CANVAS Weekly Update – March 19th, 2021


March 19, 2021

Dear Friends,

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the fifth denial of bail of pro-democracy activists in Thailand, the increasing tensions in North Darfur, and the new cyber patrol established by the Indonesian police force.

Conflict Update:

Gunmen in Nigeria kidnapped three teachers from a primary school in the northwestern part of the country on Monday as parents of students kidnapped in another school last week staged a protest demanding the government bring home their children safely. Monday’s attack was the fifth mass school abduction in Nigeria’s northwest since December 2020, where a surge in armed militancy has led to worsening security conditions and kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative industry. Hundreds of school campuses have been closed across four states out of fear of further abductions, leaving an estimated 20 million Nigerian children out of school. North Korea on Friday severed ties with Malaysia after that country’s highest court agreed to extradite a North Korean man accused of money laundering to the United States. In a ruling last week, Malaysia’s high court approved the extradition of Mun Chol-myong, a North Korean citizen, rejecting his argument that the case against him was politically motivated. The American government has sought to bring Mun to the United States to face criminal charges that he laundered money through front companies and violated international sanctions by helping to ship prohibited luxury goods from Singapore to North Korea on behalf of the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang. Mr. Mun would be the first North Korean citizen to be extradited to the United States to face a criminal trial. Thirteen Mexican prosecutors and police officers were killed in an ambush by gunmen south of Mexico City on Thursday. The Mexican government convoy was conducting a security patrol southwest of the Mexican capital when gunmen opened fire, marking the deadliest assault on Mexican law enforcement personnel in well over a year. Thursday’s killings in central Mexico added to the 86 police officers who have already been killed this year, according to Causa en Comun, a Mexican anti-corruption group that focuses on public security. The attack was a major setback to government security forces and President Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has promised to make Mexico a safer place.

Coronavirus Update:

number of countries paused their use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine due to fears that it could be causing blood clots this week. European countries will resume use after the vaccine was deemed “safe and effective” by the EU’s medical regulator, who said there was no association to higher blood clot risk. Norway and Sweeden have chosen to wait and will issue guidance on usage of the vaccine at the end of the week. In other vaccine news, the WHO has approved the Johnson and Johnson jab for global use while China has approved a fifth vaccine for emergency use. In Brazil, which reported it’s highest number of Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday, the healthcare system is facing “the most severe crisis in its history” with a lack of staff in intensive care units and patients dying as they wait for beds. Papua New Guinea is also facing a crisis, which Australia has responded to by providing 8,000 vaccines and critical health equipment.



The crackdown by Myanmar’s junta government against protesters continues to escalate. Security forces reportedly shot and killed nine anti-government protesters on Friday, bringing the number killed since the February 1 coup to well over 200. According to the latest report from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Myanmar-focused human rights organization based in Thailand, some 224 people have been killed and 2,258 have been arrested, charged, or sentenced. Among the recent arrests is U Kyi Toe, a leading spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (N.L.D.). Before his arrest Thursday, Kyi Toe had been a primary source of information about the events in Myanmar for the outside world. In other news, members of the Myanmar parliament who were removed by the military are exploring whether the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) can investigate any crimes against humanity committed since the February 1 coup. Myanmar is not a state party to the I.C.C., but U.N. human rights experts in Geneva have denounced forced evictions, arbitrary detentions, and the killings of pro-democracy protesters. The protests against Myanmar’s junta have also expanded beyond the country’s borders. Since the coup, some protesters have launched an online campaign to denounce family members and associates of the Myanmar junta living abroad. Aside from shaming friends, associates, and family of the ruling government, activists have also created a website, called, information from which has been widely shared on Facebook.


