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Weekly News Digest for April 21st, 2023


Compiled by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Trinity Gates, Sara Anis Ali, Zoe Shepherd, Hayes Orr, and Quinn Phillips

Edited by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Sara Anis Ali, and Riley Mied


Asia and the Pacific

India to Surpass China as the World’s Most Populous Nation by mid-2023

According to a United Nations report, India is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by mid-2023, with a population of over 1.4 billion people. This demographic shift brings with it geopolitical, economic, and cultural influence but also highlights the challenges India faces in fulfilling its promise as a global power. With the country's economy growing much faster than its population, and the proportion of Indians living in extreme poverty plummeting, India has much to be proud of. Though India’s economy may be among the fastest-growing in the world, unemployment has swelled alongside it. Current data shows that only 40% of working age Indians are employed, with only one in five Indian women being in the formal workforce. This raises questions about whether the country’s young population will drive economic growth or will soon become an economic liability.


The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that the concerns over the world population reaching 8 billion have increased anxiety among governments. This anxiety has led to policies aimed at influencing fertility rates that can encourage gender-based discrimination. As such, the UNFPA has stressed the importance of reproductive autonomy and empowering women to make choices about their bodies and lives. The UNFPA report noted that the Indian national government made clear in several forums that it opposed coercion in family planning, including in parliament.


India has undergone a remarkable transformation, emerging from poverty to become an influential global power with a $3 trillion economy, leading high-skilled sectors, and a growing middle class. Despite this progress, the country still faces the challenge of creating more job opportunities to benefit its large population, while still supporting the autonomy of its citizens. China has since responded to this prediction by emphasizing the importance of quality talent, as well as quantity, in determining a country's demographic dividend.


Central America and the Caribbean

Caribbean Leaders Plan to Ban Assault-Style Weapons

Caribbean Community leaders agreed on Wednesday to ban assault-style weapons in their countries. The Caribbean Community, also known as Caricom, is an international organization consisting of 15 member states and five associate member states. The decision to ban assault-style weapons came after a dramatic spike in gun violence in the bloc, with most weapons being manufactured in the United States. Restrictive legislation and a change in licensing regulations would be required to implement the bans. Bahamian Prime Minister and Caricom’s Chairman, Philip Davis, said 98.6% of all illegal firearms recovered in the country can be traced back to the U.S. Many other islands have complained about the increase in gang violence, including Jamaica, Trinidad, St. Lucia, and Barbados. “Jamaica had a staggering homicide rate of 52.9 per 100,000 inhabitants,” said Davis, a homicide rate over seven times more than the global average.


The plan to ban assault-style weapons in the Caribbean bloc comes only weeks after several member nations announced willingness to join Mexico in suing U.S. gun manufacturers. Mexico filed a lawsuit seeking to hold U.S. gun manufacturers responsible for facilitating the trafficking of deadly weapons into the country. The Mexican lawsuit was dismissed in September of 2022, but Mexico launched its appeal last month as Caricom members joined the effort. Caricom and Mexico called for a stop to the trafficking of weapons and discussed tighter measures against assault-style weapons in their countries. In Haiti, activists urged policymakers to act quickly as the Caribbean country faces a humanitarian crisis driven by violent gang crime. On average, 15 people are kidnapped every day in Haiti as over 60% of Haiti’s territory is now under the control of armed gangs. Caribbean leaders also asked U.S. President Joe Biden for dialogue on the issue.


Europe

Drug Crackdown off the Coast of Italy as Cocaine Trade Explodes Across Europe

A boat carrying two tonnes of cocaine was stopped and seized off the coast of Italy earlier this week. The cargo had an estimated street value of nearly $440 million. Smuggled from South America and bound for the European market, the cocaine shipment was seized off the coast of Sicily and comes amid rising concerns over the increase in cocaine drug trades worldwide. The largest drug bust of this year was carried out in February off the coast of New Zealand where three tonnes of cocaine were seized. In Antwerp last year, nearly 110 tonnes of cocaine were seized, highlighting a concerning and booming cocaine trade that is spreading across Europe. The United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency has several operations currently dedicated to tracking drug trafficking across the country and continent. In Belgium, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickborne and a top investigative judge, Michel Claise, have seen how the wealth and influence of drug gangs are affecting justice and corruption in the state, causing the expanding drug crisis to become a pressing European Union issue. The United Nations has also issued a warning about the effect of rival gangs working in tandem and has warned that this cooperation will lead to the expansion of illegal drug trading.


