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Conflict Weekly
UK's Rwanda Deportation Bill and Ecuador's Referendum

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #225, 25 April 2024, Vol.5, No.17
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI

Padmashree Anandhan and Dhriti Mukherjee 


The UK: Parliament approves the Bill to deport migrants to Rwanda 
Padmashree Anandhan
 
In the news
On 22 April, the UK Parliament approved the Bill to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after a continued debate between the upper and lower houses. The Bill skipped its first hurdle with no interventions from the House of Lords, which earlier mandated modifications. In the last round of negotiations, the Bill's name was changed to the "Safety of Rwanda Bill." The government assured that it had already addressed the Supreme Court's concerns by signing a treaty with the Rwandans in December 2023.
 
Ahead of the vote, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak assured that the deportation flights would begin in the coming months. He added, "We are ready, plans are in place, and these flights will go, come what may." The vote was held as a response by the UK government to the Supreme Court's ruling that the deportation to Rwanda violated international law. 
 
The Bill would request the court to reconsider Rwanda as a safe country and allow the UK the power to ignore international and human rights law. David Anderson, a barrister and member of the House of Lords, said: "You can't make a country safe just by saying it's safe." 
 
On 23 April, in reaction to the policy, the UNHCR commissioner Filippo Grandi said: "…shift responsibility for refugee protection, undermining international cooperation and setting a worrying global precedent." The Council of Europe's commissioner for Human Rights, Michael O'Flaherty, said: "…raises major issues about the human rights of asylum seekers and the rule of law more generally." He urged the UK government to "…refrain from removing people under the policy and reverse the bill's "effective infringement of judicial independence."

Issues at large
First, a brief on illegal immigration. According to a UK government report, as of 2023, the total number of irregular migrants entering was 52,530; 85 per cent had arrived only through small boats. Since 2020, migrants have been arriving at a higher rate due to the ease of COVID-19 restrictions. The number of illegally arriving people using small boats has only been increasing. 

Second, the UK's Rwanda plan. In 2021, the government introduced a plan to restrict the entry of illegal migrants. Later, the Nationality and Borders Bill was adopted in 2021, declaring irregular entry of migrants into the UK as a criminal offence. During 2022-23, the move faced legal drawbacks when the deportation to Rwanda was opposed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and blocked by the UK Supreme Court. In 2024, the House of Lords negotiated with the UK government to form an independent monitoring group to examine if Rwanda was safe. The government's pursuit overrode this to have made the required modifications with a key aim to legalize the deportation plan.

Third, Tory's ceaseless efforts. Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed the initial plan to prevent illegal migration. Introduced as a Nationality and Borders Bill in 2022, it was modified as an Illegal Migration Bill in 2023 when the first deportation was suspended by the European Court of Human Rights interim decision. This was possible when former home secretary Suella Braverman revived the Bill by allowing the removal of illegal asylum seekers to a "safe third country" without an option of re-entry into the UK. Following the UK Supreme Court decision block, the conservative party continues to push against the declaration of Rwanda as a safe country amid the legal challenges. The government's latest law attempts to legislate away from the stated facts and declare Rwanda safe to send asylum seekers despite the 2023 ruling. The law obliges the UK courts and civil servants to "conclusively" treat Rwanda as safe. It directs the judges and immigration officials to consider the same while severely limiting access to appeals and remedies. 
 
Fourth, national and international responses. At the international level, the government's move on the Rwanda plan is considered a "blatant disregard" of international laws and human rights, triggering international condemnation. Human rights activists have called the bill "inhuman" and impracticable. In the case of the legal critics, they have observed it as a corrosion of the UK's reputation for the rule of law. Within the UK and the Tories, a clear division has been visible between the left and right inside Tory, where the right group has strongly greenlighted for deportation. A moderate group within the party called the bill "went too far." Meanwhile, the Labour Party vowed to remove the law if it were adopted.

