Sub-Saharan Africa: Ethiopian prime minister resigns amid anti-government protests; South African president resigns and deputy takes over.
Asia-Pacific: International Criminal Court (ICC) to conduct preliminary examination into the Philippine’s war on drugs; Japanese government accepted only 20 asylum seekers out of nearly 20,000 applicants in 2017.
Europe and Central Asia: European Central Bank freezes all payments by Latvia’s ABLV Bank following accusations of sanctions-busting from the US Treasury.
Middle East and North Africa: Libyan coast guard picks up 324 people off coast of Libya in single day; Syrian government air strikes and rocket attacks kill over 70 people in Eastern Ghouta.
Apologies for the curtailed briefing this week.
The Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, resigned on 15 February amid protracted anti-government protests. Initially, Desalegn’s resignation was seen as a positive move in the ongoing political reform process; however, this optimism quickly waned after the Ethiopian government declared a nationwide state of emergency the following day. The state of emergency is the second in less than a year, and, once ratified by parliament, will provide the government with new powers, including restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression and the ability to deploy troops in protest areas. The government claims that the powers are necessary, as the prime minister’s resignation is a serious threat to constitutional order. However, some critics argue that the state of emergency is less about protecting the constitution and more about eliminating those advocating for reform. Desalegn’s departure leaves an uncertain political landscape in Ethiopia.Optimism over Ethiopian prime minister's resignation tapered by state of emergencyClick To Tweet
South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma resigned on 14 February under the weight of intense pressure from his own party and the threat of a no-confidence vote in parliament. Zuma was a member of the ANC’s military wing during apartheid, and was imprisoned on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela. However, even former comrades have fought to remove him from office because of the numerous corruption allegations that have surrounded him since he was elected in 2009. South Africa’s deputy president and leader of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, has assumed the presidency after parliament elected him to the office in an uncontested vote. In his first state address, on 16 February, Ramaphosa vowed to fight corruption and tackle unemployment. The new president must now rebuild both his party and the South African economy.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is conducting a preliminary examination into the war on drugs waged by the Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, in order to establish whether a full investigation is warranted. Duterte has welcomed the inquiry as a chance to refute accusations by local and international human rights groups that the Filipino police committed crimes against humanity under his orders. The human rights community will welcome the ICC’s inquiry into the thousands of extrajudicial killings that have occurred during the violent crackdown on the trade in illicit drugs in the Philippines since July 2016. Duterte rose to the presidency on the back of hundreds of extrajudicial killings during his time as mayor of Davao and exaggerated claims during the election campaign that the Philippines had become a narco-state. Surveys indicate that his war on drugs is popular with ordinary Filipinos. Doubts remain over whether the Philippines will cooperate properly with the ICC’s inquiry or whether Duterte would travel to the Hague to stand trial in any eventual prosecution.Will Rodrigo Duterte cooperate with the International Criminal Court's 'preliminary examination' of the Philippines' war on drugs?Click To Tweet
On 13 February, the Japanese government released figures showing that the country accepted only 20 asylum seekers in 2017. This was despite the number of people seeking asylum in the country last year growing 80% to a record 19,628. In 2016, Japan accepted only 28 asylum seekers. Previously, Japan had allowed applicants with valid visas to work while their refugee claims were reviewed; however, this was changed in January, with the government limiting the right to work to only to those regarded as bona fide refugees. Meanwhile, unsuccessful applicants are usually held in detention facilities with a reputation for poor living conditions and in which 10 people have died in the past 11 years. Although Japan is a signatory of the UN convention on the status of refugees, the evidence suggests that the country is attempting to stop asylum seekers coming to the country by making the application process, and rights inferred on refugees, as difficult as possible.
Europe and Central Asia
The European Central Bank (ECB) has frozen all payments by Latvia’s ABLV Bank citing the sharp deterioration in its financial position in recent days. This follows accusations by the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) on 13 February that ABLV ‘had institutionalized money laundering as a pillar of the bank’s business practices’. FinCEN linked some of the alleged activities to North Korea’s ballistic missiles programme. The ECB’s move will serve as a warning shot to remind Western businesses that, despite improved relations surrounding the Winter Olympics, North Korea remains off-limits. In the short term, the move will likely severely damage the Latvian banking sector, but will likely achieve some longer term adherence to economic sanctions. Latvia’s banking sector is already under pressure following the arrest on 11 February of the governor of the country’s central bank, Ilmars Rimsevics, on suspicion of having solicited a €100,000 bribe.
Middle East and North Africa
The Libyan coast guard reported that 324 people were picked up off the coast of Libya on 19 February as part of its operation to lower the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Those detained are believed to be predominantly males, and originating from Chad, Nigeria, Mali and the Ivory Coast. The number of people attempting the crossing to Europe has fallen after pressure from Italy and the EU has led to more rigorous patrols by the Libyan Navy and support for its coast guard. Two boats carrying close to 90 people capsized off the coast of Libya on 2 February, with the assumed deaths of the majority of those on board.
Syrian government air strikes and rocket attacks killed over 70 people in Eastern Ghouta on 19 February. The Syrian Army has laid siege to the rebel-held area just outside the capital, Damascus, since 2013. It has intensified its campaign to retake the area in the last month, and is expected to launch a ground offensive imminently. Around 400,000 people still live in the area, which was one of the four de-escalation zones created last year in a bid to reduce the violence. Around 20 children are thought to have been killed in the recent strikes, which have also targeted hospitals and food warehouses. International aid agencies and UN humanitarian bodies have warned that thousands more are at risk, and have called for an end to the bombardment. An aid delivery of food and medical supplies was able to reach the area on 14 February; however, the UN states that the aid has only reached a very small portion of those in need in Eastern Ghouta.