CAVNAS Weekly Update – June 11th, 2021


June 11, 2021

Dear Friends,


CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the escalating violence in Myanmar, new E.U. sanctions targeting Belarus, and multiple rocket attacks in Iraq.


Conflict Update:

Famine has afflicted at least 350,000 people in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, a starvation crisis more serious than anywhere else in the world currently, according to the United Nations and international aid groups. The organizations had warned for weeks that conflict in the region could lead to a disastrous situation in the most populous country in the Horn of Africa. Mark Lowcock, the top humanitarian emergency official at the United Nations, told a meeting of aid officials and diplomats that the crisis in Ethiopia was the worst in any country since the 2011 famine in Somalia and warned that “this is going to get a lot worse.” At least 160 people were killed in an attack on the village of Solhan in Burkina Faso last week. No group, including Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), has claimed responsibility for the massacre. The violence brings the total number of people killed by armed groups in Burkina Faso since the beginning of 2021 to more than 500. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia upheld a 2017 verdict which convicted Ratko Mladić, a Bosnian Serb and former general of crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. His life sentence in prison was also upheld. Mladić was convicted in 2017 on a wide array of charges which included attacking and murdering civilians during a 43-month siege of Sarajevo and directing the genocidal executions of 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica. The United States is considering carrying out airstrikes to support Afgan security forces if Kabul or another major city is in danger of falling to the Taliban, according to senior officials. U.S. President Joe Biden had previously suggested that American air support would end after U.S. troops left the country, but military officials are actively discussing how they might respond if the American withdrawal produces consequences with serious ramifications for U.S. national security. Officials say a potential fall of Kabul, home to allied embassies and American citizens, is the crisis most likely to lead to military intervention after American troops leave the country.


Coronavirus Update:

The Italian government announced this week that it would stop administering the AstraZeneca-produced Covid-19 vaccine to people under the age of 60, claiming that a drop in the country’s level of infections meant the risks of distributing the vaccine to younger people no longer outweighed the risk of rare and severe blood clots that have affected some people who have received the shot. Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, an army general in charge of Italy’s vaccination campaign, said that young people who had already received one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine will get a different shot for their booster dose. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) this week told Johnson & Johnson that about 60 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine produced at a factory in Baltimore, Maryland cannot be used because of potential contamination. The FDA plans to allow about 10 million doses to be distributed in the United States or sent to other countries, but with a warning that regulators cannot guarantee that Emergent BioSolutions, the company which operates the Baltimore plant, followed good manufacturing practices. The loss puts a serious dent in U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan to distribute vaccines to countries which are still battling high rates of infection. The leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest countries are expected to pledge one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to poor and middle-income countries at the G7 Summit as part of a campaign to “vaccinate the world” by the end of 2022. The International Monetary Fund estimates that it will cost about $50 billion to help the developing world bring an end to the pandemic. In Indonesia, several McDonald’s outlets were forced to close after a special “BTS Meal,” named for the popular Korean boy band, drew crowds of delivery drivers which violated coronavirus restrictions, according to police. On Wednesday, the first day the limited edition meal was available, crowds of motorcycle delivery drivers showed up at outlets across the country, overwhelming restaurants unprepared to deal with the turnout. In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, police said they had temporarily closed 32 McDonald’s restaurants “because they were found to have violated health protocols.



The United Nations Human Rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, warned this week that violence is intensifying across Myanmar and accused the military junta for being “solely responsible” for a “human rights catastrophe.” In a statement published Friday, Bachelet said multiple reports indicated that violence in the country was continuing to escalate, including in Kayah, Chin, and Kachin states. The violence has been particularly intense in areas with significant ethnic and religious minorities. “In just over four months, Myanmar has gone from being a fragile democracy to a human rights catastrophe,” Bachelet said. In its statement, the United Nations human rights office added that more than 108,000 people have fled their homes in Kayah state, in Myanmar’s east, over the past three weeks and have taken shelter in forest areas with little access to food, water, or medical care. The United Nations office also cited credible reports that security forces have shelled civilian homes and churches and blocked access to humanitarian aid. This comes as the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader, is set to begin on Monday. She faces a wide range of allegations, including violating Covid-19 restrictions during last year’s elections, inciting public unrest, breaking a telecommunications law and import law by possessing walkie-talkies, and breaking the official secrets act. This week, further charges against Aung San Suu Kyi were announced on state media, which reported that she has been accused of accepting $600,000 cash and 11.4kg of gold, in bribes, and misusing her authority to rent land. Ahead of her trial, her lawyers have only been permitted to meet with her during three 30-minute sessions. As thousands of civilians flee violence and cross the border into India, Indian officials worry that the region could become a staging ground for pro-democracy activists and contribute to instability in the region. Approximately 16,000 people from Myanmar are sheltering in India’s Mizoram, Manipur, and Nagaland states, with the number expected to rise in coming months. Senior government sources in India also worry that the flow of people from Myanmar to India could provide additional energy to nearly two dozen insurgent groups which operate along the two countries’ borders.


