CANVAS Weekly Update – August 6th, 2021


August 6, 2021

Dear Friends,


CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers Myanmar updates, repression from Belarus, a Bolivian lake, and the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.


Conflict Update:

This week, fighters from Ethiopia’s Tigray region gained control over a UN World Heritage Site in the neighboring region of Amhara. Lalibela, known as the “Jerusalem of Ethiopia,” contains 11 medieval churches carved out of a rock face. Ethiopian Orthodox Christians consider the churches to be a holy site. While the United States called on the Tigrayan fighters to protect the sacred site, the Ethiopian government warned that further expansion into Amhara and neighboring regions would be cause for fresh fighting. Last week, the United States announced its intention to deliver $149 million in humanitarian aid to the Tigray region. Nearly 400,000 people in Tigray are currently enduring famine-like conditions as the conflict continues. In recent weeks, the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan has emboldened Taliban fighters to launch an aggressive offensive campaign. The Taliban hold more territory now than at any point in time during the twenty-year war since the initial American invasion in 2001. Although much of the country remains contested or under control of the Afghan government, Taliban militants are gaining ground in rural provinces and some major cities like Kunduz, Herat and Kandahar. The US has increased airstrikes in recent weeks with the intent to slow the Taliban’s momentum as the Afghan security forces prepare to fully take over the war effort.


Coronavirus Update:

The known total of global Covid-19 infections has surpassed 200 million on Wednesday. Alongside this, the World Health Organization called for a temporary delay on booster shots until the end of September, so that vaccine supplies can be sent to other countries. With a goal of helping all countries vaccinate at least 10% of their population, The WHO has shifted their attention to the wealthiest nations. According to director general of The Who Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, of more than four billion vaccine doses administered around the world, more than 80% have been used in high and upper-middle-income countries. With the rise of the Delta variant, cities across the world are beginning to impose strict lockdowns and regulations. Sydney, Australia is scheduled to be under lockdown until at least August 28th. In an attempt to avoid another lockdown, Israel has reinstated mask wearing requirements, a shift to work-from-home policy. Other regulations popping up across cities include vaccination mandates for certain job fields and proof of vaccination to travel and enter restaurants or entertainment venues. In other news, monthly shipments of vaccines acquired by the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AU) has begun this week to all AU member states. A total of 6.4 million Johnson and Johnson vaccines will be distributed throughout August. Monthly shipments will continue with a target to deliver around 50 million vaccines by the end of the year. Following a concerning fourth wave of infections and deaths, Africa has begun to see a small dip. Africa and Europe have witnessed a two percent decrease in COVID-19 deaths, according to WHO’s COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update. South-East Asia, on the other hand, has seen a three percent increase, according to the same update. On Wednesday, Indonesia recorded a total of more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19. Due to distribution issues and infrastructure, only 8% of the population is fully vaccinated. Alongside mitigation efforts, the Thai government has opened its mass vaccination campaign to the general public to anyone 18 or over, including foreign residents. By the end of the month, the government plans to have 80% of Bangkok residents vaccinated. Bangkok and 28 other cities have been recently labeled as “dark red” provinces, facing heavy infection rates and rising regulations. Numerous businesses are closed until the end of August and a new ban on mass gathering has just been issued this week, discussed further in Thailand’s section in CANVAS’ Weekly Report.



With Sunday marking six months since the military took power from civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s military leader declared himself the prime minister of the new “caretaker government”. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing also announced a state of emergency for the next two years and promised elections by August 2023, citing the need to “make preparations” beforehand. Pro-democracy militia have reported finding about 40 dead bodies in Myanmar’s jungles over the past few weeks. The bodies, some showing signs of torture, were found around Kani, a town in the Sagaing area, which has been a hotspot for violence between anti and pro-junta militias. The opposition militia and Myanmar’s UN envoy, Kyaw Moe Tun, believe the murders are extrajudicial killings by Myanmar’s junta and have labeled the event a massacre. Kyaw Moe Tun represents Myanmar’s elected civilian government and has refused to leave his UN post since the coup. He declared in a letter to ​​UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the killings are “clearly amounting to crimes against humanity”. In his letter, Kyaw Moe Tun also pleaded for humanitarian aid to Myanmar. According to the Association of Political Prisoners, military-controlled security forces have killed over 946 people since the coup in February. The junta denies this statistic as well as the claims of a massacre in Kani. On Friday, the military announced they will grant amnesty to activists currently on the run from the junta, as long as they turn themselves in. Many in hiding responded with skepticism and plan to remain hidden, as they have no reason to trust the junta’s word.