The United States:

This week, eight people, of which six women of Asian descent were fatally shot in massage spa’s in Atlanta, have dominated headlines. A white man, Robert Aaron Long has been charged for the attacks, while politicians and communities grapple with discussions regarding the safety of Asian-Americans, hate crimes, domestic terrorism and misogyny; the anger was further provoked by the sheriff claiming the suspect was having a “bad day”. Reportedly, 3,800 hate incidents against Asia-Americans were recorded in the last year, driven by racist Covid-19 rhetoric. In other news, the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021 was passed by the House of Representatives and, if approved by the divided Senate, could offer 4.4 million individuals legal residency. Tom Reed, a Republican and potential challenger to Cuomo has been accused of sexual misconduct by a former lobbyist, meanwhile, Governor Cuomo, a Democrat accused of sexual misconduct continues to refuse to step down. In international news, relations between the US and Russia have deteriorated following a report confirming Russian interference in the US elections and President Biden claiming President Putin a killer.



The news has been dominated by the Alaska summit, the first public meeting between US and Chinese diplomats under Bidens administration. Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised issues regarding the treatment of Uighur peoples, cyber-attacks, international norms and stability and the use of economic coercion. China retorted by condemning attempts of US interference with China’s domestic affairs, highlighting US democracy is not the only form of democracy, insinuated the failures of the US to uphold human rights in light of Black Lives Matter. The meeting, which was intended to be a short press opportunity, deteriorated into an hour-long spat with as of yet unclear consequences. Meanwhile, a Canadian businessman, Michael Spavor, stood trial accused of spying with the verdict expected on another date. Moreover, former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig is due to appear in court next week on spying charges. The court cases are being regarded as hostage diplomacy following the arrest of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. In other news, it has been reported that China is increasingly buying Iranian and Venezuelan oil, potentially undermining US influence as Iran becomes disincentivised to negotiate.


Hong Kong:

This week, the United States instituted sanctions which target twenty-four Chinese and Hong Kong officials over China’s ongoing crackdown on political freedoms in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong. The move came just days ahead of the Biden Administration’s first face-to-face talks with China; U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan met with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and foreign affairs chief of China’s Communist Party, Yang Jiechi, in Anchorage, Alaska on Thursday. The American announcement was made during a visit by Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Japan and South Korea, two states which are wary of China’s growing military, economic, and political might. Similarly, the European Union agreed Wednesday to blacklist Chinese officials for human rights abuses, the first E.U. sanctions targeting China since an arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The Chinese officials targeted were accused of human rights abuses against China’s Uighur Muslim minority, according to E.U. diplomats.



In Zimbabwe, evictions from Chilonga continue to threaten the homes and livelihoods of thousands of villagers. Locals are reporting they are receiving no assistance or direction with resettlement, meanwhile, the government is not only ignoring the villager’s challenges but is changing statutes (Statutory Instrument 63A of 2021, correcting Statutory Instrument 50 of 2021) in order to offer the private enterprise the land. In other news, prisoners in overcrowded jails may be pardoned, according to Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa. Prisoners who have served one-third of their sentence may be pardoned in order to reduce overcrowding in prisons during the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has received its second donation of China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine.



The Biden administration has announced that they are not in a rush to change the current Cuba policy put in place by former President Trump. The policy is currently under review, and while the administration says their goal is to continue having human rights as a pillar of their policy, a Cuba policy shift is not a top priority. Another Cuban designed Covid-19 vaccine, Abdala was approved on Thursday to begin its phase three trial. The vaccine had success in phases one and two which allowed The Regulatory Authority of Medicines, Equipment, and Medical Devices of the Republic of Cuba to approve the start of this phase. The vaccine will be administered to 48 thousand volunteers between the ages of 19 and 80 who have given their consent. The study design will hopefully demonstrate the efficacy of the product based on guidelines given by the World Health Organization. This comes at a great time as the country currently has 3,596 active cases of the virus and up to 4 more people have died.