In perspective
First, Safety of Rwanda Bill a lone boat at sea. There are three real-time barriers to the continuity of the Bill. Although the UK government has overridden the Bill through the House of Lords to insist on reconsidering Rwanda as a safe place for reputation, the UK Supreme Court and the ECHR can pose legal barriers deterring from executing the plan. Legal challenges aside, the UK government's push is politically strong, while the financial cost budget of giving GBP 370 million over five years to Rwanda to prove it as a safe place remains in a grey zone. Lastly, migration has become a long-term component in winning votes for the Tories against the Labour Party in the upcoming elections. Labour Party's stance on scrapping the law, even if passed, places the existence of the long-battled Bill into an uncertain zone.
 
Second, the UK's undermining of human rights. The conservative party's relentless effort to reduce migrant entries and override the UK's Supreme Court rule will face legal challenges. Any deportation attempts are likely to trigger further legal challenges, making it dubious for deporting large numbers of asylum seekers to Rwanda. Legal challenges are expected, especially in removing the individual removals. The rigor to legalize the plan indicates a desperate and divided Tory's trying hard to close the polling gap against the Labour Party.


Ecuador: Overwhelming support for a referendum on strict security measures 
Dhriti Mukherjee 

In the news
On 20 April, Ecuadoreans overwhelmingly voted in favour of a referendum on tough new security measures. The National Electoral Council's tally showed that around 60 to 73 per cent of voters supported the referendum, which included 11 questions, including expanding military powers and tightening gun control. Nine of the 11 proposals received a "yes" vote.

Following the voting, Noboa stated, "We've defended the country." Now, we will have more tools to fight against the delinquent and restore peace to Ecuador's families." Former President Rafael Correa, who is now part of the opposition, said that his party would support the "fruits of the referendum" as that is a "mandate from the people."

Issues at large
First, an overview of the referendum. Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa proposed the referendum as part of his efforts to combat the deteriorating security situation in the country, which has made it one of the most dangerous places in the region. Of the 11 questions, eight focused on insecurity, corruption, international arbitrage, and labour contracts. Five questions are on the level of the constitutional amendment, of which the most important is allowing the armed forces to assist the police in combating organized crime. The primary focus of the referendum was on ramping up security measures to help the situation in the country, as the extradition of wanted criminals and longer sentences for terrorism were also included. The remaining six questions involve legal reforms, including penalties for offences relating to organized crime and stricter gun laws. Two controversial economic proposals - allowing workers to be contracted by the hour and recognizing international arbitrage were rejected by voters. The government spokesperson Roberto Izuerita explained that the referendum would "establish some permanent mechanisms, breaking the cycle of enacting emergency decrees and then going back to business as usual."
 
Second, a background to the referendum. Ecuador has traditionally been one of the most peaceful countries in Latin America, but recent waves of violence have quickly led to a deteriorating security situation. This referendum, in particular, came after Ecuador's most-wanted prisoner, Fito, escaped jail, after which gunmen stormed a live television broadcast in January, and inmates escaped after prison riots in six jails. Noboa then declared a 60-day emergency, deployed the military to the streets, and initiated an "internal armed conflict" against 22 gangs. He also vowed that the government would take matters into its own hands following this string of incidents. While this is the immediate background, organized crime and gang violence play a broader overall role.

Third, an analysis of Daniel Noboa's policies. Noboa's election campaign was characterized by promises to fight violence by creating jobs, addressing corruption, and introducing stricter laws to combat crime. His decisive action against the criminal organizations involved in the spate of violence in January, which led to homicides dropping by over 30 per cent in January compared to the previous month, led to an increase in his popularity. Further, the raid on Mexico's embassy in Quito to arrest former Ecuadorian Vice President Jorge Glas, who was facing embezzlement charges, showed that he was not afraid to take an aggressive approach. While the raid received mass regional and international criticism, Noboa remained unwavering and said the security crisis in the country called for "exceptional decisions." However, a surge in extortion and kidnapping cases in February shows that his policies may be aggressive but have also not been sustainable in achieving their objectives.
 
Fourth, drug politics and gangs. Gangs with links to transnational cartels have been blamed for the rising insecurity. Though Ecuador is situated between Peru and Colombia, two of the world's largest cocaine producers, for the longest time, it acted as a transit country that remained unaffected by armed conflict. In the 1990s, the country's drug trade was controlled by Colombia's FARC group; FARC's demobilization in 2016 created a power vacuum that invited Mexican and Venezuelan cartels to make use of Ecuador's ports. Murder rates have more than quadrupled since 2018, with two mayors being killed in the week before the referendum. Further, there have been allegations accusing the state of abetting the gangs.

