International roundup: “Because it’s embarrassing.”
Asia: AP finds new evidence of mass graves in Myanmar
The Associated Press has found evidence of mass graves of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
- At least five mass graves were confirmed to exist in the village of Gu Dar Pyin, the grim result of an assault on the village by Myanmar’s military. Satellite imagery and cell phone videos show that the village was completely razed after the attack.
- Both the United Nations and the US State Department called the report troubling.
- From the AP report: “Myanmar has cut off access to Gu Dar Pyin, so it’s unclear just how many people died, but satellite images obtained by the AP from DigitalGlobe, along with video of homes reduced to ash, reveal a village that has been wiped out. Community leaders in the refugee camps have compiled a list of 75 dead so far, and villagers estimate the toll could be as high as 400, based on testimony from relatives and the bodies they’ve seen in the graves and strewn about the area.”
Elsewhere in Asia:
As the 2018 Winter Olympics approach, Russian President Vladimir Putin has continued to deflect responsibility for Russia’s state-sponsored doping program, insisting that while there may have been instances of doping by Russian athletes, “there are many such examples around the world, but no one is making a big show of it.”
- On Thursday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport lifted the Olympic doping bans of 28 Russian athletes over insufficient evidence, “throwing the International Olympic Committee’s policy on the country into turmoil.” The IOC has already allowed 169 Russian athletes to circumvent their nation’s ban by letting them compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.
- The IOC is considering filing an appeal against the ruling, but in the meantime, it has banned 15 of the 28 athletes from the 2018 Winter Olympics. The remaining athletes are either retired or unavailable to compete.
- Another doping scandal is just starting to break, this one involving skiers.
BONUS: North Korea has cancelled its joint cultural performance with South Korea over “insults” from the South Korean media.
Africa: Zimbabwe’s president works to get agriculture back on track
Zimbabwe has changed its land-leasing policy for white farmers, extending their lease terms from 5 years to 99 years, the same lease length offered to black farmers.
- The change is a sharp departure from the policy of former President Robert Mugabe, who kicked off a land reform program in 2000 that saw the eviction of most of the country’s white farmers – in less than 18 years, their numbers dropped from more than 4,000 to fewer than 400.
- Newly-christened President Emmerson Mnangagwa is trying to entice exiled white farmers back to help the country’s struggling agricultural sector, encouraging black farmers to invite former white farmers in as partners and for white farmers to apply for land to farm.
- The government is also considering the establishment of a compensation tribunal to pay white farmers for their expropriated farms.
- The eviction of the white farmers and their subsequent flight has caused a loss of farming technical expertise that the country has found difficult to replace. Per Basil Nyabadza of Zimbabwe’s Agricultural and Rural and Development Authority: “Clearly, the formulas deployed then, left a lot of bad feeling. And more importantly, the intellectual property, left our borders.” Prior to the land reform program, white farmers owned most of the country’s prime agricultural land.
Elsewhere in Africa:
Liberia’s recently elected president, former soccer superstar George Weah, has given himself a 25 percent pay cut while acknowledging the challenge ahead of Liberia to correct its dire economic situation.
- Per Weah: “Our economy is broken; our government is broke. Our currency is in free fall; inflation is rising… Unemployment is at an unprecedented high and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low. In view of the very rapidly deteriorating situation of the economy, I am informing you today, with immediate effect, that I will reduce my salary and benefits by 25 percent.”
- Weah also called for the removal of a “racist” clause in Liberia’s constitution that only allows black people to be citizens.
Europe: Poland enacts controversial Holocaust law
Poland has passed a law which would make it illegal to accuse the nation of complicity in the Holocaust. The law includes fines or a maximum prison term of 3 years.
- For the Polish government, the law aims to counter the use of the term (and the idea of) “Polish Death Camps,” which implies that Nazi extermination camps located in Poland, such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Chelmno, were run by the Polish government.
- Some context: Poland was invaded by both Germany and the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Second World War. While there were certainly anti-Semitic Poles who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, the Polish nation as a whole was devastated by the Nazis – three million Polish Jews and at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Poles were murdered, while Poland’s legal government was forced into exile.
- In Nazi-occupied Poland, helping Jews was punishable by the death penalty, but even the threat of death did not stop thousands of Poles from working to save their Jewish countrymen as evidenced by the 6,706 Poles to be designated Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the most of any country.
- The legislation has sparked calls to change the legislation from Israel, which is concerned the law could be used to white-wash the complicity of individual Poles in the Holocaust.
Elsewhere in Europe:
As British Prime Minister Theresa May continues to work toward a Brexit deal with the European Union, a leaked government analysis on the impact of Britain leaving the EU paints a bleak economic picture. The January 2018 analysis, which studied three of the most likely Brexit scenarios, concluded that the UK would be worse off economically under all of them. So far, May’s government has worked to keep the report a secret.
- From the Buzzfeed News report: “Asked why the prime minister was not making the analysis public, a DExEU (Department for Exiting the European Union) source told Buzfeed News: “Because it’s embarrassing.”
France is petitioning the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to add the D-Day landing sites to its World Heritage Site list.
- The site would include a 50-mile strip of beaches that includes the landing sites of Allied forces as they kicked off their invasion of Western Europe on June 6th, 1944.
