Yemen: The UN warns of a humanitarian catastrophe, once again!
On 11 November, the UN Security Council held a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. In a strong statement, UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock remarked that “Yemenis are not going hungry, they are being starved. The parties to the conflict, the Security Council members, donors, humanitarian organizations and others should do everything to stop this.” The Chief of the World Food Programme highlighted the impending famine in Yemen and the need to step up relief measures.
The briefing emphasized on five aspects- protection of civilians, humanitarian access, funding for the aid operation, the economy and progress towards peace. It also emphasized the UN Secretary General’s call for “global ceasefire”, especially in Yemen.
What is the background?
First, the fund crunch. Lowcock informed the Security Council that the UN had received only 45 per cent of the amount it appealed for Yemen in 2020. While it had received USD 3 billion in 2019, it has received USD 1.5 billion so far in 2020. The pandemic has severely affected the relief measures at a very crucial point.
Second, the non-stop proxy war and failing negotiations. Iran and Saudi Arabia-led coalition have been waging a proxy war in Yemen. Aimed at securing regional domination, this has reached a state of stalemate. As a result, Yemen remains embroiled in violence that is cyclical in nature. The UN Special Envoy to Yemen told the UNSC that the “relatively calm situation” may soon come to an end, as there is a probability of escalation of violence shortly. Though mediation led by the Special Envoy is ongoing, the road to peace is a tough and painstaking; this may take longer. This implies that Yemen’s economic and humanitarian woes will only increase.
Third, the failure of domestic actors to reach an agreement. The internationally recognized government and the rebels have failed to negotiate and end the conflict. Domestic actors have failed to form a government free from external influence. The internationally recognized government is a puppet under the hands of Arab coalition; while Iran and Hezbollah control the Houthis.
Fourth, the indifference of the international community. Yemen is not the first one to face such a crisis. Rwanda, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, and many others, have all been victims of long-lasting conflicts that have affected millions. However, the indifference and insensitivity of the international community have remained consistent. Winning battles and wars are a priority for states, rather than addressing the consequences of those actions.
What does it mean?
First, the looming famine. In 2017, when Yemen was at the brink of famine, the international community rose to the occasion and contributed to the UN’s initiatives, averting a humanitarian disaster just in time. However, in 2020, the World Food Programme is facing a shortage of funds and struggling to provide for 13 million people in Yemen; nearly 24 million require assistance to survive. Continuing war, COVID-19 and other diseases, global economic downturn, floods, locust invasion, and reduced funds are the multiple factors playing out simultaneously this year, making the situation even worse.
Second, children are the most vulnerable. According to a UN Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) malnutrition analysis conducted in southern Yemen, acute malnutrition cases aged below five have increased by 10 per cent in 2020. Clearly, children falling under the age of five are in the most vulnerable category; and an entire generation is at risk.
Third, the lack of collective responsibility. On 15 September, the UN reprimanded the states that promised but failed to contribute. After being called out by the UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator, Arab coalition countries except UAE contributed to the relief funds. Lack of collective responsibility is clearly visible among the parties involved in the conflict. At the same time, other states fail to stand up to the cause and address the unfolding biggest humanitarian crisis.
Lastly, the multiple reports, analysis and warnings issued by the UN will not influence major changes on the ground. All factors remaining unchanged, Yemen will continue to face hardships in 2021 and the coming years. However, the primary aim of the UN will be to avert the famine, which, according to reports, might occur in early 2021.
Myanmar Elections: Suu Kyi’s NLD wins in a landslide, reaches out to ethnic minorities
On 14 November, the Union Election Commission (UEC) of Myanmar announced the final results of the general elections which were held on 8 November. The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi has won 396 seats (out of the 476 parliamentary seats) in a landslide victory.
On 12 November, the NLD reached out to Myanmar’s ethnic parties by sending them an open letter. NLD extended them an invitation to join hands to form a “democratic federal union.” “The ethnic parties’ objectives are the same as the NLD’s and the NLD would prioritize the ethnic’s desires in the future,” the letter read.
Earlier, on November 10, even as the preliminary election leads were trickling in, the Chairman of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) said that they would mount a legal challenge against NLD’s victory. Later, on 11 November, it called for holding “free, unbiased and disciplined” elections “in cooperation with the military.” The USDP has won only 33 seats, 8 seats less than its 2015 tally.
What is the background?
First, the democratic transition. The successful conduct of the 2020 general elections represents a significant milestone in Myanmar’s history. The 2010 election, which was held by the military, was boycotted by the NLD. The 2015 elections were conducted by the USDP, which won the previous election in 2010; the 2015 elections brought NLD into power. Notwithstanding the questions of fairness and credibility of UEC, international and domestic observers have said that the elections happened without major irregularities.
