Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. President Donald Trump Signs Immigration Executive Order Meant to Curtail the Separation of Migrant Children from Parents
On June 20, President Donald Trump on signed an executive order designed to keep together immigrant families who have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border, while also retaining his administration’s so-called “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. “I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” President Trump said from the Oval Office, but at “the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border, but continue to be zero tolerance.” Trump’s executive order would keep most families together under the Department of Homeland Security, except in cases where an adult may pose a threat to a child. “You’re going to have a lot of happy people,” Trump further said as he signed the order. While the order could possibly work to quell the furor over the controversial practice of separating families at the border, it marks a stunning reversal for President Donald Trump, who has prided himself as being a hardline opponent of illegal immigration.
Vice President Mike Pence, who also appeared with Trump at the signing, said that the order would enable families to stay together in the immediate future, but added that it was still up to Congress to come up with a permanent solution, presumably as part of a larger immigration package. The executive order by President Donald Trump is certain to encounter legal challenges, much like President Obama’s 2014 immigration executive order. Some advocates will argue that children staying in detention centers violates the 1997 decision known as the Flores agreement. Although the Executive Order mandates that Attorney General Jeff Sessions request a US district court to modify the agreement, Trump acknowledged he could be headed for a fight. “There may be some litigation,” he conceded.
The separations at the border began earlier this year when Attorney General Jeff Sessions mandated that all people caught crossing into the US illegally be referred for criminal prosecution. Under that policy, adults were sent to jail under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security, while children have been held in facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Since the policy was implemented, over 2,000 children have been separated, according to government figures. The backlash, spurred by images of children crying, audio documenting the separation, and personal accounts from those experiencing it, was swift and intense and came from both sides of the aisle, as well as from international organizations and figures. Until June 19, the Trump Administration had been vociferously defending his immigration policy. President Trump insisted on June 18, that illegal immigrants were “infesting” the country, and asserted that the only other option was to release all the undocumented immigrants detained at the border. However, Trump insisted that his executive order was not a sign of his backing down. “The border’s just as tough,” he told reporters. “They can come in through ports of entry if they want. That’s a whole different story. And that’s coming in through a process, and the process is what we want.”
2. The US Withdraws from UN Human Rights Council, Alledging Anti-Israeli Bias
The Trump administration withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 19 in protest of what it perceives as an entrenched bias against Israel and a willingness to allow notorious human rights abusers as members. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who has sought major changes on the council throughout her tenure, issued a blistering critique of the panel, saying it had grown more callous over the past year and become a “protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.” She cited the admission of Congo as a member even as mass graves were being discovered there, and the failure to address human rights abuses in Venezuela and Iran. “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments,” she said during a joint appearance with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the department. “On the contrary. We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.” Haley went further to accuse governments with mediocre human rights records of seeking seats on the council to avoid scrutiny and then resisting proposals for reform. “When we made it clear we would strongly pursue council reform, these countries came out of the woodwork to oppose it,” Haley said. “Russia, China, Cuba, and Egypt all attempted to undermine our reform efforts this past year.”
The decision to leave the 47-nation body was more definitive than the lesser option of staying on as a nonvoting observer. It represents another retreat by the Trump administration from international groups and agreements whose policies it deems as out of sync with American interests on trade, defense, climate change and, human rights. Additionally, the decision leaves the council without the US playing a key role in promoting human rights around the world. “By withdrawing from the council, we lose our leverage and allow the council’s bad actors to follow their worst impulses unchecked — including running roughshod over Israel,” said Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House committee that oversees the State Department. “However, this administration’s approach when it sees a problem is to take the United States off the field,” he added. “That undermines our standing in the world and allows our adversaries to fill the void.”
The US is midway through a three-year term on the council, which is intended to denounce and investigate human rights abuses. A U.S. departure deprives Israel of its chief defender at a forum where Israel’s human rights record UN human rights chief slammed the Trump Administration’s policy of separating migrant parents from their children after they enter the United States at the Mexican border, calling it “unconscionable” and akin to child abuse.
3. Latest Efforts to Hold Talks on Ending Sudan Civil War Fail
The latest attempt at ending South Sudan’s five-year civil war failed on June 22, when President Salva Kiir rejected working again with rival Riek Machar after their first face-to-face meeting in almost two years. “This is simply because we have had enough of him,” government spokesman Michael Makuei said. The rivals met this week in neighboring Ethiopia at its prime minister’s invitation, shaking hands and being coaxed into an awkward embrace as they held direct talks. They shook hands again as regional heads of state and met to discuss the civil war in the world’s youngest nation. But it soon became clear that while South Sudan’s government was open to having the opposition in the vice president’s role, it would not accept Machar’s return to that post. Machar fled the country after new fighting broke out in the city of Juba in July 2016, ending a brief attempt at peace in which he returned to his role as Kiir’s deputy.
Opposition spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said “there was nothing agreed upon in the talks” but that the face-to-face meeting with South Sudan’s president was useful “because we are able to see violence in Salva’s eyes.” Gabriel also accused the East African regional bloc of favoring South Sudan’s government and putting its own interests ahead of “genuine peace,” adding: “This is completely disappointing.” The warring sides are to meet again on June 25 in Kenya. Machar will attend the Khartoum meeting, Makuei said. “We believe that peace is going to come in the coming one month or so,” South Sudan’s Cabinet affairs minister, Martin Elia Lomoro, told reporters even as observers expressed skepticism.
South Sudan’s civil war, which started just two years after the country won independence from Sudan, has continued despite multiple attempts at peace deals. Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have fled to create Africa’s largest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Millions of others still in the country are near famine, while the warring sides have been blamed for obstructing or slowing the delivery of desperately needed aid.
The latest attempt at a cease-fire in December was violated within hours. Both sides have been accused of widespread abuses such as gang rapes against civilians, including along ethnic lines. A number of South Sudan officials have been accused by human rights groups of profiting from the conflict and blocking the path to peace, and the US has threatened to withdraw aid to the country. Early this month the UN Security Council adopted a United States-sponsored resolution that threatens an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions six people, including the country’s defense chief, if fighting doesn’t stop and a political agreement is not reached. The resolution asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report to the council on that by June 30.
4. Canadian Parliament Approves Bill Legalizing Marijuana
On June 19, the Canadian parliament voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis, making Canada the first G7 country to legalize marijuana. The law regulates its cultivation, sets limits on possession and prohibits marketing that would encourage consumption. When the law comes into effect, Canada will be the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to make it legal to puff marijuana for pleasure. Bill Blair, a Liberal Party member of the Canadian Parliament, stated that if the bill is passed this week, marijuana could be legal by September, lining up with a late-summer schedule proposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month.
Concerns expressed about the bill by members of Parliament include how to keep marijuana away from children and how to address organized crime and traffic deaths related to marijuana use. The current bill restricts marijuana production, possession and sale to those over the age of 18. Canadian Senator Peter Harder acknowledged his colleagues’ reservations about the bill’s specifics in a statement on June 18. “Given the exceptional amount of work that went into the Senate’s study of this bill, I understand that some of these outcomes are frustrating for some,” he said. “I know that some of these frustrations are rooted in deeply held policy views and personal values and that much disagreement will not end with our vote on this message, whatever its result.”