since 2011, but certain tribes continue the practice. Schools have been seen as a “safety net” of sorts for young women in the country because their classmates could report the practice to teachers, who would report cases of FGM to Kenyan police. Now, as students are staying home, this safety net has been removed, allowing for an increase in the practice due to this lack of oversight.

Western Europe

Pressure against Russia and Belarus is building on several fronts in the EU; in Brussels, the Belarus opposition urges the EU to move on sanctions on officials accused of rigging the election in favor of President Alexander Lukashenko last month. The sanctions agreement, which requires approval of all the EU’s 27 member states, is entangled in a debate over separate sanctions against Turkey, sought by Cyprus in a dispute over energy resources. Cyprus says that it will only approve sanctions on Belarusian officials once the bloc agrees to act against Turkey as well.

In Germany, Navalny call for Russia to turn over the clothes that he was wearing when he fell into a coma, accusing Russia of withholding a key piece of evidence in his case. Germany has confirmed with three tests that he was poisoned by novichok, but Russia denies any involvement in the attack.

In more positive news, Tadej Pogacar, 21, was crowned victor of the pandemic edition of the Tour de France. He is the youngest winner since World War II, and the first Slovenian to ever win the Tour.

Eastern Europe

Tens of thousands of protesters continue marching in Minsk, Belarus and other cities across the country in opposition to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Officers detained nearly all opposition leaders and some were forced into exile. Police violence and brutality has been present since the early weeks of the protests. This week, detainment techniques took a new turn, with police arresting women protesters. Nina Bahinskaya, 73-year old activist who has become a well-known face of the protests, was detained Saturday. In other Belarusian news, the EU remains at an impasse regarding sanctions against about 40 Belarusian officials due to the irregular election results and the following protests. EU Ambassadors met Friday to resolve the deadlock, but Cyprus’ objection – due to a supposed link with another set of sanctions against Turkey for illegally drilling near the Mediterranean Islands – delayed any resolution.

Law enforcement carried out the biggest sting operation in Kosovo’s history following a year-long investigation into illegal gambling and organized crime on Saturday. Nearly 100 officers raided Karechevo, a village that shares a border with Serbia. At least 10 police officers who have allegedly organized illegal border crossings were arrested during the raid. Officers arrested another 35 people in connection with illegal gambling, prostitution, human trafficking and possession of drugs and weapons. Gambling was banned last March in Kosovo due to links with organized crime.

Andriy Yermak, Head of the President’s Office of Ukraine, said Friday on “Freedom of Speech by Savik Shuster” that elections may only be held in the occupied Donbas region of Ukraine after complete de-occupation and the settlement of security and human rights issues. Yermak stressed that only the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, can make decisions regarding local elections in occupied Eastern Ukraine. “Neither politicians in Ukraine, let alone politicians from the outside, can promise something and say that something will be adopted,” he said Friday.

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