Compiled by Kelly Dobso, Trinity Gates, Stephanie Cannon, Michael Banks, Jessie Bowers, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith
The United States: Sheriff's Office Spokesman Under Fire For Comments on Atlanta Area Shootings
Officials in Cherokee county announced on Wednesday that Robert Aaron Long had been charged with four counts of murder and one count of assault following the shooting that occurred on Tuesday at Young’s Asian Massage, which resulted in the deaths of three women and one man. Long has also been charged with additional counts of murder in Atlanta, where four women in total were killed in two separate attacks. Because six Asian women are among the victims of this attack, many declare this a hate crime. However, Long himself denies race having anything to do with his attacks. According to Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds, Long visited the businesses regularly and was aggressively acting out after pointing out Long’s potential sex addiction to investigators.
Given the general suspicion that Long’s violent actions were indeed racially motivated, feelings of anger increased further when the spokesman of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, Captain Jay Baker, remarked on Wednesday about Long that Tuesday was a “really bad day for him” and “this is what he did.” Moreover, Baker emphasized Long claimed he was not racially motivated and that it is still early in the investigation to identify the attacks as hate crimes. These comments resulted in heavy criticism against Baker, including by California Representative Ted Lieu, who questioned via Twitter if Baker could be trusted to conduct a proper investigation that paid respects to the Asian victims.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Biden to Send Envoy to Ethiopia over Tigray Conflict
In November of 2020, the long-term tension between the Ethiopian federal government and leadership in northern Tigray came to a head, exploding into a deadly military confrontation. Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, launched a law-and-order operation to target domestic terrorists. The operation included the deployment of Ethiopian National Defense Forces and a mass campaign of aerial bombardments. By November 28, the federal government declared victory over the conflict as they took control of the region. However, analysts raised their concerns about the prospect of a drawn-out insurgency as security within the region remained unstable. Over 60,000 have fled, nearly half-a-million people have become displaced and in dire need of assistance, critical infrastructure has been destroyed, and credible reports of mass atrocities and war crimes continue to trickle out of the region.
On March 18, 2021, United States President, Joe Biden, announced that he will be sending a senator to Ethiopia to meet with Prime Minister Ahmed to voice the United States’s concerns regarding the crisis, allegations of human rights abuses, and the risk of broader national instability. President Biden will also be sending Senator Chris Coons to consult with the African Union. Last week, the U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, described the violence in Tigray as an ethnic cleansing -- Ethiopian officials have rejected the statement. Following President Biden’s announcement, United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has officially agreed to carry out a joint investigation into the situation in Tigray with the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
East Asia: U.S. Imposes New Round of Sanctions on Chinese Officials
Days before the Biden administration’s first planned meeting of Chinese and American diplomats, the U.S. announced financial sanctions on 24 Chinese officials for undermining Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms and electoral processes. One such member is Wang Chen, a senior official who led Hong Kong’s electoral reform plans. These sanctions strengthen those initially imposed by the Trump administration, which punished these same Chinese officials, barring them from traveling to the U.S. and freezing their U.S-based assets. While the new sanctions do not greatly impact the behavior of these officials, it expands the number of targeted officials, as the U.S. emphasizes its hardline approach to China. China pushes back, arguing that the U.S. seeks to interfere with China’s internal affairs.
Biden Launches Campaign to Encourage COVID-19 Vaccination
According to three senior health officials, the Biden administration is preparing to launch a campaign to reduce public vaccine hesitancy, given the current plan to provide Americans with COVID-19 vaccinations by May 1. Biden’s campaign will address Americans who are skeptical of the vaccines and fight misinformation regarding the vaccine’s health and safety. In tandem with this campaign, the CDC published the “COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence Rapid Community Assessment Guide” to inform state and local health departments of the drivers of and how to increase vaccine confidence in communities.
This campaign to encourage Americans to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus follows a public service announcement to encourage the public to get vaccinated with all former presidents and first ladies, with the exception of Donald Trump and Melania Trump. This move began a more focused effort to motivate Americans to go to vaccination sites as the Biden administration increases the vaccine supply and the number of people eligible to receive said vaccine.
