CANVAS Weekly Update – May 7th, 2021


May 7, 2021

Dear Friends,

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.

Conflict Update:

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.

Coronavirus Update:

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.


The United States:

This week, April’s job report from the US Labor Department showed slower growth than predicted, with only a 266,000 increase of non-farm payroll jobs. With Covid-19 restrictions easing and the stimulus checks, estimates were higher, however, the trend is still positive. President Biden believes this strengthens the need for his proposed ‘American Jobs Plan’, an infrastructure bill worth $2.3 trillion, and the American Families Plan worth $1.8 trillion. In Arizona, a review of the 2020 election results, backed by Republican state senators, has been criticised by a top election official for its lack of safeguarding procedures. Moreover, the review is using unqualified people to find bamboo traces “seemingly trying to prove a conspiracy theory that the election was tainted by fake votes from Asia”. In Texas, the House of Representatives voted to support a bill restricting voter rights, including, “giving party-affiliated poll watchers greater access to voting sites”. In Florida, Republican Governor DeSantis signed the bill “SB 90” into law, which curbs voter rights; the media was barred from the event, except Fox News.



This week, a report claimed that China emits more greenhouse gases annually than all other developed nations combined. The Rhodium group annual estimates are for 2019; China is estimated to be responsible for 27% of global emissions, and the US contributes 11.% making them the top two emitting states. President Xi Jinping has previously committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2060 as the US and China increasingly compete over climate policy. In other news, the European Union has unveiled plans to protect certain sectors from Chinese competition amidst “growing distrust after Western sanctions over rights abuses and Chinese retaliation”.


Hong Kong:

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was sentenced to an additional ten months in prison this week for taking part in an unauthorized assembly last year to commemorate the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. During Thursday’s sentencing, District Court judge Stanley Chan said that Wong, as a prominent activist, did not play a passive role in the vigil, which was attended by thousands, and required a penalty with sufficient deterrent effect. Mr. Wong is currently serving a thirteen-and-a-half month sentence for organizing an unauthorized protest in 2019. He was also among 47 activists charged under Hong Kong’s new national security law for participating in unofficial primary elections last July to select candidates for legislative elections. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the release of Joshua Wong, along with Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen, and Janelle Leung, who were sentenced alongside Mr. Wong on Thursday. “The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong and rejects the sentencing of activists for attending a Tiananmen commemoration,” Blinken wrote on Twitter. In other news, authorities in Hong Kong announced this week that residents who have been fully vaccinated can spend a shorter time in quarantine if they have been exposed to a Covid-19 patient, after thousands were forced to isolate themselves in tiny quarantine quarters for up to twenty-one days. The new rule is part of the city’s strategy to encourage more residents to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Only about 14% of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people have had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.



This week, lawmakers approved the decision to amend the constitution which would allow the President to appoint the judges for the Constitutional, Supreme and High Courts; President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s signature is all the prevents the move from becoming law.  In response, rights groups, including the Zimbabwe Peace Project, organized the #ResistDictatorshipConstitution rally, which was online to avoid Covid-19 restrictions regarding public gatherings. The protest attracted many government critics claiming the ruling ZANU-PF are amending the constitutions to control the judiciary and attack democracy. In other news, Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, all youth opposition activists with the MDC Alliance, have filed a bid with the High Court to stop their trial proceedings. They are accused of faking their own abduction last year and blaming security officials and they are charged with publishing falsehoods. The bid hopes to stop the trial and prevent magistrates Makwande and Reza from being involved in the trial on the grounds that they are taking it personally.



Cuban health authorities have conducted examinations of various healthcare centers across the country, detecting institutional failures when caring for people with coronavirus. The different areas of failures include, delays in the arrival of patients, sending high-risk patients to low-risk centers, delay in the detection of symptoms of aggravation as well as others. The look into the work of these centers comes from the order of the new President of the Republic, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez. The fatality rate reached 0.73% in April and officials have said that the indiscipline and violations were in large part due to the low perception of risk to much of the population as well as a failure to identify close contacts of confirmed cases. This thorough review will hopefully allow for Cubans to look at their experiences and no longer continue to make the same mistakes.



In remarks made during an interview with the Beirut Institute think-tank, Iraqi President Barham Salih said that Iraq has hosted more than one round of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He gave no additional details. Hosting the talks is seen as a significant step for Baghdad, which has consistently sought to play the role of a regional mediator. Salih’s confirmation of the talks comes after Saudi and Iranian officials have softened their language and said they are ready for reconciliation. The two countries severed diplomatic relations in 2016 and are currently engaged in multiple proxy conflicts, including in Yemen. Meanwhile, a senior Kurdish official has said there are growing indications that ISIS is trying to make a comeback after an uptick in attacks in Iraq. At least nineteen members of Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish security forces have been killed in recent days across the country, according to military statements, prompting calls from Iraq’s president to remain vigilant to the threat of a resurgent Islamic State. This came as militants attacked two oil wells at an oilfield close to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing at least one policeman and setting off fires, the oil ministry said. Industry sources said the attack had not affected production. In other news, Iraqi health officials say that the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s decision to get vaccinated last week has persuaded thousands of others to follow his example. Iraq received its first vaccine shipment in March, but many Iraqis have avoided receiving the vaccine amid widespread and unproven rumors that it could cause birth defects or sterility. Only about one percent of the country’s population of 40 million have been vaccinated. Mr. Sadr, who commands millions of followers, was shown on video at a vaccination clinic in the city of Najaf.



