CANVAS Weekly Update – May 21, 2021


May 21, 2021

Dear friends, 

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel, continued violence in Myanmar, and Iranian frustration with Iraqi militant groups. 

Conflict Update:

Israel and Hamas, the militant group in control of Gaza, agreed to a ceasefire that went into effect at 2 a.m. on Friday. Israel required that Hamas end demonstrations on the border and stop both the digging of attack tunnels and the firing of rockets at Israeli cities. Hamas required that Israel stop using aerial bombs. Since May 10th, rockets deployed by Hamas have killed 12 people while Israel has killed over 230 people in Gaza.

Cyclone Tauktae, which was labeled ‘extremely severe’ has affected more than half of India and severely impacted all states on the country’s west coast. Authorities had to work to ensure that the 400 COVID-19 hospitals and 41 oxygen plants in the region would not be affected by the storm, which left hundreds of thousands without power.  The death toll currently stands at 104

Spanish troops were deployed to the North African Spanish enclave of Ceuta after 8,000 people crossed the border from Morocco and caused a humanitarian emergency. 

Girls in search of an education are fleeing Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan after 6,000 students were removed from school

Thousands of police officers called for increased protections during a protest in France. The officers say the danger of their work has increased due to the country’s failure to address underlying social problems 

Coronavirus Update:

The number of COVID-19 deaths officially recorded by countries are likely two or three times lower than they should be, according to the WHO

India recorded a world record of 4,529 deaths in a single day on Wednesday. Since then, the number of deaths and cases has declined slightly as the number of daily recoveries in the country surpasses the tally of daily cases for the seventh day in a row. The country has stopped the exportation of vaccines until October which could undermine Africa’s vaccination efforts
China has said that it will provide vaccines to nearly 40 African countries for reduced prices or by donation. The United States will also donate a significant number of vaccines this week, which will be distributed through the COVAX initiative. 

The head of the WTO warned this week that waiving intellectual property rights for vaccines will not be sufficient for decreasing the vaccine disparity between rich and poor countries.



As the situation in Myanmar continues to deteriorate, the country’s junta-appointed election commission announced this week that it would dissolve Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD) because of what it said was fraud in last November’s election. News outlet Myanmar Now said the decision was made during a meeting with political parties that was boycotted by many, including the NLD. Meanwhile, the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, has caused thousands of people to flee into the countryside as they continue their assault of ethnic rebel groups which are now one of the main forces fighting against the junta. After locals in the rural town of Mindat targetted soldiers, killing more than a dozen, the Tatmadaw seized the town after firing artillery at lightly armed civilians and cutting off the supply of food and water. Most of the town’s 12,000 residents fled into the surrounding hills where they are forced to forrage for food and sleep in make shift shelters, fearing arrest if they return to towns to purchase necessities.

United Nations Special Rappateur Tom Andrews commended the United States’s decision to target Myanmar’s military leaders, known as the Special Administrative Council (SAC) and sixteen individuals with sanctions, and urged all countries to pursue a similar course of action after at least 800 civilians have been killed by the junta. 

The crisis in Myanmar has the potential to deepen further if the country is hit by a severe outbreak of Covid-19, according to doctors in the country. Many health experts believe the virus is circulating at a low level in the country, but near non-existent Covid-19 testing infrastructure makes it impossible to get an accurate gauge on the progress of the virus in Myanmar. Last year, more than 3,000 people died from Covid-19 in Myanmar, but there are concerns that a third wave could be far deadlier because, since the military coup earlier this year, many hospitals are not operating due to a strike by doctors and other healthcare workers. The rapid spread of highly contagious variants in neighboring India, Thailand, and Laos could prove disastrous if the virus takes hold of Myanmar.


The United States:

The U.S. state of Texas continues to try to shift the nation’s social policies to the hard right. In what has been one of the most conservative legislative sessions in over a decade, Texas’s State Legislature has been flooded with bills that would play down references to slavery and anti-Mexican discrimination that are foundational in the state’s history. One bill that recently passed the Texas House would prohibit course credit for political activism or lobbying, which could include students would volunteer for civil rights organizations, and another would prohibit exhibits at San Antonio’s Alamo site from explaining that many of the main figures in Texas’s independence movement were slaveholders. Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbot this week signed one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws; the legislation bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, by which time few women know they are pregnant.  
Texas’s radical steps to eliminate abortion rights comes as the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that would challenge the precedent set in Roe v. Wade, a Supreme Court case decided in 1970 which ruled that the U.S. Constitution protected pregnant women’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. The Court’s conservative supermajority, forged by three conservative appointments to the Court by former President Donald Trump, has abortion rights advocates ringing alarm bells across the country that women’s right to an abortion could be threatened. The new case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, concerns a law enacted in Mississippi in 2018 that banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Court won’t make its decision until next summer, but if the Court decides to do away with the constitutional framework for abortion rights, it is likely that more than 20 states would outlaw abortion. 