Relief Payments Sent to Americans amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Last week, President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill with stimulus payments expected to be made available by Wednesday, March 17. Most individuals can expect to receive up to $1,400 in stimulus money, couples up to $2,800, and those with dependents can claim $1,400 for each dependent. The amount of relief money that an individual can receive gets smaller if an individual makes $75,000 a year or if a married couple makes $150,000 a year. Additionally, individuals who make $80,000 a year and couples who make $160,000 a year no longer qualify for a stimulus check.
As stated by the United States treasury, the stimulus payments will be made to eligible Americans over the next few weeks. Most of those who are eligible to receive said payments automatically get them with no further action required. Furthermore, the payments will go out in batches, with the first being to Americans who have provided direct deposit information on their 2019 or 2020 tax return forms. The second wave of payments will be sent to Americans on whom the IRS has payment information in checks or prepaid debit cards.
Asia and the Pacific
Southeast Asia: North Korean Government Ends Diplomatic Ties with Malaysia
On March 19, North Korean leaders accused the Malaysian government of acting “in subservience to U.S. pressure” when it allowed a North Korean citizen accused of money-laundering to be extradited to the United States. In addition to the severing of ties with Malaysia, the North Korean government also warned that the United States would “pay a due price.”
In recent months, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on China to use its regional influence to pressure North Korea into ending its nuclear endeavors. Secretary Blinken also criticized the North Korean government for human rights abuses. With North Korea’s severing of ties with Malaysia and strong words of confrontation against the United States, nonproliferation efforts are likely to stall in the coming months.
South Asia: 228,000 Children Under Five Died in South Asia in Past Year
A UNICEF report outlined worsening health conditions for children under five and an increase in unwanted pregnancies in South Asia. Children under five in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka were heavily impacted by pandemic-related disruptions of nutrition services and aid, resulting in the estimated death of 228,000 children since the onset of the pandemic.
North Africa: UN Reports Violations of Arms Embargo in Libya
On January 16, a report published by the United Nations detailed the massive violations against the decade-long Libyan arms embargo, even by UN member states. The report points to mercenaries, non-state actors, and governments helping fuel conflict in Libya and breaking the conditions of the embargo. The report calls the embargo “totally ineffective,” as the Libyan government’s complete control over its supply chain poses difficulties in detecting violations of the embargo policies.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Running from Terror in North-East Mozambique
Within the span of the past two to three years, there has been a massive expansion of insurgent presence in the northern Mozambican city of Cabo Delgado. The United States (U.S.) State Department has classified the insurgent group as a part of Al-Shabab. The max influx of violence is taking place near one of the world’s largest gas reserves and a multi-billion-dollar gas project. The juxtaposition of Mozambique being extremely rich in natural resources, but little wealth distribution has been the main factor that Al-Shabab has begun exploiting. Within three months, the only refugee camp within Cabo Delgado has doubled from its original 60,000 inhabitants as more than half a million Mozambicans flee the horrific conflict zone.
On March 15, 2021, the U.S. government announced that they will be sending a team of twelve U.S. Green Berets, that are currently stationed in Nairobi, Kenya, to Cabo Delgado to assist in the training of Mozambique security forces. The United States special forces will be assisted by South African mercenaries. The sheer ferocity of the insurgency within Cabo Delgado has taken American military officers, diplomats, and counterterrorism officials completely by surprise. Along with the deployment of special forces, the US government is now exploring new ways to step up its intelligence assistance for and within Mozambique to ensure the international community is not met with any more surprises.
France Imposes New Lockdown after Fears of a Third Wave
The French Prime Minister announced that Paris and an additional 15 regions in France will begin a month-long lockdown starting Friday night. This follows new concerns from health officials after delays in vaccination and newly reported cases, nearly 35,000 cases in the past 24-hours. This lockdown will not be as strict as previous covid lockdowns; the restrictions will still permit citizens to exercise outdoors and for schools to remain open. However, it will close non-essential businesses and not allow people to travel to other parts of the country unless there is a valid reason. New concerns over recorded COVID cases and hospitalizations extend beyond France in the EU. COVID-19 cases have risen since February, while other countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. have seen a rapid decrease in infections and deaths.