The United States:

This week both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris engaged in diplomatic efforts abroad. President Biden is in Europe this week for the upcoming G7 summit meeting beginning Friday, June 11th. Days leading up to this, Biden has been heavily stressing the importance of restoring a long-standing alliance with European countries for the future. To further commit to international diplomacy, the US pledged to pay for 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to distribute worldwide. Through Covax, an international vaccine sharing initiative, the US hopes to distribute 200 million doses by the end of the year. VP Harris completed her first trip abroad this year, traveling to Mexico and Guatemala. When asked about Biden’s migration policy, Harris bluntly said, “Do not come,” as she described tightening border control. The passing comment sparked criticism from immigration advocates across the country. The issue of immigration has been highly politicized in the US, with its most recent controversy in Texas. On Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas announced that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, stating that they will not ‘sit idly by.’ While such a wall would most likely face legal challenges, there have been no further details listed by the governor. In other news, a 127-page joint report was released on Tuesday, confirming that federal intelligence agencies failed to adequately warn law enforcement about the planned Jan 6th Capital riot. The report lays out problems with the Special Capital Police Unit and 20 recommendations. However, the report fails to look at the cause of the attack.



On Thursday, the Cuban government “energetically” rejected the “spurious and interventionist” resolution passed earlier that day by the European Parliament, which lamented the lack of advances in democracy and human rights in the Caribbean island after four years of sustained dialogue with the EU. Bruno Rodríguez, the country’s Foreign Affairs Minister, together with the Cuban Commission of International Relations, denounced that the EP had been held hostage by a small group of far-right MEPs “obsessed with destroying the Cuban Revolution, with proven ties to radical Miami-based organizations funded by the US government.” The aforementioned resolution criticizes “the clear lack of commitment and willpower” by Cuban authorities to “reform the current system” and asks for the liberation of the +80 arbitrarily detained human rights activists of the Movimiento San Isidro (MSI), a cohort of anti-Castro independent artists and intellectuals. Moreover, the monthly report by the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Press and Expression (ICLEP in Spanish) revealed 109 aggressions towards independent journalists in the island, 91% of which correspond to arbitrary arrests. Dire times for freedom of press in the Caribbean nation.Regarding the Cuban economy, the country’s government and the Paris Club agreed to an extension for Cuba to service its USD$ 8.500 million dollars debt, with both parties committing to a readjustment of the 2015 agreement terms. The Caribbean nation appealed to the US embargo and coronavirus pandemic as impediments for payment in asking for renegotiation, an appeal that was surprisingly welcomed by its Western creditors. Besides, Cuba’s Central Bank (BCC) announced Thursday the temporary suspension of cash dollar deposits in the island. Such a decision comes motivated by “the current obstacles imposed by the American blockade, which prevent the national banking system from depositing the cash dollar surplus the island has abroad.”



Nicaragua is currently in the spotlight of the international community following the recent wave of incarcerations of political opponents (the most recent being Cristina Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, and Juan Sebastián Chamorro) to Ortega’s regime. They have all been accused of interfering with the country’s independence, integrity, and sovereignty by “inciting foreign military interventions and organizing destabilizing terrorist acts funded by anti-Nicaragua international powers.” Additionally, Cristina Chamorro has been charged with “abusive management, ideological falsity, and money and asset laundering” through Chamorro’s foundation, la Fundación Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. The ongoing situation of statewide corruption, political persecution, and authoritarian ruling has not gone unnoticed. On Wednesday June 10, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a public announcement stating his concern over the situation in Nicaragua, calling for a countrywide agreement on measures to ensure transparency in the upcoming general elections this November. Both the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights and the Office for Central America of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner have “categorically condemned” the authoritarian turn of the Nicaraguan government, calling for the immediate release of the political prisoners. Luis Almagro, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) urged its member states Wednesday to “suspend Nicaraguan participation in the organism according to article 21 of the Interamerican Democratic Charter,” which would enable extraordinary measures to vote the Central American nation out of the supranational organization. The United States have already taken action in this matter, as the Department of Treasury has imposed economic sanctions on Ortega’s cabinet and family members.



