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Weekly News Digest for September 30th, 2022

Compiled by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Trinity Gates, Sara Anis Ali, Zoe Shepherd, Riley Mied, Shekina Shindano

Edited by Stephanie Cannon and Austin Myhre

Asia and the Pacific

Indian Supreme Court Grants Unmmarried Women the Right to Abortion

In a historic judgment last Thursday, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that all women, regardless of their marital status, may obtain an abortion up to 24 weeks into their pregnancies. The right to an abortion has been making headlines globally following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn its landmark 1973 opinion Roe v. Wade, which established a constitutional right to an abortion and has thus sparked international discussion on the bodily autonomy of women worldwide. Even though abortion has been legal in India since 1971 under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, the right to this procedure was limited to specific categories of women. This list included rape survivors, minors, women with mental disabilities, women with fetuses that had major abnormalities and married women whose marital status had changed during the pregnancy. Single women were critically excluded from this list, causing many to question the arbitrary distinction between married and unmarried women under the law. The court in turn stated that denying single women equal access to the right to a safe abortion violated the right to equality under the Indian Constitution. This decision comes as a huge win for reproductive rights activists across the country and has been hailed as a leading step towards enacting more progressive gender-based reform.

Biden Hosts First US-Pacific Islands Summit

Last Wednesday, leaders and representatives from 14 Pacific island states, joined by Australia and New Zealand as observers, made their way to Washington for the largest gathering of Pacific leaders ever hosted by the White House. The U.S.' growing interest in the Pacific had been propelled by recent concerns over China’s regional ambitions. Largely, U.S. fear over actions by the Chinese government has been heightened following its deals with the Solomon Islands and Kiribati in 2019 to switch their recognition of Taiwan and establish a military presence in the region. This growing tension has caused many countries to express concern that U.S. engagement with them will diminish in tandem with lessening Chinese interest in the region. This goes alongside fear that being involved in the geopolitical struggle between the two superpowers will force them to take sides and choose between the U.S. and China. However, while China is undoubtedly a driving force behind the U.S. strategy, the Pacific nations have other intentions, highlighting the climate crisis and its existential threat to the region. With that in mind, many representatives of the Pacific Islands stress the importance of engaging on issues important to them, arguing that only then will the U.S. be able to counter Chinese influence successfully.

Central America and the Caribbean

Cuba’s Referendum Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

Last Sunday, Cuba held a historic referendum proposing changes to the island’s constitutional “family code.” Approximately 67% of Cubans voted in favor of a new family code, a 100-page document that legalizes same-sex marriage, same-sex adoption, ends child marriage, and improves protections for women’s rights.

The referendum results were met with excitement from members of Cuba’s LGBT community, who have waited decades for changes to Cuba’s constitution to be instituted. Cuba has a long history of violence against the LGBT community beginning in the early 1960s. Under Cuban political leader Fidel Castro’s regime, homosexual Cubans were sent to work camps for “re-education.” Despite Cuba’s legalization of homosexuality in 1979, homosexual men and women have continued to face discrimination in Cuba. Mariela Castro, the niece of former leader Fidel Castro, has publicly advocated for gay rights for years and pushed for same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption to be included in changes to the Cuban constitution.

Cuba’s government has faced continual backlash for its treatment of its LGBT community. Recent protests pushed the government to call for a vote to expand LGBT rights, and the Cuban government held thousands of informative meetings across the country and used official media to advocate for the passage of new laws protecting LGBT rights. Despite the extensive government campaign, 33% of Cubans voted against the new family law, highlighting the influence that religious leaders, especially Catholic bishops, still have in the country. The passage of the new family code will not singlehandeldly defeat discrimination in the country, but many are eagerly celebrating the historic step forward. President Miguel Díaz-Canel tweeted a picture on Monday with the quote, “love is now the law.” He celebrated the results of the referendum saying, “starting today, we will be a better nation.” Same-sex couples across Cuba have also been celebrating the new family law all week, with many couples announcing plans to get married.

