The World Today for September 15, 2017



Empty Promises

After decades of living under the rule of repressive military dictatorship, the southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, also known as Burma, seemed poised to make a relatively peaceful transition to democracy.

The nation’s military junta dissolved in 2011 after free elections the previous year, following the release of Nobel Peace Prize-winner and political activist Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest after 15 years in captivity.

Last year, her National League for Democracy swept into power with Aung San at the helm. She promised to embrace democratic ideals, improve human rights, liberalize markets and work toward easing ethnic tensions that have plagued Myanmar since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1948.

But the events of the past three weeks have shown the emptiness of those promises.

On Aug. 25, militants of Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya, a Muslim minority of 1.1 million largely confined to the nation’s Rakhine state in the west, launched an organized attack against government security forces, killing dozens.

The Myanmar government launched a brutal counterattack against the Rohingya, setting their modest villages ablaze with helicopters and petrol bombs, and enlisting Buddhist vigilantes to attack civilians – children included – on the ground, the New York Times reports.

Since then 176 villages have been emptied, AP reported this week.

This is not the first time Myanmar’s modern government has cracked down on the Rohingya, who were stripped of their citizenship under the military junta and are routinely denied access to education and health care in what Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has called a “21st-century apartheid.”

But this latest response calls into question the validity of Aung San’s democratic movement.

Reports of malnourished babies, decapitated children and brutal gang rapes are flooding the internet, although the exact scale of the violence remains unknown. More than half a million Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh for safety. A steady stream of disheveled and starving refugees have clogged the border as more try to enter, the Telegraph reports.

Without the infrastructure to support the influx of newcomers in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries on the planet, the global community fears a cataclysmic humanitarian crisis and is hoping to intervene, Reuters reports.

While Aung San and her government claim they’re not blocking aid organizations from reaching those in need, security forces have made traveling to the affected areas difficult, Reuters reports.

Once thought to be a champion of human rights, Aung San now claims that the true situation is being twisted by a “huge iceberg of misinformation.” On Wednesday, she decided to skip the UN General Assembly meeting where the situation in the country would certainly be discussed.

Her action, or lack thereof, has prompted an international outcry, Al Jazeera reports.

“If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep,” wrote Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner himself, in an open letter on Sept. 7.

Though Aung San is the de facto leader of Myanmar, the country is a democracy in name only, and there’s not much she can do to control the military, writes Fergal Keane for the BBC. But her failure to condemn the abuses is still important.

“Her refusal to condemn well-documented military abuses provides the generals with political cover,” writes Keane. “It goes further than silence.”

[siteshare]Empty Promises[/siteshare]



Fast Track

Tokyo and New Delhi agreed to strengthen defense ties during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India this week, in a signal of the two nations’ desire to counter China’s growing power in the region.

Closely following a tense confrontation between Indian and Chinese troops in Bhutan related to a long-standing border dispute, Abe traveled directly to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat to lay the foundation for a $17 billion bullet train project that was made possible by a low-interest Japanese loan, Reuters reported.

The two leaders also agreed to cooperate on a $40 billion Asia-Africa Growth Corridor envisaged as a rival to Beijing’s One Belt One Road project. Abe also spoke about India’s potential to become the factory for the world, noted India’s Business Standard newspaper.

On the security front, the two leaders agreed to collaborate on research into unmanned ground vehicles and robotics, as well as explore the possibility of joint field exercises between their armies.

[siteshare]Fast Track[/siteshare]


More Money, More Problems

Port-au-Prince was rocked by the most violent demonstrations to hit Haiti since President Jovenel Moïse was inaugurated Feb. 7, following a deeply unpopular budget that hiked taxes and boosted salaries for members of parliament.

Led by former presidential candidate Jean-Charles Moïse, protesters blocked streets, set fire to cars and pelted police with stones in anger over a budget that raises property taxes and increases fees for passports and traffic infractions, the Miami Herald reported.

The $2.2 billion budget also included a 74 percent boost in salaries, cars, staff and travel per diem for members of parliament, and added a tax for citizens living outside the country – though that measure was scrapped in a Senate vote on Wednesday.

Moïse’s drive to increase government revenues comes as foreign aid to Haiti is slowing, though the country remains one of the poorest in the Americas and has still not recovered from the effects of Hurricane Matthew last year and a devastating earthquake in 2010.

[siteshare]More Money, More Problems[/siteshare]


Specter of Terror

As Islamic State faces defeat in Syria, hundreds of militants are attempting to disperse throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

Hundreds of fighters are massed on the border between Turkey and Syria’s Idlib province, and dozens have already made it across the heavily patrolled frontier to towns and cities in Turkey’s south in recent weeks, the Guardian reported.

While such fighters have been dispersing into other parts of Syria and Iraq over the past year as Islamic State has lost territory, now large numbers of militants and their families are trying to escape the region.

There’s now almost nowhere left to hide in the former Caliphate, after the group’s Iraqi base in Mosul fell in February, and now that its Syrian stronghold in Raqqa is on the verge of being taken over by US-backed forces. Some militants are now disillusioned with the cause, but Europe, at least, would rather that they die on the battlefield rather than make their way home.

[siteshare]Specter of Terror[/siteshare]


Peace, Love – and Respect

At a rave, 20-somethings dance the night away in a packed warehouse to the thump of techno music under flashing strobe lights.

But this universal experience for many young people is often lost to those with learning disabilities, who despite their love of music and dancing, often fear they’ll get bullied if they attend such an event.

“People bully you if they’ve had too much to drink. I think a lot of people get picked on because of what they are,” Shane, an amateur DJ with a learning disability, recently told the BBC.

But an initiative called Under One Roof now holds a semi-regular rave in Manchester for those with learning disabilities and their allies.

“Our ethos has always been creating a really inclusive, fun environment with really good music at its core,” said Alice Woods, who works at the Manchester nightclub where the event takes place.

The initiative mirrors other events throughout the United Kingdom that provide those with disabilities a chance to experience the true ethos of rave culture: peace, love, unity and respect.

Click here to see the rave for yourself.

[siteshare]Peace, Love – and Respect[/siteshare]

Threats to Press Freedom around the World.

The following selection is part of a regular feature on press freedoms brought to you in conjunction with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

India: Voices Silenced

Nearly one year after CPJ released its report detailing attacks and threats against the press in India, the situation has not improved.

Last week, an independent journalist was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore. Three unidentified assailants shot Gauri Lankesh, a frequent critic of right-wing extremism, as she returned from work, CPJ documented. Authorities in the state of Karnataka where the attack took place have yet to arrest anyone for her murder.

More broadly, India’s government has also begun to legally formalize internet shutdowns.

On Aug. 7, India’s communications ministry issued a rule that allows the government to shut down the internet and telecommunications services in the event of a public emergency, or safety issue. However, the rule failed to specify what the government considers a public emergency or threat, and provides authorities with legal justification for increasingly frequent internet shutdowns.

Even before the August rule was passed, the Indian government had shut off the internet 20 times in 2017, according to a Human Rights Watch report from June.

In April, CPJ documented a case in which Indian officials in the Jammu and Kashmir region temporarily blocked 22 social media services to prevent a video that reportedly showed Indian security forces committing human rights abuses

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