Africa: DR Congo government announces it is delaying next month’s presidential election until 2018; 21 of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnaped by Boko Haram released.
Americas: Ceasefire between Colombian government and FARC extended until end of year; Venezuelan president passes government’s 2017 budget without approval of congress.
Asia-Pacific: Thailand’s much-revered king dies; Amnesty International labels Australia’s Nauru refugee detention centre an ‘open-air prison’ and says that conditions there amount to torture.
Europe and Central Asia: United Kingdom may not have enough time to properly negotiate departure from European Union once Article 50 triggered; Russian president claims deteriorating relations between Russia and United States are not result of Syrian conflict but began with NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.
Middle East and North Africa: Iraqi government and Kurdish forces launch long-awaited campaign to retake Mosul from Islamic State; Kuwait’s emir issues decree to dissolve country’s parliament.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) announced on 16 October that it is delaying next month’s presidential election until April 2018. It is expected that the president, Joseph Kabila, who came to power in 2001 after his father’s assassination, will remain in office until the delayed vote. Kabila is constitutionally unable to run for a third term, and was due to step down in December. The main opposition coalition argues that the move is an attempt by Kabila and the government to stay in power, and complains that it has not been consulted on the matter. In contrast, the electoral commission maintains that there are logistical challenges in updating the electoral register and that the cost of the elections is currently unfeasible. Protests are expected, and the main opposition has called for a general strike on 19 October.
Twenty-one of the missing Chibok schoolgirls were released by Boko Haram on 13 October following negotiations brokered by the Red Cross and Swiss government between the Nigerian government and the terrorist group. The girls were reunited with their families in an emotional ceremony in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on 16 October. Details of how the release was negotiated are unclear, but Nigerian government officials have denied reports that the girls were exchanged for detained Boko Haram fighters. Efforts to free the remaining kidnapped girls will no doubt continue, with Nigeria’s information minister, Lai Mohammed, stating that the government are already working on the next steps.
The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, announced on 14 October that a ceasefire with the FARC rebel group has been extended until 31 December 2016. Earlier this month, a public vote narrowly rejected the peace deal that was signed between Bogotá and the guerrilla group. There have since been fears that the deal may be unsalvageable and that there may be a return to the violence that marred the country for over 50 years. Despite the public rejection of the deal, Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on 7 October for his role in brokering the four-year-long negotiations. The extension of the ceasefire until the end of the year is likely to keep violence to a minimum in the short term; however, expectations for a revised agreement are low because opponents want tougher terms for the rebels, such as prison sentences for crimes committed during the insurgency, and FARC is unlikely to accept any terms that differ from those of the peace deal already signed. Despite these setbacks, the Colombian government announced on 11 October that it will begin formal peace negotiations with the country’s second largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), on 27 October.
On 14 October, the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, passed the government’s 2017 budget without the approval of congress, marking the first time that the country’s legislative body has been bypassed in approving a budget in 150 years. Maduro sent his vice president, Aristobulo Isturiz, to deliver the budget directly to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, the country’s highest court. The court had already stripped the opposition-controlled congress of its ability to make any future changes to the budget, claiming that it made the decision because of an urgent need to approve the budget in order to maintain a functioning government after an economic crisis decree was issued by Maduro. This latest move has been held up as evidence of the further erosion of Venezuela’s democracy under Maduro’s regime. It comes as the opposition is trying to organise a presidential recall, which opinion polls show there is support for. However, it is almost certain that the Supreme Tribunal of Justice would rule to prevent any such move to oust Maduro as president.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand died on 13 October, aged 88. The Crown Prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn, will become king, though his coronation may be postponed for as long as a year. The former prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda, who is head of the king’s advisory council, has become regent. Adulyadej was much revered in Thailand, often seen as standing above politics but stepping in to resolve tensions when needed. On his coronation, the monarchy was seen as little more than a figurehead, but over time he turned the crown into a stabilising force in the country – loved by the people and respected by military coups. The unresolved inequalities and political situation in Thailand will likely result in further turmoil in the country over the coming years. It is possible that without the Adulyadej’s guiding influence, such tensions could spiral out of control, unless the crown prince is able to exceed expectations and too become a moderating force.
