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THE INTERNATIONAL OBSERVER & RECORD

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GLOBAL SURVEY

            

  

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Our 39th year of publishing The International Observer & Record

The Latest Issue

Global Survey
Reference Aids

States Political Profiles

International Abbreviations

Administrative Divisions of Countries

International Organizations

Militant Organizations

Militant Organizations Abbreviations

Titles Positions Ranks

International & Political Terms

Islamic Terms & Calendar

Titles of Treaties

Country & City Name Changes

Updated November 2019

VIEWING THE WORLD

UN Assembly president alerts about loss of native languages

While the world’s attention is fixed on the loss of land to rising oceans and the disappearance of species of animals and plants caused  by changing climate and human expansion, languages of indigenous peoples are also vanishing, especially those of small native populations. 

Calling attention to this worrisome development, the President of the current 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly, on 17 December cautioned that “challenges persist” despite UN efforts to highlight the daily disappearance of mother tongues across the world. 

“Every fortnight, at least one indigenous language vanishes from the face of the earth”, warned Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria. “This translates into two extinct indigenous languages each month”. Turning to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the President pointed out that the 2007 milestone calls on states, among other things, to enact policies and laws aimed at preserving and strengthening indigenous languages. 

“The status-quo is indeed grave”, he asserted, painting a picture of only 4,000 surviving indigenous languages, spoken by a mere 6 percent of the total world population. He also said it was “equally noteworthy”, that 15 percent of the poorest people on the planet are indigenous.        

Indigenous traditions have served as a “dependable means of acquiring knowledge” which can be transmitted across generations, he stated, citing examples of herbal medicine, food processing and settling disputes within communities.  And although linguistic diversity is essential to preserve humanity’s common heritage, which is critical to its survival, it is imperiled with every language that goes extinct. “With the death of languages, the indigenous people who speak them lose a significant part of their identity”, he lamented.  

Muhammad-Bande urged the world to focus attention on the measures to ensure the survival of those which remain, underscoring that “schools have a major role to play”. “By integrating indigenous languages into their curricula, they would have fulfilled the vital mission of shielding the languages from external onslaught and internal decay”, he said.

 January 2020

 

TRUMP'S TRIAL

The forthcoming trial of the president of the United States of America is easily the top political event of the year in the States, even if a sizeable section of the public seems to ignore it. Worldwide it is equally regarded as a dominant development in government circles. 

Donald John Trump Sr. of the Republican Party and 45th President of the White House since January 2017 is generally seen as one of the most powerful men of the world, thanks to the military and economic strength of his country, and a view he not only cherishes but expands and exploits to satisfy his vanity.  

Even before the proceedings shaped up, Trump called impeachment unconstitutional and a witch hunt, refused steadfastly to cooperate while complaining about being denied an opportunity to state his side, and order staff and government officials to refuse testifying when being subpoenaed although a number complied, feeling it was their constitutional obligation.  

The US House of Representatives led by the Democratic Party majority, for months collected statements from witnesses inside and outside of government, including from a staff member of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), about alleged misuse of presidential power for personal political benefit. In the course of congressional inquiries and stonewalling by president and White House officials, leading to disregarding and rejecting subpoenas, a second charge of obstructing Congress was added. On 18 December, the House, mainly along party lines voted 232 for and 196 against impeachment.  

The actual trial of a sitting president, vice president or civil officer, provided for in the US Constitution, is conducted by the 100-member Senate, the upper House of Congress, and presided by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America.  

It will open once the Speaker of the House submits the case, sometime next year. If warranted and evidence of additional violations are discovered, charges may be added or expanded. The Senate has a majority of members of the Republican Party, at present strongly in support of the president, a circumstance that not only jeopardizes the unbiased exercise of justice, but the outcome of a fair proceeding. But as has been noted repeatedly, this is not a criminal trial regardless of charges, but a political process by a political body of politicians.

December 2019

 

Reporters sans frontières(RSF)/Reporters Without Borders of Paris are actively telling the world that in the course of keeping citizens informed independently, journalists everywhere are paying a heavy price - 49 killed and 387 imprisoned. In the United States of America too members of the media are increasingly on the firing line, not the least from a president who is never too busy to belittle and undermine the profession in the public’s mind.

 On 7 November, the US press launched a campaign to “Protect Press Freedom.” It ranges from protecting the right of the public to be informed to journalists to be protected against verbal, physical and legal threats.

 The nationwide campaign is spearheaded by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) of Washington DC, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) of New York NY and their partners.*

 Aim is to mobilize the public to stand up for press freedom and actively protect their right to be informed. The message conveyed through video, radio, digital, print, and social media assets, is a simple, powerful truth: In order to be free, we must be informed, proclaims the campaign.

