CANVAS Weekly Update – March 26th, 2021


March 26, 2021

Dear Friends,

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers calls for protest in Belarus, the arrest of Bolivian ex-President, and sanctions against Chinese officials.

Conflict Update:

On Thursday North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles an action which defies the UN Security Council’s ban on such tests by the country. The test happened one day after U.S. officials dismissed a test on Sunday as “normal military activity.” On Sunday, violent protests erupted in Britain over a proposed bill that would restrict protests and grant new powers to the police. Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its troops from Tigray after a military offensive drew criticism which marks a turning point in the conflict that has been raging in the region since November.

Coronavirus Update:

Covid-19 cases have risen for a fourth week in a row while the number of deaths has remained the same. A third wave of infections has begun in the EU despite vaccination progress. The EU has announced that it is potentially going to block vaccine exports to highly vaccinated countries and has said that AstraZeneca cannot export any more COVID-19 vaccines from Europe until the company fulfills their contract. India has also suspended exports of the AstraZeneca jab to meet domestic demand while cases surge. The head of the UN health agency said this week that the growing gap between the number of vaccines being given in rich countries and those administered through COVAX grows “more grotesque every day.” Meanwhile, concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine continue as Denmark and Norway extend their suspensions of its use while they continue to review the vaccine, despite the European Medicines Agency’s assessment that it is “safe and effective.”



The United States and the United Kingdom have ramped up international pressure on the regime in Myanmar by blacklisting more military-controlled businesses after nine more protesters were reportedly killed by the Burmese army. The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions targeting Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited. Both companies are part of a wide military-controlled network which spans a variety of sectors and has enriched the military. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced that the U.K. would also target Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited in order to help drain the military’s sources of revenue. The violence perpetrated by the ruling junta has helped to build solidarity among Myanmar’s different religious groups, which often play an outsized role in influencing the course of events in the country. New networks involving Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims are pooling resources and coordinating support for protests in different parts of the country. Inter-religious unity poses a grave threat to the military dictatorship because of the historically symbiotic relationship between Buddhism and the state; the support of the sangha, or community of Buddhist monks, provide moral legitimacy, spiritual power, and religious legitimacy to the state. In a potentially ominous development for the ruling government, Myanmar’s influential, state-appointed Buddhist monks’ association, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, last week called on the military to halt its violence against protesters, potentially foreshadowing a break between the government and the Buddhist group. The independent U.N. special rapporteur investigating human rights violations in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, warned that the “pace and scope” of the international response to the military coup in Myanmar “is falling short of what is required to head off a deepening crisis.” Mr. Andrews added that the “limited sanctions” imposed so far by member states do not do enough to cut off the regime’s flow of revenue and that the most lucrative assets of the Burmese state have been left untouched.


The United States:

This week the US grapples with yet another mass shooting. In Boulder, Colorado, a 21-year-old man fatally shot 10 people in a store, and while the motives are unknown, the tragedy is sparking debate surrounding gun ownership laws. In other news, Republicans are pursuing a national strategy to contract voter access as bills in Iowa and Georgia have been passed, and similar legislation is planned in Arizona, Florida and Texas. This week, lawmakers in Georgia, have passed a bill seriously restricting voter rights by increasing identification requirements and reducing the number of drop boxes; the restrictions are justified by allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 elections. Activists claim the legislation targets people of colour who swung the election to President Biden’s favour. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Jacob Blake, a black man who was paralysed last summer after a white Kenosha police officer shot him in the back, has filed a lawsuit of excessive force.




Western allies, the EU, the US, Canada and the UK, have coordinately imposed sanctions on China to criticise the government’s persecution of Uighur peoples and human rights abuses against the approximately 1 million people of minority identity in detention. The sanctions target senior officials with leadership roles in the Xinjiang province with asset freezes and travel bans.  China has retaliated with sanctions targeting high profile individuals ad institutions, claiming the abuse allegations were “lies and disinformation”.  Moreover, social media users in China, including state-owned users, are calling to boycott popular western brands, notably, H&M and Nike, for criticising their government.



