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Weekly News Digest for March 12, 2021

Compiled by Kelly Dobso, Trinity Gates, Stephanie Cannon, Michael Banks, Jessie Bowers, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith


Breaking News:

East Asia: China Pushes for Greater Control of Hong Kong’s Electoral Process

This week, China moved forward with plans to reform Hong Kong’s electoral process. Currently, Hong Kong uses a 1,200-member Election Committee to select Hong Kong’s leader. China seeks to implement a new electoral reform plan that would expand this committee by 300 seats, solidifying China’s control over the Hong Kong electoral system. In a more expansive move, this plan may enumerate new powers for the committee, such as the jurisdiction to decide whether an individual can run for Legislative Council seats. The plan may also expand the Legislative Council from 70 seats to 90 seats, guaranteeing 30 seats for Election Committee members. While Britain and the U.S. condemn these plans as an attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic processes, China maintains that these reforms will protect China’s core interests and Hong Kong’s electoral system’s integrity. It appears likely that this plan will be endorsed and implemented in the upcoming weeks.

Europe: Sarah Everard’s Disappearance and Murder Stirs the Conversation on Sexual Harassment

Sarah Everard’s disappearance in London early last week led to the arrest of a police officer and a woman on suspicion of murder and kidnapping. On March 12, authorities identified her body which was found in a wooded area in Kent. Her case has brought forward a serious conversation among women and government officials on the policy surrounding sexual harassment and crimes. Thousands of women across the U.K. and Europe have taken to social media to share their stories online surrounding harassment and fear in public spaces and on the internet. According to statistics from UN Women U.K., nearly 97 percent of women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four-year-olds have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. These realities have prompted lawmakers to take tougher action against those who commit crimes against women.

South America: Venezuelan Migrants Granted Protected Status in the U.S.

The Biden Administration is granting Venezuelans living in the United States temporary protected status(TPS) as of Tuesday. It will apply only to Venezuelans already residing in the US as of March 8, 2021, and be in effect for 18 months. The decision will allow hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans the chance to stay and work in the U.S. legally. Under the provisions, Venezuelans in the U.S. have 180 days to register and, if they meet the criteria, they will receive work permits and be allowed to legally remain in the country. Many Venezuelans had pinned their hopes on the Biden Administration to grant TPS status in the wake of Trump’s Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) after the latter’s administration publicly took a stance against Maduro, calling him a dictator.

The decision comes just weeks after the Colombian government granted almost a million Venezuelans living in Colombia protected status for 10 years.


North America

CDC COVID-19 Guidelines Do Not Include Travel Advice for Vaccinated Individuals

On Monday, March 8, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the COVID-19 guidelines for those vaccinated against the virus. According to these guidelines, people who have received the vaccine may socialize indoors without a mask or social distancing; however, vaccinated people are still encouraged to wear a mask and social distance while in public. Further, the CDC recommends that vaccinated individuals not quarantine or get tested for COVID-19 if they come in contact with someone with the virus and are asymptomatic.

However, these guidelines do not contain the travel advice originally planned to be included due to concerns regarding the transmission of COVID-19 and the emergence of new strains. This concern underscores what CDC director Rochelle Walensky said at Monday’s press conference, where she explained how COVID-19 rates of infection are still high, and more transmissible variants of the virus have been found in almost every state.

President Biden Issues Executive Order on Voting Access

On Sunday, the 56th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to advance voting access. According to a fact sheet from the Biden administration, this executive order gives the heads of every federal agency 200 days to promote voter registration and participation in the voting process. Federal agencies are to inform states of how they can increase voter registration; moreover, states must also better voting access for military members and those with disabilities. The federal government will also improve upon the website to further impart information on voting to the public.

This executive order contrasts the 250 bills that have been introduced across much of the country that would restrict voting access in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, which had historic levels of voter turnout.


Asia and the Pacific

East Asia: The U.S. and South Korea Reach Cost Sharing Agreement for American Troops

On Sunday, a U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed that the two countries agreed to a cost-sharing agreement for US forces based in South Korea. These negotiations affected the existing Special Measures Agreement, or the SMA, which sees the U.S. and South Korea developing a joint strategy on the challenges of North Korea’s missile programs and China’s growing military power.

During his administration, President Donald Trump demanded South Korea increase payments by up to 400% for the 28,500-troop presence in South Korea. Threatening a possible withdrawal, President Trump’s demands weakened the critical, longtime alliance. However, despite the disagreements, both American and South Korean officials reported a high level of preparedness for regional challenges. Last month, the U.S. achieved a similar cost-sharing agreement with Japan. These moves come as the Biden administration emphasized its commitment to strengthening relationships with vital allies. While the South Korean legislature must approve the agreement, it will likely pass with no opposition.