In perspective
First, Daniel Noboa's intentions. Noboa's proposed policies and subsequent measures before and after becoming the president have been directed at improving the country's security landscape. While he has consistently put forth the message that he intends to significantly better the situation, these policies also helped him achieve and maintain popularity. He is finishing the term of former President Guillermo Lasso; however, he is expected to run for a full term in the elections next February. Thus, the referendum can be viewed as strategically timed in a way that allows him to maintain popularity among voters.
 
Second, mixed public response. Despite the referendum receiving overwhelming support, the sentiments are not completely positive. Some voters have questioned whether the referendum indicates a shift towards "manu dura" or "iron fist" policies, popular in Latin American countries such as El Salvador. The political group Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) accused the government of using the referendum to further Noboa's political interests. Human rights groups have also raised concerns that the referendum may be used to hide human rights abuses against suspected criminals and that the increased use of the military could result in violent clashes with civilians landing in the crossfire.


This Week In History
21 April 1526: The First Battle of Panipat leads to the emergence of the Mughal Empire in India
Karthik Manoharan

On 21 April 1526, the troops of Babur, a Timurid descendant from Central Asia, met those of Ibrahim Lodhi in Panipat, leading to the defeat of the Lodhi dynasty and the establishment of the Mughal empire in India.

Babur, Lodhi and the Road to Panipat
Babur inherited a place called Fergana after Timur's big empire broke up. But Fergana was caught between two strong neighbours: the Safavids from Iran and the Uzbeks from Central Asia. Babur had a tough time surviving between them. He kept winning and losing Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan. Finally, in 1504, he settled in Kabul. While in Kabul, Babur heard about India and got curious. From 1504 to 1524, he attacked India's northwest frontier four times. But his main job was to control the troublesome Pathan tribes in Afghanistan, especially the Yusufzais.

By 1512, Babur gave up on Samarkand. He started thinking about a new empire across the Indus River in India. He thought it was his right because his ancestor Timur had conquered those lands before. Babur was quoted as saying: "I had never ceased to think of the conquest of Hindustan." His relentless pursuit led him to invade India, and the latter's political unrest provided an opportunity for his ambitions. Following the death of Sikandar Lodi in 1517, Ibrahim Lodi ascended to the throne amidst a politically unstable North India. During this period, Daulat Khan Lodi, the powerful Afghan chief and Governor of Punjab, engaged in a prolonged conflict with Babur over the region of Bhera. However, recognizing Ibrahim Lodi's authoritarian rule, Daulat Khan and his son Dilawar Khan extended a deceitful invitation to Babur, urging him to overthrow the tyrant. Babur, sceptical of Daulat Khan's true intentions, faced him in battle when the latter marched against him in Lahore in 1525 with a significant force. Despite the odds, Babur emerged victorious and pardoned Daulat Khan upon surrendering. 

Exploiting this victory, Babur crossed the Indus River and swiftly conquered the Punjab province within three weeks. This irked Ibrahim Lodi, setting the stage for the landmark First Battle of Panipat on 21 April 1526.

The Battle of Panipat, April 1526
Situated near Panipat in present-day Haryana, the First Battle of Panipat witnessed Ibrahim Lodi's massive force, boasting 100,000 men and 1,000 elephants, against Babur's modest army of merely 15,000 men. Although outnumbered, Babur's ingenious war tactics, such as Tulghuma (a division of the military into different units) and Araba (cart-mounted cannons), demonstrated his strategic superiority.

Babur also benefitted from the expertise of two master gunners from the Ottoman Empire. Their deployment of gunpowder in battle created chaos among Lodi's forces, causing the elephants to stampede their soldiers. Babur's men skillfully encircled Lodi's army, leaving them trapped and with no escape route. Despite fighting valiantly with a mere 5,000 men, Lodi met his demise. Babur attributed his victory not only to his gunmen but also to the prowess of his archers.