Violence continues to proliferate in Iraq, with multiple attacks taking place throughout the country this week. On Thursday, a U.S.-led coalition convoy of trucks carrying logistical equipment for international coalition forces in southern Iraq was targeted with explosives. A source confirmed that the explosion did not cause any casualties or material damage. No party has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. On Friday, unidentified gunmen opened fire with machine guns on the headquarters of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. “The guards at the headquarters responded to the assailants by firing back at them, which prompted them to flee” and there were no reports of casualties, according to a source. The Kurdish Democratic Party is currently the ruling party in Iraqi Kurdistan. In other news, Thafer Fuad Elyahou, reportedly Iraq’s last Jewish doctor, died in Baghdad this week of heart failure. Elyahou was one of a handful of Jews still living in Iraq, which until the 1970s had a large and ancient Jewish population. The London-based Jewish Cultural Heritage Initiative reported last year that at least 68 of Iraq’s 297 Jewish heritage sites have been lost.



After the 6th EU-Georgia Association Council meeting during PM Garibashvili’s visit to Brussels this week, EU officials released a document stating that both rounds of 2020 election in October and November “were competitive and that, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected.” The Council simultaneously highlighted the importance of conducting electoral reform to address shortcomings identified by international observers. The EU’s view of the elections contradicts the position of most of the Goergian opposition, who have refused to join the parliament they were elected to without repeat elections. On Friday, the EU mediator for the country’s political crisis talks, Christian Danielsson, left with no conclusion on the issues of political prisoners or elections, despite extending his stay in the country. 



Majid Takht-Ravanchi addressed the United Nations Security Council last Monday, stating that the path to peace in Syria is for foreign forces who do not have the government’s approval to evacuate as soon as possible. He noted that the American troops in particular must leave the country given that it is in violation of Syria’s sovereignty, and it “contravenes the most basic principles of international law”. Takht-Ravanchi also emphasized that the unilateral sanctions against Syria only harms their citizens and further exacerbates the crisis. In other news, the first dose of the Fakhra vaccine was administered last Tuesday. The vaccine’s research and development began in March 2020, reaching its experimental production stage in June 2020, and finally the clinical trials this month. Iran continues to be hopeful that they could be one of the world’s most important manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine.



The cyber patrol of Indonesia was set up last month and fears of state surveillance have been widespread amongst citizens. The new unit aims to counter the rampant misinformation, which the government has described “not that dangerous, but ruining public opinion”. While the police force have repeatedly stated that this unit is merely to control cybercrime in Indonesia, citizens fear it is a tactic to restrict freedom of expression, which ultimately shrinks the online civic space. In other news, Indonesia continues to call for the ASEAN meeting on Myanmar’s crisis. While Western countries have suggested a more “antagonistic” approach in dealing with Myanmar, the ASEAN has been firm in choosing a more diplomatic strategy without imposing sanctions to prevent the conflict from further escalating.



The leaders of pro-democracy group, Ratsadon, have been denied bail for the fifth time by Thailand’s Criminal Court. Their charges of lese majeste offences stem from the protests that took place last year in front of Thammasat University and Sanan Luang. One of the co-founders of the Ratsadon group, Parit Chiwarak, has threatened to go on a hunger strike if his fellow leaders are not released. Fellow detainee and human rights lawyer, Anon Nampa, has claimed that there have been multiple attempts to remove the activists from prison, one of which being a supposed COVID-19 test at 2AM. While the ministry has insisted that it was only for testing, detainees have noted that it constituted intimidation, threatening their safety.



On Thursday, the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights held a hearing regarding complaints from indigenous peoples from Nicaragua. The hearing focused on the rights of the Miskito and Mayangna communities, which reported 13 murders, eight assaults and numerous forced displacements in 2020. The rights abuses are linked to land takeovers and settlers, and President Ortega and his regime are criticised for not ensuring indigenous rights are protected. In other news, the COVAX scheme from WHO has ensured Nicaragua’s first batch of Covid-19 vaccines.



Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is currently in exile in Lithuania, said on Thursday that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (O.S.C.E.) and the United Nations were ready to mediate in any negotiations with the Lukashenko government. Tsikhanouskaya said that talks could begin in May, with elections slated for the fall. However, there was no immediate comment from the O.S.C.E. or the U.N. The statement appears to be an attempt to rekindle protests against the Lukashenko regime which have faltered in recent months after an extensive crackdown by the government. On Thursday, Tsikhanouskaya urged Belarusian citizens to vote in an online poll to support her call for international negotiations with the Lukashenko government; the website allows users to vote anonymously from their phones using the Viber or Telegram messaging apps. In other news, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has expressed concerns over an “increasing crackdown” against activists in Belarus, following reports of “suspected reprisals” against two defenders who have collaborated with the U.N. Human Rights Office. The comments were made in reference to the arrests of Syarhey Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski who work for the Office of the Rights for People with Disabilities NGO.



The Sudanese Minister of Cabinet Affairs stated on Saturday that Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok had a successful visit to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The three countries have been described as “strategic partners” as they figure out the best solution to the filling of the dam that is on the Blue Nile. Sudan and Egypt have agreed that only once all the parties have reached a binding agreement will the Grand Ethiopian Resistance Dam (GERD) be filled. Both countries also agreed that efforts to include various international parties in the decisions about the GERD should be continued, they are hopeful that both the EU and the US could become a part of the decision-making process. Still, there is a long way to go until a decision is reached. In other news, tensions in North Darfur are increasing along with the security concerns in the region. There is a widespread presence of militias and continuous security violations that concerns many officials and groups, including the Transitional Sovereign Council and the Sudan Liberation Army. The tensions and security concerns are also increasing in other areas of Darfur and joint security forces are being deployed to all the different regions with the highest concerns, rebel movements are not represented in these forces.



Uganda’s main opposition leader, Bobi Wine, was arrested and later released after he took part in a small protest against the detention of his supporters in Uganda’s capital Kampala on Monday. Last week, Wine called on Ugandans to “rise up peacefully and unarmed” against President Yoweri Museveni who won a sixth term in office following disputed elections in January. About 15 members of parliament and activists from Wine’s National Unity Platform (N.U.P.) political party, wearing business suits and red ties, took part in a brief protest which was quickly halted by police officers and soldiers. In other news, Ugandan President Museveni is suing the Daily Monitor, an independent newspaper, for publishing claims that Museveni and his inner circle received COVID-19 vaccinations provided by Chinese state-owned drug maker Sinopharm in March, weeks before Uganda received any COVID-19 vaccinations for public distribution. Museveni denies that he has received a vaccine, saying that he is still weighing which vaccine to take, and the lawsuit alleges that the article published by the Monitor was intentionally reckless, malicious, and published without due care. Museveni has attacked the Daily Monitor twice recently, saying it is one of Uganda’s problems. He described the newspaper as evil, irresponsible, and needing self-discipline.



A Bolivian judge has ordered that the country’s former interim President, Jeanine Anez, report to four months of preventative detention due to her role in the ouster of leader Evo Morales. Prosecutors have charged her with sedition, terrorism, and conspiracy along with two other of her former cabinet members. The judge has sent Anez to a women’s prison in La Paz after Morales claims events led to a coup, something she denies. The arrest of Anez has brought concern from around the world, as the US, EU, and UN have spoken about the importance of due process as well as the courts to deal with the events without political pressures. However, the Bolivian government does not like the outside comments and on Thursday asked nations such as the US and Brazil to avoid any interference in their affairs. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in at least four major cities in protest of the detention of Jeanine Anez. The stronghold of supporters gathered in order to denounce the four month detention of Anez and her cabinet members, chanting “Freedom, Freedom” as they wave their country’s flag. The judge and prosecution have said that they will not release those who are imprisoned despite claims that Morales chose to flee and there was no coup. The situation is evolving and does not look like it will be over at any time soon.