The Search for Mexico’s 43 Missing Students, Eight Years Later

On September 26, 2014, 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers' College went missing. The teaching students were abducted in Iguala, Mexico while traveling home after a protest, sparking a nationwide debate about the events that unfolded. The investigation into what happened on September 26 has progressed slowly and has been met with widespread public criticism. In 2018, after four years of public scrutiny, the “Commission for Truth and Access to Justice” was formed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to investigate the disappearances. It was not until August 2022 that the Truth Commission declared that the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students was a “state crime.” Six of the 43 kidnapped students were reportedly held in a warehouse and then handed over to the commander of the local army base, Colonel José Rodríguez Pérez. Colonel Pérez then allegedly ordered the killing of the six students, directly tying the Mexican military to one of the country’s worst human rights scandals.

This week marks eight years since the 43 students disappeared, and the Mexican public is growing restless. Friends and families of the missing students marched and protested in Mexico City on Monday, demanding justice for their loved ones. On Tuesday, just one day after the eight-year anniversary of the disappearances, the special prosecutor leading the investigation into the missing students resigned. Omar Gomez was appointed to head the investigation in 2019 and had built a close relationship with the families of the missing students. Gomez’s resignation comes after President Lopez Obrador confirmed that prosecutors dismissed many of the arrest warrants submitted against public and military officials.

Gomez’s surprise resignation and revelations of the corruption within the investigation has sparked outrage among the families of the students, and the wider public. Two successive governments have failed to solve the case so far, and with each report, more high-level government officials are revealed to have been involved in obstructing justice. The case has exposed Mexico’s corrupt justice system and tainted political institutions and has reminded the world of the country’s long history of violence.


Protests in France Over Rising Economic Concerns

Teachers, students, and railway workers took part in protests across France earlier this week demanding higher wages due to numerous policy changes initiated by President Macron and increasing concerns over inflation. While Macron’s government has spent 40 billion euros to limit increases in fuel, gas, and electricity prices; Macron has unveiled plans to raise the retirement age, and to overhaul the pension system, something Macron has been working towards since 2019. These plans have angered unions and created further concerns among workers especially as many French companies have not adjusted salaries for inflation.

EU Proposes Sanctions Against Russia

Earlier this week, Putin announced the Kremlin’s plans to annex a part of Ukraine, going against international law. The European Union’s executive announced legal changes to place an international price cap on Russian crude oil and a new sanctions package. This sanction package would include an import ban on $7 billion of Russian sales to the EU. It would also ban the export of goods to Russia that could be used in the war with Ukraine. EU officials plan on voting on this proposal in the coming week.

Middle East and North Africa

Rising Oil Prices Prompts Macron’s Visit to Algeria

Amid the war in Ukraine, many European nations have struggled to procure cheap natural gas that once flowed from Ukraine and Russia. In a bid to resolve the issue, President Macron chose to turn to France’s former colonial possession, Algeria, hoping France could rekindle its relation with the country.

Relations between France and Algeria have remained tense long after Algeria’s War for Independence. While France acknowledges its involvement in the war was “a crime against humanity,” the nation refuses to even offer an apology. The nations even have a stark difference in the estimated death toll from the war, with Algeria claiming the war cost the lives of 1.5 million Algerians, while France estimates the death toll to be 500,000 Algerians. Outside the war-induced hostilities, many Algerians remain angry about the limit of visas to France for education and the country’s lack of acknowledgement of oppression in the 132 year rule. To appease tensions, Macron promised to raise student visas for Algerian students and to invest in research to look at the impact of French colonialism on Algeria. While these promises helped appease many Algerians, they enraged conservatives in France. The conservatives argued that Algeria should “stop using its past to avoid establishing true, friendly diplomatic relations,” and claimed that France does not need to seek penance for its past.

Even outside the nationalistic and historical issues plaguing the relationship between France and Algeria, both countries hope to pursue a gas deal. The increased costs of natural gas would allow Algeria to enjoy increased revenue while allowing them to gain a foothold into the European market. Meanwhile, it would help France maintain a steady supply for heating and electricity. Whether or not the deal pans out, however, depends on both nations' willingness to find common ground and to confront past atrocities and aggressions.

