CANVAS Weekly Update – February 26th, 2021


February 26, 2021

Dear friends,

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers U.S. airstrikes in Syria, Georgia’s escalating political crisis, and the current situation in Myanmar.

Conflict Update:

In Myanmar, protestors ordered a strike that shut businesses across the country to demonstrate dissatisfaction with the February 1st coup. Demonstrators have continued to gather nationwide despite the military’s threats of violence. More than 1,200 citizens of Myanmar were deported from Malaysia on Wednesday despite the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s decision to grant them a stay of deportation without explanation from the government. In Algeria on Monday, thousands of protestors commemorated the second anniversary of the country’s mass protest movement which was ended by the COVID-19 pandemic. The protestors marched again on Friday, possibly signaling the resumption of the protests. In Iraq, 5 protestors were killed and 175 were injured during clashes with security forces. The demonstrators are calling for justice for protesters killed since 2019 and for the removal of the governor. The conflict in Yemen saw its deadliest clash in three years with hundreds of fighters killed during a weeks-long Houthi offensive.

Coronavirus Update:

The WHO has announced that COVID deaths have dropped 20% in the past week and that their global vaccine-sharing initiative, COVAX, delivered its first shipment on Wednesday. The delivery marks a shift towards improved vaccine equality but preferential vaccinations for government officials have become a problem in multiplecountries. This week the EU was told to expect less than half the number of AstraZeneca vaccines it had been initially promised and the Philippines has announced that it will relax its ban on healthcare staff working in Germany and Britain if the two countries donate vaccines. In Greece, frustrations over the “suffocating” conditions in hospitals led to doctors engaging in a day-long strike. Vaccinations have begun in the following countries: Hungary, Senegal, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea.


The United States:

For the first time under the Biden administration, military force was used as President Biden ordered airstrikes over Eastern Syria, killing at least 22 people. The Pentagon claimed that the buildings targeted in Syria were connected to Iranian-backed militias and the rocket attack on U.S. personnel in Iraq; the attacks are thought to signal to Iran the tone of the administration. In domestic politics, the minimum wage hike to $15 an hour has been removed from the Covid-19 relief package as parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled its inclusion fell beyond the scope of budget reconciliation. President Biden has claimed he would work on a “standalone $15 minimum wage proposal”, although there is resistance to the motion, even from within the Democrat Party. In other news, the new Voting Rights Act of Virginia which hopes to ensure better voter protections and more accessible election processes has been approved. Meanwhile, the House has passed comprehensive legislation which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The LGBTQ+ rights protections are a success, however, the harassing comments of Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene towards Democrat Marie Newman and her transgender daughter caused controversy and rifts within the Republicans.



The Netherlands becomes the first EU state to accuse China of committing genocidein its treatment of Uighur peoples, the Chinese embassy has retorted that the motion was a smear campaign and an “outright lie”.  The decision came shortly after the Canadian government voted to accuse China of genocide with an overwhelming majority. In other news, Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry is currently verifying whether China is building potentially two missile bases near the border, one as close as 20km from the border. The information came to light as NGO South China Sea News published satellite images. In the South China Sea, China has responded to the US navy’s presence by completing a military exercise with 10 bombers; the drills are rising concerns over stability of the conflict regarding the disputed waters. Meanwhile, China’s economy is believed to double in size by 2035 meaning it could become the largest economy in the world and bypass the United States.


Hong Kong:

Hong Kong began administering the Chinese-ruled city’s first COVID-19 vaccinations this week; the program will eventually offer free vaccines to the entire population of 7.5 million. Residents will receive the vaccine developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac, a million doses of which were delivered to Hong Kong last week. A panel of Hong Kong experts found the Sinovac vaccine to have an efficacy rate of 62.3% after two doses, compared to the 92% efficacy of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. In other news, China plans to impose restrictionson Hong Kong’s electoral system in an attempt to disqualify candidates the Communist Party views as disloyal. The move could block democracy advocates from running for any elected office in Hong Kong. Xia Baolong, China’s director of Hong Kong and Macau affairs, said the central government wants Hong Kong to be governed only by “patriots” loyal to the Communist Party and that Beijing will not allow the Hong Kong government to rewrite the territory’s laws, as previously expected.



In response to reports of human rights violations and attacks on democracy in Zimbabwe, the European Union has reimposed an arms embargo and frozen the assets to state-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industries. The EU is concerned with the “proliferation of arrests and prosecutions of journalists, opposition actors and individuals expressing dissenting views, and the use by high-level officials of speech that could be interpreted as incitement to violence.”, and is hoping the sanctions will pressure the government to commit to human rights and the “recommendations of the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry are implemented”. Weeks prior on February 1., the UK sanctioned senior members of the security apparatus, Owen Ncube, Isaac Moyo, Godwin Matanga, and former Brig. Gen. Anselem Sanyatwe, with travel bans and asset freezes. Meanwhile, the “The Cartel Power Dynamics in Zimbabwe” published by the Daily Maverick newspaper is continuing to make headlines. According to the report, billions of dollars are being illegally handled particularly in gold and diamonds. In other news, the director of epidemiology and disease control Portia Manangazira is standing trial this week for embezzling funds reserved for Covid-19.



United States President, Joe Biden, has said his goal is to shut down Guantanamo Bay within his presidency. His team has made clear that this is simply a goal, but shutting down the prison will be a long difficult task, something that former President Obama attempted in his term. Many in Cuba are reverting to new ways of making money amidst the continued Covid-19 crisis. Hotel owners are turning to farming as restaurants and hotels continue to remain empty. Musicians and film-makers are cooking and baking and selling as they have more time to work and earn money in other ways. The country is continuing to struggle as they are still unable to have tourists but remain helpful for their vaccines.