The ruling party, Georgia Dream, sparked controversy this week over its registration of a bill written to fulfil the amnesty clause in the April 19 agreement. The bill will grant amnesty to all participants of the June 2019 riots, including law enforcement officers and officials responsible for dispersing protestors. The bill has been heavily criticized for granting amnesty for the abuse of power by law enforcement and “unknown, unexplored acts, including possible crimes by [civil] servants.” Civil Society Organizations have argued that the bill also supports the idea that “state institutions represent a political side” and that granting amnesty to “possible wrongdoers” will amplify the political crisis. There has also been criticism over the clause that allows those entitled to clemency to refuse it because the opposition argues that it targets the imprisoned chair of the opposition, Nika Melia, who is opposed to being freed by the bill if it includes amnesty for law enforcement.



Iran’s top negotiator Abbas Araqchi has said that while the US has expressed their readiness to lift the sanctions, the deal has yet to be negotiated as it is inadequate on the end of Iran. He states that discussions will continue until all demands have been negotiated. The US has been weighing on unfreezing $1B in Iranian funds which could be used for humanitarian relief. It is still unclear whether the fund release would occur unilaterally, but funds would certainly not be provided in cash. The US plans to allocate it to the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Agreement to allow humanitarian aid to be sent to Iran without violation of US sanctions.



The state-owned company Kimia Farma is now facing a potential collective lawsuit launched on behalf of almost 9,000 passengers at the airport in Medan. Employees of the pharmaceutical company have been arrested for allegedly washing and reselling used nasal swab test kits. According to the police, the scam has been going on since last December, and massive complaints from passengers receiving false positive test results urged the police to go undercover as a passenger. In other news, the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that public trust in the government dipped 5 percentage points in 2020 due to the handling of the pandemic.



Supporters of the pro-democracy movement gathered last Sunday, May 2, 2021, after bail requests for the detained activists were denied for the ninth time. One of the activists who had their bail application rejected was Parit Chiwarak “Penguin”, who has been on a hunger strike for almost 50 days. Penguin has been recently transferred to the Ramathibodi Hospital due to his condition. The supporters marched from Victory Monument to Bangkok’s Criminal Court where they gathered to protest. They used the symbolic 3-fingered salute to show their dissatisfaction with the government and solidarity with the detained activists. In other news, the Thai Court has cleared Deputy Agriculture Minister and Thammanat Prompow to hold office despite the drug trafficking charges in Australia from 1993. This ruling has caused backlash from the opposition, as Teeratchai Panthumas from the Move Forward Party noted that this was unconstitutional. Pichai Naripthaphan, Pheu Thai’s deputy leader, also notes that allowing a person who has been sentenced to drug-related offences is “disgraceful” and shows the “low level of standard in the current government and the country”.



This week the National Assembly approved electoral reforms including, restricting international observers, preventing foreign funding of political parties, and banning those identified as activists in the 2018 protests against incumbent President Ortega from partaking in the election. Moreover, the parliament elected mostly Sandinistas as magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Council to oversee the November elections. Presidential pre-candidate Juan Sebastián Chamorro is advocating for the opposition to turn out to the elections en masse to prove electoral fraud, meanwhile,  the U.S. has called on Nicaragua to “make the electoral system more credible“.



Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus’s exiled opposition leader, called on the United States this week to impose more sanctions on the country in order to isolate President Alexander Lukashenko. “I urge you, the elected representatives of American people, to continue acting decisively. We call on the U.S. to engage in international mediation jointly with European partners,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a virtual appearance at a congressional hearing. The Belarusian government, however, has remained steadfast in its unwillingness to work with international partners to resolve the ongoing political crisis. In response to a G7 communique calling for new presidential elections in the country and the release of those the G7 deems unfairly detained, the Belarusian Foreign Minister called the statement “a set of hackneyed cliches.” In response to a criminal complaint filed by lawyers on behalf of ten Belarusian claimants in a German court on Thursday which alleged that their clients were vicitims of crimes against humanity, including torture, Lukashenko said that the “heirs of fascism” were in no position to judge him.



In the fight to find a legally binding agreement to the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Egyptian Foreign Minister and Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation held talks with the US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. The talks were to discuss developments of the GERD and Egypts position on the Dam. In other news, the Sudanese Culture and Information Minister met with the Saudi commerce minister and acting media minister this week. The two countries have strong sides with one another, regularly holding meetings together, this one discussed ways to enhance cooperation when it comes to the media.



Doctors in Bolivia have begun a 24-hour strike, stopping work until the government meets their demands and engages in a dialogue. The Health Minister has announced discounts for those who do not work. Some of the demands from the doctors include the annulment of the Sanitary Emergency Law which regulates the prices of clinics and medicines and allows professionals from abroad to work during Covid-19, they also want to discuss cooperation to strengthen the fight against coronavirus. If the government does not listen to the demands of the doctors this week, they plan to strike again next Friday. This week, businessmen spoke to the Bolivian Congress about the economic situation in the country and ways that the crisis could be fixed. After discussing a plan to “rescue” employment, the businessmen asked for Covid-19 vaccinations to be given to the businessmen in order to begin more dialogue situations.