Hong Kong:

Last week, the Hong Kong government told fourteen countries to stop accepting the British National Overseas (BNO) passport, a travel document that many young people in Hong Kong use to apply for working holiday visas in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia. The government informed foreign consulates that the BNO would no longer be deemed a valid travel document as of January 31, 2021 and demanded that the Hong Kong visa be used instead. A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office, when asked about the move, said “the Hong Kong government has no authority to dictate which passports foreign governments recognize as valid.” Almost three million Hong Kong residents hold or are eligible for BNO passports, which were created ahead of the 1997 transfer of Hong Kong back to Chinese sovereignty. In other news, Hong Kong has temporarily halted the use of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine after its Chinese distributor informed the city that one batch of the vaccine doses had defective bottle lids. BioNTech and Fosun Pharma, the distributor of the Pfizer vaccine in Hong Kong, have not found any reason to believe that the affected batch is unsafe, but vaccinations will be suspended as a preventive and safety measure. The move leaves Hong Kong residents with access to only one Covid-19 vaccine for the time being, the Chinese-produced Sinovac shot.



Last week, infighting in Zimbabwe’s opposition party the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led to the expulsion of six lawmakers from Parliament, including ex-finance minister Tendai Biti. Zimbabwe’s laws dictate that if a member of parliament is expelled from the political party, they lose their seat. The MDC has been split into two factions since last year after a court ruling which declared the party leader Chamisa illegitimate; now Chamisa and the MDC claim that the expelled faction is cooperating with the ruling ZANU-FP and punishing Chamisa for refusing to recognise President Mnangagwa as legitimate. In other news, the price of bread increased by 6.8% due to increased production and distribution costs.



As phase three trials for two different homegrown Covid-19 vaccines are underway in Cuba, State officials are saying that up to 50% of the population could be vaccinated by August. Director of science and technological innovation at the island’s ministry of public health, Ileana Morales, stated that they could vaccinate the nation’s elderly population, its healthcare workers, and those with underlying health conditions. Further, government officials have announced that they will administer experimental Covid-19 shots to nearly the entire population of the Cuban capital, Havana by May as health authorities carry out large interventional studies and late stage trials. This comes as the country tries to curb their largest spike in cases to date, they hope that by the end of the year the whole population will be vaccinated. For much of 2020, Cuba kept its Covid-19 case count extremely low, some days only reporting one or two cases. The virus only took off once the country reopened to tourists last November.



The Biden Administration in the United States is set to resume strategic talks with Iraqi officials in April on the withdrawal of the remaining American troops from the country, along with other matters related to the bilateral relationship between the two countries. Talks began last June under the Trump Administration, and next month’s talks will be the first talks under Joe Biden’s leadership. A U.S. State Department official said that the United States intended to use the talks to clarify that coalition forces remain in the country at “the invitation of the Iraqi government and solely for the purpose of training and advising Iraqi forces,” and to ensure that ISIS “cannot reconstitute.” Tensions between the U.S. and Iraq have escalated in the past year, particularly following the U.S. airstrike last year that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis near the Baghdad airport. Incensed by that event, Iraqi lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution to oust U.S. coalition forces from the country. In another development in U.S.-Iraq relations, the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee voted this week to repeal a nearly two-decade-old authorization for the use of military force in Iraq. The vote, which easily passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans, ends the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against Iraq, which was at the time led by Saddam Hussein. A similar push is underway in the U.S. Senate. In other news, Iraq this week received 336,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine through the U.N. Covax program. This marks the second shipment of vaccine doses to Iraq, the state in the Arab world which has been hit hardest by the pandemic. Covid-19 cases in Iraq have skyrocketed recently, with a new record of 6,513 confirmed cases being reported within a 24 hour window Thursday.




