CANVAS Weekly Update – March 12th, 2021


March 12, 2021

Dear Friends,

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers human rights violations in Zimbabwe, the continued violence in Myanmar, and the Bolivian election.

Conflict Update:

Gunmen kidnapped dozens of students from a college in northwestern Nigeria late Thursday, the fourth mass abduction in as many months in a region that is suffering a worsening breakdown of law and order. The attackers breached the fence surrounding the Federal College of Forestry in Mando, located in Kaduna state, just before midnight and began rounding up students. Shehu Sani, a former senator of Kaduna, said he had been briefed by security officials that the attackers had separated the girls from the boys and only took the girls. In a recent report on kidnappings across Nigeria, SB Morgen, a Lagos-based geopolitical research firm, found that almost $11 million was paid to kidnappers between January 2016 and March 2020. According to United Nations relief workers, more than 240,000 people have been displaced in the Central African Republic after rebels who call themselves the Coalition of Patriots for Change launched attacks, first to disrupt last December’s elections, and now to destabilize the newly-formed government of President Faustin Archange Touadera. The rebels currently control nearly two thirds of the country, making it difficult to deliver humanitarian aid. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left without food or basic healthcare and the closure of the main road between the Central African Republic and Cameroon has caused food prices to skyrocket. Ethiopia’s government is facing mounting pressure to withdraw troops from the northern Tigray region amid growing reports of war crimes in an area that now faces a humanitarian crisis. Criticism of the conduct of government troops has grown after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that “ethnic cleansing” has happened in parts of Tigray. The conflict began last November when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent government troops into Tigray after an attack there on federal military facilities.

Coronavirus Update:

Multiple European countries, including Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Italy, and Romania, suspended the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine because of concerns that it might increase the risk of blood clots, but emphasized that they were taking action as a precaution and that there is no evidence of any causal link. The scare is a setback for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has already struggled with the perception that it is a less desirable option because it has a lower overall efficacy rate in clinical trials compared to other COVID-19 vaccines. However, extensive data shows that the vaccine is safe and effective, and in many places across the world, it is the only shot currently available. Tens of millions of doses of the same vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca are sitting idly in American manufacturing facilities awaiting results from its U.S. clinical trials while the more than 70 countries that have already authorized the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine are begging the U.S. to give them access to the stockpile. The fate of the American AstraZeneca vaccine doses is the subject of an intense debate among U.S. federal health officials, with some arguing that the Biden Administration should let the doses go abroad where they are desperately needed right now, while others are not ready to relinquish the vaccines. Under pressure to donate excess COVID-19 vaccination to needy nations, the U.S. has announced that it will partner with Japan, India, and Australia to finance a large expansion of the vaccine manufacturing capacity. The agreement was announced Friday at the Quad Summit, a virtual meeting held between the heads of state of the aforementioned four countries. The goal, according to senior administration officials, is to address an acute vaccine shortage in Southeast Asia, which will eventually boost worldwide supply.



Violence continues to escalate in Myanmar after at least twelve people were killed by the ruling junta Thursday, according to a watchdog group. A top U.N. official said the crackdown on peaceful protests is “likely meeting the legal threshold for crimes against humanity.” The United Nations human rights office has said that at least 80 people have been killed since the military invalidated the results of Myanmar’s democratic election earlier this year, with an additional more than 2,000 arbitrarily detained since the coup. Student activists have made up a significant number of arrested protestors, with many being taken to Insein Prison without access to legal counsel. Insein Prison is an infamous facility in the Burmese capital of Yangon that has long been used to house and torture political prisoners, including those arrested following uprisings against the previous military dictatorship in 1988. U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar Thomas Andrews has noted that there is extensive video footage of security forces brutally beating protesters, medics, and bystanders, as well as destroying property, looting shops, and firing indiscriminately into people’s homes. There is growing evidence that the violence has forced people to flee the country, with India’s Mizoram state reporting that between 200 and 300 people had crossed the border from Myanmar into India. Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng, a Catholic nun from the city of Myitkyina in Kachin state, has won praise from Myanmar’s majority Buddhist population after she begged a group of heavily armed security officers to take her life instead of the lives of the children nearby. Additionally, the United States this week imposed sanctions on six companies controlled by two children of Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing in response to the coup and the killing of protesters. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that more punitive actions could follow and condemned attacks by Myanmar’s security forces targeting peaceful protesters.