- France has been trying to get the D-Day sites added to the list since 2006. Sites added to the World Heritage Site list gain additional international legal protections that decrease the risk of being damaged or destroyed.
In and around the Middle East: European Union picks up the slack in Palestine
The European Union has pledged to give an additional $52.9 million to Palestinians, on top of the pre-existing aid the EU already provides to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works to support displaced Palestinian refugees. The move is likely in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision to withhold $65 million in aid to the UNRWA.
- On a related note, Trump implied during his State of the Union address last Tuesday that any country who did not support his decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem should not receive foreign aid assistance from the US.
- From Trump’s speech: “Dozens of countries voted in the United Nations General Assembly against America’s sovereign right to make this recognition. American taxpayers generously send those same countries billions of dollars in aid every year. That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends. Not enemies of America.”
- 128 nations voted against the US move in a United Nations resolution.
Elsewhere in and around the Middle East:
For the past several weeks, women in Iran have been protesting their country’s law that requires all women to wear hijabs by removing them from their heads and putting them up in the air on sticks, like flags, then sharing pictures and videos of the act on social media. So far, at least 29 of these protesting women have been arrested, despite assurances from Iranian police in Tehran that they would no longer arrest women for failing to adhere to the country’s Islamic dress code.
- Iran has recently been hit with a wave of economic protests but these more recent protests have drawn the ire of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who blamed US President Trump for stirring the pot and tricking Iranian women into participating.
- So far, the arrests of woman protesting the hijab have not seemed to slow the growth of the protests, which are spreading from Tehran to other Iranian cities. At least one of the women arrested has been released from custody.
A Russian Sukhoi Su-25 ground-attack aircraft was shot down over the Syrian province of Idlib while conducting airstrikes.
- The al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, claimed responsibility.
- The pilot was able to eject from his plane but landed in rebel territory and was killed on the ground during a fire fight with Islamist rebels.
- Russia, which had already been targeting rebel groups in the area with dozens of airstrikes, launched retaliatory cruise missile strikes from Russian naval ships in the Mediterranean.
Yemen’s ongoing civil war just took a new turn: forces representing the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a Yemeni separatist group aiming to break off the southern portion of the country to form South Yemen, seized the city of Aden after fighting against government forces that lasted several days.
- The separatists and the government were allies before the fighting broke out.
- The STC also claims it captured Aden’s military bases.
- It is now increasingly likely that Yemen will once again be split into two separate countries, North and South Yemen, with the STC running the south and the Houthi rebels governing the north. North and South Yemen were united into one country in 1990.
- More context: Saudi Arabia, which has been running a military campaign to oust the Houthis in Yemen since 2015, supports the internationally-recognized government of Yemen that was just kicked out of Aden. Their major ally, the United Arab Emirates, supports the STC. Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are, however, united against the Houthi rebels, who are in turn supported by Iran.
South and Central America: Growing unrest in Venezuela
Venezuela’s leaders are growing increasingly worried about their tenuous control of the military, following growing hyperinflation, food shortages and the extra-judicial killing of a policeman-turned-rebel, which was broadcast over social media.
- Concerned about a lack of discipline and increases in desertion, military leaders ordered 75 percent of soldiers be restricted to their barracks, “in effect activating a general state of alert.”
- Despite military control of the distribution of food throughout the country, military installations “are only receiving 60% [of their normal food supplies],” according to Gen. Herbert Garcia Plaza, a former cabinet minister in President Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
- To make matters worse, Oscar Perez, a former policeman who flew a helicopter over Venezuela’s Supreme Court last June to protest the government, was publicly executed in a raid carried out by the government in mid-January.
- Despite evidence that Perez and his associates attempted to surrender to the authorities, the house they were hiding in was attacked with RPGs and grenades, after which all six rebels were shot in the back of their heads.
- The move has rattled many of the Venezuelans who watched the assault live on social media as well as the CICPC, the police group that Perez had previously belonged to.
- Venezuela is currently in the middle of an economic collapse that has seen the country ravaged by hyper-inflation and a shortage of basic necessities such as food, medicine, and toiletries.
Elsewhere in South and Central America:
Archaeologists used laser technology to uncover 60,000 previously unknown Mayan ruins in Guatemala. The plane-mounted lasers were able to see through the dense jungle foliage that had kept these ruins hidden. Laser data was then used to create 3-D images of the areas surveyed. Most of these ruins, which include homes, pyramids, palaces, and roads, are believed to date back to the Classic Period of the Mayans, which ended around 900 A.D. The scale of these discoveries is almost certain to change the current understanding of Mayan civilization.
Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet signed into law legislation creating five new national parks, comprising about 10.3 million acres of land.
- The five new parks, along with 12 existing parks, are being developed into a “road” of national parks stretching across the entire length of Chile. More than one million acres of land in the new parks was donated by conservationist Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, a former CEO of the outdoors company Patagonia, marking the largest donation of private land to a government in South America. McDivitt Tompkins, along with her husband, the late Doug Tompkins (also a conservationist), spent over two decades acquiring land in Chile for conservation. The remaining land in the parks was donated by the Chilean government from federally-controlled lands.
header image: dfid - uk department for international development / flickr