Special representative to the EU Council President, Christian Danielson, will return to Tbilisi to continue mediating talks between the opposition, United National Movement (UNM), and the ruling party, Georgia Dream (GD) after they failed to reach an agreement on his last visit to Georgia. The Speaker of Parliament, Archil Talakvadze, released a statement saying that GD will not consider repeat parliamentary elections or the release of Nika Melia, chair of UNM, during negotiations. PM Garibashvili said that the opposition can “either listen to the EU and the US partners and take up their mandates in the state legislature, or continue their marginal actions,” following confirmation from the US and EU that the “2020 parliamentary elections in Georgia were free and competitive.”




Iran’s political leaders appear to be divided over negotiations with Washington regarding the international nuclear agreement that would limit Iran’s nuclear endeavours but would put an end to the sanctions imposed during Trump’s administration. Iran’s leaders are split on how long they can withstand the economic damage before resuming talks with the U.S. They continue to hold on to the proposal of having the U.S. lift sanctions before complying with the deal, while the U.S. insists on having Iran follow through the deal first before lifting the sanctions.




Indonesia’s National Police Chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo initially pledged to move towards a more humane approach to law enforcement upon his appointment in early January. While his track record was spotty and questionable to activists, he reassured them that there will be changes made around Indonesia’s law enforcement system. Unfortunately, cases of police brutality have only continued under his leadership. One of the ongoing cases involved a drunk police officer who had a heated argument with the cafe’s employees. The officer took out his gun and shot four people, with two employees and an Army personnel dying at the scene. The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) emphasized that the recurring police brutality was the result of training methods and tendency of the police to avoid criminal prosecution of offending officers. One of the leaders of Kontra’s legal division said that the type of training employed to these police officers can lead to militaristic policing and such incidents are ultimately the result of the ingrained combative culture and training.




Pro-democracy activist and leader of Ratsadon group Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, has been given an additional 15 days for detention. The latest ruling relates to the March 15 incident where Parit tried to read a statement at the end of the court hearing stating that he would be going on a hunger strike if he and his fellow activists were not granted bail. Footage shows that officers attempted to restrain him while judges walked out of the courtroom as he tried to read his statement. On Wednesday, the group announced another anti-government protest to be held in Bangkok. Organizers assured the attendees that they will do their best to ensure their safety. Protestors gathered and called for the release of the activists and the resignation of the Thai Prime Minister. The activists are also calling for the lese majeste law to be abolished as a priority as it “does not reflect Thai identity or Thai culture”, according to Yingcheep Atchanont. Today, Bangkok’s deputy police chief, Piya Tavichai, vowed to charge the eleven activists who addressed the participants in Wednesday’s rally. He notes that he has already identified ten of the leaders and plans to summon the others.




This week the resolution “Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Nicaragua” was passed by 20-8 votes (18 abstentions) in the UNHCR. The resolution calls on President Ortega’s regime to negotiate with civil society and to ensure fair elections in November which adhere to international standards with the presence of observers. The resolution goes as far as to condemn the violence, repression and deteriorating human rights conditions under the government’s leadership. In other news, health workers describe the experience of tackling the Covid-19 pandemic under a government that denies the extent of the health crisis. Scientists claim that researching the pandemic has been challenging, especially due to spying, intimidation and one researcher was even fired for criticising management. Meanwhile, President Ortega claimed on national television this week that vaccines will be made available to all people of all backgrounds, but fell short of explaining how this will be accomplished.




