May 7, 2021
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers protests in Colombia, constitutional amendments in Zimbabwe, a controversial amnesty bill in Georgia and detainee updates from Thailand.
Police stations in Bogota, Colombia were attacked this week and roads were blocked as protests over tax reforms turned violent. Since the protests started, 80 people have gone missing, at least 24 people have died and more than 800 have been injured. The president announced he would withdraw the proposed tax bill but the protests have continued as demonstrators call for an end to excessive force by law enforcement and improvements to pensions as well as to the health and education systems. Two gunboats were sent by the UK to the British island of Jersey, a few miles off the French coast on Wednesday after French fishermen protested post-Brexit fishing rights rules at the island’s capital. France deployed its own naval ships on Thursday in response. The situation was resolved shortly after. According to authorities from Tajikistan 19 people were killed and 87 were injured this week during a skirmish on the border with Kyrgyzstan. The conflict began after a camera was supposedly installed at a water-intake station in Krygyz territory by a group of Tajiks. 18 tonnes of debris from a Chinese rocket used to launch the first part of China’s new space station are expected to fall back to Earth this weekend. It will be one of the largest items to have an uncontrolled re-entry into the atmosphere in decades.
The United States announced its commitment to a patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines on Wednesday, which the head of the WHO has called a “monumental moment in the battle to end the deadly pandemic.” Australia faced backlash this week after the government announced that any nationals flying home from India could be subject to fines or jail time but they have since reversed the controversial restrictions. The ban was announced as India hit 1.57 million cases of COVID-19 this week and reported a world record of 414,188 cases in one day. India is responsible for 46% of the cases reported globally and one in four deaths. The country’s oxygen shortage led to the deaths of 36 people across two hospitals. To cope with the deadly surge, India has made $6.7bn in cheap loans available for vaccine makers, hospitals and health firms. Neighboring Nepal has requested 1.6million AstraZeneca vaccines following a surge in cases. In other vaccine news, the AstraZeneca jab was reintroduced to Malaysia’s vaccine drive this week after it was removed due to safety concerns and Denmark became the first country to entirely exclude the Johnson and Johnson vaccine from it’s vaccine initiative. In Serbia, the first ‘cash-for-jabs scheme’ was initiated; each citizen who receives the vaccine before the end of May will receive payment.
Three months after the coup d’état which extinguished Myanmar’s experiment with democracy, the sense of foreboding which has permeated Burmese society for the greater part of 60 years under military rule has returned. Sources indicated that nearly 800 civilians, including children, have been killed by security forces since the putsch. As the death toll among protesters has continued to grow, activists in Yangon and other cities in Myanmar have shifted their tactics in an effort to reduce the chance of a deadly response from authorities. In a five-minute protest in Yangon on Thursday, about 70 marchers chanted slogans in support of the civil disobedience movement that opposes February’s coup which ousted the elected government; the activists promptly scattered into the downtown crowds. Protests also took place in other cities, including Mandalay, the country’s second biggest city, where Buddhist monks marched, and Dawei in the southeast, where the demonstrators included engineers, teachers, university students, and members of LGBT groups. Protestors in Dawei tore up and set fire to textbooks as they called for a boycott of schools, which are set to reopen soon after a long shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, the anti-military shadow government formed by elected lawmakers who were barred from taking office by the military announced a plan to unify local groups into a national “People’s Defence Force” which would serve as a precursor to a “Federal Union Army” of democratic forces including ethnic minorities. The National Unity Government has the backing of several major ethnic minority groups who for decades have been seeking greater autonomy and who maintain their own guerilla forces. On Friday, guerilla soldiers from the Karen ethnic minority burned down a government military outpost after capturing it without a fight when its garrison fled, a senior Karen officer said. Also on Friday, Myanmar’s military junta said it would not agree to a visit by a Southeast Asian envoy until it could establish stability in the country. Leaders of countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reached consensus on five points at a summit on the Myanmar crisis last month, but the junta said it would only consider suggestions made at the summit if they were helpful to its visions for the country, according to a spokesperson for the military council. In other news, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) indicated that attacks on healthcare in Myanmar are jeopardizing the country’s Covid-19 response. According to the U.N. Country Team in Myanmar (U.N.C.T.), there have been at least 158 reported attacks on medical personnel and facilities in Myanmar, with more than 139 doctors arrested and charged since the military coup in February, endangering not only vital health services but also the Covid-19 response. According to the W.H.O., the 158 attacks resulted in at least eleven deaths and 51 injuries. According to the U.N.C.T., those detained include highly specialized health personnel whose expertise cannot easily be replaced, which will significantly impact both the quality and the quantity of health services available in Myanmar.
This week, Uganda’s parliament passed a Sexual Offences Bill which the government says will prevent sexual violence and protect victims. The wide-ranging bill establishes a national sex offenders registry and legislates against an array of crimes, from workplace harassment to child marriages. However, a clause recognising that women can withdraw consent before or during a sexual act was removed from the final version of the bill, with MPs failing to agree on a definition of consent. Another clause criminalising marital rape was dropped in February. The bill also represents another attack on the rights of LGBTQ+ people and sex workers in Uganda. The bill punishes any “sexual act between persons of the same gender,” as well as anal sex between people of any gender, with up to ten years in prison. The law even provides that if Ugandans perform these sexual acts outside of Uganda, they can still be prosecuted in the country. Ugandan feminists and human rights activists advocated for a provision in the bill that would decriminalise sex work, but parliament rejected their recommendations and maintained prison sentences for sex workers, clients, and brothel owners. In other news, Dominic Ongwen, a former Ugandan child soldier who was kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) when he was nine-years-old, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes including murder, rape, and torture. Ongwen is the first former Ugandan child soldier to be convicted and sentenced by the ICC. The crimes relate to attacks on four camps for internally displaced persons in Uganda in 2004. He was also found guilty of sexual slavery, forced marriage, and the rape of seven women who were abducted and placed into his household. Despite the severity of the crimes, judges sentencing Ongwen said they decided not to give the maximum life sentence because he was abducted as a child on his way to school in the late 1980s and groomed by rebels who killed his parents.