June 18, 2021
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers new Israeli airstrikes against Gaza, a United Nations General Assembly resolution on Myanmar, and a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Israel launched air strikes against Gaza this week, just days after long-time prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from his post and a new coalition government took power. The air strikes targeted facilities used by Hamas for meetings to plan attacks against Israel, the Israeli military said. The move came after Hamas-linked Palestinians launched incendiary balloons from Gaza which ignited at least twenty fires in southern Israel.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Geneva this week for talks on issues ranging from cyber-warfare and election-meddling to nuclear weapons. Both the Americans and the Russians have conceded that relations between the two powers are at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Instead of a total reset of Russian-American relations, aides to Mr. Biden have said that the U.S. leader is seeking to move towards a more predictable relationship and will attempt to rein in Russia’s disruptive behavior in the international arena.
A surge in violent attacks between gangs in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, has forced nearly 8,500 women and children to flee their homes in the past two weeks, according to United Nations officials. The violence has left several people dead or injured as rival gangs battle to exert their control over populous neighborhoods such as Martissant, Cité Soleil, and Bel Air. Hundreds of homes and small businesses have been burned.
The United States Department of Defence is considering a proposal that would send Special Forces trainers back to Somalia to help local forces combat al-Shabaab, a terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda. The move would be an almost complete reversal of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s abrupt near-total withdrawal from the country in January. The Biden administration put new restrictions on drone strikes in place after entering the White House on January 20, resulting in a five-month period of almost no strikes in Somalia, which has allowed Islamist militants to operate without intervention.
After getting off to a slow start, China’s vaccination program is moving ahead at full steam, with plans to vaccinate more than 40% of the country’s population of 1.4 billion by the end of June. China has already administered an estimated 945 million shots, more than a third of the global total, and is on track to pass one billion shots administered in the coming days. Although many citizens were initially hesitant to get vaccinated, citing concerns about side effects and the fact that China has suffered milder outbreaks than other parts of the world, rising case numbers of the Delta variant, along with incentives, have pushed more people to get the jab.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, scrapped plans to lift all of England’s remaining coronavirus restrictions, which was due to occur on June 21. Mr. Johnson delayed the re-opening day, which has been called “Freedom Day” in British tabloids, for four weeks after the country experienced a spike in cases caused by the Delta variant, which may cause more serious disease than other variants.
The European Union recommended on Friday that member states lift the ban on non-essential travel for visitors from the United States, a move welcomed by southern European states whose economies rely on the summer travel season. However, the resolution is non-binding, leaving it up to the member states to decide what, if any, restrictions they will impose on their own. Despite the E.U. recommendations, the United States remains closed to European travelers following a travel ban imposed by former President Donald Trump and extended by Joe Biden in January.
Even as Europe begins to re-open, Portugese authorities ordered a weekend lockdown of Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and largest city, in an attempt to blunt a new outbreak in the capital region which authorities say is largely being driven by the Delta variant first detected in India. The country recorded its highest number of new cases since March this week, jumping by more than 1,300 within 24 hours.
Fiji, an archipelago nation in the south Pacific, asked Australia this week to deploy medical teams to the Fijian capital, Suva, as the nation grapples with one of the region’s fastest growing Covid-19 outbreaks. After months of near-zero community transmission, the nation of 900,000 people currently has more than 1,000 active cases, largely driven by the Delta variant.
The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s deposed democratic leader, began in a closed courtroom in the capital Naypyidaw on Monday. There were no journalists present at the hearing and there was a strong police presence outside and inside the court. Aung San Suu Kyi faces a wide array of charges, three of which were addressed on Monday, including allegations that she violated a natural disaster management law related to the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic and a communications and imports law by illegally possessing walkie-talkies. If convicted, Aung San Suu Kyi could be barred from running in future elections.
Danny Fenster, an American journalist who was arrested by Myanmar authorities last month, also appeared in a special court this week. Frontier Myanmar, the current affairs magazine where Fenster is a managing editor, released a statement which said that Fenster faces a charge of incitement, which can carry a three-year prison sentence. This charge has been used frequently by the junta against journalists and dissidents. Frontier Myanmar said it did not know the reason for the charge. On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said that U.S. consular officials have been barred from communicating with Fenster by the junta, a violation of the Vienna Conventions on Consular Relations.
The United Nations General Assembly on Friday voted to condemn Myanmar’s military coup and called for an arms embargo in the country, demonstrating global opposition to the military takeover. Supporters of the resolution had hoped to pass the measure unanimously by consensus, but Belarus called for a vote. The measure was approved with 119 countries voting “yes,” Belarus voting “no,” and 36 countries abstaining.
