CANVAS Weekly Update – April 2, 2021


April 2, 2021

Dear friends, 

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the continuing violence in Myanmar, negotiations between Iran and the U.S over a new nuclear agreement, and a resumption of conflict in eastern Ukraine  

Conflict Update:

More than 5,000 Venezuelan civilians fled over the country’s border with Colombia after the Venezuelan government began targeting what it says is a criminal group operating within the border region. The assault, which began with several days of airstrikes that security experts have described as Venezuela’s largest use of firepower in decades, represents a significant shift in the largely hands-off strategy the government has taken in dealing with the illicit organizations that flourish along the Venezuela-Colombia border. For years, the Maduro government has tolerated and sometimes even cooperated with these armed groups. The reason for the change in strategy is unknown. The Venezuelan assault, centered around the town of La Victoria, has been focused on a faction of FARC dissidents known as the Tenth Front. A senior United Nations official told the Security Council last week that more than 500 Ethiopian women had formally reported sexual violence in Tigray, although the actual toll is likely much higher. Hundreds of accounts detail abused committed in Tigray, the mountainous region in northern Ethiopia where a grinding civil war has been accompanied by atrocities including widespread sexual assault targeting women. Addressing parliament on Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed publicly acknowledged that sexual assault had become an integral part of a war that he once promised would be swift and bloodless. “Anyone who raped our Tigrayan sisters, anybody who is involved in looting, will be held accountable in a court of law,” Ahmed told lawmakers. 

Violence in eastern Ukraine has escalated in recent days, according to statements from the Russian and Ukranian governments. In the deadliest engagement so far this year, four Ukranian soldiers were killed and another seriously wounded in a battle against Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. The soldiers’ deaths, along with a build up of Russian forces on the Ukranian border, has seized the attention of senior officials in Europe and in Washington. The Ukranian Parliament this week approved a statement declaring an “escalation” along the front, essentially acknowledging that a cease-fire negotiated in July 2020 had broken down. 

Three health workers, all women, were shot and killed in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan this week while working for the country’s polio vaccination program. The attack came only weeks after three women working in television were killed in a similar attack in Jalalabad. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the killings. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, rejected any involvement in the incident. Afghanistan, along with neighboring Pakistan, are the only two countries where polio has not yet been eradicated. 

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a days-long ambush of a port town in northern Mozambique last week that forced tens of thousands of people to flee the area and left dozens dead, including foreigners. The attack, which centered on the town of Palma, was an alarming escalation of the war in the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado, where insurgents with loose ties to the Islamic State have killed at least 2,000 people over the past three years. In recent months, the local insurgency has grown in strength and seized large swaths of territory, including the region’s other main port town. Last week’s attack demonstrated a new level of boldness for the insurgents and was the closest yet that militants have come to a multibillion-dollar gas project operated by international energy companies. 

Coronavirus Update:

COVID-19 infections and deaths have continued to rise internationally. World leaders from 25 countries and the head of the WHO called for an international treaty to improve pandemic preparedness this week that would advance national, regional and global capacities and improve global resilience to future pandemics. While promised COVAX vaccines failed to make it to South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines this week due to Indian exportation restrictions, Yemen and Kosovo received their first vaccines through the program. In other vaccine news,  

this week Canada and the Netherlands both suspended their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 55 and 60, respectively. Suspensions of the vaccine have coincided with the WHO’s criticism of Europe’s vaccine rollout as “unacceptable slow,” as cases increase across the continent. 



According to international humanitarian group Save the Children, at least 43 children have been killed by armed forces in Myanmar since the military junta seized power in February of this year. In a statement, the organization said that “it is clear that Myanmar is no longer a safe place for children.” Overall, at least 543 people have been killed since the coup, although the actual number of fatalities is likely much higher. The death toll for children has more than doubled in the past two weeks. A total of fifteen children under the age of 16 were killed, with the youngest being a six-year-old girl. Also among the casualties are a fourteen-year-old boy who reportedly died after being shot in the head in his own home. To commemorate the dead, protesters across the country have held flower strikes, placing floral tributes at locations where protesters have been killed by security forces. On Saturday, which saw security forces open fire on protesters in more than 40 locations in Myanmar, the military government held a luxurious gala to mark the annual Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the start of Myanmar’s military resistance against Japanese occupation in 1945. Images shared on social media showed military officials, including Myanmar’s leader Min Aung Hlaing, wearing white uniforms and bowties, walking along a red carpet, and seated at large tables for dinner. 

