April 23, 2021
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers attacks on press freedom in Hong Kong, changes to electoral rules in Zimbabwe, US sanctions for Myanmar and an agreement to end Georgia’s political crisis.
After winning a sixth term, President Idreiss Deby of Chad was killed on Monday during a clash between government soldiers and a rebel group that has been training in Libya. Despite the constitution dictating that the president of the national assembly or the vice president are next in line for the presidency, Deby will be succeeded by his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, who will lead a transitional military council for 18 months until new elections are held. On Thursday, two days after President Zelensky of Ukraine warned of the possibility of war, Russian troops were ordered to pull back from the Ukrainian border by May 1st. The day before, dozens of protest leaders were arrested across 20 cities in Russia for holding rallies protesting the treatment of opposition leader Alexsei Navalny. Thousands of Russian attended the protests despite heavy police presence. Navalny has been moved to a hospital for treatment as he approaches the third week of his hunger strike. The day of the protests, President Putin delivered an annual state-of-the-nation address where he warned of a powerful response if the West crossed “what he called a ‘red line.’” In Jordan, 16 of the officials accused of aiding the former crown prince in “fomenting unrest” were released. Two officials remain in detention.
5.2 million COVID-19 cases were recorded this week, the highest weekly count to date, as the number of infections approach their highest rates since the beginning of the pandemic. India recorded 314,835 cases in one day, a new world record. Oxygen shortages have become a concern in the country: some hospitals in New Delhi are waiting for supplies from neighboring states after their oxygen ran out and at least 22 people have died in the state of Maharashtra due to the shortage. Pfizer has committed a non-profit distribution campaign of its vaccines in India. In other vaccine news, the COVAX initiative successfully began vaccination campaigns in Syria, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, amid reports that the initiative has only delivered one in five of the number of doses initially it estimated would arrive by May due to supply shortages, export bans and ‘hoarding.’ Also in vaccine news, the European Medicines Agency determined that the benefits of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine outweighs the risk of blood clots. There have been 8 cases of blood clots and one death after the administration of 7 million doses.
A meeting between the leaders of Southeast Asian countries this weekend at an ASEAN summit in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta will feature at least some discussion of the ongoing violence in Myanmar. There is significant international pressure on the leaders, the meeting of whom will include Burmese coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing, to resolve the escalating violence. However, the invitation of General Min Aung Hlaing has sparked outrage among Burmese activists and human rights groups who feel his presence at the meeting lends legitimacy to the military government. Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a Burmese activist, said Min Aung Hlaing’s attendance at the summit would “signal not just to people in Myanmar but also in other countries in Southeast Asia that the ASEAN institution is immoral.” Others have called for the National Unity Government, which considers itself the legitimate government of Myanmar after being formed by ousted lawmakers and opponents of the coup on April 16, to be invited to the special summit. Dr. Sasa, the spokesperson for the National Unity Government, wrote in an open letter to ASEAN that the new government was “fully prepared” to participate in the summit and warned engagement with Myanmar’s military should only occur if the junta stops the killing of civilians and other abuses. On Thursday, the National Unity Government sent a letter to INTERPOL calling for the arrest of General Min Aung Hlaing ahead of his reported planned trip to the summit. In response to the escalating violence, the United States has imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Myanmar, this time targeting two state-owned businesses with connections to the armed forces. The U.S. Treasury Department identified Myanmar Timber Enterprise and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise, representing the country’s timber and pearl industries, as sources of funding for the military and its leadership. The sanctions bar the companies from doing business in the United States or with American companies, and their assets were frozen. The imposition of these sanctions comes as Chevron, the second-largest oil and gas producer in the United States, continues to lobby the Joe Biden Administration to avoid imposing sanctions on Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, with which Chevron has a long-standing relationship. Chevron says sanctions could endanger the long-term viability of the Yadana gas field, which has been operated in part by Chevron since the 1990s. The Yadana gas field is one of the military’s largest sources of revenue, bankrolling up to 70% of its operations in years past, according to analysts. This year, Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise is expected to collect at least $536 million worth of revenue, according to EarthRights International. Additionally, Chevron and its partners in the Yadana project pay taxes to the Burmese government to be able to operate in the country, at least $120 million in 2018.