The Rise of the Mughal Empire
The resounding victory at the First Battle of Panipat opened the gates for the mighty Mughal rule in India. With Delhi and Agra under his dominion, Babur tapped into Lodi's treasury, alleviating his financial burdens. However, the Mughals faced intense hostility from the people of Delhi and Agra, who resisted the rule of a descendant of Timur, given the bitter memories of Timurid invasions. Many of Babur's men were also unprepared for long-term settlement in India. Nevertheless, Babur remained resolute in his vision of building a mighty empire, relying on India's vast resources.

The First Battle of Panipat became the turning point that allowed him to lay the foundation for the illustrious Mughal Empire. While faced with initial resistance and challenges, Babur's determination and strategic brilliance enabled him to create an empire that would flourish for the next three centuries. His triumph at Panipat marked a milestone in the history of India, forever altering its political and cultural landscape.

After the first Battle of Panipat in 1526, Babur employed various strategies to consolidate his empire. Military conquests saw him capture Delhi and Agra, securing his authority in the region. Diplomatic alliances were forged with local rulers, gaining their support and curbing resistance. Administrative reforms established a centralized system, ensuring efficient governance and tax collection. Babur embraced cultural diversity, patronizing art, literature, and architecture to foster unity. Economic development initiatives included infrastructure improvement and promotion of trade and agriculture. Babur also meticulously planned for succession, grooming his son, Humayun, for leadership. 

All the above efforts led to the formation of the Mughal Empire in India.


Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Regional Roundups

Akriti Sharma, Rohini Reenum, Akhil Ajith, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Dhriti Mukherjee, and Shamini Velayutham

East and Southeast Asia
China: 110,000 evacuated after floods in the Southeast province
On 22 April, BBC reported on the massive floods in China. The Chinese authorities have evacuated more than 110,000 people from Guangdong. This catastrophe is said to be due to the heavy rains in China's most populated region. It is estimated that four people have died, while ten are still missing. The water levels are dangerously high as the rivers burst out of their banks. Guangdong is part of the Pearl River delta, a low-lying river prone to floods due to storms and rising sea levels. The worst hit were Guangzhou, Shaoguan and Heyuan. Xinhua News reported that currently, there are 25,800 people in the shelters. The estimated loss after dozens of homes across the region collapsed and damaged is USD 19.8 million. 
 
China: US Annual Human Rights Report on exploitation of Uyghur Muslims
On 22 April, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken launched the Annual Human Rights Report by the US State Department. Blinken highlighted the condition of Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region and called the issue "genocidal crimes against humanity." The report, while including atrocities occurring in Myanmar and Sudan, wrote extensively on Chinese violations throughout several decades. The report said: "continues to carry out genocide, crimes against humanity, forced labour and other human rights violations against predominantly Muslim Uygurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups." The report comes ahead of Blinken's visit to China, where he expected to make remarks on unfair economic practices and human rights issues in China.

China: Local media criticise US bill on forceful divestment of TikTok
On 22 April, Chinese media criticized the Bill passed by the US House of Representatives, forcing the company to disinvest from TikTok. The US House fast-tracked the legislation and asked the ByteDance company to divest from the ownership of the popular social media app in 12 months. The company is now forced to sell TikTok even though they said they would fight in court, said TikTok's head of policy in America Micheal Beckerman. While the Chinese government did not respond or comment, the Chinese media have voiced concerns over the prejudiced action. CGTN, a Chinese state-run English newspaper, called the divestment of TikTok "Sinophobia," and opinion also inferred that the Bill exposed the weakness of the US and the lack of confidence they have. The op-ed also said that it is apparent that any non-American entity poses a threat to US dominance in any sector, and that is when the government intervenes and makes it political to rearrange the rules, said David Gosset's piece in CGTN. 
 
China: An aide to European parliament member arrested on Chinese espionage
On 23 April, German Police arrested an aide to the far-right member of the European Parliament, suspected of spying for China. German prosecutors announced Jian G's involvement in sharing the European Parliament's sensitive information with China's Ministry of State Security (MSS). The arrest comes before the upcoming EU elections in June. Media reports indicate that the aide was employed by Maximilian Krah, a lead candidate for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party for the upcoming European Parliament election. Germany's interior minister Nancy Faeser said the "spying allegations were serious and are an attack from inside the European Parliament." The arrest comes after German Police arrested three others suspected of spying for MSS.
 