 It illustrates the crucial role the free press plays in everyday life by depicting a world in which people are unable to access news about issues that are important to them. The campaign website https://protectpressfreedom.org informs about the threats to press freedom and key moments for the free press in America’s history.

 “Americans across the country rely on diverse news sources to help them make informed choices every day, but many don’t see the threats that are putting that information at risk,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “When one journalist or news source is threatened … it threatens a fundamental American freedom that’s essential to understanding and participating in our communities. We’re proud to bring news outlets and organizations together to have a conversation with the public about press freedom and encourage people to stand up for their right to information.”

 Attacks on journalists' safety and the public's right to know occur with troubling regularity. According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, of which the Reporters Committee and CPJ are partners, there were at least 35 physical attacks on journalists last year. So far in 2019, at least 28 journalists have been denied access to government events that are traditionally open to or attended by the press, leaving members of the public without crucial information about their government’s activities. Relentless disparagement of the media contributes to an increasingly dangerous climate for journalists.

 “Journalists around the world are being imprisoned in record numbers, and violence is on the rise,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The Protect Press Freedom Campaign is about standing up for the rights of journalists in this country and supporting journalists working in repressive conditions, without the protection of the First Amendment.”

Despite the attacks on press freedom in this country, a majority (52 percent) of Americans do not believe that it is currently under threat, according to bipartisan research released by the Reporters Committee and Democracy Fund.

*A coalition of over 30 media, technology and nonprofit partners, including Barron’s, CBS News, Comcast-NBC Universal, CNN, Facebook, Gannett/USA TODAY NETWORK, The Los Angeles Times, McClatchy, The New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR), Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, Reuters, Scripps, Sinclair, Twitter, The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones, and The Washington Post. In addition to the Reporters Committee and CPJ, the campaign steering committee includes Free Press, Internews, Media Law Resource Center, PEN America, Reporters Without Borders and the Society of Professional Journalists. Additional partners include the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, International Center for Journalists, National Association of Broadcasters, Radio Television Digital News Association, National Press Club Journalism Institute and Society of Environmental Journalists.

November 2019 

The much advertised of the British retreat from the European Union (EU) will not happen this year. Parliament in its wisdom rejects a no-deal withdrawal which was due on 31 October – the prime minister’s “do or die” promise – and is delaying Brexit until the government can either obtain a more advantageous negotiated deal or a second referendum will either confirm the results of the first one or the United Kingdom will remain an EU member. 

The prime minister, on 28 October, in a letter to the EU president confirmed the extension of the withdrawal until 31 January 2020 while accusing Parliament of resisting. His first attempt on the same day to schedule new elections on 12 December failed when the 299 against 70 votes fell short of the required two-thirds vote of 434, partly because the leader and Brexit opponents of the Labour Party abstained. A new attempt will be made under different legislative provisions requiring a lower minimum of votes to have new elections this year. Even if the prime minister succeeds, the outcome could result in a new parliamentary strength distribution or change little. 

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 Supporting the country’s diplomats has rarely been a problem for the Foreign Service of the United States of America. Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president, some are career diplomats, others are appointed for their special connections, experience or to award a political supporter. Unless there was some serious scandalous behavior or gross negligence, President, Secretary of State and Department of State publicly backed up their representatives abroad, even if mistakes were made.  

This has changed dramatically since the current president settled in the White House. Already the atmosphere was burdened with campaign rhetoric about disloyal staff, a “deep state” determined to sabotage the new Administration and its policies, the presence of too many allegedly beholden to the previous office holders.  

For some time, numerous upper-level positions in the Department remained vacant and few ambassadors were named. At the working level, staff felt either they were not part of the team or that their contributions were not welcome or the subject of suspicion. 

Abroad, missions have always accepted that some of their observations and recommendations were neglected or rejected – that was not an unusual feature of the diplomatic bureaucracy. What hurts more is either lack of public or verbal support and now censure or recall in reaction to untruthful complaints by outsiders.  

Witness the rash removal of the US ambassador to Ukraine, a career diplomat, without much of an explanation, and in her absence insertion of a private citizen, albeit lawyer of the president, to interact with the new Ukrainian government.  

Added to the demoralizing working conditions of diplomats are the unforeseen policy changes. Whether it is inconsistent policy coming out of Washington, sudden changes and especially reversals, more than unsettling staff it is weakening reliability and reputation of the US government as experienced by other nations, both allies and opponents. Former US national security officials, who have spoken up in recent weeks, criticize the president’s conduct and his foreign policy: “lending weight to the picture of a president motivated by political interests with little regard for policy expertise, legal boundaries or institutional restraints” according to former officials cited in The Washington Post.

