Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko takes the oath of office during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of Independence in Minsk on Wednesday. Photo: EPA-EFE

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko takes the oath of office during his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of Independence in Minsk on Wednesday. Photo: EPA-EFE

The World This Week: September 27, 2020


In advance of New Caledonia’s independence referendum, set for next week, French right-wing political parties called for voters to choose to remain. Both the National Rally (led by Marine Le Pen) and the Republicans (led by Christain Jacob) spoke out against New Caledonia’s limited ability to protect itself apart from France, but promised future reform if citizens voted to stay. The upcoming referendum is one of three allowed through the 1998 Noumea Accord, which outlines a phased transfer of power to New Caledonia’s capital. One took place in 2018 (56% voted against independence), and if the upcoming vote fails the territory’s Congress can ask for one more.

Australian authorities found almost 500 pilot whales stranded on the west coast of Tasmania last week, spread across remote beaches and sand bars. In what has become the country’s worst stranding on record, about 380 whales have died. Rescuers have saved 88 of the whales so far, and another 20 have a chance at survival; but several suffering from exhaustion will have to be euthanized.

On Friday, Indonesian police arrested 200 protestors in West Papua after a series of demonstrations against an extension of the 2001 Special Autonomy laws. The United Liberation Front in West Papua calls for an end to the killing, marginalization, and environmental destruction brought on by the Special Autonomy laws, as well as to the mass arrests Indonesia uses to quell popular resistance. The group also wants to hold an independence referendum for West Papua.

Asia Pacific

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a rare apology for his military’s brutal killing of a South Korean civil servant at sea, saying he feels “very sorry” for the incident, officials in Seoul said. Mr. Kim expressed the apology in a letter sent by North Korean officials to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Mr. Kim’s letter came a day after officials in Seoul said North Koreans shot, killed, and burned the body of a 47-year-old South Korean civil servant earlier this week.

India’s border conflict with China is pushing New Delhi to look for an asymmetric response: flexing its naval might as it deepens cooperation with other democracies that seek to counter Beijing’s global ambitions. India is intensifying joint naval maneuvers with the U.S. and its allies while building new ships and setting up a network of coastal surveillance outposts that would allow New Delhi to keep an eye on the Indian Ocean’s maritime traffic. Earlier this year, India conducted a naval exercise with Russia near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga held a 20-minute phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in focused on improving relations. Japan’s new leader said he wants to break through a diplomatic standoff with South Korea to encourage cooperation in handling the coronavirus pandemic and strengthening a trilateral security alliance with the U.S. South Korea and Japan’s bilateral relationship worsened due to trade disputes started in 2019 caused by the domestic political pressure and troubled history since WWII.

Over the past weekend, hen President Trump said he had given his blessing to a deal that would see Tik Tok join with Oracle Corp. and Walmart Inc. to address the White House’s national security concerns. Chinese state media took turns denouncing a White House-approved plan to turn TikTok into a U.S.-based company. There is still a looming doubt over the fate of the Chinese-owned short-video app that needs nods from both Beijing and Washington to avoid a ban in the U.S.

North America

On Saturday, President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States, his third Supreme Court nomination during his term. Judge Barrett was nominated to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg a little over a week after her passing. Barret graduated from the University of Notre Dame Law School and later returned to teach. Her 2017 nomination to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was marked with controversy when California Senator Feinstein (D) made an anti-Catholic comment against her.  That moment turned Barrett into a folk hero among America’s Conservative Christians. Barrett’s assent to the bench would ensure conservative jurisprudence would dominate the Supreme Court for decades to come. Barrett has critiqued the Affordable Care Act in her legal scholarship. She stated that the doctrine of stare decisis (respect of precedence) is “not a hard-and-fast rule in the [the Supreme Court’s] constitutional cases.” Many believe such views could end the constitutional right to an abortion recognized in Roe v. Wade. With only two Republican Senators, Murkowski (AL) and Collins (ME), refusing to vote for the nomination, Barrett will likely be confirmed.

During a press conference on Wednesday, President Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. Congressional Republicans by-in-large gave a tepid disavowal, stating there would be a peaceful transition of power in 2021 or 2025. The U.S. has enjoyed the peaceful transition of power since George Washington left office in 1797. President Trump has continually undermined and questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election. His refusal to answer the question is just the latest example of the President undermining U.S. democratic norms.

On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised an “ambitious” plan for Canada’s COVID recovery. The plan calls for direct infrastructure investment, job training programs, and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers. The plan also calls for a carbon emission reduction target of 30 percent below Canada’s 2005 levels. Passing Canada’s “Green New Deal” is uncertain. Trudeau’s center-left minority government must win the support of Canada’s three other major parties. The center-right Tories and Quebec nationalist’s Bloc Quebecois say they will vote against. The left-wing New Democratic Party is calling for more social spending with a paid sick leave program to gain its support. Ottawa has already provided $230 billion in emergency aid in the last six months.

Eastern Europe

On Wednesday, Alexander Lukashenko was secretly inaugurated as President of Belarus, though protests against his regime continue for the seventh consecutive week. Police officers are making mass arrests and using tear gas against protesters, but hundreds of thousands of people are demonstrating. Video footage shows police officers spraying tear gas directly into the faces of protesters, many of whom were women. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, one of the main opposition leaders who is currently in exile, said Wednesday that her opponent was “neither a legal nor legitimate head of Belarus”. The US and many other EU countries no longer recognize Mr. Lukashenko as the president of Belarus.

In Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region that is ethnically controlled by Armenians but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, fighting has ensued. Both Armenia and some regions of Azerbaijan have declared martial law in response to the artillery attacks, and Azerbaijan has responded to the Armenian attacks by ordering a counter-offensive operation. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said “I am confident that our successful counter-offensive operation will put an end to the occupation, to the injustice, to the 30-year-long occupation.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has long been working to add to the ceasefire agreements and mediate the conflict, so far unsuccessfully.

The Middle East and North Africa

After the signing ceremony last week in which Israel, the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations, it seemed all was going well for Israel at the global level. However, it is a different story in Israel. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is being attacked for his mishandling of the public health crisis, his response to criminal trials and his management of the economy. The Prime Minister put a second national lockdown into effect Friday due to the pandemic. This past weekend protests began again for the first time since the first national lockdown and citizens believe the economy will severely suffer during another. 

In March, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut funding to the United Nations’ appeal for Yemen because of the Houthi rebels interfering in the north. However, after funding has more than halved this year, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Children are dying at increasing rates due to electricity shutting off which causes the ventilators and monitors to quit working. Last week, however, Saudi Arabia pledged to give $204 million to the UN aid funding to Yemen. 

The UK sent the US evidence on the Islamic State cell called “The Beatles.” The two British alleged Islamic State militants are being held in Iraq by US military and they are believed to have been involved in the murder of hostages in Iraq and Syria in 2014. The victims included American journalists and British aid workers and their deaths were filmed and broadcasted on social media. Now, there is debate over where the two men are to be put on trial. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

The ongoing political turmoil in Mali has made headway this past week, as the military junta appointed a new president to lead the transitional government. If you have been following along, you are aware that the situation in Mali has been unfolding since an August coup, placing in power the military junta known as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (NCSP). For further background on the ongoing situation, I would refer you to last week’s edition of TWTW.

Bah Ndaw was sworn in as Mali’s transitional president, and will serve for the full 18 month interim period. Once those 18 months are up, national elections will be held to elect a new leader of the country. This coup has sent a shockwave across the Sahel region, prompting ECOWAS and the AU to suspend Mali’s membership, and impose sanctions on Mali until a civilian leader is put in power. ECOWAS determined that these sanctions will remain in place until a civilian is elected after the 18 month interim period. Ndaw does not fulfill the requirement of ECOWAS as he is a retired Colonel. The reason for these sanctions is rooted in a fear that this political instability could spread across the region, and they are an incentive for the NCSP to return civilian rule to Mali. The sanctions ban commercial trade but are not blocking medical necessities or electricity.

 As the world continues to reconcile with a past marred by racial violence and exploitation, Mwazulu Diyabanza, a Congolese activist, is facing trial in Paris on charges of attempted theft. This sounds innocuous enough, until you hear what he tried to “steal”. The activist has been traveling around France and visiting various museums’ African collections, and trying to leave the museums with what he proclaims to be stolen African treasures, taken during colonial times, that he says ought to be returned to the African continent. Currently, French museums hold roughly 90,000 objects from Sub-Saharan Africa, a product of its former extensive colonization of African countries, primarily in west Africa. French President Emmanuel Macron pledged in 2017 to return African artifacts to the continent, though thus far only 27 restitutions have been made.

In Burkina Faso, wildlife reserves, which are huge tourist attractions in the country, have been overrun by “militants and poachers”. This is occurring as militant groups in Burkina Faso continue to contribute to the mounting humanitarian crisis in the country. Rangers who work at the parks signed on to protect wildlife, but are now being trained to fight off these militant groups. The clothes of women and children have been discovered in abandoned militant camps after firefights with rangers, suggesting these camps are permanent rather than temporary. These parks are also home to the world’s biggest population of West African lions, which are endangered.

Latin America

UN investigators released a report in which they declared that Venezuela’s Maduro, along with some of his lieutenants, had committed a variety of crimes against humanity since he took office in 2013. Over the last 7 years, Maduro and his leaders have jailed political rivals, imprisoned and tortured protesters, and carried out extrajudicial executions. The UN report will support preliminary investigations opened by the ICC in 2018. 

Mexico’s Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, announced that they are investigating claims that migrant women were sterilized by hysterectomy while they were detained in US migrant detention centers. President Obrador announced that if the allegations were proved true that they will be taking legal action against the United States. Nancy Pelosi, along with over 150 US congress members have called for the investigation of the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, where these procedures were allegedly performed. ICE Health Services Director “vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures.”

Organizers of Rio de Janeiro’s 2021 Carnival Parade have postponed the event indefinitely due to continuing concerns about COVID-19. Despite the 138,000+ COVID-19 related deaths, many do not want the parade postponed due to the large percentage of Brazil’s economy that depends on tourism. The state of Sao Paulo expects to begin distributing Chinese-made Coronavirus vaccines by December. Authorities hope that the entire state will have been vaccinated by February, just in time for a Carnival that may never happen.

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