Second, the continuing popularity of NLD in Myanmar. In terms of seats and vote share, NLD has continued the 2015 momentum; with a second-in-a-row landslide victory, NLD has solidified its position in the domestic power landscape. State-counsellor Suu Kyi has also boosted her popularity and acceptance.
Third, the civil-military tussle. During the last week, the military made several statements/comments casting doubts about UECs competency; it also raised questions about elections being free and fair. However, on the day of elections, the commander-in-chief promised to respect people’s mandate. Despite the worsening NLD-military relationship, the military has so far refrained from directly interfering in the election process. It has allowed the election process without placing hindrances.
Fourth, the relationship between NLD and ethnic groups. NLDs relationship with different minority ethnic groups has been bad in the last five years. Factors like lack of sincere approach by NLD government, insufficient progress in the Panglong peace process, and recently, disenfranchisement of more than a million people from ethnic minority areas, are responsible for this. Against this backdrop, NLDs reaching out to ethnic parties to form a unity government is a welcome step; something it did not do after the 2015 elections.
What does it mean?
NLDs resounding win and the popular support it enjoys solidify the party’s position. It also provides the former a space to manoeuvre and seize more power from the military’s domain. The mandate also empowers NLD to meaningfully engage with the ethnic minorities in the peace process to bring decades of internal strife to an end. Reaching out to ethnic parties after the election is a positive first step, but the contours of NLDs plans are still unclear; it has to be seen whether NLD can take-off from this positive beginning.
As regards to the democracy project, it is too early to say whether there would be deepening of democracy anytime soon, notwithstanding the successful elections. The military still retains about 25 per cent of parliamentary seats and controls key ministries. All in all, finding a constitutional space vis-a-vis the military, handling the economic downturn and worsening pandemic, taking forward the peace process and furthering the democratization project would be major challenges confronting the NLD government.
Hong Kong: Pro-Beijing legislators takeover, as pro-democracy lawmakers resign
On 11 November, China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a resolution, giving the Hong Kong authorities the power to disqualify any “unpatriotic” member. With an immediate effect, four pro-democracy lawmakers – Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-Ki, Kenneth Leung and Alvin Yeung – from Hong Kong’s legislative council were disqualified for “endangering national security”. Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, said that the disqualifications were “constitutional, legal, reasonable and necessary” for the country. On the same afternoon, fifteen members of the opposition stepped out in solidarity chanting “Hong Kong add oil, together we stand”.
On 12 November, all 15 opposition lawmakers resigned in opposition to the regulation, leaving the council in full control of the pro-Beijing lawmakers.
What is the background?
First, China’s increasing clampdown since the imposition of national security law. This law aims to punish anything considered by the authorities to be subversion, secessionism, terrorism, and collusion. Soon after the law was passed, seven pro-democratic politicians were arrested on charges of ‘contempt’ and ‘interfering’ with the city legislative council. The law has severely curtailed freedom of speech and expression.
Second, the domestic response to the Hong Kong administration’s recent moves. On 5 November, when the Hong Kong police unveiled a dedicated hotline for residents to report alleged national security threats, it received more than a thousand tips from the public via text messages, emails, pictures, audios, and video files within hours going live. Regarding the disqualification, the reaction from the opposition has been sharp. Dennis Kwok, one of the disqualified pro-democracy lawmaker, said: “In terms of legality and constitutionality, obviously from our point of view this is clearly in breach of the Basic Law and our rights to participate in public affairs, and a failure to observe the due process”.
Third, the international response. Disqualification of lawmakers has been highly criticized internationally. The US National Security Advisor accused China of having “flagrantly violated” its international commitments and threatened to impose sanctions. The UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, said the removal of the pro-democracy legislators represented “a further assault on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and freedom under the UK-China joint declaration”. Amnesty International said that the disqualification was “yet another example of Beijing’s attempt to silence dissent”. Responding to the critical comments, Wang Wenbin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said, “the issue of the eligibility of members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, is purely an internal affair of China. Other countries have no right to comment on it or interfere in it.”
What does it mean?
First, there no relaxation or respite from China in Hong Kong. Instead, Beijing is increasingly tightening its hold over the latter. By not respecting the basic law, and by using disqualification to bypass the electoral mandate, China is moving towards ending the ‘one country two systems’ arrangement. Absence of opposition voices in the Legislative Council would mean those passing pro-Beijing laws would become easier for Lam’s administration.
Second, more than a year after protests started in Hong Kong, it is clear that the protestors have lost out; the resistance of young protestors has also weakened in the last few months.
Also in the news…
by Akriti Sharma and Lokendra Sharma
East Asia and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Volkswagen denies “forced labour” at the Xinjiang plant
On 13 November, the BBC published an interview with Stephan Wollenstein, CEO of Volkswagen Group China. On the issue of forced labour, he was quoted to have replied: “[W]e are making sure that none of our production sites have forced labour, and this is something that we specifically checked in Urumqi and I can assure you, we do not have forced labour.” He added that even though they aspired to meet all the company’s standards, they “could never reach 100% certainty.”