China this week continued to flex its vaccine diplomacy program by delivering 500,000 Chinese-produced Covid-19 vaccine doses to El Salvador. Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, who has not been shy about levering El Salvador’s growing ties with China in order to seek concessions from the United States, touted the vaccine delivery in several posts on social media. To date, China has delivered more than two million Covid-19 vaccine doses to El Salvador, while the United States, El Salvador’s traditional ally and largest trading partner, has not delivered a single dose. China has found fertile ground for its vaccine diplomacy in Latin America, the region hit hardest by the virus, with eight countries among the ten with the highest death rate per capita from Covid-19. 
Across the Atlantic, the European Parliament this week blocked a landmark commercial agreement with China that, among other things, would allow European companies to own a majority stake in their Chinese subsidiaries, rather than being forced to operate through joint ventures with Chinese companies that left European businesses vulnerable to losing valuable trade secrets. The European Parliament cited the “totalitarian threat” from Beijing because of its human rights record and its sanctions against Europeans who have been critical of China’s human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.  
Meanwhile, the diplomatic row between China and Australia deepened over China’s detention of an Australian writer and businessman over allegations of spying. The trial of the businessman, Yang Hengjun, is set to begin next Thursday, over two years after he was detained in 2019. “Despite repeated requests by Australian officials, Chinese authorities have not provided any explanation or evidence for the charges facing Dr. Yang,” Marise Payne, the Australian Foreign Minister, said in a statement. Mr. Yang is one of four high-profile detainees in China whose treatment has worsened tensions between China and the West. Human rights experts have accused Beijing of using the detainees as pawns in diplomatic disputes. 


Hong Kong:

Hong Kong’s government closed its Economic, Trade, and Cultural Office (HKECTO) in Taiwan on Friday, accusing the island’s government of having “grossly interfered” in the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s internal affairs through its support for pro-democracy activists. In a statement, the government of Hong Kong said that the actions of Taiwan had “severely damaged Hong Kong-Taiwan relations, gradually jeopardizing the operating environment for the HKECTO in Taiwan.” The Hong Kong government specifically pointed to the Taiwan-based “Hong Kong Aid Project” and the “Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services,” saying the two groups had given aid to “violent protesters and people who tried to shatter Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”  
According to a government proposal announced this week, cryptocurrency exchanges operating in Hong Kong must be licensed by the city’s markets regulator and will only be allowed to provide services to professional investors. Some of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges operate in Hong Kong and local financial technology groups have voiced concerns that the move could drive the exchanges out of Hong Kong.  
In other news, Pope Francis named a new bishop of Hong Kong on Monday, a long-delayed appointment that comes as tensions have risen in the city after the passage of last year’s new national security law. Stephen Chow, head of Hong Kong’s Jesuit order, will replace Cardinal John Tong, who has filled the position in a caretaker capacity since the previous bishop died in 2019. Chow is seen as a moderate figure who would please pro-democracy figures while not alienating Beijing. 



Music veteran Zexie Manatsa was honored this week for his contributions to the music community. The talent search show, Starbright, honored him for his service to the community, saying that this was an effort to show appreciation to those who contributed before they die. In other news, the Zimbabwean judiciary has been accused by the Zimbabwe justice minister of overreach in order to destabilize the country. This came after they ruled that the president’s extension of the chief justice’s term 5 years ago was illegal. The Zimbabwe government has since lodged an appeal against the high court, challenging the ruling against the chief justice. One of the main worries is that the judiciary was used by foriegn forces in an effort to destabilize the country. Legal experts are divided on whether the decision is unconstitutional and the government had begun to wind down on their accusations, saying they respect the independence of the judiciary.  



The Cuban Family Code is set to be amended this summer as an effort to make rights given in the constitution more clear after the events of this past year. The legal change will educate and sensitize the Cuban population to avoid different biases and discrimination. The focus of the amendment is going to be on rights for those of the LGBTQ+ community in Cuba, granting them the same rights as any other citizen. 