South Asia
Pakistan: Suicide attack in Karachi targets Japanese nationals
On 19 April, a suicide attack targeting Japanese nationals in Karachi resulted in the killing of a security guard. DIG East Azfar Mahesar stated that "all five Japanese remained safe. A police official said that the attack was a "failed operation" as the militants had mistakenly assumed that the Japanese workers were Chinese nationals. President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the attack.
 
Pakistan: Prime Minister wants to ramp up anti-smuggling efforts
On 19 April, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif instructed authorities to accelerate the nationwide drive against smuggling in Pakistan while chairing a meeting to curb smuggling. He appreciated Army Chief General Asim Munir's cooperation with the government in combating smuggling and the investigation committee headed by AD Khawaja for identifying elements involved in using the Afghan Transit Trade for smuggling. 

Pakistan: Security forces kill three terrorists and injure another in Balochistan
On 23 April, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated that as part of an intelligence-based operation in Balochistan's Pishin District, security forces killed three terrorists. After an "intense fire exchange," three terrorists were killed, and another was injured and was later "identified as an Afghan national." A large number of arms, ammunition, and explosives were recovered. The ISPR asserted that Pakistan's security forces, "in step with the nation, remain determined to thwart attempts of sabotaging peace, stability and progress of Balochistan."

Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa
Israel: Air strikes kill five as the government plans for a military operation in Rafah
On 25 April, five people were killed and several wounded in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah. Separately, on 24 April, Israeli government spokesperson David Mencer said that the government is "moving ahead" with its "military operation" in Rafah. On 23 April, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) issued a warning to people in the Beit Lahia area of northern Gaza to relocate to other parts of Gaza as Israel plans to commence its ground invasion. On 22 April, seven people were killed, and others were injured in an air strike that hit the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. 
 
Yemen: Houthis target the US and Israeli ships
On 25 April, according to Al Jazeera, the Houthi rebels targeted US and Israeli vessels. On 24 April, in a video address, Houthi's spokesperson Yahya Saree asserted that the group had hit the Maersk Yorktown cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. Meanwhile, the US military said that Houthis had launched ballistic missiles from Yemen toward the ship that had 18 US nationals and four Greek crew members. A US Central Command (CENTCOM) stated: "There were no injuries or damage reported by US, coalition, or commercial ships." Separately, the Greek Ministry of National Defence asserted that its military ship intercepted two drones in the Red Sea. 

Syria: Rocket attacks on US military base
On 22 April, according to Iraqi security sources, five rockets were fired from Zummar, a town in Iraq, towards a US military base in northeastern Syria. The attack on US forces started in October 2023 to respond to an Israeli attack on Palestinians; however, since early February, the Iran-backed groups halted their attacks on US troops. The attack was followed by Iraq's Prime Minister's visit to the US, where he met President Joe Biden. Iraq's Kataib Hezbollah, part of the Islamic Resistance, issued a statement saying Iraqi armed groups have decided to resume attacks on US forces in the country. According to the Iraqi security media cell, the Iraqi forces "launched a wide-ranging search and inspection operation targeting the perpetrators near the Syrian border, pledging to bring them to justice."
 
Iraq: Attack on a military base kills one and injures eight 
On 20 April, according to the army, one person was killed and eight injured in a blast at a military base in Iraq used by the Iran-aligned Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF). The PMF stated that the attack targeted the Kalsu military base located in the south of Baghdad. The PMF, in a statement, said: "American aggression bombed the Kalso [Kalsu] military base which is located near the town of Iskandariya." The US military denied the claims over the airstrike. 

