This Was a Lousy Week for the Rule of Law in Hong Kong, Russia, and Brazil

Fair courts. Independent prosecutors. Clean police. Leaders who are held to account… These things are essential for a society to function under what we call rule of law. In a busy news week, three of the biggest stories in the world shared a common thread: the rule of law is in trouble.

After violent clashes in Hong Kong between police and activists, local legislators have postponed debate over a controversial new law that would permit the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. More protests are expected this weekend, but Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who enjoys the strong backing of China's leadership in Beijing, still intends to see the law through.

Spoiler: it's only a matter of time before she does. That will leave Hong Kongers subject to a mainland judicial system that is far more politicized and opaque than their local courts. What's more, Ms. Lam wants to dust off long-shelved proposals that would give Chinese authorities more leeway to crack down on dissent in the former British territory.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Kremlin responded to an unusually strong outcry over the bogus jailing of Moscow-based investigative journalist Ivan Golunov, by intervening to scrap the charges and fire two senior officers responsible for the arrest. That sounds like good news – and for Mr Golunov it most certainly is. But selective intervention by a Tsar-like president isn't at all the same thing as true rule of law. Both the arrest and subsequent intervention by President Vladimir Putin reinforce the pattern of arbitrary power that is one of Russia's biggest and most stubborn problems.

And sometimes the rule of law can suffer if prosecutors abuse that power. Over to Brazil, where the judge who heard trials in the massive "Lavo Jato" corruption investigation that's jailed hundreds of once-untouchable business leaders and politicians -- including the popular leftist former president Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva -- appears to have been improperly coordinating with prosecutors. That's according to leaked conversations published by The Intercept earlier this week. The revelations raise questions not only about Lula's conviction, but about the fairness and transparency of the whole probe. And it doesn't help that judge in question -- Sergio Moro -- is now Justice Minister under President Jair Bolsonaro, who cruised to victory in last year's presidential election after Lula was disqualified due to his conviction. Talk about an own-goal for the rule of law.

Every day thousands of people legally cross back and forth between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on their way to jobs, schools, doctor's appointments, shopping centers and the homes of family and friends. This harmonious exchange has taken place for more than 400 years, uniting neighbors through shared social ties, geography, history and, most importantly, an interlinked economy.

Beyond the people and goods, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez also converge in a cross-border flow of ideas, ambition and aspirations that have shaped the region for centuries. This forward-looking spirit is what attracted Microsoft to the region in 2017, when it launched Microsoft TechSpark to create new economic opportunities and help digitally transform established industries with modern software and cloud services. It's also why Microsoft announced on Monday that it is expanding the TechSpark El Paso program to include Ciudad Juárez and making a $1.5 million investment in the binational Bridge Accelerator. Read more about the TechSpark announcement here.

Foreign policy played a bigger role in last night's Democratic presidential debate than in previous ones, in part because of events that came on the heels of President Trump's surprise, and disastrous, withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria. Some candidates used the opportunity to play up their foreign policy bona fides, but not all of their punches landed cleanly. Here are some key takeaways.

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Will there be agreement, and will negotiations carry on if there is no agreement in the EU?

Lord William Hague: Well, they won't carry on if there is no agreement at the European Council in the next few days. But in the EU, while you always think of things going to the last minute, in fact they usually go beyond the last minute. And that could happen in this case where there could be political agreement, agreement in principle to a Brexit deal. But they'd have to have another European Council, and more detail hammering out the actual text of it before another summit on the 28th of October, which would mean some extension to Brexit.

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Since Syria's brutal civil war began eight years ago, millions of Syrians have fled their country to escape the bombs and bullets. But hundreds of thousands have been displaced within Syria's borders, where they languish in packed refugee camps. The al-Hol camp in northern Syria is sprawling, and of its nearly 70,000 residents, some 11,000 are family members of foreign ISIS fighters, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The surprise American withdrawal from northern Syria last week paved the way for Turkey and Syria's Bashar al-Assad to move in. Some 160,000 civilians have now fled the border region that Turkey is bombarding, deepening a humanitarian crisis in a stretch of Syria that had been relatively secure since the defeat of ISIS's self-declared caliphate back in March. Here's a look at the camps for displaced people in the area.

Mozambique's democracy test Mozambicans voted yesterday in an election that will test a fragile peace accord between the ruling Frelimo party, led by president Filipe Nyusi, and Renamo, a former rebel group-turned-opposition party. The two factions were on opposite sides of a Cold War-tinged civil war that killed an estimated 1 million people between 1977 and 1992. Frelimo, which has ruled Mozambique since independence, has been losing popularity due to a corruption scandal, but is likely to hold onto power at the national level. Renamo, which foreswore violence just two months ago in exchange for electoral reforms that will help the party, will be hoping to make regional gains that allow it to win some key governorships. Disputes over the final vote count and even outright fraud or violence are possible in coming days, particularly if Renamo fails to make its hoped-for gains.

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