October 2019

 

The lack of policy process in the current US presidency showed up early, on relations and issues with opponents as well as with allies. China and the United States  have been getting deeper into the trade conflict which now affects academic relations, diplomacy, and technology security. Absent in the White House is a decision-making process to set a strategy and resolve policy issues, writes David Ignatius in The Washington Post of 6 September.

 

The president of Guinea and his supporters are trying hard for a third term in elections in 2020. Government is working on a constitutional change to allow the current president to be a candidate for a third presidential term. To gather support, his Party of Unity and Progress formed a Coalition for the Defense of a New Constitution on 2 August. The opposition Bloc Against Alpha Condé joined the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution on 21 August. Article 27 of the current Constitution of 2010 states that mandate is renewable once and that “no one may exercise more than two presidential mandates, consecutive or not.” 

Prof. Alpha Condé (born 4 March 1938) started his first five-year term on 21 December 2010 and was reelected for a second, final term on 11 October 2015.

September 2019

 

Concerns about a Taliban Deal

The imminent agreement of the United States with the Taliban militia after nine rounds in Doha is raising grave concerns: Distrust in Taliban assurances, ending defense of a struggling secular government after 18 years, and the political and self-aggrandizing involvement of the current US president. 

In talks between the US and the Taliban militia for the past 11 months in Doha (see chronology below), the US is seeking to draw down its  and allied forces if the Taliban agrees to keep the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) out. A ceasefire, ending violence against the civilian population, and starting peace negotiations leading to a political settlement with the Afghan government are part of the agenda but the overriding US interest is bringing the troops home – a presidential campaign promise! The president’s remark to the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister on 22 July that he could have had Afghanistan “wiped off the face of the earth,” greatly upset Afghans inside and outside of government, seeing it as a sign of total indifference not only to their country but to its people.  

The major US demand in exchange for drawing down foreign military forces are counter-terrorism assurances: Renunciation of al-Qa’ida and preventing its sanctuary as well as that of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) branches. In addition, the US wants to retain the ability to counter al-Qa’ida and ISIL in Afghanistan if needed. 

Reasons for concern are a fear of a premature retreat and of further diminishing of US reliability as an ally and defender of democracy. Taliban is continuing its effort to set up an emirate and abolish the secular government. Elections are to be held in September and the Taliban is determined to stop it with increased violence and threatening voters to stay away. Recently, commanders on the ground see the ISIL-Khorasan affiliate as a growing threat. Should the Taliban turn more conciliatory toward Kabul, its hardline militants might defect and join more ruthless jihadists. 

The regional situation has become more complicated this month with India’s revocation of autonomy and statehood of Kashmir because of the influence of India and Pakistan in Afghanistan. 

The US-Taliban Talks

2018

21 Sep.                        US State Department appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as lead

                                    envoy for the talks with Taliban

12 Oct.                        Round 1 Doha

14-16 Nov.                  Round 2 Doha

17-19 Dec.                  Round 3 Abu Dhabi, UAE 

2019

8 Jan.                          Round 4 cancelled

25 Feb.-12 Mar.           Round 5 Doha

1-9 May                       Round 6 Doha

29 June-9 July             Round 7 Doha

6-12 Aug.                    Round 8 Doha  

7-9 July                       1st Afghan-Taliban meeting Doha, declaration issued on agreement

                                    on basic roadmap for negotiating

August 2019

Declining biodiversity

Nuclear weapons and changing climate threatening animals, humans, and plants are now joined by a new peril – declining biodiversity. Linked partly to global warming, the extinction of wildlife endangers human civilization, according to an assessment for the United Nations made public on 6 May. The result of research by hundreds of scientists was prepared by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. One direct source of the dramatic decline of animal and plant species is poor conservation.

May 2019

 

US Administration-Congress power struggle in full swing

To impeach the US president or not and the launch of subpoenas has unleashed a fierce power struggle between White House and the newly elected Democratic Party leadership of the House of Representatives. The release of the abstracted “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III by the Attorney General on 18 April was expected in the United States. The public abroad was not that interested or aware but there too government chanceries and embassies were eagerly awaiting details to shape their reactions.

 The president pounced on the investigators’ inability to establish that anyone connected to the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated – ‘colluded’ – with the Russian government when it interfered to help the campaign. He and the Attorney General conveniently downplayed that the findings did not exonerate the chief executive and that the absence of a judgment on obstruction of justice remains an open question. Dealing with Russian contacts, numerous constant efforts to foil the inquiry, the trail of lies, suspicious interactions, charges against 34 lawyers and campaign advisors, including 25 Russians, and an additional 7 charges in related cases are contained in the 448-page, two-volume investigatory effort that took 22 months to complete.