Southeast Asia: UN Spokesman Announces Possible Crimes Against Humanity in Myanmar

Since February 1, at least 70 people have been killed by Myanmar’s ruling party in demonstrations throughout the country. On March 11, a UN spokesman said that the growing number of reports of murders, persecution, and arrests are indicative of “crimes against humanity.” Protests have continued since March 11 when the army accused the country’s former leader, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, of taking illegal payments. However, the military has yet to provide any evidence of the claims.

South Asia: India Arrests Rohingya Refugees

This week, Indian authorities arrested 88 Rohingya refugees camping outside of the UNHCR office in New Delhi. Among the refugees, 17 of them were pregnant women or children. The mass arrests follow the detainment of 160 Rohingya’s last week in Kashmir. According to the local government, the refugees will be deported back to Myanmar, a move that received backlash from human rights advocates.



North Africa: Libyan Lawmakers Appoint Interim Government

On March 10, lawmakers in Libyan appointed an interim government. Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah’s government is hopeful of unifying the country ahead of this year’s elections. With the approval of the country’s Parliament, lawmakers are already showing signs of unity with this new government.

Sub-Saharan Africa: U.S. Declares Ethnic Cleansing is Occurring in Ethiopia

In Congressional testimony, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced that acts of ethnic cleansing are occurring in Tigray, Ethiopia. The conflict worsened in November when Ethiopian leaders sent troops into the Tigray region in response to an attack on federal military facilities. Eritrean soldiers also occupy the area and reportedly conducted widespread looting and burned crops. Since then, the clashes killed an unknown number of citizens and displaced thousands.



European Nations Pause the Distribution of the AstraZeneca Vaccine

Denmark, Iceland, and Norway are among a few European nations to put a short-term suspension of the distribution of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after possible evidence linking the vaccine to an increase in blood clots. This is only the latest uproar surrounding AstraZeneca over a delay in vaccine deliveries across Europe and a blocked export of a vaccine shipment to Australia in Italy. None of the current COVID-19 vaccines across Europe and America have been linked to deaths, but AstraZeneca faces specific scrutiny after three people who received their vaccine developed serious conditions. The European Medicines Agency has maintained that there is no evidence that AstraZeneca leads to serious conditions or an increase in blood clots in those who’ve taken the vaccine.


Latin America and the Caribbean

International Women’s Day March Met with Violence in Mexico

Officers forced back protesters with tear gas and riot shields in Mexico City earlier this week at a demonstration to honor International Women’s Day. The protesters called for the government to address the country's poor record on femicide and gender-based violence. Government figures suggest at least 939 women were victims of femicide in 2020. Clashes between women's rights campaigners and police are becoming more common in Mexico City as activists say it is the only way the government will pay attention to them. They have accused President Andrés Manuel López-Obrador of ignoring the problem of violence against women. Last year, López-Obrador claimed the issue of femicides had been "manipulated" by critics of his administration.

Lula Attacks Bolsonaro in Speculated Comeback

Former Brazillian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attacked the Bolsanro administrations handling of the COVID-19 crisis on Wednesday, just days after a judge cleared he would be eligible to rerun for office in 2022. Lula neither confirmed nor denied heated speculation that he might now challenge Bolsonaro in the 2022 presidential race as the left-wing Workers Party candidate. Da Silva had been convicted for corruption and money laundering in 2017, but those convictions were annulled on Monday by Brazilian Supreme Federal Court Justice Luiz Edson Fachin, effectively restoring his right to run for office.

Bolsanro continues to face fierce criticism of his handling of the pandemic. The country reported a record high of Covid-19 deaths Tuesday, with 1,972 new fatalities in 24 hours, bringing the total toll to 268,370. He defended his pandemic response from da Silva's criticisms late on Wednesday, claiming that his government empowered local officials and arguing that imposing lockdown measures would only "lead the citizen to a situation of poverty."


Middle East

Fire in Cairo’s Clothing Factory

On Thursday, March 11th, a fire killed at least 20 people and injured 24 in Egypt’s capital. The cause of the fire is unknown, but 15 trucks were needed to extinguish the fire as smoke spread through the city. Following the 2011 revolution, the country has had continuous fires over the years due to a lack of safety standards in construction. For example, in 2020, an oil leak in a highway in Cairo left 17 injured, and last month another fire started in an unlicensed shoe warehouse in Giza.

Loujain al-Hathloul Loses Appeal Against Her Sentence

The Saudi Arabia women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released from prison on probation after three years, subjected to a five-year travel ban and other restrictions. Loujain al-Hathloul had a crucial role advocating for women’s rights to drive but was detained in May 2018, a few weeks before the ban was lifted. Human rights organizations reported that, during the first three months of detainment, interrogators had tortured her and at least three other women, although the Saudi government denied all accusations. In December of 2020, a terrorism tribunal found the activist guilty of “inciting change to the basic ruling regime” and “serving a foreign agenda inside the kingdom by using the internet with the objective of damaging public order.” At the first appeal hearing last week, Loujain al-Hathloul was asked by the judge whether she wished to “show repentance,” in which she replied he had “proven in all her defenses that she had committed any crime based on local and international laws.”


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