China: 13 Satellites including a 6G test satellite launched
On 6 November, China launched a set of 13 satellites aboard the Long March-6 rocket from its Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the Shanxi Province. 10 satellites were from Argentina. Details emerged this week, however, that one of the satellites was the world’s first “6G” test satellite. It will work on terahertz frequency and is expected to be a hundred times faster than the 5G technology, which is still in its initial stage of adoption across the world.
The Philippines: Typhoon Vamco leaves several dead and missing
On 11 November, the Philippines was hit by Typhoon Vamco, the 21st and most deadly tropical storm to hit the country this year. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people were evacuated to safety before the landfall. It has left 39 dead and several people missing. Coming on the heels of Typhoon Goni which hit the Philippines early this month, it has made the task of rebuilding and managing public health during a pandemic even more challenging.
South Asia This Week
India: PM Modi co-chairs the 17th India-ASEAN Summit
On 12 November, PM Narendra Modi co-chaired the 17th India-ASEAN Summit with Vietnamese PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc. He emphasized the significance of ASEAN in India’s Act East Policy and called for strengthening the relationship in economic, political, cultural, maritime, digital, and strategic domains. He also mentioned the convergence between India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative and ASEAN strategy to ensure a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. The leaders also discussed the measures to recover from the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.
India and China: Three-step disengagement plan for LAC
After the 6 November Corps Commanders Level Meeting (8th round) at Chushul, India is considering PLA’s proposal for disengagement at Galwan Valley in three phases. The proposal includes pulling back of Indian troops and equipment from Finger 3 to Finger 8 on the north bank of the Pangong Tso. However, the contentious Depsang plains, which have been claimed by both sides, is not a part of the disengagement plan. India will convey its decision to the Chinese side in the next round of talks scheduled to happen next week.
India: PM Modi’s statement at the SCO Summit
On 10 November, PM Narendra Modi addressed the 20th SCO summit chaired by Russia. He said that all the members should respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, indirectly targeting China. Since the LAC clashes began in May this year, it is the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping and PM Modi are sharing a stage. He also stressed making radical reforms in the UN system as it failed to manage the economic and social fallouts of the pandemic.
The Maldives: Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit
On 10 November, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla concluded his two-day visit to the Maldives. Shringla hailed the ‘India First Foreign policy’ of the Maldives. Four agreements, including the ‘Greater Male Connectivity Project’, were signed. He also held talks with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, Defence Minister Mariya Didi, Tourism Minister Mausoom Maus and ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The visit aimed at strengthening bilateral ties, providing assistance for COVID-19, and promotion of Indo-Pacific strategy to reduce Chinese influence in the island nation.
Bangladesh: China to build the first waste-to-energy plant
On 12 November, the Bangladesh cabinet accepted a bid from a Chinese state-owned company to build the country’s first waste-to-energy plant. Dhaka North City Corp (DNCC) will provide 30 acres of land to China Machinery Engineering Corp (CMEC) to generate electricity for 25 years. The CMEC will fully cover the cost of building and running the plant, but Bangladesh will pay $2 billion for the power it generates. The plant will use 3000 tonnes of waste every day to 42 megawatts of power. This would, in turn, help in cleaning Dhaka’s rivers and tackle its waste-management problems.
Pakistan: Iranian Foreign minister’s visit
On 11 November, Iran’s Foreign Minister Dr Muhammad Javad Zarif concluded his two-day visit to Pakistan which was aimed at enhancing bilateral cooperation between the two nations. He met PM Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. Both sides agreed to strengthen border security, enhance economic trade, establish peace and security, fight against terrorism and illegal immigration, and enhance military and regional cooperation.
Afghanistan: UNDP releases a report on socio-economic impacts of COVID-19
On 11 November, UNDP released a report titled ‘Afghanistan COVID-19 Socio-Economic Impact Assessment: Fiscal Options in Response to Coronavirus Crisis’. The report states that Afghanistan will take at least four years of progressive growth to return to the pre-COVID-19 growth trajectory. An increase in international aid, trade, and social reforms will be required to achieve it.
Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa This Week
Iran: Stockpiled uranium 12 times above permissible limits, says IAEA
On 11 November, the IAEA reported that Iran had stockpiled 2,442.9 kg of low-enriched uranium, 12 times above the permissible limit of 202.8 kg in the 2015 nuclear deal. This finding was contained in a confidential document circulated to member countries which were seen by the press. IAEA also reported that Iran was violating the 3.67 enrichment limit under the deal by continuing to enrich uranium up to 4.5 per cent.