The United States:

This week, the highly anticipated $1.9trillion Covid-19 relief package was approved by the House of Representatives, with not a single vote in favour from Republicans. The stimulus package includes a $1,400 stimulus check for up to 85% of households, an extension of the $300 unemployment benefits until September, $350billion for state agencies to combat the pandemic, financial support in accessing health insurance coverage, and measures for housing, food, child tax credit, and vaccination programs. According to projections by the Urban Institute, the package could reduce poverty in the US by over a third. In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton is threatening legal action against local decision-makers if they refuse to lift mask mandates after Republican Governor Greg Abbott lifted restriction last week. In New York, Democrat Governor Cuomo refuses to step down following allegations of sexual misconduct and mishandling of Covid-19, despite 13 House Democrats calling for his resignation. Finally, in Portland, clashes between police and rioters have re-erupted following protective fences around the courthouse being removed; reportedly the rioters have set fire to the courthouse and the police have used heavy responses such as green smoke and pepper balls.



This week the Chinese legislature made the decision to tighten their control over Hong Kong by overhauling the city’s electoral system. The “patriots governing Hong Kong” resolution will reduce the democratic representation in the city as well as allow a panel that is very pro-Beijing to vet all candidates before elections. This decision was made on Thursday and is just one of many of China’s decisions made to tighten their grip over Hong Kong. In other news, China has announced that they, alongside Russia, will be building a lunar space station. There will be a lot of various research conducted on the space station, including exploration of the moon. This is going to be a collaborative effort between both countries and is the largest international space project for China and the station will be available for use by other nations, according to both sides.


Hong Kong:

On the last day of its annual meeting, China’s National People’s Congress passed new rules governing the electoral system in Hong Kong with a near unanimous vote. The overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system will give Beijing much greater control over local elections by allowing China to disqualify candidates deemed “unpatriotic.” Opposition groups in Hong Kong say the changes are part of the mainland government’s attempts to wipe out local dissent, which peaked during protests in response to a Beijing-backed extradition bill in 2019. The stated goal of the changes is to ensure that only “patriots” govern Hong Kong, a definition which Chinese officials have made clear includes loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. One of the changes involves the election for Hong Kong’s chief executive, currently scheduled for 2022. The 1,200 member election committee which selects the chief executive was already stacked with Beijing loyalists, but changes will increase the size of the committee by 300 members, reducing the power of any remaining pro-democracy legislators. This expanded committee will also have a role in selecting the new members of the Legislative Council, which is expected to grow from 70 to 90 members. In other news, fewer Hong Kong residents are showing up to their appointments to receive the Chinese-produced Sinovac Biotech Ltd. vaccine, amid reports of side effects, even as demand for the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine remained high. The number of people who received their scheduled Sinovac vaccine fell to 72% on Wednesday, down from a high of more than 90% last week. The skipping of vaccination appointments comes after Hong Kong reported three deaths and three critical illnesses in people who had received the Sinovac vaccine. As of now, none of the deaths of illnesses have been linked to the vaccine.



Eviction notices threaten 13,000 persons of the Shangani minority identity from approximately 12,940 hectares of land in Chilonga. In February, July Moyo, the Local Government, Urban and Rural Development Minister, issued the eviction notice as the government plans to clear the land for private commercial ventures of stockfeed. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are condemning the decision for ignoring the rights of indigenous populations, and leaving people vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic. The notices claim the residence must leave immediately and will not receive compensation. Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee has reported that food insecurity has increased by 12% since 2019 claiming 2.4 million persons are at risk in terms of access to food and basic services. In other news, Zimbabwean women celebrated International Women’s Day by highlighting women refusing to conform to gender expectations such as Molly Manatse, one of Harare’s few female truck drivers.



U.S. President Joe Biden’s Administration is reviewing former President Donald Trump’s last-minute decision to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, but a broader Cuba policy shift is not among Biden’s top priorities, the White House said this week. The Trump Administration added Cuba to the list nine days before Joe Biden took office, citing the country’s harboring of American fugitives and Colombian rebel leaders and support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. In other news, Cuba’s homegrown COVID-19 vaccine candidates have entered late-stage trials, two of which are set to begin Phase III trials. The Soberana-2 vaccine is currently the leading candidate, and Cuba’s government has announced that Phase III trials with 44,000 participants will commence this month. The Sobreana-2 vaccine has also begun widespread trials in Iran and Venezuela. Mexico is reported to be in talks with the Cuban government to begin trials shortly, and Suriname and Ghana have demonstrated their interest in ordering doses when they are ready.