The Cuban government has threatened to prosecute travelers to Cuba and Cuban-Americans who speak out against the Cuban government and regime. This is in an effort for them to stop any “unprecedented” opposition in Cuba. If anyone who was born in Cuba returns to the island, no matter their US citizenship status, after speaking out against the regime will be prosecuted and jailed. 



Iranian officials are becoming increasingly frustrated by the growing disloyalty of militia groups in Iraq. General Haider al-Afghani, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s officer in charge of Iraqi armed groups, quit his role last week in protest as Iranian-backed factions in Iraq refuse to obey Iranian commands. Kateb Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the most powerful Shiite militias in Iraq, are at the forefront of the rebellion, according to commanders of Iran-backed groups. The January 2020 assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad loosened Iran’s grasp on groups in Iraq, and ongoing negotiations between Tehnran and Washington in Vienna over Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have left militia groups worried that Tehran could abandon them in exchange for sanctions relief. 

In response, Iran has begun to shift its focus in Iraq away from large militia organizations and towards smaller elite and fiercely loyal groups that have been trained in drone warfare, surveillance, and online propaganda. The new covert groups report directly to Iran’s Quds Force, the arm of the Revolutionary Guards that controls militia groups abroad. According to Iraqi security forces, militia commanders, and Western sources, these groups have already been responsible for a series of increasingly sophisticated attacks against the U.S. and its allies in Iraq. 



Several people were injured during a violent two-day conflict between ethnic Azerbaijanis and ethnic Georgians in Georgia’s Dmanisi municipality. 15 law enforcement officers were mobilized to end the conflict but failed to do so as the opposing sides broke the police chain, armed with batons and rocks. The locals eventually ended the conflict with a handshake. The Embassy of Azerbaijan issues a warning about the ethnic and political portrayal of the incident, stating that it should “only be evaluated at the relevant institutions, and the perpetrators should be punished according to Georgian laws.” In other news, CSO’s in Georgia are concerned that the upcoming election of judges to the High Court of Justice goes against the April 19th agreement that was created to end Georgia’s political crisis because it will occur before judicial reform takes place. If the elections go forward, the opposition is worried that the ruling party, Georgia Dream, will increase its influence within the judiciary. Also in Georgia, one of European Georgia’s MPs has quit the party after the majority of EG decided that it will continue boycotting parliament 


Last week, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made a late-night appearance on the mobile app, Clubhouse, making headlines as he discussed a variety of issues from Iran’s 25-year cooperation accord with China to his bedtime routine. Journalists, civilians, and other government officials watched his stream, totalling the maximum number of participants allowed, which was 8,000. Civilians appear to be split on their feelings towards the mobile application and its implications on Iran’s press freedom and democracy, given that most social media applications are blocked in the country. On the one hand, Iranians have been using the platform to openly discuss a variety of topics such as music, technology, and even politics. On the other hand, others have expressed their concerns on the potential for the government to create processes that would automatically identify and monitor users. 



Indonesia has voted against a United Nations General Assembly resolution on the responsibility to protect (R2P). This resolution was introduced by Croatia and will officially put R2P on the annual UNGA agenda. This will also then require the UN Secretary General to hold annual reports on the subject. In a vote on Tuesday, May 18, the resolution received 115 affirmative votes from member states and 28 abstains. Indonesia was among the 15 countries to vote “no”. While this decision has led countries to question Indonesia’s commitment to the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and other human rights abuses, the Foreign Ministry director general for multilateral affairs said that Indonesia did not oppose R2P as a concept. Febrain Ruddyard noted that the country contended partly because all UN member states had agreed to the R2P at the 2005 World Summit and that the UNGA should first resolve the unanswered questions on its implementation.  



On Friday, May 14, 2021, the representatives of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha filed a police complaint against Thai singer Suthipong Tadpitakkul. Suthipong has been a vocal critic of the government, he has expressed his views on the government’s lack of response to COVID-19 as well as the strict lèse majesté law. The complaint filed by the Prime Minister’s lawyer alleges that Suthipong shared a Facebook post regarding the government’s vaccine procurement plan. While the original post shared by Suthipong is no longer up, the singer has not deleted his post and the comments he has published. Among the comments included: “It is a vaccine of the boss”, and “It is a COVID-19 vaccine monopoly.” His wording of his comments then led the lawyers to file a complaint with the lèse majesté law. In a subsequent post, Suthipong dismissed the complaint filed against him. 