Middle East and North Africa

Tunisian Opposition Leader Arrested Under Charges of Terroristic Claims

Officials raided the headquarters of Tunisia’s main opposition party, the Islamist Ennahda party, early Tuesday and arrested the party’s leader, Rached Ghannouchi. The Ennahda Party has been known for its strong critiques against the existing authoritarian state and for its desire to reestablish Islamic ideals in Tunisian government. The investigation and subsequent detention of Ghannouchi came after officials claimed that he had made terroristic threats. However, Ghannouchi argued that the move was politically motivated and was a bid to have opposing political party supporters arrested.


Ghannouchi had been previously expelled from the country after expressing his extremist views supporting the beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood, which called for a return to an Islamic society based on Quranic teachings in the modern world. Despite pushback from the government, Ghannouchi’s ideological beliefs allowed him to maintain a strong follower base within Tunisia. Because of this, he was allowed to return to the country following the collapse of the presiding Tusian government in the aftermath of the Arab Spring Revolution.


Concerns over Ghannouchi’s arrest stem from the fact that his party was the only prominent critic of Tunisia's current administration under President Kais Saied. Before his arrest, Ghannouchi criticized the administration's mishandling of finances in the midst of increasing financial strain resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine. The country had struggled to obtain loans from the IMF to pay off its existing deficits, and now the continued political instability and the unreliability of the authoritarian presidency has put foreign investments at an all time low. Furthermore, despite economic tensions, voter participation was only 11% in the primary elections, indicating a sense of hopelessness among Tunisian voters. Ghannouchi’s party sought to put pressure on the administration’s handling of low voter turnout and economic turmoil, but now with the government’s recent arrest of the opposition, there is no clear blockade preventing the ruling party from continuing its tumultuous agenda.


North America

In Light of Recent Shootings, There Is Renewed Interest in “Stand Your Ground” Laws

On Thursday, April 13, a black teenager named Ralph Yarl was shot in Kansas City, Missouri when he knocked on the door of the wrong house while picking up his younger brothers. On Monday in New York, 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was killed while trying to find her friend's home after getting dropped off at the wrong house. Legal exemptions for self defense are being discussed after both of these shootings, particularly the ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws. Missouri is one of 30 states that has a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law which allows for a person to use force against another person anywhere at any time if they feel their life is in danger. The 84-year-old male homeowner who shot Yarl has been charged with first-degree assault but told investigators he believed his home was getting broken into. The prosecutor in the case of Yarl believes the shooter did not act in self-defense, and the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law doesn’t provide a complete defense for shooting at anyone who approaches you. Further investigation is needed to determine if the shooter had reasonable fear to believe he was going to be harmed.


New York does not have ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws but the defendants who killed Kaylin Gillis can contend that their actions are protected under the "Castle Doctrine." The Castle Doctrine is based on centuries of precedent and came from the idea that a person's home is their castle, and they have the right to protect themselves while they are inside their castle. Like the ‘Stand Your Ground,’ the Castle Doctrine gives people the right to protect their homes using lethal force if they have reason to believe someone is coming into their home without permission and with the intent to harm them. However, the sheriff where the New York shooting took place said he did not believe there was a reason for the shooter of Gillis to have felt threatened. Generally, there is no evidence that legal exemptions for self defense help to keep citizens safe or deter crime.