Iranian-backed paramilitary groups have agreed to stop attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq on the condition that Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi formally demands an American withdrawal from the country. Kadhimi must tell Washington that the pullout must be completed within 12 months, according to sources. Sources indicated that Kadhimi will likely comply and make the formal request. At the beginning of March, the armed factions announced the end of an unofficial truce with the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq which had been in place since October with few violations. Prior to the armistice, attacks on U.S. troops and western allies in Iraq were commonplace, as paramilitary groups sought to push the United States from the country. However, a rocket attack on a military base in Erbil earlier this year was linked to the group Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada, and escalating tit-for-tat attacks have greatly increased tensions in the region. This latest deescalation agreement was made by a group of faction leaders known as the Coordinating Committee for the Resistance Factions, and the Iraqi government. In other news, Jasb Hattab Aboud, the outspoken father of a missing Iraqi anti-government activist who waged a campaign to bring the militia suspected of abducting his son to justice, was killed this week, according to a local human rights monitor. Aboud was uncommonly vocal in his search for his son Ali Jasb, a lawyer who was one of a number of activists who vanished at the height of Iraq’s anti-government protests in 2019. Authorities have not identified the culprit.



TV Pirveli aired audiotapes this week featuring Bera Ivanishvili, the son of former Georgia Dream (GD) party chair Bidzina Ivanishvili, speaking with Anzor Chubinidze, the current head of the special state protection service, and current PM Irakli Garibashvili about an intimidation campaign designed to ‘humiliate and punish’ young people for posting insults about the Ivanishvili family online. The date of the conversation is unknown. Opposition parties have demanded PM Garibashvili’s resignation since the release of the tapes, saying they show ‘the signs of the heaviest organized crime’ and  ‘informal, undemocratic practice of governing the state under the Georgian Dream government and the extremely severe forms of dismantling state institutions.’ GD has since released a statement claiming that the recordings are fabricated. PM Garibashvili has blamed ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili for the ‘fake’ recordings and Ivanishvili has claimed the tapes were made by the United National Movement government when they were ‘illegally listening to the entire country.’ Ivanishvili failed to comment on the authenticity of the tapes, instead, saying ‘it does not matter for him, because if someone insults his family he will again ask for a response.’ The Prosecutor’s Office of Georgia has launched an investigation into the alleged wiretap and Tbilisi’s City Court has granted their request for the seizure of audiotapes. The release of the recordings has coincided with the GD government and the opposition’s talks about the political crisis and the recent detainment of the main opposition leader. GD chairperson Mamuka Mdinaradze said he expects talks between the government and the opposition to continue, despite the impact of the recordings.



Iran has reported that one of its cargo vessels was attacked in the Mediterranean Sea this week in what the government has called a “terrorist attack.” No casualties were reported. Ali Ghiasian, a spokesperson for the state shipping line, said that Wednesday’s attack damaged Shahr-e Kord, a commercial vessel traveling to Europe. Ghiasian added that an “explosive device” damaged the hull of the ship and started a small fire which was quickly extinguished. Earlier this week, Israel accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard of attaching an explosive device to the Israeli-owned cargo vessel Helios Ray in international waters near the Gulf of Oman earlier this year. Iran rejected the claim as an unfounded allegation. This comes as U.S. and regional officials say Israel has targeted at least a dozen ships bound for Syria and mostly carrying Iranian oil out of concern that petroleum profits and funding extremism in the region. Since late 2019, Israel has used weaponry, including water mines, to strike Iranian vessels or those carrying Iranian cargo as they navigate the Red Sea and in other parts of the region. In other news, Iranian authorities have arrested multiple music producers linked to California-based Iranian pop singer Sasy, whose real name is Sasan Heidari Yafteh, after the release of the music video for the song “Tehran Tokyo.” The video features actresses, including an American pornographic film star, dancing in short dresses atop cars and inside bars. Iranian security forces detained two popular music arrangers who worked on the song in Shiraz and raided their studio. Semi-official news organizations in Iran confirmed the arrests Wednesday, saying that Sasy’s associates in Iran had produced music “contrary to culture.”



A bus carrying 66 people on a return trip from an Islamic pilgrimage site, including schoolchildren and parents, crashed into a ravine on the island of Java this week, killing 27. The Indonesian search and rescue agency said in a statement Thursday that the driver of the bus lost control shortly before the crash due to poor road conditions and a failure of the vehicle’s brakes. A police spokesperson said that the bus plunged 65 feet to the bottom of the ravine in a valley surrounded by farmland. The road is government-owned and is frequently used by commuters traveling between provinces. In other news, Indonesia’s Sinabung volcano erupted on Thursday. No casualties were reported. Armen Putra, an official at the Sinabung monitoring center, said villagers were advised to stay at least 5 kilometers away from the crater of the volcano and should be aware of lava. Approximately 30,000 people have been forced to leave their homes near Sinabung in recent years after eruptions in 2010, 2014, and 2016 killed numerous people.



On Saturday, March 6th, Thailand’s government placed a ban on assemblies, protests, and mass gatherings citing fears of spreading COVID-19. Bangkok and five other provinces in Thailand have the ban in place. While government officials insist that the ban is not political in any way, shape, or form, demonstrators are skeptical given the current arrests citing the lese majeste law and the decreasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country. In other news, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a statement calling on Myanmar to release everyone who has been detained by the military following the coup. Talks are still ongoing between Thailand, Indonesia, and Myanmar.