The United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting a facility on the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups. The attack was in retaliation for a rocket attack which killed a civilian contractor and injured a U.S. service member in Iraq earlier this month. American Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the U.S. was confident that the target was being used by the same militants who launched the aforementioned rocket attack. A Pentagon spokesman said that the U.S. airstrikes “destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups,” including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada. In other news, Pope Francis is set to arrive in Baghdad next week on the first ever Papal visit to Iraq. The Pope will visit Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leader of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims and will attend an inter-religious service in Ur. The visit comes as Iraq’s dwindling Christian population has suffered immensely in recent years. Christians were specifically targeted in the communal violence that overtook Iraq following the U.S. invasion in 2003 and many were displaced by ISIS.


Nika Melia, the leader of Georgia’s main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), was arrested on Tuesday for refusing to post bail. Melia was arrested one day after parliamentary approval of the new prime minister, Irakli Gariashvili, who has said that the ‘door is closed’ for any talks on repeat parliamentary elections. During Melia’s arrest, 21 of his supporters were detained. On Friday, thousands of protestors demanded Melia’s release and renewed their calls for repeat elections.


Iran and the United States continue to attempt to get back to the negotiating table. With the United States acknowledging that Trump’s maximum pressure policy “failed to achieve each and every single one of its aims”, parties hope to embark on a diplomatic path under the Biden administration. Iran’s foreign minister has said that the US sanctions have inflicted $1 trillion damage on Iran’s economy and they expect compensation for the damage. Iran is firm that if the US fails to lift sanctions, they will continue to boost its nuclear program as per the law. 



Indonesia’s regional diplomatic efforts intensified in resolving Myanmar’s political crisis. The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, flew to Bangkok for three-way talks with the Thai and Myanmar foreign ministers. Indonesia has expressed their concern about the situation and Myanmar and emphasized the need for dialogue, reconciliation, and trust-building. 

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are hoping to ease tensions before further violence occurs by promoting concessions for Myanmar’s military. Indonesia’s intervention, however, has raised suspicion among the opposition as they cited that Indonesia was proposing a “free and fair” re-run as opposed to recognizing the vote last November. Protesters gathered outside the Indonesian embassies in Yangon and Bangkok to show their opposition to the proposal. 


Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha survived the no-confidence vote last Saturday, with 272 lawmakers rejecting the motion. While some ministers received fewer votes than others, all the nine ministers of his administration survived the no-confidence votes. Given that this is the second no-confidence vote since the 2019 elections, the government’s win suggests that the coalition would last its full term. Pro-democracy groups are eager to step up their initiatives and began gathering that very Saturday afternoon. 

In other news, Myanmar’s foreign minister visited Thailand on Wednesday, marking it his first trip since the coup. Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai is expected to hold three-way talks with both Indonesia and Myanmar ministers.


UN Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet has condemned the deteriorating standards of the rule of law in Nicaragua. The human rights crisis dates back to the protest of 2018, has led to the erosion of protections and liberties, and Bachelet is concerned about the November 2021 elections. Meanwhile, Nicaragua has been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor, an international watchdog based in South Africa which assesses the decline of human and civil rights around the world. They classified Nicaragua as “repressed”, one category above their worst “closed”. In other news, the government is being criticised for approving the creation of the National Ministry for Extraterrestrial Space Affairs, The Moon and Other Celestial Bodies amidst the socio-economic fallout of the human rights crisis, Covid-19, and two major storms. Criticism has been voiced on social media through memes of President Ortega dressed as an astronaut.  


The European Union has extended sanctions targeting dozens of Belarusian officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, for one year. The announcement was posted on the website of the European Council on February 25. The sanctions were originally imposed between October-December 2020 after the Belarusian government’s brutal crackdown on protests against the August 2020 election which many international observers have deemed fraudulent. The extension means sanctions will remain in place until at least February 28, 2022.  In other news, a Belarusian court sentenced an anti-government protester to ten years in prison this week on charges the opposition said were trumped up as part of the ongoing crackdown to keep President Lukashenko in power. Aliaksandr Kardziukou was convicted of attempted murder for attacking security forces who were trying to disperse nationwide protests last August. In comments to the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned of a “human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension in the country,” adding that 246 people have been jailed on allegedly politically-motivated charges as of February 9, 2021. 



Fleeing ethnic violence in Western Ethiopia, the UN believes about 7,000 people have fled into Sudan. This violence is unrelated to that in the Tigray region and the Ethiopians are currently living with host families as authorities work to understand how to better help them. In order to help fix the economic crisis and bring debt relief, the Central Bank of Sudan has largely devalued their currency. The goal is to bring the official and black market prices back together in order to help stabilize the economy. 



With access to Chinese vaccines, Bolivia begins to vaccinate its population starting with those with preexisting conditions as well as health professionals. The country has received 500,000 doses and the government officials thank the Chinese government for their support. Bolivia is also one of the countries that is a part of the UN’s COVAX facility that will provide vaccines to poorer countries. They are among the group set to receive the vaccine at no charge due to their poor economic conditions. In other news, Bolivian president, Luis Arce, has encouraged residents to go and vote in elections on March 7th. He urges his people to go and vote, keeping in mind that it is important to have mayors and governors who will work with the national government.