Earlier this week, Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya continued to call on Belarusian citizens to return to the streets in protest of the rule of long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko. Calling herself the “leader of democratic Belarus,” Tsikhanouskaya has criss-crossed Europe in recent weeks trying to drum up support from European Union leaders. Tsikhanouskaya also plans to travel to Washington, D.C. in the near future to speak with U.S. President Joe Biden, who voiced support for Tsikhanouskaya as a candidate in Belarus’s elections last year. The regime, however, shows no signs of giving in. Last week, the commander of Internal Ministry soldiers, Nikolai Karpenkov, warned protestors that they are “absolutely enemies of our state.” Protests continued in Belarus this week and hundreds were arrested after protesters calling for the resignation of President Lukashenko marched in small groups throughout Minsk, marking the first sizable turnout of demonstrators since major protests last year. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova said that more than 200 people were detained in connection with unauthorized gatherings across the country. The protest Thursday marked the anniversary of the 1918 declaration of the Belarus People’s Republic, which only lasted a few months before the Soviet Union’s Red Army moved in. In a further escalation of tensions between Minsk and Warsaw, Belarus detained Andrzej Poczobut, a journalist and member of the Association of Poles in Belarus, in Hrdona on March 25. The leader of the Association, Andzelika Borys, was arrested two days earlier. Warsaw has called for coordinated action to help the protests movement in Belarus. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he would raise the matter during a video conference of European Union leaders this week.




This week, Sudan has formally approved the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to meditate on the border dispute with Ethiopia in an initiative they have devised. They will also be discussing the row over the mega dam that is to be built. The al-Fashaga farmlands is claimed by both Sudan and Ethiopia and has become a recent area of conflicts between the two nation’s troops. This adds to the tension between the two nations, as they disagree over Ethiopia’s building of the dam on the Nile, which Egypt adamantly opposes due to the effects that it would have on its freshwater needs. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has said that he does not want to go to war with Sudan and hopes that the al-Fashaga region conflict can be solved peacefully. In other news, the Sudanese government said Friday that it has cleared all of its overdue payments to the World Bank, a move which will give the highly-indebted country access to new types of international financing for the first time in decades. The repayment will allow Sudan to resume normal relations with the World Bank after being suspended for nearly 30 years. Sudan will now have access to nearly $2 billion in grants for poverty reduction and sustainable development.




The Ugandan government has continued its persecution of civilians accused of being linked to the opposition movement. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s President, has admitted that the army has “arrested” more than 300 civilians in recent months, most of whom are supporters of opposition leader Bobi Wine. Those arrested are typically held for long periods of time before being charged with a crime, and without access to legal counsel. Many say they were tortured while in detention. Mr. Wine’s party, the National Unity Platform (NUP), has released a list of 600 activists who have disappeared altogether. An army spokesperson denied claims that detainees were tortured, calling them “unfounded allegations,” but nonetheless, many activists bear scars and missing teeth from their time detained. Uganda also announced this week that the government has detained an American citizen for their involvement in subversive activities. In a brief statement on its Facebook account, the Ugandan Police said it had arrested the American man in a town in Western Uganda last Sunday. In other news, six lions were found dead and dismembered in Queen Elizabeth National Park in what is suspected as a poisoning. The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said the cats were found last Friday evening with “most of their body parts missing,” their carcasses surrounded by dead scavenger animals. The discovery could be a devastating blow to Uganda’s tourism sector, which brings in an estimated $1.6 billion in revenue yearly.




Bolivia’s former President, Jeanine Anez, was arrested last week over allegations that she came to power illegitimately, among other issues. This week, a Bolivian judge ordered her to be moved to a hospital and receive professional treatment due to poor health as questions arose from Anez’s daughter. Since being detained, Anez had been on a form of a hunger strike, she would eat and throw up, greatly harming her health and she was becoming more delicate each day. After receiving medical treatment and being sent back to jail in La Paz, Anez has written a long and emotional letter, directed at the country’s citizens. In the letter, she declares that she came to power legitimately as well as discussed that her rights were being abused in detention. She alleges that the abusive treatment has come from both the police and the state, especially after she was denied medical treatment. Despite the continued pleas from Anez that she is innocent and came to power legitimately, the Bolivian government continues to say that they are seeking justice for the situation.