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader, was charged with violating the official secrets act this week, according to her lawyer. The charge is the fifth and most serious charge that has been leveled against Suu Kyi since her arrest following the February 1 coup; a conviction can carry a prison sentence of up to fourteen years. On Friday, the military junta ordered an internet shut down across the entire country. Local wireless broadband internet service providers said they were ordered to shut down until further notice by the Ministry of Transport and Communications. 

In response to the escalating violence, opponents of Myanmar’s military government declared the country’s 2008 constitution void and put forward an interim replacement charter Wednesday. While more symbolic than practical, the moves could help to entice Myanmar’s armed ethnic militias to ally themselves with the mass protest movement. The actions were taken by the CRPH, an underground, self-styled alternative government established by elected lawmakers who were not allowed to take their seats when the military staged the coup and ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The CRPH also presented a Federal Democracy Charter as an interim constitution which seeks to end the military dictatorship and meet the longstanding demands of the country’s myriad ethnic groups and their demands for further autonomy. The proposals are politically significant because the protest movement has been seeking an alliance with the ethnic minority armed groups and would like them to form a federal army as a counterweight to the government armed forces. 

Further, the U.S. State Department has ordered all non-essential personnel and their family members to leave Myanmar as the junta’s violent crackdown on peaceful protesters continues. The order updates an advisory issued by the State Department last month that allowed non-emergency U.S. personnel to leave the country if they wanted.


The United States:

The U.S. also has many big financial headlines this week after Biden held his first cabinet meeting. Firstly, the government has announced a massive $2trillion infrastructure project led by 5 cabinet members, however, Senate minority leader McConnell claims Republicans will oppose the plans on the grounds that it will raise corporate taxes to fund the project. Secondly, $5bn is planned to be allocated to tackling gun violence through community-based prevention schemes. Finally, the economy saw an increase of 916,000 jobs in the month of March, owing to businesses reopening, the stimulus check and the progress of the vaccine rollout.

The media globally has been following the trial of ex-police officer Derek Chavin for the death of George Floyd which sparked massive Black Lives Matter protests last summer. The trial started on Monday, and witnesses have emotionally testified, and notably, a police lieutenant testified that the use of force was “totally unnecessary”. In other news, on Friday, a car drove into two police officers and wielded a knife outside the White House, killing one officer and crashing the vehicle into a barricade. As of yet, there is no claim to terrorist motive or any connection to the Capitol riots in January. Meanwhile, it has been reported that in March, migrant border crossings into the US from Mexico is the highest recorded monthly figure since 2006. Finally, transgender rights are being threatened as 28 states across the U.S. consider anti-trans legislation, with bills already passed in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.  


A long-awaited World Health Organization (WHO) report investigating the origins of the Coronavirus was released this week, putting China in the headlines around the world. The report claims the disease originated in wildlife farms, rather than the wet market as initially believed, however, it has also drawn criticism from scientists for its inaccuracy, insufficiency and the power China retained over information access for investigators. Meanwhile, experts are claiming Russia and China are excelling in global vaccine diplomacy by selling or donating Coronavirus vaccines to economically weaker states in return for allyship in other international political developments. According to one source, China has already sent 118 million doses of its Sinopharm vaccine to 49 countries. Moreover, a study conducted by US-based AidData claims that China’s loan deals with low and middle-income countries have unusual terms which favour China, including confidentiality clauses. These clauses mean little is known about the conditions attached to China’s lending despite them supplying 65% of bilateral debt globally.


Hong Kong:

A court in Hong Kong this week convicted seven veteran pro-democracy activists for unauthorized assembly associated with a protest march in 2019. Martin Lee, an 82-year-old lawyer known as the “father of democracy” in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon and founder of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, and Margaret Ng, a lawyer and columnist, along with four others, were convicted of participating and organizing the unauthorized march. They each face up to five years in prison; sentences will be handed down April 16. The gathering which the case centered on took place on August 18, 2019, when hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens gathered for an anti-government protest.

A spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry accused the American envoy to Hong Kong of “blatantly supporting anti-China troublemakers,” and making threats a day after he said the overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system would produce neither “meaningful democratic results” nor credibly represent the will of the people. The statement did not name U.S. Consul General Hanscom Smith, but a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry’s office in Hong Kong said “He [Smith] made much effort to support and cheer for anti-China troublemakers who mess up Hong Kong, and threatened us with so-called sanctions.” Smith has called the overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system “an enormous step backwards,” and said the U.S.’s concern was that the system “has been essentially rigged.”

In other news, Hong Kong has an abundant supply of Covid-19 vaccines available to all adults above age 30 and is offering a choice between Western-produced and Chinese-produced shots. However, many in Hong Kong are not in a rush to get immunized and many of the city’s vaccination centers are running at below capacity. Sign-ups for the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine have been slow after many residents were spooked by several deaths among the thousands vaccinated; experts said the deaths weren’t related to the vaccine. On March 24, the Hong Kong government suspended injections of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine after small flaws, such as defects in some vial caps, were detected. Local experts have calculated that it will take until the end of 2021 to vaccinate all Hong Kong residents at the current vaccination rate.



