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International News

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Rakhine, Myanmar
New evidence has emerged that implicates the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, in committing war crimes and violating human rights laws. A report released on May 29 by Amnesty International details the atrocities and formally accuses the Tatmadaw of a series of crimes including torture, extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances.  This string of abuses comes after a government instruction to ‘crush’ the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine armed nationalist resistance group. The report examined divisions and battalions under the Western Command of the Tatmadaw, who were previously accused of committing war crimes back in 2017. The mostly Buddhist Arakan Army was formed almost a decade ago to revolt against government failures concerning socio-economic issues, although the government is using the conflict with the Arakan Army as an excuse to viciously discriminate against the Rohingya Muslim population. More than 900,000 Rohingya refugees have been displaced into neighboring Bangladesh by the violence, with a safe return to their homes not in the foreseeable future. The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rightsreleased a statement on April 5 warning both the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army to ‘immediately cease hostilities’ or the attacks may be designated as war crimes, and that ‘the consequences of impunity will continue to be deadly’.
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 
The government of of Mongolia has come under pressure again as protestors flooded the capital Ulaanbaatar demanding better leadership. This is the latest in a wave of protests from a people that are dissatisfied with the Mongolian government’s unchecked corruption, failure to address public health and pollution issues, and inability to generate economic prosperity following a 2016 currency crisis from which the country has yet to fully recover. While Mongolia is a resource rich country that once had a booming economy driven by foreign investment, it has seen a sharp decline as commodities’ prices slumped. China’s economic slowdown can also be attributed to the decline as the demand for Mongolian exports, which makes up three quarters of Mongolia’s total exports, has been reduced considerably. Protests in the past have had significant impact, most notably when the former speaker of Mongolia’s parliament Miyegombyn Enkhbold was forced out of office in January amidst a series of corruption scandals. Accusations against Enkhbold center mainly around allegations that he heads a shadowy syndicate known as MANAN, or “fog” in Mongolian, which is believed to have a strong influence over the leaders of both the major political parties. As the 2020 election approaches, the Mongolian government oversees a struggling economy and a disillusioned electorate which expects much more from their democracy.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The African Union has made a ‘historic milestone’ as the African free-trade zone has been signed into effect. The agreement works to boost intra-African trade with the progressive elimination of tariffs by forming a continent-wide market of 1.2 billion people worth around £2 trillion. Advocates for the agreement argue that it will help African countries focus on foreign market integration through economic solidarity rather than the longstanding practice of African economies being driven by resource exploitation. The operational phase is to launch July 7 at an AU summit in Niger; however, a number of outstanding issues still require resolution including arbitration measure, certifying the origins of goods, tackling corruption and improving infrastructure. Critics also voice concerns about poor infrastructure and a lack of diversity between economies as being a barrier to successful continent-wide trade integration. The agreement also accompanies huge investment into the African markets from countries such as China, which recently saw their biggest telecom company Huawei strike a deal with the African Union to build more than 50 3G networks across the continent. After a blacklisting of Huawei by the US for allegations of spying, China looks to be fighting efforts to disrupt operations in an increasingly entrenched trade war.

Timbuktu, Mali
As security forces in Sudan turn violent against protestors and Algerian elections are postponed due to anti-government demonstrations, civil unrest and government instability in African nations are well-documented; however, perhaps the longest and deadliest conflict in West Africa remains underexposed, that being the ongoing violence in Mali.
The situation in Mali dates back to 2012 when, in the midst of an Islamist separatist movement in the north of the country, a military coup ousted the existing government for its ineffectiveness in dealing with the aforementioned uprisings. As Jihadist forces moved southward and expanded their influence in the country, international aid was requested, culminating in the massive UN peacekeeping operation MINUSMA.
UN intervention in the region did not bring peace to Mali and has potentially only served to exacerbate violence in the country, as the UN claims 198 fatalities of its troops alone, making it the deadliest UN operation since its inception and, according to the World Peace Foundation, “one of the most deadly operations in the history of peacekeeping.” These statistics only account for loss of UN operative lives, while thousands more civilian deaths have gone unaccounted amidst reports of terrorist bombings and massacres.
There is no end in sight for Mali’s unrest, as yet another government has been erected after the previous regime’s dissolution in April. The government’s control over the country is limited as a result of the sweeping control of Jihadist groups throughout Central and Northern Mali, spanning the eastern border to 250 km away from capital city Bamako in western Mali. UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s repeated requests for more military personnel to MINUSMA suggest that violence in Mali is nowhere near an end, as an intractable conflict between militants and an infantile government forecasts continued unrest in a country whose collapse has been ongoing and undernoted.
Osaka, Japan
The ongoing trade war between the US and China threatens to dominate the upcoming G20 summit in Osaka, yet certain member countries are resolute in using the meeting to productive ends. Ahead of the two-day event beginning June 28, Japan has announced its desire to make the reduction of plastic waste a top priority. The host country will attempt to broker a deal by which plastic waste inflow to the ocean would be reduced to zero by 2050.
Marine litter has recently become a highly-discussed issue, as the UN Environment Assembly estimates 4.8-12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the ocean yearly, accounting for £6.3 billion in damages to coastal communities, shipping and fishing industries, and the world at-large. The UN estimates that the ocean will have more plastic than fish by 2050, highlighting the timeliness of Japan’s attempt to avoid such ecological disaster.
It is surprising to see Japan taking the lead on the issue of marine debris, as the archipelago nation came under international fire last year at the G7 summit in Canada for refusing to sign the Ocean Plastics Charter, in which government leaders pledged a commitment to recycle and reuse at least 55 percent of plastic packaging by 2030.
Uncertainty remains about whether Japan’s initiative will meet broad acceptance in G20, as the US, who also refused to sign the Ocean Plastics Charter, remains characteristically skeptical of all environmental agreements, and European attendants may push for a more ambitious goal. Such issues will be discussed and whatever agreement arises at the end of June will likely be assessed at the biennial meeting of the UN Environment Assembly in 2021. Despite uncertainty over the fruits of such attempts, it is encouraging to see G20 countries working to remain productive in light of the US-China stalemate.
By Conor Knapp and Arman Aboutorali
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