Lebanon: Drone attacks by Hezbollah and Israel 
On 23 April, Hezbollah said that it had fired "Katyusha rockets" towards the army headquarters in northern Israel, retaliating to the latter's raids targeting the villages in southern Lebanon. Separately, the Israeli military said that it had carried out attacks using its fighter jets in south Lebanon, targeting five Hezbollah infrastructures in Yaroun village, situated near the border with north Israel. On 22 April, according to Israeli armed forces, one of their drones, which was staging "an incursion" inside Lebanese airspace, had been "taken down by a surface-to-air missile." The armed forces further claimed that "it is continuing to operate in Lebanese airspace to carry out IDF missions to protect the state of Israel." On the same day, Hezbollah asserted that it had intercepted an Israeli Hermes 450 drone on the outskirts of Aaichiyeh village in southern Lebanon.
 
East Africa: Heavy rains cause casualties in Kenya and Tanzania
On 24 April, BBC reported on heavy floods in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. According to the UN, at least 32 people were killed, and 40,000 others were displaced. UN official in Nairobi, Edwin Sifuna, stated: "The situation in Nairobi has escalated to extreme levels. The County Government, for all its efforts, is overwhelmed. We need all national emergency services mobilized to save lives." Meanwhile, in Tanzania, at least 58 people were killed, and 100,000 others were displaced. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), or the "Indian Niño", has caused heavy rain in East Africa. 

Nigeria: Hosts counterterrorism summit
On 22 April, Nigeria hosted the counterterrorism summit in the capital, Abuja—the summit aimed at enhancing West Africa's response to increasing Islamist insurgency in the region. Nigeria's National Security Advisor, Aliyu Gusau, stated that the summit aims to initiate an African-led solution to the insurgency. Meanwhile, three countries which are affected by the insurgency, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, did not attend the summit. 
 
Niger: Protest demanding immediate withdrawal of US troops
On 22 April, BBC reported that hundreds of people protested in the Agadez region of Niger, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the 1000 US troops. The protests came two days after the US agreed to withdraw its troops from the country. BBC quoted the protester telling AFP media: "Our message is clear: American soldiers, pack your bags and go home." The protesters were carrying the flags of Russia, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Following the series of coups in the region, the military governments ended ties with the West and turned to Russia for its fight against insurgency. 

Mali: Jihadis abduct 100 civilians 
On 22 April, BBC reported that at least 100 people were kidnapped by jihadists the previous week in the Mopti region. BBC quoted the residents who told the AFP media that the jihadists hijacked three buses and forced them to drive in the direction of a forest between the regions of Bandiagara and Bankass. Recently, the Mopti region has been under frequent attacks by Islamist militants. Several civil society organizations in the region have been staging protests against the junta's inaction on the increasing insecurity in the region. 
 
Burkina Faso: 220 civilians killed by the military, says HRW report
On 25 April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that 220 civilians, including at least 56 children, were killed by the Burkinabe army. The group reported that the army killed 179 people in Soro village and 44 others in Nondin village. The group described the attack as "the worst army abuse" in the country in a decade. The residents claimed that the mass killings were in retaliation to the allegations of the villagers aiding Islamist militants. The executive director of HRW, Tirana Hassan, stated: "The massacres in Nondin and Soro villages are just the latest mass killings of civilians by the Burkina Faso military in their counterinsurgency operations." The Burkinabe government has not yet commented on the attack. 

Europe and the Americas
Ukraine: US Senate approves foreign aid bill worth USD 95 billion
On 22 April, Deutsche Welle reported on the upcoming vote in the US Senate on a major aid package to Ukraine. According to the report, the vote is expected to be in favour as the House of Representatives approved the aid with two-party support. The aid includes military assistance; out of USD 95 billion, USD 61 billion will be allotted to Ukraine. In a phone conversation between the US President, Joe Biden, and Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Biden assured to send the assistance "quickly." At the same time, Zelenskyy indicated Ukraine's expectation for speedy delivery and "powerful" shipment to boost its air defence, including long-range and artillery capabilities. On 23 April, the US Senate approved the long-hauled military aid to Ukraine through the USD 95 billion foreign aid bill. This means delivery of weapons and support to Ukraine and Israel worth billions. The Bill was passed with a vote of 79:18 ratio. In a statement, Biden assured to sign the Bill into law on 24 April and reiterated how the Bill will help meet his pledges to NATO and Ukraine. The passing of the Bill becomes a significant step as Ukraine faces the crunch over the air defence system and ammunition. 