Jordan: Election results for parliament announced
On 12 November, the Independent Election Commission of Jordan announced results of elections for the 130-member parliament that happened on 10 November. The polls saw the participation of just 29.9 per cent eligible voters. In the new parliament, the number of women members and the share of Islamist opposition parties has fallen down. Jordan’s parliament wields limited power with most power being held by King Abdullah II.
Yemen: Arab coalition’s airstrike in Yemen kills two Hezbollah military experts
On 11 November, Arab News reported, based on an undated Yemeni defence ministry statement, that Arab coalition warplanes killed two Hezbollah military experts in an airstrike in Yemen. About a dozen Houthi fighters were also killed. Reacting to this development, Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak, Yemen’s ambassador to the US, told Arab News that “Hezbollah is executing Iran’s agendas in the region” and that “Hezbollah has always been the training, military, media and political incubator of the Houthis”.
Libya: Agreement on holding elections in the next 18 months
On 11 November, Stephanie Williams, UN envoy to Libya, said that the warring sides in Libya had reached an agreement to hold elections in the next 18 months. This is the outcome of United Nations-brokered talks that began on 9 November in Tunisia’s capital city Tunis. Williams added that the agreement touches upon the idea of a “national reconciliation panel” and of uniting Libyan institutions, and puts out a roadmap for organizing “fair, free and transparent parliamentary and presidential elections” in the next 18 months.
The Mediterranean: Many perish in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya
On 12 November, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that at least 74 migrants have died in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya. About 47 migrants have been rescued. There have been at least 8 shipwrecks since 1 October in the central Mediterranean, and hundreds of people have died this year in their desperate attempt to reach the European shores. “Thousands of vulnerable people continue to pay the price for inaction both at sea and on land,” said Federico Soda, IOM Libya Chief of Mission, on this humanitarian tragedy.
Europe and the Americas This Week
The UK: First European nation to record highest COVID-19 deaths
On 13 November, Britain became the first European nation to record 50,000 coronavirus deaths. It joins the USA, India, Mexico, and Brazil with this figure. Last week, a second lockdown was announced to suppress the resurgence of the virus. On 10 November, Boris Johnson announced that Britain would get 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine this year itself from the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) and vaccine distribution will take place in phases.
Armenia: Protests over the Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal
On 11 November, the fourth day of protests in the capital city of Yerevan, protesters demanded the stepping down of PM Nikol Pashinian. This came as a reaction to the signing of the peace deal to end the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region as people felt betrayed. The security forces detained several demonstrators. However, the PM defended the deal because it prevented the other cities from being seized. He refused to step down even though he took the responsibility of all setbacks.
Peru: President impeached by the Congress
On 9 November, Peru’s President Martín Vizcarra was impeached by the Congress due to alleged corruption charges. 105 out of 130 lawmakers voted in support of the impeachment motion. This was a second attempt by the opposition to impeach the president in the last two months, following a failed attempt in September. Manuel Merino, an opposition lawmaker and a businessman, will be the new interim president of Peru till July 2021.
Bolivia: Morales returns after a year of exile
On 11 November, Evo Morales, former president of Bolivia, and first one from the indigenous community returned after a year of exile. His coming back was precipitated by the victory of his leftist Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party. He thanked the Bolivians for not abandoning him. Thousands of supporters from around the nation welcomed him in the town of Chimore. However, president Luis Arce and Vice-President David Choquehuanca or any new member of his own socialist party did not come forward to greet him.
Brazil: Health regulator allows resumption of Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine
On 11 November, Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa authorized the resumption of clinical trials of Chinese Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine which was suspended after the death of study subject and was registered as a suicide in Sao Paulo. The reason for suspension of trials appeared more political than scientific because President Jair Bolsonaro, who is a strong critic of China, had hailed this decision as a personal victory on Monday.
The United States: Biden selects chief of staff, Trump hints of a new administration
On 11 November, President-elect Joe Biden’s transition office said that Biden had chosen Ron Klain to be his chief of staff in the White House. Ron Klain has been Biden’s campaign advisor, and both have worked together during Obama’s presidency. In a separate development on 13 November, during a White House event, President Trump for the first time hinted at accepting the election mandate. “Hopefully whatever happens in the future – who knows which administration it will be? I guess time will tell,” he said, after dismissing the possibility of his administration bringing fresh lockdowns.
The United States: Biden bags 306 electoral college votes against Trump’s 232
On 13 November, Biden reached the 306-mark in terms of the electoral college votes by winning the state of Georgia, according to US media projections. Biden now has a comfortable 36 votes lead than the required 270 to become president. Trump also won the state of North Carolina, taking his total count to 232. Coincidentally, the final count is a reversal of the 2016 presidential elections in 2016 when Trump won 306 and Hilary won 232.