A fight broke out at the Bolivian Legislative Assembly during Tuesday’s interpellation round to the Ministry of the Interior, Eduardo del Castillo, as he addressed the arrest of Jeanine Áñez, the country’s former acting president, over charges of “terrorism, sedition, and conspiracy.” Opposition Senator Henry Montero and Socialist MP Antonio Colque physically assaulted each other at the center of the hemicycle, unchaining a turmoil that forced the adjournment of the session. The fight ended with Mr. Montero being escorted out of the room and drafting an official apology hours later for such a shameful spectacle. Said escalation of violence comes as no surprise – it is just a manifestation of the palpable political tension in the country as a result of Luis Arce’s administration persecution of Áñez’s cabinet members. Furthermore, Bolivia’s government announced Thursday the commence of an investigative process concerning the alleged delivery of war arms from the Ecuadorian government to Áñez’s administration in 2020 for a total sum of USD$ 5.6 million. In other news, Bolivia surpassed Thursday the 400.000 coronavirus cases threshold. The country is currently facing its third wave as vaccine rollouts are in a lull. Government says it is expecting to receive a new Sputnik V badge this weekend and a million Sinopharm doses by the 23rd of this month. So far, around 1.5 million Bolivian citizens have received the first dose and roughly half a million have been fully inoculated.



The European Union is set to propose a new round of sanctions targeting more than 70 individuals and organizations, according to a person familiar with the matter. The E.U. has already sanctioned seven Belarusian entities and 88 individuals, including President Alexander Lukashenko, and banned Belarusian aircraft from European airports and airspace. The newly announced sanctions include judges and prosecutors who have been involved in sentencing protesters, as well as lawmakers, government and law enforcement officials, and business executives. The escalation of European Union sanctions came after Belarus forced a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk, where dissident Roman Pratasevich was removed from the flight and detained, along with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. Meanwhile, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has called on the West to implement even tougher sanctions, saying they are the only way to damage Lukashenko’s regime. In an interview with Current Time, a Russian-language channel, Tsikhanouskaya said the only way to bring an end to the political turmoil in Belarus would be through a “national dialogue between civil society and the regime.” She also said that while Russia, which has backed the Lukashenko regime, could play a “constructive role” as a mediator, any solution must be left for Belarusians to decide.



The Latvian Foreign Minister arrived in Georgia’s capital on Monday, meeting separately with the ruling and opposition parties and visiting the Russian-occupied Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia on Tuesday. He announced the Latvian government’s pledge to donate 15,000 Covid-19 vaccines to Georgia, and re-iterated Latvia’s belief in Georgia’s sovereignty. Georgia also received authorization from the World Bank for USD 34.5 million for vaccine rollout, supporting Georgia’s plan to vaccinate 60% of its adult population by 2022. Meanwhile, following nearly seven months of protests, PM Irakli Garibashvili announced on Wednesday his plans to halt construction of the Namakhvani Hydropower Plant (HPP) in the Rioni Valley and reexamine the contract with the investor. Those who oppose the HPP cite environmental impacts and seismic activity as their main concerns. After a seven-month boycott, United National Movement-led Strength in Unity bloc members re-entered parliament this Tuesday. The UNM party chair, Nika Melia, was unable to give his prepared statement due to the session being cut short by the ruling party, the Georgia Dream (GD) party. In response, UNM members released a statement claiming these events further demonstrate former PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s control over the GD party, with one lawmaker calling the GD parliamentarians “captives” of Ivanishvili. Members of the GD party continue to see the UNM, the major opposition party, as having a “destructive agenda,” pointing to UNM’s unwillingness to sign the EU-brokered April 19 accord. This week Ivanishvili broke his silence after declaring a break from politics to speak on Giorgi Gakharia’s resignation as prime minister in February. Ivanishvili called Gakharia’s resignation “incomprehensible” and declared him a traitor to the Georgia Dream party.