Security forces in Myanmar this week set fire to Kin Ma, a village with about 800 inhabitants in central Myanmar, killing at least two elderly people who were unable to flee their burning home. State TV said the blaze was caused by “terrorists” and that media which reported otherwise were “deliberately plotting to discredit the military.” According to villagers, about 30 homes out of an estimated 200 remain standing. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, villagers said security forces set the fires after confronting opponents of the coup.
The Karen National Union, the political wing of the Karen National Defence Organization, said in a letter dated June 16 that the group would investigate allegations that its forces abducted 47 people last month and killed 25 of them. The group, which has been fighting the Myanmar military in the country’s east, said that it “follows the Geneva Convention which doesn’t accept killing civilians during armed fighting.”
This week, Cuba reported 1,481 new coronavirus cases, the second largest figure since the start of the pandemic. Over two million Cubans have been inoculated thus far from a population of around 11 million. Nonetheless, as the Caribbean nation prepares itself to launch its government-sponsored vaccine, they are faced with a shocking shortage: syringes. As a result of the U.S. de facto embargo on the island, Cuba is having a tough time accessing the international market of syringes and other essential medical supplies.
Rampant political tension keeps escalating in the Plurinational State of Bolivia as Luis Arce’s administration continues to take legal action against former acting president Jeanine Áñez and Ecuadorian former president Lenín Moreno for the sale of tear gas by the latter to the former in November 2019 to tackle civilian protests following the overthrow of Evo Morales. Iván Lima, the country’s Minister of Justice, made the announcement Wednesday that the Bolivian government intended to prosecute them over “crimes against humanity,” though he did not specify whether they would turn to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights or the International Court of Justice. Moreover, Bolivian ex-president Carlos Mesa refused to testify in court Thursday morning over the so-called “Coup d’état” case, which inquired into the responsibilities behind the series of events that led to the resignation of former president Evo Morales. On her side, Áñez reiterated that a coup “never took place” in the Andean nation and that she was “in her full right” to claim the presidency in November 2019, calling for her “immediate release.” Áñez has been under house arrest since March this year.In other news, Bolivia reported Thursday 417.195 total coronavirus cases in the country. In an attempt to palliate the dire situation that the Andean nation is undergoing, Arce’s administration has decided to ease the acquisition and importation of vaccines, delegating the powers to close deals with sovereign states and big pharma to subnational governments as well as reducing bureaucracy.
On Tuesday, the 100th Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) was held in Ergneti, a village near the boundary line between Georgia and the Russian-occupied Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia. Since 2009, the IPRM has provided a forum for engagement between stakeholders, through which security and humanitarian concerns of the conflict-affected populations are addressed. Participants in Tuesday’s discussions stressed the importance of continued participation in the open dialogue and called for a resolution of detention cases along the border. On Thursday, Georgian citizen Lasha Khetereli, who was illegally detained a year ago for crossing the boundary, was released.
In a communiqué following the Brussels NATO summit, leaders of the 30 member states reiterated support for Georgia to become a member of the Alliance through the Membership Action Plan. Leaders also called on Russia to withdraw forces from the occupied territories, and to “cease the human rights violations, arbitrary detentions, and harassments of Georgian citizens.”
In other news, despite calls from the EU, the US embassies, and Georgia’s opposition, the Georgian High Council of Justice (HCJ), an independent body, selected nine candidates for the Supreme Court. While members of the HCJ state that failure to elect the new members would lead to the collapse of the judicial system, opposition members claim that approval of the judges will violate the April 19th EU-mediated agreement requiring extensive judicial reforms. The candidates will need the support of the majority of parliament in order to be approved.
On Saturday, Philippines Independence Day, around 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Chinese consulate in Manila. As part of the Duterte Wakasan Movement, people were protesting China’s increasing presence and overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, known as the West Philippine Sea. Chants, signs, and decorated cars filled the area. Groups such as Pamalakaya, the national federation of small fisherfolk, and figures such as former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio were present. The rally was one of the largest Independence Day demonstrations in recent history and the first major protest since the beginning of the pandemic.
Alongside this, China was also subject to criticism from the G-7 summit that occurred over the weekend. Citing the human rights abuses against minorities in the Xinjiang region and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, US President Joe Biden called on Beijing to “act more responsibly.” A spokesman of the Chinese embassy in the United Kingdom responded on Monday, accusing the summit leaders of political manipulation and interference in China’s internal affairs.
