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Weekly News Digest for October 22, 2021

Compiled by Alex Barrett, Trinity Gates, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith

North America

U.S. Military Hypersonic Weapon Test Fails

On Thursday, the Pentagon announced that a booster rocket carrying a hypersonic glide weapon failed during testing. According to Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Gorman, the booster rocket that failed is not part of the developing hypersonic program and is solely for testing. A day prior, the U.S. Navy and Army successfully tested hypersonic weapon component prototypes that will aid in the development of new weapons. The technology differs from existing missiles as a rocket launches the hypersonic missiles in the upper atmosphere, then glides to its target at over five times the speed of sound. It is the latest technology that the United States, China, and Russia are working to develop due to its quick trajectory speed. The U.S. test failure follows reports this week of China successfully launching a hypersonic missile with nuclear capability.

Asia and the Pacific

Reports Indicated China Launched Nuclear-Capable Missile

On Monday, United States disarmament ambassador Robert Wood publicly highlighted concerns over reports that China recently launched a hypersonic missile with nuclear capacity. In August, other sources reported that China launched a missile, which circled the Earth at low orbit before narrowly missing its undisclosed target. However, China claimed this report was inaccurate. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded that this test was routine, “used to test a reusable spacecraft technology.” He also cited China’s recent launch of a second three-person crew to staff its space station. The reported launch of a hypersonic missile and China’s sudden progress caught U.S. defense and intelligence officials by surprise. In fact, one U.S. official said, “[w]e leave no idea how they did this.” These reports came at a sensitive time, as Sino-American relations continue to deteriorate.


Large Protests & Worsening Tensions in Sudan

Protesters turned out to support the civilian government and challenge rival protests in favor of military rule. Pro-military protestors want the civilian government dissolved largely citing a worsening economic situation in the state. Military and civilian leaders compromised to share power as part of a transitional government after ousting long-term President Bashir. Deep divisions and the aftermath of an attempted coup by Bashir supporters have exacerbated the disconnect between civilian and military relations. In lieu of protests from both civilian government supporters and pro-military supporters, there was also a blockade at Port Sudan worsening tensions across the state and threatening the state's transition to democracy.


Ireland’s Facebook Ruling Creates Conflict with New EU Data Protection Law

Last week, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) stated that it plans to fine Facebook between €28 and €36 million for a supposed lack of transparency regarding user data. The DPC also stated that it did not have the ability to intervene with Facebook regarding whether or not the site’s user agreement, but such a determination would best be made by a consumer or another competent authority. However, in comparison to those campaigning for privacy as well as officials of other European Union privacy institutions believe that Ireland’s DPC gives Facebook too much freedom to collect data on users without their explicit permission. According to an official of a national privacy regulator, if Ireland’s decision is upheld by the EU’s flagship data protection law, the GDPR, it would "entail the end of data protection as we know it.” Ultimately, the EU’s data protection institutions oppose how the DPC’s resolution approves Facebook’s claim that the platform gains consent to collect data from users through the user consent form. Facebook can therefore bypass the need to get explicit consent from users by maintaining that it is in keeping with the “performance of a contract” clause in the European GDPR law.

UN Convention Threatens Belarus Over Its Crack Down on Environmental NGOs

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko frequently impedes the ability of Belarus-based NGOs to contribute to environmental matters at the UN’s Aarhus Convention. On Thursday, 46 members of the convention voted to consider suspending Belarus’s rights under the 1998 treaty, which allows NGOs to contest decisions made by governments on environmental matters. Such a decision by the UN would require the involvement of Belarusian NGOs. However, Lukashenko continues to suppress and essentially dissipate these NGOs in an attempt to shut down opposition following his fraudulent re-election in 2020. The Aarhus Convention’s vote requests that Belarus undo its removal of Ecohome, the oldest environmental NGO in the country before the December 1 deadline to prevent its rights and privileges from being temporarily revoked in the convention on February 1 of next year. According to an environmental policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau Frederik Hafen, this decision offers Belarus its voting rights but removes Belarus from a chair position or otherwise restricts its participation in the Aarhus Convention.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Haitian Gang Kidnaps U.S. Missionaries

A Haitian gang kidnapped 17 members of the U.S.-based missionary group, Christian Aid Ministries, and demanded a $1 million ransom per person. The 16 Americans and one Canadian were kidnapped on Saturday by 400 Mawozo, a street gang notorious for violent mass abductions and history of targeting religious figures and churches. The group was returning from a visit to an orphanage when it was ambushed, along with the five children with them. Liszt Quitel, Haiti’s Justice Minister, said that “it’s not clear whether children are included in the ramson amount,” and “the gang is probably expecting to negotiate.” Officials from the State Department and the FBI are in Haiti seeking the release of the hostages and have provided few details about those efforts or the identities of the hostages due to privacy considerations.

The abduction of the missionaries is part of an alarming surge in kidnappings by powerful gangs that exert control over large swaths of the Caribbean and whose rise and influence “threaten the very fabric of the state” according to analysts. On Thursday, the leader of the gang released a video saying, “he will kill them [the hostages] if he doesn’t get what he’s demanding.” In the video, he also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the chief of Haiti’s National Police, León Charles, as he spoke in front of the open coffins that held “several members of his gangs who were recently killed.”

Brazilian Senate Urges Charging President over Pandemic

A Brazilian Senate report recommended on Wednesday, October 20th, pursuing crimes against humanity and other charges against current President Jair Bolsonaro for bungling Brazil’s response to COVID-19 and contributing to the country’s second-highest pandemic death rate. Senator Renan Calheiros presented the proposal to a committee that has spent six months investigating Brazil’s response to the pandemic. The decision on whether to file most of the charges would be up to the prosecutor-general, a Bolsonaro appointee and ally.

In a 1200-page report, Senator Calheiros called for Bolsonaro’s indictment on charges ranging from charlatanism and inciting crime to misuse of public funds and crimes against humanity. By insisting on “early treatment drugs like the anti-malarial medication hydroxychloroquine as practically the only government policy to fight the pandemic” the President collaborated to the spread of the pandemic and “showed himself to be the main person responsible for the errors committed by the federal government during the pandemic.”

President Bolsonaro has repeatedly described the Senate investigation as a political instrument aimed at “sabotaging him” and denied any wrongdoing. The office of Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras said the report would be “carefully analyzed once it’s received.” Analysts said it was unclear if Aras would charge the president even if there are legal grounds to do so, and the report is more likely to hamper Bolsonaro’s push for reelection in 2022 than to make him a defendant in the courtroom.

Barbados Elects its First President

Dame Sandra Mason, 72, will be sworn in on November 30th, as Barbados’ first president since its independence from Britain in 1966. Last year, the country announced its plan to move to a republic status, removing Queen Elizabeth as head of state. Barbados will not be the first former British colony in the Caribbean to become a republic. Guyana took that step in 1970, less than four years after gaining independence from Britain. Trinidad and Tobago followed in 1976, and Dominica in 1978.

Middle East

Wildfires Deemed an Act of Terrorism in Syria

In September, 24 people set off deadly wildfires in Syria, which ravaged the coastal province of Latakia, Syria. The fires burned from September 2020 to mid-October, destroying homes, private businesses, and government buildings. A continued campaign of economic warfare, these people targeted Latakia because it is the ancestral home of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. This week, the Syrian government executed the 24 people involved, after charging them with, according to the government, “terrorist acts that led to death and damage to state infrastructure, public and private property.” While it is not uncommon for executions to take place in Syria, they were exceptionally public as President Assad continues to deter economic warfare tactics across the country.


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