A “2020 Human Rights Report”, which details a number of abuses in Zimbabwe, was released by the U.S. Embassy. The report highlights issues of transparency, intimidation, biased media, excessive force, and disenfranchisement in Zimbabwe’s electoral processes. Moreover, it claims serious human rights violations by security forces, notably, arbitrary killings and detention, the use of torture and inhumane treatment, poor prison conditions, threats toward media and censorship and lack of independence for the judiciary. Meanwhile, a report produced by the government titled the “Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment”, claims that 2.4 million Zimbabweans live with food insecurity and are struggling to meet basic needs, and the World Food Program claims the issue predominantly impacts unemployed people in urban settings. The issue of food insecurity has been exacerbated by Coronavirus lockdowns. Finally, the Coronavirus vaccine rollout, using the Sinopharm donations from China, has been slow as even health workers remain wary.


On Sunday, hundreds of Cubans gathered in Havana to demand an end to the United States trade embargo that has been in place for years. Protesters attended the rally on bikes and motorcycles as they waved Cuban flags and passed the US embassy. “Down with the blockade” was shouted by many in this caravan, just one of the 50 demonstrations that called for the end of the blockade. Many were hopeful that now president, Joe Biden, would reverse the harsh sanctions that were put in place by Donald Trump in his 4 years as president. The Cuban foreign minister showed his support of the demonstration as he said that the blockade has been “harmful, illegal, immoral [and] criminal” a sentiment shared by many in Cuba and the United States. Joe Biden stated on his campaign trail last year that he hoped to reverse the policies put in place by Trump, but at this time, the administration has only said that the policy is under review.



Iraqi prime minister Mustafa al-Kahdimi traveled to the Saudi capital of Riyadh this week to meet with the Kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Al-Kadhimi pledged during the visit that Iraq would never become a launchpad for attacks on Saudi Arabia. The statement came after U.S. officials said that explosive-laden drones which crashed into the main royal palace in Riyadh in January had been launched by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. A relatively unknown group which calls itself Righteous Promise Brigade claimed responsibility for the attack. Al-Kadhimi said the group’s claim was not true and insisted that the attack had not been launched from Iraq. Aside from a discussion on border security, Iraq and Saudi Arabia signed five agreements on Wednesday covering financial, commercial, economic, cultural, and media fields, according to the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV channel.

During the meetings, Saudi Arabia announced that it would contribute $3 billion to an investment fund for Iraq. The joint fund will accelerate investment in Iraq with participation from the private sectors in both countries, according to a statement from the state-run Saudi Press Agency. Saudi Arabia and Iraq also agreed to cooperate in renewable energy and in the oil sector under the scope of OPEC and OPEC+. Saudi Arabia and Iraq are OPEC’s largest oil producers.

In other news, Covid-19 infections in Iraq have surged in recent weeks, largely driven by the arrival of the more infectious U.K. variant of the coronavirus. According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, since the beginning of the pandemic, Iraq has increased the number of intensive care unit beds equipped with ventilators from 700 to 10,000. On Wednesday of this week, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Health said that 468 of these beds were in use. However, many medical workers are unconvinced by these figures. A medical source who wished to remain anonymous said “All the hospitals I’m talking to in Baghdad are reporting a bed occupancy rate of 95 percent or more.” The Iraqi Health Ministry says that more than half of the recent cases in the country are from the highly infectious U.K. variant, which arrived in Iraq in February 2021.



EU-mediated talks between the opposition and the ruling Georgia Dream party failed for a second time this week after both sides refused to sign the document offered by EU mediator Christian Danielsson. MP’s from the ruling party have said that the talks failed because the opposition refused to sign an agreement that did not include repeat parliamentary elections and the release of opposition figures. Seven Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) released a statement following the failed negotiations which said that “both the ruling and the main opposition parties taking part in the discussions are to be blamed for this outcome and a special responsibility lies with the party in government,” and that “Georgia’s leaders should not expect a return to business as usual from the European Union.”



Negotiations on bringing back the United States and Iran into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will resume among all parties in Vienna next week. While there will be no direct talks between Iran and the U.S just yet, this will be the first “serious effort” taken since the inauguration of President Biden

The South African Defence Community this week agreed to deploy troops to Mozambique in order to help the country battle a violent insurgency in Cabo Delgado province, but offered few details on how many troops would be involved, which countries would provide them, or what their mission in Mozambique would be. Attacks by the terrorist organization al-Shabaab, which has ties to ISIS, have steadily increased in Cabo Delgado since 2017. Since August 2020, al-Shabaab fighters have controlled the key port town of Mocimboa de Praia and launched an attack against the city of Palma earlier this year which forced 67,000 people to flee their homes.



