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Weekly News Digest




Compiled by Sara Anis Ali, Grey Cohen, Alex Hsu, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, and Ryan Simons

Edited by Sara Anis Ali, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Meagan McColloch, Niamh Dempsey


Asia and the Pacific 

Hong Kong Passes New Security Law

On Tuesday, March 19th, Hong Kong passed Article 23, a new national security law that gives the government broad powers to crack down on dissent. The law takes effect on Saturday and introduces severe penalties for a wide range of actions deemed a threat to national security. The bill established life sentence for those who commit treason, insurrection, and sabotage, and jail terms for sedition were increased from two years to seven (or 10 if perpetrators are colluding with foreign entities), and the period of detention without charge was increased from 48 hours to two weeks. Legislators fast-tracked the bill through the legislative council and it passed unanimously by Hong Kong’s 90-seat chamber.


The new law is one of the many successor laws to Hong Kong’s 2021 National Security Law (NSL). That law came in response to vast pro-democracy protests that erupted in Hong Kong in the years before and crushed the 2019 pro-democracy movement and political opposition. Since the adoption of the law, scores of pro-democracy activists and politicians have been jailed, and the legal and political system of Hong Kong has been overhauled—limiting government positions to only those who are“patriots” (i.e. pro-CCP). 

 

Critics of the new national security law say that it will only further erode the rights and freedoms of the city, exacerbating Hong Kong’s democratic backsliding and ushering in a new era of authoritarianism. China has responded, stating that the new law is nothing but an attempt to crack down on subversive, illegal actions that threaten the stability of both the Chinese state and the city of Hong Kong, while still remaining within the rights of the 1997 agreement. Global spectators will wait to see the effects of the law on Hong Kong and China as a whole.

 


Middle East and North Africa

Gaza Faces Potential Famine Amid Blockade of Aid Trucks

As Israel’s War in Gaza continues, the risk of famine and severe malnutrition among children increases. A report from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification–which is a scale utilized by numerous NGOs like the United Nations World Food Progamme— signaled that 1.1 million people in Northern Gaza are struggling to find food, and widespread famine could occur between mid-March and May.


Land-based aid can only enter through the Rafah crossing near Egypt and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing. Because of Israel’s restrictions on the passage of aid through its two specified checkpoints, Gazans are now struggling to receive basic humanitarian aid. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), while nearly 500 trucks of aid are needed each day, there are days where less than ten trucks pass through checkpoints, and even on good days, only around 200 can make it through. 

 

In response to the blockage of land aid, Jordan and the United States have facilitated air drops off the coastline of Gaza. However, implementation issues such as parachute failures, on top of the increased costs of airdropping aid, have made the method dangerous, infective, and unable to provide enough timely aid to residents. Because of the extreme scarcity of aid, the UN reports that many families have resorted to eating animal fodder and grass as a means of sustenance. Famine and starvation have lasting implications on those who survive it, causing various health deficiencies, and cognitive impairments, preventing an entire generation from living healthy, safe lives. 


In response to the famine, the US stated it would create a temporary port to help deliver aid to Palestinians, however, it could take up to sixty days to build and Israel would still be able to limit access to aid through restrictions on access points and limits on goods allowed to pass. Despite the exigency of the issue, it's unclear if there will be any immediate action taken to prevent widespread famine in Gaza.



North America

TikTok is the New Star of U.S. National Security Concerns

Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill addressing the national security implications of the social media app TikTok. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, and the Chinese Communist Party’s domestic regulations on tech companies raise strong questions about the app’s impact on U.S. national security. House lawmakers fast-tracked the bill to a vote on Wednesday, where it passed in a bipartisan 352 to 65 vote. 


The “TikTok ban” is two bills: 1) the Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Adversaries Act, and 2) the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. The first act passed the House last week and addresses selling sensitive information gathered from the U.S. to foreign adversaries, for example, China. In conjunction with that, the second act requires ByteDance to divest its interests in the app. ByteDance selling its shares to a non-Chinese company is imperative because, under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, the CCP has the power to request any data from Chinese companies, including sensitive information gathered on Americans which it could use to undermine U.S. security.


There are two main national security risks posed by the CCP’s access to ByteDance. TikTok’s strong algorithms and unique ability to disseminate information make it a prime tool for propaganda and election interference. China’s influence over ByteDance can therefore be utilized to disrupt the U.S. 2024 elections. Second, China’s ability to acquire large amounts of data from ByteDance is especially concerning because TikTok gathers information on real-time location, passwords, and bank activity. These are just two prominent examples of security concerns over TikTok.