Europe: Recorded the warmest in three years, reports Copernicus
On 22 April, Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) released a report indicating Europe has witnessed the peak temperature in the warmest three years since 2020 and ranked 10th warmest since 2007. It found a record number of largest wildfires, severe marine heatwaves, and devasting floods. According to the report, one-third of Europe experienced a "high flood threshold", impacting more than 1.6 million people. At the same time, weather and climate-related events resulted in damage of EUR 13.4 billion. Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Celeste Saulo, said: "The climate crisis is the biggest challenge of our generation. The cost of climate action may seem high, but the cost of inaction is much higher." Due to the rising temperatures and longing heat stress, the report estimates a higher risk of health conditions such as exhaustion and heatstroke. 
 
Colombia: Protestors gather in Bogota against proposed social reforms
On 21 April, tens of thousands of Colombians took to the streets of Bogota to protest against Colombian President Gustavo Petro's social reform agenda, with large rallies held in other cities. These protests gained momentum after Petro proposed potentially rewriting the constitution to spur social reforms blocked by Congress and conservative groups. Earlier in April, a Senate committee rejected a proposed health reform seeking to expand access to healthcare and strip power from insurers; the government will propose a new version of this reform after a new legislative session commences in July. Petro described the protests as a "soft coup" with the main goal of shouting "Petro Out" and toppling the government. He raised a call for a pro-government march on 1 May. While Petro is the first leftist to govern a country usually run by conservative elites, his approval rate has drastically dropped, and 70 per cent of Colombians have said that the internal situation is "getting worse."

Mexico: Two more mayoral candidates found dead, bringing the total to 17
On 19 April, two mayoral candidates were found dead in different parts of Mexico, bringing the total number of candidates killed in the run-up to the presidential, congressional, and local polls to 17. In the state of Tamaulipas, Noe Ramos Ferretiz, who was seeking re-election as mayor of Ciudad Mante for a coalition of opposition parties National Action Party and Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was stabbed. PRI leader Alejandro Moreno condemned the "cowardly assassination" and asserted: "We will not allow violence to decide these elections." Separately, Alberto Garcia, who was running for mayor of San Jose Independencia in Oaxaca, was found dead a day after he was reported missing. The state electoral board condemned the "killing" and said crimes of this nature "should not occur during elections."
 
Haiti: Unicef head expresses concern over the situation of children in gang-controlled areas
On 22 April, during a meeting of the UN Security Council (UNSC), the head of Unicef, Catherine Russell, stated that three million children in Haiti require humanitarian assistance with gang violence currently interrupting aid delivery. The "catastrophic" situation growing worse "by the day" led to essential services collapsing in many areas, while a translational presidential council is yet to be sworn in. Though gangs claimed that their main objective was ousting Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, the gangs have continued attacking the police force even after the formation of the council. They control around 90 per cent of Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince and have looted universities and libraries and torched pharmacies. As per Unicef, 2.7 million people live in places under gang control. Russell told the UN that "children are being injured or killed," with some being recruited and others "joining armed groups out of sheer desperation." She cited recent Unicef data, as per which "30 per cent to 50 per cent of armed groups in Haiti currently have children within their ranks."


Newsmakers This Week
The US Military Assistance Bill to Ukraine, Elections in the Maldives,
and Protests in Niger against the US troops

Sayeka Ghosh, Diya Madhavan and Vetriselvi Baskaran

The US Military Assistance Bill to Ukraine 
On 20 April 2024, the US Congress approved a massive 60.84 billion USD aid package for Ukraine, replenishing American weapons stocks and providing humanitarian assistance. In addition to the Ukraine aid, the bills provide 26.38 billion USD for Israel, including 9.1 billion USD for humanitarian needs, and 8.12 billion USD for the Indo-Pacific region, including Taiwan. The legislation also includes measures targeting China's TikTok, provisions for transferring seized Russian assets to Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organizations that traffic the drug fentanyl. 

