Candles lit by activists protesting the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi are placed outside Saudi Arabia’s consulate, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 25, 2018 (AP photo by Lefteris Pitarakis).

When FBI agents first showed up at Masih Alinejad’s Brooklyn home to warn her that she was the target of an Iranian state-backed kidnapping plot, she was incredulous at first. As a journalist and outspoken critic of the regime in Tehran, she is accustomed to threats and harassment. But the brazenness of the plot was startling. “What surprised me is the fact that the regime felt confident enough to resort to kidnapping me here, on American soil,” Alinejad told me in a direct message on Twitter. “I used to think I was safe here.”  According to an indictment unsealed earlier this month, […]

A protest in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati city, Philippines, July 12, 2021 (AP photo by Aaron Favila).

On April 21, a suicide bomber struck the four-star Serena Hotel in Quetta, Pakistan, killing five people and wounding 12 more. Initial reports indicated the target was Nong Rong, the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, who was staying at the Serena but was not present at the time. The Tehrik-i-Taliban, or TTP, a jihadi terrorist group active along the Pakistani-Afghan border, later claimed responsibility for the attack, vaguely saying it had targeted “locals and foreigners” staying at the hotel.  A few months later, in mid-July, another suicide attack targeted a convoy of Chinese workers headed to the construction site of a hydroelectric dam […]

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, April 23, 2021 (pool photo by Francois Walschaerts via AP).

The European Union issued its second annual report on the rule of law in EU member states last week, singling out Hungary and Poland for harsh criticism.  “Risks of clientelism, favouritism and nepotism” are unaddressed in the former, the report reads, while the independence of the judiciary and political pressure on the media are a concern in both. In one sense, this harsh rhetoric only served to underscore the EU’s failure to meaningfully confront these illiberal regimes and prod them to change course.  But recent signs indicate that Brussels is ready to challenge the budding authoritarians in its midst by […]

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at the Mercosur Summit in Santa Fe, Argentina, July 17, 2019 (AP photo by Gustavo Garello).

Relations between the four members of South America’s Mercosur trade bloc—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay—are at their worst since the group’s establishment three decades ago. For months now, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez has been blocking a demand by Brazil and Uruguay to reduce Mercosur’s external common tariffs, in an attempt to protect domestic companies and prevent even further disruption to an economy mired in high inflation, currency problems and a prolonged recession. Frustrated, Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou announced earlier this month that he would seek trade deals outside of Mercosur, which is prohibited by the bloc’s rules. Uruguay’s decision is not […]

Artists and activists pose for photos next to a mural at the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity, CICIG, headquarters in Guatemala City, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 (AP photo by Moises Castillo).

The word corruption tends to evoke images of self-dealing politicians and bureaucrats, and for good reason. In Central America, graft is so endemic among public officials that it constitutes a “root cause” of out-migration from the region, according to U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.  But the private sector can play just as central a role in sustaining corruption. In recent years, traditional business elites in Central America have bankrolled efforts to roll back progress made by prosecutors and civil society groups to strengthen the rule of law.  This poses a key challenge for the Biden administration. While it has shown […]

Former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo attends a mass at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, June 20, 2021 (AP photo by Leo Correa).

After being away for a decade while on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, former President Laurent Gbagbo returned home on June 17 to Cote d’Ivoire, where he was greeted by jubilant crowds. A few months earlier, on March 31, ICC judges confirmed the acquittal of Gbagbo and his co-defendant, former Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude. They had faced charges of inciting violence and committing human rights abuses during the electoral violence that took place in the aftermath of Cote d’Ivoire’s disputed 2010 election.  The 76-year-old Gbagbo continued to exercise influence even during his absence, and […]

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin attends a Parliament session in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 13, 2020 (AP photo by Vincent Thian).

Southeast Asia has in recent weeks become an epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indonesia is recording the highest number of confirmed new cases per day in the world, and even one-time success stories like Thailand and Vietnam are experiencing major outbreaks. Myanmar, which remains mired in crisis following a coup in February, is suffering from the unchecked spread of the virus. And Malaysia is reporting roughly 12,000 cases per day, the highest per capita average in the region. But unlike every other Southeast Asian state save Myanmar, Malaysia’s response is being hampered by chaotic governance and persistent political infighting. With Parliament suspended since January due to a controversial […]

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, center, and other EU officials speak during a press conference at EU headquarters in Brussels, July 14, 2021 (AP photo by Valeria Mongelli).

The European Commission last week unveiled a package of climate policy proposals it dubbed “Fit for 55,” a nod to the European Union’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent relative to 1990 levels by 2030. While those proposals have now grabbed the spotlight, they are still subject to negotiation and potentially significant changes during the lengthy legislative process they will now undergo before becoming law.  With that in mind, it’s worth taking a looking at the legal framework from which those policy proposals emerged: a new climate law approved by the European Parliament and the European Council […]

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House, in Washington, July 19, 2021 (AP photo Andrew Harnik).