LastSunday, a suicide bombing occurred outside the cathedral church in Makassar. The Coordinating Political, legal Security Affairs Minister confirmed that the two suspected bombers died, and an estimated number of twenty civilians were wounded. President Joko Widodo has denounced the explosion as a terrorist attack and has reassured the public the state will guarantee the safety of church goers. 



Sixty-four protesters were arrested last Sunday, March 28,2021. About 300 anti-riot police officers cleared the sites of a Government House demonstration camp, shouting through loudspeakers and giving protesters three minutes to pack up and vacate the area. The police denied the peaceful request of protesters to ask for more time to gather their belongings, and quickly arrested almost seventy people. 

In other news, The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship will be leading a protest on April 4th with their supporters more commonly known as the Red Shirts. The main goal of the protest is to oust the administration of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The chairman of the organization, Jatuporn Promphan, says that the protest will be similar to the Black May event from 1992. While he admits that the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship has lost its credibility to politicians in the country, he still hopes to gather a mass following and mobilize the country to hold the office of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha accountable.



The deal signed on the 29th of March 2019 between Ortega’s regime and the Civic Alliance, the opposition group, remains unrealised exactly two years later. The deal from the “Second National Dialogue” promised to reestablish constitutional rights for all and the freedom of political prisoners, however, the two years since have been characterised by deteriorating human rights standards, more imprisonment of political activists and the introduction of new laws curtailing civic space. 

The gold mining industry is also hitting headlines as the companies Condor Gold, Mako Mining and Calibre Mining plan to increase efforts to drill for gold, with the latter reporting a 202% increase in mineral reserves. However, Calibre Mining is a Canadian company. In other news, Nicaragua received a donation of 650,000 polio vaccines from Mexico, facilitated by the humanitarian organization DirectRelief. Finally, the Nicaraguan army has reported it turned back 1,116 migrants attempting to travel northward to the United States.



Belarus this week added former presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has been living in exile in neighboring Lithuania, along with other political activists, to a list of people the government links to terrorism. Pavel Latuska, a former diplomat and minister of culture now living in Poland, and popular blogger Anton Motolko were also put on the list maintained by Belarus’s State Security Committee, still officially abbreviated as the KGB. The move came after Belarusian authorities said they arrested a man last week who, according to them, was preparing an explosion in the capital, Minsk, as well as at a military unit near the town of Borisov. Prosecutor general Andrei Shved said Tsikhanouskaya was involved in the preparation of the terrorist attack, but provided no details.

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution which condemned the use of force against peaceful protesters in mass demonstrations across Belarus after the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko last August. Rejecting the resolution, which passed with twenty votes for, seven against, and twenty abstentions, Belarus’s ambassador, Yury Ambravezic, said the country regarded the resolution “as yet another attempt to interfere in the domestic affairs of our State and we reject it.”

In other news, organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest have ejected Belarus from the competition for songs that were found to have violated the competition’s ban on political lyrics. Belarus’s original entry, “Ya Nauchu Tebya” (I’ll Teach You), by the band Galasy ZMesta, was criticized by opposition figures who asserted that the song endorsed President Lukashenko’s violent crackdown on anti-government protests. The country was given an opportunity to submit a modified version of the song, or a new tune. However, after evaluating the replacement, the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the competition, said in another statement that “the new submission was also in breach of the rules” and that Belarus would be disqualified. 



United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, commended the efforts of the Sudanese civilian-led transitional government this week as they paid $335 million to compensate victims of previous attacks. This was part of an agreement that would take Sudan off of the US list of state-sponsored terrorists. The attacks were on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 by al-Qaeda who was backed by the previous Sudanese leader, Omar al-Bashir. Bashir was toppled in 2019 and this agreement and payment is the beginning of the expansion of a bilateral relationship between the United States and Sudan. 

Leaders from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan are set to begin talks this Saturday in Kinshasa, DR Congo. The talks will last for three days and will hopefully end in an agreement about the Grand Renaissance Dam. President Felix Tshisekedi who took over the chair of the African Union recently will be the host of the talks and other influential members in the union will also be present. The official talks have come at the perfect time as tensions have heightened this past week after Egypt claims that nobody will take a drop of their water. Hopefully though, by the end of the long weekend, a decision will be made peacefully over the dam.  



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.



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.

We hope you have a great week.

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