The passage of the four-bill package comes amid intense debates within the Republican party, with hardliners voicing strong opposition to further Ukraine aid, citing the 34 trillion USD national debt. They repeatedly threatened to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson. On the bill, the Speaker said: "It's not the perfect legislation, it's not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House...This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations." Former President Donald Trump, who wields significant influence over the party, voiced support for Johnson and expressed the importance of Ukraine's survival for the United States in a social media post, contradicting hardline Republicans' stance. 

The approval of the aid package underscores the United States' ongoing commitment to supporting Ukraine's resistance against Russian aggression despite internal political divisions. As the conflict continues, the impact of this aid on the battlefield and the broader geopolitical landscape remains to be seen.

Protests in Niger against the US presence
On 20 April, according to an Al Jazeera report, following the discussion between the US deputy secretary of state and Niger's Prime Minister, the US announced to leave Niger, stating "orderly and responsible" planning would be taken. Around 650 US personnel to work in Niger. The US has built airbases for espionage ISIL (ISIS) fighters and Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). 

The above development followed an early decision of Niger over the suspension of a military agreement with the US after accusing it of interfering in the country's internal affairs and trying to control its foreign relations and welcoming the Russian military. On 17 March 2024, the BBC quoted Niger's military spokesperson Colonel Amadou Abdramane: "The US presence on the territory of the Republic of Niger is illegal and violates all the constitutional and democratic rules which would require the sovereign people to be consulted on the installation of a foreign army on its territory." Since March 2024, demonstrations have asked to withdraw the US troops and support Russian troops as part of the military agreement aiming to boost Niger-Russia security cooperation. Earlier, in January 2024, according to a Russian Defence Ministry statement, both countries "noted the importance of developing Russian-Niger relations in the defence sector and agreed to intensify joint actions to stabilize the situation in the region." Niger received its first Russian troops on 12 April. 

Since the coup in July 2023, Niger has changed its allegiance from the West and has leaned on Russia and China. Niger cut the military and diplomatic ties with France, while the European Union had halted security cooperation. Niger also left the ECOWAS and formed a military alliance with Burkina Faso and Mali. All of the above will strengthen the military's hold and delay Niger's return to civilian rule. Niger's Islamist militants would welcome the withdrawal of the US would; they could potentially exploit the recent developments in the country to regroup, reorganise, and even expand their presence in the region. For Niger's military, this would be another challenge.

Maldives: Elections give a landslide victory to President Mohamed Muizzu's party
On 21 April 2024, the People’s National Congress (PNC) of Maldives, considered pro-China, bagged a massive victory in the parliamentary elections. President Mohammed Muizzu’s party witnessed a landslide victory, reinforcing his hold on power. The PNC has won 71 out of 93 parliamentary seats. The PNC entered a coalition with the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the main opposition, led by former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, has secured only 12 seats. In the previous elections, the MDP secured a supermajority in the parliament, winning 65 out of 87 seats. MDP chairperson Fayyaz Ismail appreciated the PNC's phenomenal victory but also promised that it would continue to “hold it accountable as a responsible opposition."

Initially scheduled for March 2024, the election was shifted to 21 April 2024 after President Mohammed Muizzu ratified the postponement bill by the People’s Majilis, passed on 28 February. The election occurred amidst a disagreement between Mohammed Muizzu and the Maldivian legislative body, which was against some of his initiatives, including the appointment of three of his nominated cabinet members. 

According to Ahmed Mohammed’s (Maldives’s Ambassador to India during President Yameen’s term) statement for The Hindu, the outcome of the general elections only point to a recurring trend observed in the past two elections and there is also widespread belief among the citizens that an absolute majority is to be secured by the government in order to sustain progress, development and prosperity.


About the authors
Rohini Reenum is a PhD Scholar at NIAS. Padmashree Anandhan and Anu Maria Joseph are Research Associates at NIAS. Femy Francis, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham and Akhil Ajith are Research Assistants at NIAS. Vetriselvi Baskaran is a Postgraduate Student at the University of Madras. Diya Madhavan and Sayeka Ghosh are Undergraduate Students at St Joseph's University, Bangalore. Karthik Manoharan is a PhD Scholar at the Department of History, Loyola College, Chennai.

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