TikTok itself has gone to great lengths to curb U.S. federal action against the app. Their initiative “Project Texas” is a $1 billion plan to store U.S. user data on domestic servers controlled by the U.S. tech giant Oracle. This plan is currently under review by the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States, CFIUS, a federal body tasked with evaluating the security implications of investment into the country. Experts believe Congress has taken up this issue for themselves, not only because a play against China looks good in an election year, but because CFIUS has taken too long to come to conclusions about TikTok’s role in U.S. security. Some politicians use this as a reason to fight against the ban. Other opponents claim it is an infringement on free speech and will harm small businesses that rely on the app for publicity and sales. The ban still faces uncertain odds in the Senate, where it is unclear if Speaker Schumer will bring it to a vote.



Central America & the Caribbean 

Haitian Transition Council to Take Over as Crisis Worsens

Haitian political parties are on the verge of finalizing the implementation of an interim government as gangs make advances in the capital. The Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince has recorded another uptick in gang-related violence this week, with a recent shooting in the capital city that left a gang leader dead. Haitian security forces killed the leader of the Delmas 95 gang, Ernst Julme, just a day after another prominent gang leader was killed following an act of vigilante justice. 


Much of Haiti has seen a marked increase in violent gang-related crime following a mass prison break in February, where armed groups raided a prison and let loose thousands of inmates. Much of Port-Au-Prince has been in the hold of numerous gangs for years, but a recent prison break in early March has increased violent crime even further as hundreds of deadly gang members were freed. Thousands of people have since been displaced as gangs have tightened their hold on the city’s streets.


The rapid increase in gang-related deaths and crime has led many to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Henry agreed to step down last week and assist in the formation of the interim government. While negotiations have been slow, all parties have agreed on a choice of representative. The extent to which an interim government will be able to restore order to Port-Au-Prince is unclear, as 80% of the city is currently occupied and ruled by local gangs. 



South America

Brazil’s Bolsonaro Remains Mired in Controversy 

On Tuesday, Brazilian authorities formally accused Former President Jair Bolsonaro of falsifying his COVID-19 vaccination records. A government investigation revealed that Bolsonaro’s vaccination report stated that he was vaccinated in São Paulo in July 2021 despite not being in the city at the time. The former president now faces charges related to altering data in the country's public health system. In an earlier investigation, one of Bolsonaro’s close aides admitted to police that the former president explicitly ordered him to manipulate the data. The country’s Prosecutor General’s office will decide on whether to use the indictment to file charges against Bolsonaro at the Supreme Court. 


Later in the week, the Brazilian government announced it had found numerous items of furniture that were reported missing from the official presidential residence after Bolsonaro vacated the home following his defeat in Brazil’s 2022 presidential election. Upon his ascension to the presidency, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva accused his predecessor of having taken the 261 pieces of furniture that were recently found in an undisclosed location near the presidential residence. The dispute began after Brazil’s first lady complained about the conditions of the official residence and used the missing furniture as a justification to spend $40,000 of public funds to refurnish the palace. In a statement published after the furniture was recovered, Bolsonaro accused Lula of falsely reporting a crime.  


The recent controversies mark the latest developments in a tumultuous chapter of Brazilian politics. Bolsonaro denied the accusations and accused authorities of trying to "fabricate a case" against him. Bolsonaro continues to fight other legal battles including one related to an investigation into accusations he tried to overturn the results of the country’s presidential election. The former president still commands a large base of support throughout the country and the impact of additional legal action could prove to be a challenge for Brazil’s democratic institutions. 



Sub-Saharan Africa

South African Speaker of Parliament Takes Leave During Corruption Inquiry

On Thursday Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nquakula, South Africa’s National Assembly speaker, announced that she would be taking an indefinite period of leave following a police raid on her home as part of an inquiry into allegations of corruption. The corruption probe concerns accusations of receiving bribes totaling 2.3 million rand ($121,000) while serving as defense minister, a position she held between 2014 and 2021.


While Mapisa-Nquakula announced the decision to step away herself, the choice was not entirely hers. The African National Congress (ANC), Mapisa-Nquakula’s own political party, has a “step down” policy that requires members to resign from their positions when facing corruption charges. Even though police raided Mapisa-Nquakula’s home on Tuesday, no official warrant for her arrest has been made at this time.


The corruption inquiry comes during the lead-up to South Africa’s elections, which are to be held on May 29. The elections are expected to be a turning point in South Africa’s political history as the ANC, which has led the country since the inception of majority rule in 1994, is expected to receive less than 50% of the vote. This would force the party to create a coalition to stay in power.

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