While China is still defending the construction of Fudan University in Budapest, the Hungarian government has responded to ongoing protests. On Sunday, an aide to Viktor Orban said the university was still in the planning stage and the final decision would fall on citizens “via a referendum.” In other news, on Thursday, Amnesty International published a report that accused Chinese authorities of creating a “dystopian hellscape on a staggering scale.” The report called on the United Nations to investigate the conditions of Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim communities. Despite heightening international pressure to address the human rights abuses, China has shifted its attention to other matters. On Wednesday, China arrested 1,100 suspects related to cryptocurrency money laundering. As part of their large-scale anti-corruption campaign, regional governments are continuing to combat cryptocurrency mining platforms. On the same day, China’s parliament passed a law in secret to counter sanctions imposed by the US and EU. Signaling a step further into tense relations between China and western powers, the newest law prohibits companies and individuals from complying with foreign government sanctions that target China.


Hong Kong:

Hong Kong’s government announced this week that it would begin blocking the dissemination of movies that are deemed to undermine national security, in accordance with the new national security law introduced in the Chinese-controlled city-state last summer. While films in mainland China are regularly censored, the move could spell disaster for Hong Kong’s large film industry, which has produced international stars such as Jackie Chan and Tony Leung. The new guidelines apply to both films produced in Hong Kong and foreign films. In addition, the new rules, which were introduced on Friday, require that censors considering a film for distribution not only be on the lookout for violent, sexual, or vulgar content, but also for how the film portrays acts “which may amount to an offense endangering national security.” In other news, former lawmakers Cyd Ho and Yeung Sum pled guilty this week to charges related to last year’s banned Tiananmen Massacre vigil. They are already serving jail sentences for another two counts of unauthorized and unlawful assembly. Pro-democracy activists Lee Cheuk-yan, Chow Hang-tung, Richard Tsoi, media tycoon Jimmy Lai, and former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung and Albert Ho, among others, also appeared in court on Friday. Eight of the activists plan to plead not guilty to the charges, while ten others, including Jimmy Lai, have yet to decide their plea. While vaccination rates in Hong Kong have been lagging far behind those in other developed countries, the number of individuals receiving their first Covid-19 vaccination each day has more than doubled, with almost 22% of residents having now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. The accelerating rate of vaccination is likely due to generous incentives offered by the government, which include gold bars worth more than $130,000 and a $1.4 million apartment, and a new outbreak in neighboring Guangzhou.



Indonesia has suffered one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Southeast Asia with 1.87 million infections and 51,990 deaths. On Wednesday, Indonesia reported 7,725 new infections, the highest daily number since February 26th. With concerns over another spike in cases, President Joao Widodo spoke about his hopes for recovery on the same day. Joao said that Indonesia is aiming for vaccination rates to reach one million shots a day by July. Following this, authorities have opened up vaccines for anyone over the age of 18 in Jakarta. In other news, a recently published investigation by IndonesiaLeaks and the Koran Tempo uncovered Firli Bahuri’s role in encouraging the use of a KPK civic knowledge test. The test has sparked controversy with questions described as discriminatory against certain ethnic groups and religious beliefs. Chairman of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Bahuri allegedly demanded that the agency’s employees take the test to become civil servants.  Deciding to retain only 24 of the 75 employees who failed the test for further “civic training,” the KPK did not provide adequate detail about the selection process. Bahuri has not responded to these allegations.



On Wednesday police arrested a group of Burmese migrants and a guide from Myanmar at a rubber plantation in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district. With jobs already set up, the migrants were on their way to Malaysia when discovered and detained. Border patrol in Thailand has been steadily tightening over COVID-19 transmission concerns, leading to the arrest of more than 40 Burmese migrants. With rising infection rates and the country’s third wave, Thailand’s parliament passed a bill on Thursday to borrow an additional 500 billion baht (USD 16 billion) to deal with the latest outbreak. With an expected three million foreign tourists arriving at the start of July, Thailand launched its mass vaccination campaign on Monday, aiming to administer six million doses this month. Alongside this, Thailand has signed contracts this week for 20 million shots of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and five million doses of Johnson and Johnson. In other news, on Thursday an investigative panel of the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) absolved Thailand’s former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra from any malfeasance charges. According to the panel, there was not enough substantial evidence showing Shinawatra and her 33 cabinet members approved a 1.9 billion baht (USD 61.1 million) payment for victims of political protests during 2005-2010. The panels’ findings will be submitted to the NACC for consideration in 1-2 weeks.