Amnesty International has condemned Australia’s refugee detention facility on the Pacific island state of Nauru as an ‘open-air prison’ and said that conditions there amount to torture. The offshore processing centre is used by Australia to receive asylum seekers and process applications. One of many similar offshore facilities, there have been repeated accusations of human rights abuses at the Nauru centre, including allegations of rape, assault, lack of adequate healthcare or education facilities, suicide attempts among children and that guards sexually abused children. Over the weekend, 19 cases of assault and sexual abuse, including against children, were found to be being investigated by local police. The Australian government sees offshore processing as a vital aid in deterring asylum seekers. However, the inhumane conditions and abuse at Nauru and other offshore processing centres undermines its opposition to human rights abuses abroad and lowers Australian standing around the world. It is likely that Australia will eventually be forced into rethinking its offshore detention programme or at the least dramatically improving conditions and the level of protection afforded to children, in particular, at the processing facilities.
Europe and Central Asia
Some senior British government ministers have been briefing the press, off the record, that the United Kingdom may not have enough time to properly negotiate its departure from the European Union, resulting in extreme consequences for the country. Once the British prime minster, Theresa May, triggers Article 50 to start the Brexit process, probably in early 2017, the EU and Britain have two years to negotiate the split. If an agreement is not reached in that time, the United Kingdom will simply have to leave the bloc and adopt World Trade Organisation rules, with dire economic consequences for Britain. The warnings come at a time when May has made a series of unpopular decisions regarding the departure process while she is buoyed by a lack of Brexit-related political fallout, which have led the EU to taking a hardline approach with the United Kingdom. It is becoming increasingly likely that Britain will struggle to form a strong negotiation in good faith with the EU, and may suffer an unintentional ‘hard Brexit’ (a departure from the European Single Market without a free trade agreement with the EU).
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has said that deteriorating relations between his country and the United States are not the result of the Syrian conflict but began with the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Putin made the claim during a press conference in Goa, India, where he was attending the annual BRICS summit. While answering a journalist’s question, Putin also said that ‘one country’ wishes to impose its policy on the rest of the world. Putin claimed that Russia is not against this country, presumed to be the United States, but rather against decisions being imposed on a unilateral basis without consideration for the religious, cultural or historical ‘peculiarities’ of one country or another. Sanctions, for example, are not designed to reach a compromise, according to Putin, but rather to limit of Russian strength. He also said that Russia will not remove retaliatory sanctions against Western countries. This is one of the strongest indications yet from the Russian leader that he sees the United States and Russia as locked in a Cold War-esc conflict not linked to individual disagreements and conflicts but rather to a competition over the future of global politics and power. We are therefore likely to see further disputes between Russia and the United States similar to those currently playing out over Syria, nuclear deployments and sanctions.
Middle East and North Africa
On 17 October, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces launched a long-awaited campaign to retake Mosul, Islamic State’s last major stronghold in Iraq. The forces that have been gathering outside the city for months are thought to number around 25,000. It is likely that the US-led coalition will carry out a series of airstrikes in support of the ground advances around the city. The United Nations has issued statements indicating its extreme concern for the safety of the 1.5 million civilians that remain in Mosul. The operation to retake the city will be very complex due to the urban nature of the combat and the multiple actors involved. It remains to be seen as to whether the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces can operate effectively together to liberate Mosul from Islamic State. While Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga worked together to retake Bashir and Kirkuk, the operation in Mosul will be the most significant test to date of their military cooperation.
The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, issued a decree on 17 October to dissolve the country’s parliament following an emergency government meeting. The decision, which will trigger an early election, is due to the ‘security challenges’ of the region, and came the day after the speaker of parliament, Marzouk al-Ghanem, called for snap elections. There have been a number of disputes between the government and parliament recently regarding the increase in petrol prices and alleged financial and administrative violations. Kuwait faces a number of economic challenges, given the global drop in oil prices, as well as security threats from Islamic State. Elections should take place within two months according to Kuwait’s constitution.
Prepared by Chris Abbott, Erin Decker, Kirsten Winterman and Matthew Clarke.
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