Nicaragua’s crackdown on opposition groups has accelerated ahead of presidential elections scheduled for November 2021. Police this week raided the offices of two prominent opposition figures, Cristiana Chamorro and her brother Carlos Fernando Chamorro, both of whom are the children of former president Violetta Chamorro. Police accused Cristiana Chamorro of laundering money through the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, a nongovernmental freedom of information organization, of which she was the director until she stepped down in January. The foundation closed its doors in February after refusing to register as a foreign agent because of organization’s international funding.  
Cristiana Chamorro has publicly announced her intention to run against long-time president Daniel Ortega, who is vying for a fourth consecutive term. The country’s Interior Ministry says it has launched an investigation into irregularities in the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation; the allegations of money laundering could bar Chamorro from running from office. Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council also canceled the legal status of the Democratic Restoration Party this week, which was expected to be the party used as an opposition coalition against Ortega in November. 



Belarusian authorities raided the offices of and blocked internet users’ access to the webpage, arguably Belarus’s most popular online news site. Officials say the site violated media laws by publishing content on behalf of BYSOL, a foundation that helps victims of political repression but is not registered with the Belarusian state. Authorities also accused of tax evasion and began a criminal investigation into the news site’s top staff members, many of whom face charges that could put them behind bars for up to seven years. Eleven staff members and two people from affiliated organizations were detained following the raids, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists. Katerina Borisevich, a reporter, was released from prison on Wednesday after being sentenced to six months in prison in March after she reported on the death of a peaceful protester, Roman Bondarenko, in November 2020. The Belarusian Association of Journalists also reported on Friday that Artym Mayorau, a journalist who reported on the police raid at the office, was detained by the police and has been sentenced to 15 days in prison on charges of “petty hooliganism.”

In another concerning development, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed into law this week legislation that would allow security forces and police to shoot at demonstrators. The law will free law enforcement officers from responsibility for damages inflicted on protesters by physical attack, firearms, combatant, and special equipment if in such cases the actions are deemed “legal.” Additionally, police gain the power to ban taking recordings of the dispersal of unlawful gatherings, search the personal belongings and vehicles of individuals, and obtain citizens’ personal data without a warrant. 



Sudan has announced several measures this week that will help combat the spread of covid-19 throughout the country. The restrictions include the banning of social gatherings, events, and parties, reducing the number of people allowed in the workplace, and hosting sporting events without any spectators. There will also be a suspension of studies in schools and universities for a month. The number of cases in Sudan is expected to rise to 100,000 in the next month and these efforts will hopefully keep the number from getting to that point. Fines are also going to be imposed on those who fail to adhere to the proper restrictions.  



Bolivia and Mexico’s foreign ministers have made it formal this week that the visa required for travel between the two countries is no longer required. This is an effort to normalize ties between the two countries, visitors are able to stay in the other country for 180 days, and both countries hope to continue building their relationship.  
Bolivia’s covid-19 vaccine rollout has come to a stop after misinformation about the vaccine has been spread. Vaccination centers have been left half-empty as fake news spread by anti-vaccination groups has caused people to not want the vaccine out of fear of what might be inside. Health care workers are having to throw out or go into the street to find people to vaccinate with their leftover doses, they are hoping that the government will start a better vaccination campaign. 



Leaders in Kampala and Kinshasa stepped up the two countries’ collaboration in the fight against militia groups in eastern Congo this week, with Uganda saying Monday it had made a deal with the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to share intelligence and coordinate a new push to combat Islamist rebels in the region. The move comes a week after Congolese officials said the two countries would open an operations center in eastern Congo to fight the rebels, known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF). Rwandan President Paul Kagame said that his country would also cooperate with the DRC to fight rebels in the country’s east. The ADF, declared a terrorist organization by the United States, claims links to ISIS, but the United Nations has played down the strength and nature of ISIS in the Congo. 
In other news, Uganda is struggling to vaccinate the estimated 1.5 million refugees and asylum seekers currently residing there as the country is facing a new resurgence of Covid-19 infections. Many are wary of receiving the shot because of potential side effects they may experience in the days after the vaccination, and many more because of conspiracy theories that the vaccine will make men impotent or women infertile. Meanwhile, Uganda’s Ministry of Health warned this week that the country’s isolation facilities and intensive care units are beginning to fill up due to a resurgence in Covid-19 infections. Ruth Aceng, the Health minister, warned that many Ugandans no longer want to adhere to the Covid-19 standard operating procedures, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing. 


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