Yossi Cohen, outgoing head of the Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, revealed Friday key details about the theft of Iran’s nuclear archive in 2018 in an interview. He also hinted at the Israeli in the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facility at Natanz, and the assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. These declarations come amidst talks to revive the Iranian nuclear deal, significantly altering the international rhetoric. Moreover, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, declared Wednesday afternoon the Agency’s “deep concern” over Iran’s lack of explanation of the presence of uranium particles at three undeclared sites. If the country fails to provide prompt satisfactory explanations to the international community, hopes that it rejoins the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (JCPOA) a 2015 nuclear deal Iran signed with the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany), may banish. In other news, Iran is getting ready for the country’s presidential elections on June 18. The Iranian Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, views the election as an opportunity to realize his vision for the “Islamic future” of the Nation. The Guardian Council, consisting of six Islamic jurists appointed by the Ayatollah and six lawyers nominated by the judiciary’s head and selected by parliament, have carefully crafted the candidate’s pool by vetoing certain ones from running to produce electoral results that are “acceptable” to the Supreme Leader in decades to come – meaning 5 out of the 7 approved candidates are Shi’ite hardliners. Khamenei not only wants to revive the spirit of the 1979 revolution, but also to build a strong Islamic regime that will outlive him.



Multiple rockets targeted two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S.-coalition troops and foreign contractors this week, but no one was injured in the attacks. Iraq’s joint operations command said one attack on a military base next to Baghdad’s airport was carried out by three drones carrying explosives; one of the UAVs was shot down in the attack. Three rockets also struck Balad airbase north of Baghdad on Wednesday, without causing any casualties. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the United States usually blames Iran-backed armed groups for targeting American forces and interests in Iraq. In other news, Iraq released Qasim Mahmoud Muslih, head of the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Anbar province, from prison on Wednesday. The commander of the Iran-aligned armed group was arrested in May on terrorism-related charges but released after authories found insufficent evidence against him. His release without prosecution is a major blow to Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kahdimi’s attempts to reign in the power of Iran-backed militias and political parties operating within Iraq. In other news, Turkey killed Hasan Adir, a senior Kurdistan Workers Party official, in an airstrike near Iraq’s Makhmour refugee camp on Friday. The attack was the second Turkish airstrike in less than a week that targeted Makhmour refugee camp, which is located 100 miles within Iraqi territory and has been a shelter for thousands of Turkish Kurds since the 1990s. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, in a visit to Ankara last week, warned Turkish officials that any attack targeting Makhmour refugee camp would be a violation of international law.



The Juba Agreement on Peace in Sudan garnered a lot of attention this week, as many of the rebel signatories criticized the Sudanese government for its lack of implementation since the agreement was signed eight months ago. Most of these critiques revolve around the government’s failure to implement security arrangements, leading to calls for a singular unified armed force to keep the peace, as multiple armed forces have proven unsustainable. This suggestion was rejected by the leader of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF). At a ceremony on Tuesday the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and “Troika Countries” (US, UK, and Norway) endorsed the Juba Peace Agreement by signing it as “witnesses and guarantors.” The Troika also emphasized in a statement that the Sudanese Government should stick with the stated timeline and implement the agreement as soon as possible. Sudanese citizens protested the raise in fuel prices on Thursday, with some burning tires in the capital. The nearly doubled fuel prices came after the Sudanese Government removed all subsidies for imported fuel. The Finance Ministry released a statement saying that the new prices align with import costs. In other news, 36 were killed and many more wounded after a skirmish between Taisha and Fallata tribesmen took place in South Darfur last weekend. South Darfur Wali (governor) Mousa Mahdi reports that the two tribes were successfully separated by joint forces in the area.



This week, the Zimbabwe government rejected a donation of three million Johnson & Johnson vaccines despite continued widespread Covid-19 vaccine shortages. Zimbabwe justified this decision by claiming it doesn’t have the correct storage available for the J&J vaccines, but this was debunked by Dr. Norman Matara from the Zimbabwe Association for Doctors for Human Rights who explained that J&J is stored at the same temperature as the other vaccines Zimbabwe currently stores. Therefore, political commentator Rejoice Ngwenya attributed this rejection to struggling relations between Zimbabwe and Britain. The extra Johnson & Johnson shots would have significantly helped slow the spread of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe, especially given that they are a single-shot vaccine. In other news, individuals and small groups linked to the newly re-introduced National Youth Service (NYS) sparked concern by reportedly intimidating locals of Bindura, threatening them to “Join Zanu-PF before it’s too late.” This is one example of a general rise in politically motivated violence from the Zanu-PF, the majority party, recorded by the Zimbabwe Peace Projects (ZPP). The ZPP has since expressed concern for the democratic sanctity of the 2023 elections.