Worldwide News of Human rights, February, 2018
By Béibhin Gallagher
‘Out with the Old and In with the...Slightly Less Old for Zimbabwe’
In a turn of events that would have seemed inconceivable at the start of 2017, Robert Mugabe’s 37 year long reign over Zimbabwe ended. The once revolutionary turned dictator saw Zimbabwe fall from what was once the ‘breadbasket’ of Africa to a country stricken by poverty and hunger, through a regime supported by institutionalised repression and a litany of human right abuses.
Mugabe’s ‘retirement’, which was in reality more his being pushed out by right hand man Emmerson ‘the Crocodile’ Mnangagwa, was met with celebration throughout Zimbabwe in November, with the first elections predicted to be held as early as May.
However, there are signs that Mugabe’s retirement may not have been the liberation for Zimbabwe that it was initially hailed as. Despite Mnangagwa’s status as stalwart of the Mugabe regime, a recent split with Grace Mugabe has provided a boost of support and his party, Zanu-PF, are seeing a resurgence of support amongst the public. This gives cause for concern to human rights groups, who place him as a direct threat to both the establishment of a functioning democracy and the human rights of his citizens.
In Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa has been under pressure in recent weeks due to his link to the 1980s Gukurahundi, or ethnic massacres, that occurred in Zimbabwe’s southern Matabeleland region, primarily against the Mbedele people, in which up to 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed.
But, at this critical juncture in its history, political opposition in Zimbabwe is fractured. This week, Mugabe’s long-time political rival Morgan Tsvangirai passed away and his party continues to face internal factions. The possibility of gathering the momentum necessary to face down Mnangagwa in time for the May elections is dimming, as are people’s hopes for change.
Mugabe out and Tsvangirai dead. What now for Zimbabwean politics? New era and a burgeoning democratic process? Or simply the passing of the baton that might ensure Mugabe’s regime lives on past Mugabe himself?
‘Systematic economic rights violations in Palestine and Venezuela risk the onset of large-scale violence’
Often when talking and writing about human rights, we have, particularly in the West, the tendency to focus on political and civil rights, over that of social and economic rights. News stories from Palestine and Venezuela this week, countries on the opposite sides of the world with extremely different histories, illustrate the relationship between socio-economic rights and civil-political rights, often with the gravest consequences.
Humanitarian Situation Worsens as Teenagers Buried in Gaza
The past few weeks has seen a new wave of violence in Gaza, with tensions described as being the worst since 2014. Warnings have come out that a humanitarian disaster is simmering in the coastal Palestinian region and that a continuation of the current circumstances could see an escalation into violence. Unprecedented food shortages, electricity and water cuts, wide scale unemployment, and destroyed housing and infrastructure are exacerbating the already difficult conditions of life in Gaza. The issue stems from the Israeli blockade of the area, compounded since 2017 by a deterioration in relations and subsequent stand-off between opposing factions Hamas, who control Gaza, and Fatah, who retain control of the Palestinian Authority. On top of this, Israeli air and land strikes against alleged Hamas targets makes the daily lives of civilians dangerous and risky. Just this week, Israeli border patrol shot dead two teenagers attempting to climb the border from Gaza into Israel. Their deaths came in the immediate aftermath of a bomb that wounded 4 Israeli soldiers. Increasing tensions in Gaza relate how these socio-economic rights violations have the potential to spill over into violence; in the Palestinian context, this means a flare up in the ongoing ewar between Israel and Hamas.
No Sign of End to Violence over Food Supplies in Venezuela
In parallel, recent reports from Venezuela detail that up to 4 million have fled the country in the last 20 years with numbers increasing exponentially since President Nicolas Maduro took over from Hugo Chavez in 2013 and the onset of the political crisis in 2016. With Colombia tightening its borders in response, and the situation in Venezuela only worsening. There is a risk that what are already extreme levels of violence will escalate into essentially anarchy, particularly on the streets of Caracas.
In 2017, Venezuela saw hyper-inflation levels reach 536.2 per cent, with a dramatic impact on food prices. Despite the government controlling the price of basic goods, black market sales often cause knee-jerk reactions for food prices; resulting in shortages that can clean out supermarkets and leave the majority of people struggling to feed themselves. These food shortages have led to an exponential increase in criminality on unprecedented levels and food truck drivers fearing for their lives. Although entirely unrelated to what is happening in Gaza, these stories highlight how a lack of security in economic and social rights feeds into unrest and the potential for violence.
‘Siege of Eastern Ghouta signals potentially unprecedented levels of regime bloodletting in Syria’
The level of violence in the Syrian Civil War has accelerated extremely in the past few days, with death tolls rising to the highest in three years on Monday.The ongoing siege of Eastern Ghouta, a suburb outside Damascus,is being said to have the potential to become bloodiest battle yet in the 7 year conflict, exceeding even the ‘crushing’ of Aleppo in December 2016. Regime strikes have seen over 150 people killed in 48 hours since the 18 February, including at least 20 children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that the situation is only expected to worsen, with about 470 injured people still in Eastern Ghouta, many critically.
Incredibly, Eastern Ghouta has been under siege since 2013, but since Sunday residents have said the attacks are ‘indescribable’ and that ‘nothing is excluded from the shelling.’ The city is one of the last rebel held areas, home to 400,000 people. With Russia and Iranian backing the Assad regime, rebel-held territory has largely dwindled to small pockets, with the balance of power now lying effectively with the stand-off between the Syrian forces and the Kurds in the north-west; civilians are again paying the biggest price for the renewed aggression of the regime forces.
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