North America

Florida devastated by Hurricane Ian

Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane. Officials report more than 700 people have been rescued from the floodwaters amid the storm’s devastation, as of September 29. Hurricane Ian hit Fort Myers the hardest as the city was under 4 to 5 feet of water. Lee County is also seeing significant damage in the form of the partial destruction of the Sanibel Causeway. The entirety of Florida is feeling the effects of this storm as several airports have suspended commercial operations and canceled flights along with widespread flooding. Reportedly, 2.6 million residents across Florida are without power. President Joe Biden approved Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ request for an expedited major disaster declaration due to the severe damage. The storm tracking now shows the storm moving up the east coast making landfall in South Carolina on September 30 as a category 1 hurricane.

Canada Lifts COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

Canada enacted some of the world’s longest and strictest COVID-19 rules. On September 28, the Canadian government announced the removal of all COVID-19 entry restrictions effective Saturday. With the lifting of the restrictions, people are allowed to travel without proof of vaccination, prior or on-arrival testing, quarantining, or wearing masks on planes and trains. The removal of these restrictions comes two and a half years after Canada, the United States, and Mexico closed their borders to contain the spread of the virus.

Canada lifted these restrictions due to their extremely high vaccination rate of 84%, compared to the United States’ vaccination rate of 68%. Canada’s low hospitalization and death rates allowed for the removal of these restrictions, and sizable steps towards normalcy.

South America

Venezuela Criticizes UN Report Concluding Human Rights Abuses

The United Nations Human Rights Council established a fact finding mission in Venezuela in 2019 to investigate allegations of human rights violations. Since then, the mission has released three reports. The most recent report concluded Maduro and other high ranking Venezuelan officials gave orders for the Venezuelan Intelligence Agency to track and investigate various government critics. Protestors, students, journalists, and opposition were tortured for days or weeks. However, the report did not include specific examples or evidence that torture was ordered by Maduro. On September 26, Venezuela responded to the newly released report. This report marks the first time Venezuela has commented on the reports of the UN fact finding mission. It is especially notable that the government has responded to the UN report since sole judicial power to prosecute abuse falls with the Venezuelan government. The Venezuelan Ambassador in Geneva, Hector Constant Rosales, criticized the report for explicitly making accusations against Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro. Ambassador Constant indicated Venezuela is not likely to act on the report’s findings, calling it a “pseudo report” with “obscure” opposing interests. However, evidence in the UN reports can be used by the International Criminal Court to prosecute human rights abuses. The UN’s fact finding mission mandate will continue until the end of the month, with the possibility of an extension.

Venezuela and Colombia Reopen Trade Bridge After 7 Years

On Monday, September 26, Venezuela and Colombia reopened a border crossing bridge which links the two countries for trade. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro closed the bridge in 2015 to hinder illegal smuggling. After seven years of economic loss, Monday's bridge opening represents financial hope for regional businesses. The re-opening also signals a renewal of diplomatic relations between Colombia and Venezuela. The Venezuelan government expects trade to skyrocket and illegal smuggling to decrease as a result of the bridge opening. To celebrate the occasion, Venezuelan and Colombian ambassadors were present at the midpoint of the bridge to watch as decorated trucks with aluminum entered Colombia and decorated trucks with medicine entered Venezuela.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Upcoming Elections in Nigeria

This week marked the beginning of the campaign season in Nigeria. Official general elections will occur in the first quarter of 2023 but it is anticipated that this will be a competitive cycle. Current President Muhammadu Buhari, will not seek re-election, but there are a total of 18 candidates running for president. The four major contenders are former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), former-vice president Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Anambra governor Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), and former Kano governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

In the previous election in 2019, it is estimated that 58 people died in election-related incidents. Violence typically tends to occur in Nigeria during the season of elections; this year, all candidates have signed a pact committing to peaceful campaigns. Voter participation has been low in past elections but more than 10 million voters between the ages of 18 and 34 have been added to Nigeria’s election register. Nigeria’s increase in economic instability has prompted more people to be involved in their countries elections. With unemployment and corruption being the main issues that the public wants to see addressed, it is safe to assume that Nigeria’s future President will have to be willing to adhere to its citizen’s needs.



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