In other news, the concept “Tang Ping” translated into “lying flat” has been gaining traction among the younger Chinese population. Frustrated with the growing wealth gap and pressure to succeed with limited resources, some millennials and GenZ have begun expressing their burnout over social media. Tang Ping has been circulating the internet to encourage others to be content with attainable achievements and dedicating time for themselves.
On Thursday morning around 500 police raided the newsroom of Apple Daily and arrested five executives. Accused of colluding with foreign forces and encouraging sanctions against Hong Kong and China; Editor in Chief Ryan Law, Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kimhung, Chief Operating Chow Tat Kuen, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Puiman and Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-Wai were arrested. Hong Kong’s Security Chief John Lee told reporters that Apple Daily “used journalism as a tool to endanger national security,” and encouraged all reporters to shun the five arrested. Lee also warned that any alignment with the pro-democracy newspaper and arrested executives could lead to a heavy price, including life in prison.
Following this, people in Hong Kong bought all 500,000 copies the Apple Daily printed the next morning to show solidarity and distribute it to others in the neighborhood. Dozens were left at local coffee shops and businesses. Many took to social media, posting pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #SupportAppleDaily. In other news, five men who participated in a mob attack on Hong Kong protestors two years ago were found guilty on Friday. The ambush took place in the Yuen Long train station where dozens of men dressed in white began attacking protestors and reporters. The attack sparked outrage due to the police’s failure to respond quickly and efficiently. All five offenders will be sentenced on July 22, one day after the second anniversary of the attack.
This week the World Bank approved $1.3 billion in loans to aid Indonesia’s COVID-19 response and support economic policy reforms. The sum will be divided into $500 million for expanding coronavirus vaccination, testing and care, and $800 million for reforms such as improved food access and renewable energy investments. This relief effort comes as the pandemic dramatically worsens in Indonesia. The country recorded 12,624 new infections on Thursday and has been one of the hardest hit in Southeast Asia. Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta, the Kudus region in Java province, and the town of Bangkalan have especially suffered from this recent surge. Among those getting sick are healthcare workers, many of whom have been vaccinated with China’s Sinovac vaccine. These infections raise concern about the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine against the highly contagious Delta variant which is circulating in Indonesia. However, some public health experts attribute the surge in cases to a failure of policy rather than a new variant. Many Indonesians ignored the country’s travel ban last month to gather at the end of Ramadan for Eid-al-Fitr, likely contributing to the spread of the virus in recent weeks.
After signing an executive decree that approved a 500 billion baht (USD 16 billion) loan last week, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha became the subject of criticism. On Monday morning, Chan-o-cha spoke directly to senate leaders, justifying the decision for economic recovery. In addition to this, Chan-o-cha mentioned his intention to see out his four-year term, despite constant calls for his resignation. Thailand’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic was cited as a large complaint.
Even now, with last week’s mass vaccination campaign beginning and 3.1 million doses administered, Thai citizens are still wary of the government’s ability to distribute vaccines. With the nearing launch of the “Sandbox” program, Phuket has been racing to vaccinate at least 70% of the island’s population, opening up slots for expatriates and foreign workers regardless of permit status. While the Phuket Office of the Public Relations Department released a report saying that they have reached their sought goal, concerns over the accuracy of the percentage figures have risen.
Friday, Iranians headed to the polls to vote in the presidential election. Of the four remaining candidates, three are considered hardliners, and the winner will replace the relatively moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani. The frontrunner, practically uncontested, is the ultra-conservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi. While he presents himself as the candidate most capable of solving Iran’s economic issues and fighting corruption, Raisi has a “brutal record on human rights,” having played a role in the execution of up to 5,000 political prisoners in the 1980s. If Raisi is elected, the hardliners will look to tighten restrictions on social activities, the press, and social media, as well as reigning in freedoms and jobs for women. A hardline presidency, “in the vision of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,” will also likely keep tensions high with the West.
Although the elections come at a time of widespread discontent over economic hardships, voter turnout is expected to be low; many Iranians consider the elections to be a power grab by the hardliners, and don’t have trust in the electoral process. Of the almost 600 registrants for candidacy, including 40 women, only seven men were approved by the Guardian Council, the hardline unelected supervisory body that evaluates candidates’ qualifications. Activists, dismayed by the heavily-engineered nature of the election, are calling for a boycott; polls predict that voter turnout could be less than 50% for the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. As voter turnout is important for the perceived legitimacy of the Iranian government, this may pose a problem for leaders.