April 2019

 

Plans and policies of new government are further polarizing Brazil

Even before Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a confrontational elected member of the Chamber of Deputies for 27 years announced his candidacy for federal president in March 2016, his highly extreme populist positions and views were known. Together with retired General Antônio Hamilton Martins Mourão he placed first and was elected in the second round on 28 October 2018. On 1 January 2019 they assumed office. His nationalist, pro-business/landowner, pro-military statements in support for the religious right appealed to those voters who were hoping for a government to end to corruption and crime and bring prosperity. Homophobic Bolsonaro’s rejection of abortion, same-sex marriage, secularism, disregard for black people, women, and the indigenous population, and lack of concern for the environment strengthened the political opposition but its tarnished record cost it the majority. 

During the last months of the past year the character of the coming government began to reveal itself and polarization of the electorate continued: Eight cabinet positions went to former generals, a conservative theologian was chosen to be in charge of education and a career diplomat who says that both man-made climate change and globalism are Marxist or communist inspired became foreign minister. 

The incoming president set the tone when he declared in his inaugural address “I take this solemn moment and summon each of the Congressmen to help me in the mission of restoring and reconstructing our fatherland, liberating it, definitively, from the yoke of corruption, criminality, economic irresponsibility and ideological submission…. Let us unite the people, cherish the family, respect the religions and our Judeo-Christian tradition, combating gender ideology, preserving our values. Brazil will again be a country free of ideological vows.” 

Once installed, the flood of decrees issued by Bolsonaro clearly showed direction and content of his government’s plans and policies, according to O Globo, Correio do Povo, and Reuters: 

  • Liberalize the hidebound economy, reduce taxes from 36 to 20 percent of gross national product, control and lower the budget deficit, step up privatizations, privatize 12 airports and 4 ports, and reduce protectionism.
  • Reform the pension system, set new minimum retirement age for men and women, overhaul social security, and free the credit market from overcrowding by state banks.
  • Curb violent drug gangs, encourage police to act tougher, tighten prison sentencing guidelines, and loosen controls over private gun ownership.
  • Enact conservative social measures in areas like education, abolish the diversity department of the education ministry, end gender diversity in schools and remove sex education.
  • Hand control over indigenous land claims to the agriculture ministry.
  • Carry out ideological cleaning of the government, rid the country of “socialism,” dismiss government contractors who do not support the president, increase oversight of non-governmental organizations (NGO) in Brazil and control their public funding by the Government Secretary.

March 2019

Political Freedom: Democracy in Retreat!

The rule of law and other vital pillars sustaining democratic society in the United States of America have been under attack for years but the lack of respect and support by President Donald Trump and his administration are weakening democracy at home and threatening to undermine political rights and civil liberties worldwide is the major conclusion of this year’s annual survey1 of Freedom House of Washington. The decline in global freedom has sustained a variety of countries in every region. In states designated as Not Free, governments have increasingly shed that thing façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades. More authoritarian powers are now banging opposition groups or jailing their leaders dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain, warns Freedom House.

“The greatest danger comes from the fact that American democracy is not infinitely durable, especially if a president show little respect for its tenets,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “We have seen democratic institutions gradually succumb to sustained pressure elsewhere in the world, in places like Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela. Antidemocratic rhetoric and the rejection of democratic constraints on power can be first steps toward real restrictions on freedom.”

 “Challenges to democracy in the United States have outsized effects beyond American borders,” Abramowitz added. “Other nations watch what is happening in the United States and take cues from its leaders’ behavior. The ongoing deterioration of American democracy will accelerate the decline of democracy around the world.”

1 Freedom in the World 2019, Washington DC: Freedom House, 4 February 2019.

February 2019

Chinese influence spreading

China deepening its influence in Africa and elsewhere is now getting more attention inside German and US governments. The Federal Chancellor is visiting the neighboring continent and is shown talking to African leaders in Berlin. The national security adviser in Washington on 13 December spoke at the Heritage Foundation about the government making a greater effort to widen its economic and financial footprint in Africa.

 Down Under more comments are heard from Canberra voicing concern about Chinese efforts to enter or strengthen its influence through Belt & Road projects or other economic endeavors in the Pacific island states.

 Then there is Cambodia where sanctions by the European Union (EU) and the US to encourage greater democratic efforts have had the opposite effect. Every time funding is withheld, China steps in granting Hun Sen’s government more money and whenever Western criticism is voiced, Beijing  praises Cambodian action, even that of the military deputy commander after having his forces attack unarmed Cambodians for years.

January 2019

 

 

 

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