Medical Abortion Access in the Supreme Court Delayed

The U.S. Supreme Court extended the deadline to Friday for a decision on whether to uphold the FDA's approval of mifepristone, a well known abortion pill. This extension temporarily pauses a lower federal Texas court's decision which invalidated the FDA’s approval of the abortion pill. The delay could indicate disagreement among justices in the Supreme Court’s first major abortion case since the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the conservative majority court in a 6-3 ruling this past summer.


The ruling in question was decided by Judge Kacsmaryk, who agreed with anti abortion groups which claimed the FDA did not follow correct protocols for drug approval. However, the FDA denies those claims and maintains that the drug was safely and correctly approved over 20 years ago. After Judge Kacsmaryk’s ruling, a Washington State federal judge named Thomas O. Rice prohibited the FDA from restricting the availability of the abortion pill, directly challenging Judge Kacsmaryk’s ruling. The Biden Administration immediately appealed Judge Kacsmaryk’s ruling in Texas to the U.S. Court of Appeals. This court determined that mifepristone could remain legally available while the lawsuit goes to the Supreme Court. Conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito announced that the deadline extension would expire at midnight on Friday, allowing the court more time to reach a decision. Until then, abortion access is again facing uncertainty.


South America

Colombian President Petro meets with Biden in Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, Colombian President Gustavo Petro met with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss issues surrounding climate change, migration, and drug trafficking. Petro, who is considered to be Colombia’s first leftist president, called on economies throughout the Americas to give up their reliance on coal, oil, and other fossil fuels to fulfill the goals of his green-energy platform. Biden and other senior officials including White House national security spokesperson John Kirby emphasized the need for greater cooperation between the two countries especially in battling international drug trafficking. Despite previously calling on the United States to ease sanctions against neighboring Venezuela, President Petro did not publicly address the issue during his visit to the White House.


In a statement made earlier that morning, Kirby told reporters “Colombia and Colombia’s future, their security, their prosperity, remains a national security interest of the United States.” Maintaining close diplomatic ties with South American nations is critical for the Biden administration, especially following Brazilian President Lula’s recent visit to China and criticism of the U.S. dollar. However, the persistent flow of Colombian cocaine into the United States has undermined relations between the two countries. As part of his new approach to addressing the country’s illegal drug trade, Petro’s government has been reluctant to eradicate coca planted by individual farmers. This strategy received heavy criticism from the United States which poured millions of dollars into Colombia during the decades long “war on drugs.” Although they have different foreign policy objectives, the two governments have cooperated closely on the issue of migration. Last week, Washington and Bogotá announced a joint campaign meant to slow the rate of migration through the dangerous Darien Gap that many South American migrants traverse while making their way north toward the United States. Agreements resembling this one are a key element of the Biden administration’s plan to manage the flow of migrants across the southern border.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Conflict Erupts in Sudan as Military Factions Battle for Control of the Country

The Republic of Sudan has experienced violence and tension ever since the 2019 coup that ousted President Omar al-Bashir. Over the past week, violence has rapidly escalated, as opposing military groups vie for control of the country. The fighting, which has claimed 270 lives as of Wednesday, has roots in the 2021 coup that was perpetrated through a joint operation by the two parties that are fighting each other today. These are the Sudanese army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by General Mohamad Hamdan Dagalo. The RSF, formerly known as the Janjaweed, is a paramilitary group that was called upon by al-Bashir to quell uprisings in Darfur and other areas. They have been accused of widespread atrocities including genocide and the prolific use of mass rape. In 2017, they were legally recognized as a legitimate security force.


The main point of contention has revolved around the integration of the RSF into the Sudanese military and who will lead the military and state afterwards. It is unlikely that the fighting will end before there are major casualties on one or both sides in part due to the high stakes at hand. While physical combat has mostly centered itself around the capital, Khartoum, there have been clashes in other regions as well. As ceasefire attempts continue to fail, the toll on civilians grows. Thousands of refugees have already begun to flee the country, as food and supplies run low and infrastructure is toppled by artillery fire. The future remains unclear for Sudan given that both actors have considerable amounts of military strength and foreign funding behind them, as well as lofty rewards and potentially deadly consequences for the victor and the defeated.


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