Spain Passes Euthanasia Bill
Spain became the fourth country in Europe to pass a euthanasia bill. This bill allows for physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia for long-suffering patients with an incurable disease or permanent conditions. The bill that will take effect in three months also allows medical workers to refuse to participate on the grounds of belief. Conservative and far-right lawmakers were unsuccessful in being strong voices to keep the bill from passing but have announced plans to overturn the legislation in the future. However, people from the left-wing government and the Health Minister saw this bill as a win and a good step towards achieving human rights.
Latin America and the Caribbean
Cuban Migrants make Seafaring Journey to the United States
As Cuba's economic crisis worsens, U.S. Coast Guard officials say they see more Cubans attempting the dangerous seafaring journey through the Florida Straits into the United States. A worsening economic climate under the head of state Miguel Diaz-Canel could push more Cubans to make the desperate voyage, despite having lost their preferential status. According to Cuban government figures, in 2020, the economy shrank by 11%, as the pandemic almost entirely shut down the island’s tourism industry. That followed a series of punishing sanctions by the Trump administration that included limiting U.S. citizens' ability to travel to the island, supporting their tourism and commerce industries as well as cutting off channels for Cuban-Americans to send remittances to relatives there.
Brazil’s COVID-19 Variant Spreads
An aggressive COVID-19 variant called P.1 has spread from Amazonas to other parts of Brazil and has now been identified in cases in the United States. Brazil is experiencing a historic collapse of its health service as intensive care units in hospitals run out of capacity. The warning came as the country registered its highest daily death toll yet, with 2,841 dying within 24 hours, surpassing the record set on March 10 by more than 600 cases. Twelve states are at more than 90% capacity, while the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul reports no available beds in any of its hospitals’ ICU units. Marcelo Queiroga was appointed as Brazil’s fourth health minister since the pandemic began last March, and critics are calling on Bolsanaro and his administration to institute a nationwide shutdown.
Activist Sanaa Seif Sentenced to Jail in Egypt
Sanaa was detained in June of 2020 when she tried to file a complaint against an assaulter. She and her family were crucial at the beginning of the pandemic when advocating for the release of some prisoners amid fears that COVID-19 would spread in prisons. On Thursday, March 18th, a Cairo criminal court convicted Seif of spreading and broadcasting false news that would cause panic, judicial sources say. Human rights group Amnesty International deemed the verdict “yet another crushing blow for the right to freedom of expression in Egypt.” The activist’s older brother, Alaa Seif, a leading figure in the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, was detained in 2019 only six months after a five-year prison term. Western countries have also already called on Egypt to end the prosecution of perceived political opponents, but Egypt has deemed the statements “groundless.”
Israelis Head to the Polls the Fourth Time in Two Years
On Tuesday, March 23rd, Israelis will vote again in the hopes of ending a seeming cycle of elections and the political deadlock that has left the country without a national budget during a pandemic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is running for reelection while also standing trial on corruption charges, a fact that opposition groups hope will drive voters to push him out of office, although polls have shown that neither group has a clear majority. Since 2019 neither Mr. Netanyahu nor his opponents have won enough seats in the Parliament to maintain a coalition government, which forces the country to continue voting in an attempt to break this dreadlock. A series of disagreements between Mr. Netanyahu and his rival, Benny Gantz, over the state budget, led the Parliament to dissolve and left the state without a budget during the pandemic. With such a close race, Jewish politicians have turned to the Arab minority to break the tie between different groups.
Israel Vaccinates over 100,000 Palestinian Workers.
Palestinians with Israeli work permits are now being vaccinated in 13 states throughout Jewish Communities in the West Bank. The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) reported on Thursday, March 18th, that over 100,000 Palestinian workers have been vaccinated in under two weeks.