In other news, U.S. President Biden’s administration is looking to finalize a deal with Iran to revitalize the 2015 nuclear agreement. A U.S. official believes a deal can be reached within weeks, and hopes that an agreement is finalized before the new Iranian president is inaugurated in August. Iran’s deputy foreign minister and lead negotiator believes that the sides were closer “than at any other time” to reaching an agreement, but that the fundamental differences that remain must first be resolved.
This week, United Nations humanitarian officials were allowed to enter five regions in Sudan that have been off limits for ten years. These areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, controlled by Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North, were reportedly in dire need of humanitarian aid after being cut off for a decade due to conflict between SPLM-N and the Government of Sudan. Meanwhile, peace negotiations between the Sudan transitional government and SPLM-N were paused indefinitely by the South Sudanese mediators, citing that the two groups have come to a standstill on several issues. Despite the disagreements, the rebel group and the government were reportedly able to agree on 3/4 of the issues in the peace-talk framework, including some significantly contentious issues.
South Kordofan has declared a state of emergency due to continued violent clashes between the El Hawazma tribe and the Kenana Arifab tribe. The governor, who hasn’t confirmed how many have died in the violence, has made repeated pleas to the involved parties to stop the violence before other tribes get involved. Citizens in South Kordofan protested earlier in the year against the violence and lack of police action.
Uganda continues to struggle under the strain of rising Covid-19 cases. On Monday the WHO representative to Uganda confirmed that vaccines, oxygen, and ICU rooms had run out across the country. In a tragic illustration of these shortages, on Thursday thirty people died at Uganda’s largest Covid treatment facility due to oxygen failure. Reports show that Uganda has the capabilities to produce only half of the oxygen needed for all their covid patients. In response, authorities are expected to import oxygen from Kenya, and have shared plans to build a fifth oxygen plant which should be operational by the end of the week. It was also revealed this week that private hospitals have begun charging Shs2m to Shs5m per day for covid patients. Given that the per capita income of most Ugandans is Shs2.5m, these costs are unmanageable for most Ugandans who must either stop treatment or leave the bill for their family to pay. Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, Uganda’s Health Minister, asserted that private hospitals should apologize for these exorbitant costs, labeling the hike in prices as “unacceptable” and exploitative. Thankfully, vaccine supplies were replenished on Thursday with the arrival of 175,200 AstraZeneca vaccines.
In other news, eighteen supporters of opposition leader Bobi Wine (originally named Robert Kyagulanyi) were granted bail this week after being held for six months. The eighteen were part of a group of thirty-five originally arrested for violating Covid gathering restrictions, but they were ultimately charged in military courts for weapons offenses. Rights activists and opposition officials claim that hundreds of opposition supporters were arrested by security forces after Museveni was pronounced the winner of the 2021 election in January. The lawyer of the eighteen accused claims the charges and six months of jail time were “simply punishment for supporting the opposition.” Museveni, Africa’s fourth-longest serving ruler, has denied all allegations of election fraud and opposition suppression.
Zimbabwe courts released freelance New York Times reporter Jeffrey Moyo on bail this week, following widespread backlash against his arrest. Moyo was arrested in May for allegedly violating immigration regulations to bring two other New York Times reporters into Zimbabwe. Although Moyo asserted he followed all the legal avenues to attain the required papers, the courts claimed the press credentials were improper and expelled the other journalists. During his 21-day jail period, Moyo was labeled by the courts as a national security threat, repeatedly denied bail, and forbidden from seeing his family. This week, however, a government lawyer asserted that the courts have no strong case against Moyo. The Committee to Protect Journalists praised Moyo’s release and continues to assert the charges should be dropped completely. Tensions continue to run high between the ruling party, Zanu-PF, and the main opposition party, MDC Alliance. On Sunday President Mnangagwa labeled MDC-Alliance as a terrorist group that is “anti-people” and “pro-violence.” Later in the week, MDC Alliance accused the Zimbabwe Elections Committee of reporting false information after they declared zero new voter registration in the Bulawayo province, an area where MDC claims they have enacted successful voter registration campaigns. Despite these clashes, the two parties both took time this week to mourn the death of respected and established traditional leader, Chief Dendera of Mashonaland West. Chief Dendera was considered a beacon of rationality and non-partisanship in such a politically polarized environment. In other news, President Mnangagwa’s launch of the National Disability Policy this week has received praise from the disabled community. The NDP promises increased accessibility for disabled citizens, both targeting physical barriers and societal barriers such as access to welfare, education, and employment. The policy is the latest update to the “outdated” Disabled Person’s Act of 1992.