In early June, President Joe Biden issued a memorandum “establishing the fight against corruption as a core United States national security interest” and ordering a significant mobilization of government resources to address this issue. The move comes amid heightened public awareness of the threats to democracy and security posed by transnational corruption, mainly due to the Panama Papers leaks that began in 2016 as well as the various investigations into allegations of malfeasance against former President Donald Trump and his associates.  Yet while some federal agencies and departments have taken steps to turn Biden’s laudable rhetoric into reality, it still […]

Rwandan armed forces prepare to board a flight to Mozambique, at the airport in Kigali, Rwanda, July 10, 2021 (AP photo by Muhizi Olivier).

A violent insurgency in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado is sparking fears that the area could become the next frontier for global jihadism in Africa. In recent years, young men, sometimes carrying the black flag of the Islamic State, have swept hundreds of thousands of people off their land in the natural gas-rich province. The militants’ attacks have often been marked by beheadings and mutilations, including of children.  All told, more than 3,000 people have been killed in the violence. Mozambican security forces have struggled to contain the insurgents, who in late March stormed the northern town of Palma, […]

Soldiers patrol during a military operation in Macarena, southern Colombia, Feb. 20, 2010 (AP photo by Fernando Vergara).

BOGOTA, Colombia—Carlos Martinez joined the Colombian military at the age of 17, a minor who had to obtain his parents’ written permission to enlist. “I didn’t have many options. There aren’t a lot of opportunities in this country for someone like me who grew up poor,” he said, “but war will always be profitable.” Martinez spent almost 10 years on active duty in the army, eventually joining an elite special forces unit that fought armed groups and drug traffickers in the Andean countryside. Colombia, which currently boasts some 250,000 active-duty armed forces personnel, produced millions of soldiers like Martínez during […]

The Red Sea port, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 14, 2020 (AP photo by Amr Nabil).

On June 30, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, announced a wide-ranging National Transport and Logistics Strategy. Billed as a “key pillar” of Riyadh’s sweeping development blueprint known as Vision 2030, the strategy calls for $147 billion in investments over nine years, including plans for a second national airline and new logistics zones. The operator of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Gateway Terminal also plans to spend $1.7 billion to expand its main port in Jeddah and invest in at least three international ports—with each investment totaling some $500 million—over the next five years.  Sustaining such international partnerships will be critical if […]

Looters outside a shopping center alongside a burning barricade in Durban, South Africa, July 12, 2021 (AP photo by Andre Swart).

South Africa is in flames over its graft-plagued former president. After the 79-year-old Jacob Zuma turned himself in to authorities to begin a 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court on July 8, violent protests and riots erupted in parts of the country, and at least 72 people have been killed in the unrest so far. Earlier this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed the military to the worst-hit parts of the country.  Underneath the riots and looting, Zuma’s prison sentence—which the Constitutional Court handed down in late June after he refused to testify before the official commission of inquiry charged […]

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado, March 2, 2021 (GDA photo via AP Images).

On June 14, the Costa Rican authorities conducted dozens of raids on private residences and public agencies as part of a sweeping anti-corruption investigation. The operation, whose targets included the office of the president’s main adviser, was a coordinated sting on a scale never seen before in a corruption case in Costa Rica. It was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of efforts by the Judicial Investigative Police and the Attorney General’s Office, which had been tapping phones and gathering evidence against a massive bribery ring involving government officials and public infrastructure contractors.  It is no exaggeration to […]

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during a news conference at the Grand Palais Ephemere in Paris, May 17, 2021 (pool photo by Sarah Meyssonnier via AP Images).

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok didn’t mince words about his country’s future during a press conference last month, putting his concerns about the growing tensions between the civilian and military sides of the fragile transitional government in existential terms. “The big question today is will Sudan exist or not exist,” he said. The week before, Hamdok delivered a rare televised address in which he warned the country could fall into civil war between multiple armed groups and different factions of the Sudanese military.  The alarming remarks come at a pivotal time for Sudan, which next month will mark the second […]

The border fence that separates Spain, left, and Morocco, right, as seen from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, June 3, 2021 (AP photo by Bernat Armangue).

CEUTA, Spain—In March 2020, Morocco closed its land borders around Spain’s North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, citing the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They have remained closed since, and with no indication of when they might reopen amid diplomatic tensions between Spain and Morocco, the two enclaves have been forced to confront their dependency on a newly assertive Morocco and come up with a radically different economic model. The economic picture in the enclaves, each of which hosts some 85,000 residents, has rarely been pretty. Today, about half the salaried workers in each are employed by […]

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido attends a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, May 28, 2021 (AP photo by Matias Delacroix).

Last week, the authoritarian government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced it would allow the country’s main opposition coalition to compete in regional and municipal elections that are scheduled for November, lifting an electoral ban that was first imposed in 2018. It was one of several concessions Maduro has made recently, signaling his desire to improve his global image and seek sanctions relief from the United States.  The lifting of the electoral ban on the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, came as government and opposition representatives prepare to restart direct negotiations, with a new round of Norway-brokered talks reportedly set to take […]

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