This week Sergio Beteta, who was arrested in December 2020 for burning a Nicaraguan flag outside Managua’s University, has received a guilty verdict in a court case accusing him of drug and weapons possession offences. Beteta’s lawyer Julio Montenegro claims that his client is a political prisoner victim to police planting evidence and a hearing riddled with anomalies. In other news, the ongoing attacks against independent media by President Daniel Ortega’s regime continue to raise concerns, as the Editor of Confidencial recount the confiscation of their media offices in 2018. The article recalls person sentences for journalists, exile, the unlawful police storming of their premises, and the attempts to bring the case to the Nicaraguan Supreme Court citing Constitution Article 44 “confiscating private property is forbidden.”. The offices remain in government hands and independent critical journalists continue to face harassment and censorship. Finally, UNICEF’s regional director has publicly issued concerns regarding the “institutional neglect of Nicaragua’s North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACN)” following hurricanes Eta and Iota. The region is home to thousands of indigenous communities and remains one of the countries poorest areas.



Organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest this week declined a song entry from Belarus due to its controversial political lyrics. The European Broadcasting Union, which runs the Contest, demanded Belarus submit a new entry or risk disqualification from the Eurovision Contest. Featuring lyrics such as “I will teach you to toe the line,” the entry, entitled “I’ll Teach You” and performed by Belarusian outfit Galasy ZMesta, has sparked backlash from opposition figures and fuelled calls by a European Parliament legislator for Belarus to be banned from Eurovision. The band’s frontman Dmitry Butakov denied the song breached the competition’s rules, even as the lyrics openly mock protests against the Lukashenko government. In other news, Belarus expelled two more Polish diplomats this week in a tit-for-tat spat that has erupted following a World War Two commemoration in the southwestern Belarusian city of Brest. The event, which took place on February 28, took place in honor of so-called “cursed soldiers,” Polish fighters who initially fought against Nazi occupation but later fought the Soviet Union. The soldiers often acted violently against non-Poles, especially Belarusians.



Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is in Cairo this week to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as both nations seek to build a united front in the ongoing dispute over the controversial dam that Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile. The dispute centers on the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam and how much water Ethiopia will release downstream in the event of a multi-year drought, as well as how the three countries would settle any future disputes. Egypt and Sudan have called for a legally binding agreement on the dam’s filling, but Ethiopia insists on only establishing “guidelines” for use. Despite years-long negotiations, the three countries have failed to come to agreement. Around 85% of the Nile’s flow originates from Ethiopia, and Egypt has called the dam an existential threat to the country. In other news, Sudan has released former Janjaweed leader Musa Hilal after three years of imprisonment. Speaking on behalf of the family, Amani Musa Hilal announced that the military court cancelled all the restricted cases against her father. Hilal is held responsible for numerous atrocities committed against civilians in Darfur after the conflict there began in 2003.



Opposition figure Bobi Wine, a singer and lawmaker whose real name is Kyagulanyi Sentamu, is calling for peaceful protests in the aftermath of the January elections which showed victory for incumbent president Yoweri Museveni. Wine has said that the electoral authorities are “grappling with forged results” and claimed that he was the true winner of the election with 54% of the vote, based on results forms from independent polling sites. Museveni has previously described the January election as the “most cheating-free” election in Ugandan history. The vote was conducted under an internet blackout after campaigns during which opposition candidates were routinely obstructed by police, and many people were shot dead by security forces. In his speech, Bobi Wine also listed four demands: an independent audit of the election, an end to abductions, the release of political prisoners, and an end to the practice of trying civilians in military courts. In other news, Uganda began nationwide COVID-19 vaccinations this week after receiving nearly 100,000 doses through donations. Health minister Jane Ruth Aceng said healthcare workers would be the first to get the shot, followed by teachers and those in high risk groups, including the elderly.



On March 7th, Bolivians were finally able to go to the polls for their regional elections, which were delayed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. There were mixed results within these elections, with the MAS party, the party of the current President, Luis Arce, splitting votes with multiple other opposition parties. In Santa Cruz, one of the most popular departments in the nation, MAS surprisingly lost its governorship. The results of the election very similarly reflect the 2015 election results, however, there are some races that have yet to be called due to cyber attacks that occurred. According to the Bolivian government, on the evening of March 9th, the site that holds the results of the elections was attacked. The government said that the attack, which came from abroad, did not affect any of the vote counts but they still chose to withhold some results to double-check the counts. In other news, the government is still trying to make changes to its laws to help protect its students and other citizens after the deadly railing collapse last week at the Public University of El Alto.