The United States:

A report released Tuesday found that New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women and created a hostile work environment. Investigators found a pattern of inappropriate behavior including suggestive and sexual comments and unwanted touching by Cuomo, as well as an inner circle of loyal advisors who sought to protect the Governor against the consequences for his behavior. While President Biden and New York legislators across the aisle called for Cuomo to resign immediately, he showed no intention to do so. Cuomo will likely face an impeachment vote in the New York State Assembly if he fails to step down. The United States has reinstated a Trump-era migrant expulsion policy known as Title 42 at the US-Mexico border. Title 42 allows Mexican and Central American migrants seeking asylum in the US to be expelled into Southern Mexico on a schedule of regular flights. Although advocates of the policy cite COVID-19 concerns as US detention centers fill with migrants, pro-migrant groups have taken legal action against the Biden administration. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argues that the policy returns migrants to dangerous situations in Mexico and denies them a legal right to seek asylum.




In the aftermath of Cuba’s mass protests last month, hundreds of Cubans are still detained, including prominent activists. So far, 62 people have been sentenced in trials for participating in the demonstrations. However, Cubalex, an organization committed to monitoring human rights abuses in Cuba, claims that 555 people are still in detention out of 770 cases that have been documented so far. 45 people have disappeared without a trace, with no information being available for their safety or whereabouts. Cuba’s covid situation continues to worsen. A new peak of over 9,000 daily cases is straining the island, making it difficult for the government to respond adequately. In many areas, like covid hotspot Ciego de Avila, hotels are becoming hospitals to better accommodate the largest wave of the coronavirus Cuba has ever seen. According to local Mayi Del Valle,  “the people are very frightened. Every day, more sick, more deaths — a relative, a neighbor, a friend. There are people treating COVID in their houses based on herbs.”



Last week, The Citizens Alliance for Liberty announced their presidential and vice-presidential candidates. On Tuesday vice-presidential hopeful, Berenice Quezada, was detained by police at her home and placed under house arrest. Nicaragua’s Confidencial news outlet reported that “a complaint of terrorism crime” was filed against Quezada Tuesday following remarks over lack of freedoms in the country. As the number of political prisoners grows, countries and organizations are taking action. This week, the EU imposed sanctions against eight more officials, including current Vice President Rosario Murillo. The curbs prohibit travel and transit in the EU, a freeze on any EU based assets, and a ban on EU businesses or citizens doing businesses with them. Alongside this, the head of the Human Rights Watch’s Americas division called on the United Nations to “step up UN efforts to prevent further abuses.”



Bolivia’s second biggest lake has dried up, most likely permanently. Lake Poopo dried up in 2015, and scientists and locals are now heavily doubting the lake will ever fill up ever again. “Scientists say the one-time lake, which sprawls across Bolivia’s sun-drenched, high-altitude altiplano, has fallen victim to decades of water diversion for regional irrigation needs.” And with global climate change accelerating worldwide, a permanently “warmer, drier climate has made its recovery increasingly unlikely.” As a shallow lake that ebbs and flows across decades, locals were expecting the lake to fill up again; but this time, no one is too sure. One local questions, “Will the lake fill again? With this climate change and pollution, it seems to me that the weather can no longer be predicted. In our Aymara language, it is said that, ‘Our mother Earth is tired.’” Covid is decreasing in Bolivia, with a reported average of about 700 infections per day. Indigenous people in rural distant areas of the country are concerned over the uneven distribution of vaccines, as many have gone missing before reaching underserved communities. “When the vaccines were coming people were a bit nervous about it, but later the vaccines were missing and people were left unvaccinated, that’s what happened” said local resident, Fausto Lopez. A government official from the Ministry of Health is declining to comment while lawmakers are planning on investigating the situation.  Covid vaccines are being administered at high rates in the country, with 20% of the population being inoculated so far. Spain has sent 585,600 vaccines to Bolivia, according to the Bolivian Government on Tuesday; the vaccines will arrive by the end of the month. In total, Bolivia has had 476,000 infections, 17,910 deaths, and 4,630,979 vaccines administered.



Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov was found dead in Kyiv, Ukraine on Tuesday. Twenty-six-year-old Shishov went missing on Monday after he failed to return from a jog and was later found hanged in a park. Shishov served as the head of the Belarusian House in Ukraine (BHU), which helps Belarusian exiles fleeing repression to resettle in Ukraine. Kyiv Police have opened an investigation into the suspicious circumstances surrounding Shishov’s death, which Shishov’s partner says was likely a murder disguised as a suicide. On Friday, the International Olympic Committee expelled two Belarusian coaches from the Olympic Village. The removal of Artur Shimak and Yury Maisevich comes after the coaches reportedly tried to force a Belarusian athlete to leave the Olympics against her will. Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Timanovskaya criticized team coaches on social media after being forcibly scheduled into a race she had not planned to run. Team officials then ordered Timanovskaya to withdraw from the Olympics and return to Belarus. Once at the airport in Tokyo, she refused to board the flight to Minsk. Timanovskaya managed to seek the protection of the Japanese police and has now fled to Poland on a humanitarian visa. Both the death of Vitaly Shishov and the near kidnapping of Krystsina Timanovskaya this week have instilled fear in members of the Belarusian diaspora. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has made it abundantly clear that no one is safe from his regime, not even those who have sought refuge abroad.



This week marks the 13th anniversary of the Russo-Georgian War, a five-day long war largely fought in the province of South Ossetia. The Russian Foreign Ministry remarked on the occasion, calling on Georgia’s western allies to “abandon the unpromising line of ‘reintegration’ of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Georgia” and reiterating that the blame for the war lies with Georgian ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili. Russia also said it is ready to restore relations with Georgia “to the extent Georgia is ready for this,” and that it hopes Tbilisi will start developing relations with the Russian-occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions “as independent states.” The Georgian Foreign Ministry harshly criticized these remarks, labeling them as propagandistic disinformation. It cited “Russia’s aggressive policy, its unlawful occupation of Georgian territories, the violation of the territorial integrity of our country and breach of inviolability of internationally recognized state borders” as the debilitating factors in developing amicable relations between the two nations. The U.N. Security Council stood behind Georgia, condemning Russia’s military occupation of the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions.



The 12th round of meetings between China and India regarding the border conflict ended well, creating cause for optimism in the future. According to the press, “the two sides had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on resolving the remaining areas related to disengagement along the LAC in the Western Sector of India-China border areas, and both sides noted that this round of meeting was constructive, which further enhanced mutual understanding.” Both sides have agreed to resolve remaining conflicts and issues, in addition to maintaining constant communication and dialogue. On Wednesday, troops disengaged from the Gogra Post in Ladikh, showing a commitment to peace in the region as the two parties agreed on during the previous talks. The extremely contagious delta variant is testing China’s ability to handle coronavirus and the strength of its own vaccine. New approaches from the government to deal with crisis include mass testing, closed cities, and cancelled flights. Many are worried of the economic repercussions of a complete shutdown, as the previous lockdown contracted the Chinese economy into the lowest point in 50 years. China reported the biggest outbreak of covid in the most recent wave, with 124 new cases confirmed on Thursday, mostly coming from the eastern Jiangsu Province.


Hong Kong:

On Monday, Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption arrested the Cantopop singer Anthony Wong Yiuming for allegedly violating campaign laws over his performance at an election rally in 2018. The charges carry a potential sentence for up to seven years in prison, adding on to the 10-month sentence Wong is serving currently for involvement in a 2019 protest. However, on Thursday prosecutors announced they were dropping charges because Wong only sang two songs at the election. In other news, On Saturday, China’s state-media outlets called on Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union to be eradicated, saying its role as a political organization has incited riots across the city. Following this, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said it would no longer recognize the union and cease meeting its representatives or hearing concerns raised. The union has responded with two released statements stating that they never incited student protests and opposes separatism since its foundation. Following tightening restrictions over civil liberties and current tensions with China, the President of the United States Joe Biden has shifted his attention to Hong Kong. On Thursday the White House announced that Hong Kong residents who are in the United States are now granted temporary “safe haven,” allowing them to remain and work in the country for at least 18 months. While it is not clear how many people will be affected by this, according to a senior administration official, the vast majority of Hong Kong residents in the U.S are expected to be eligible.



This week, the United States and Indonesia launched their largest joint military exercises to date, including 4,500 troops. The two-week Garuda Shield drill is an annual exercise which underscores the existing defense partnership between the countries. American and Indonesian diplomats believe that a closer military partnership and bilateral relations between the two nations will be beneficial. As the US seeks to increase its influence in Asia and to counter China’s global power, strategic ties with Indonesia will be valuable. The US plans to donate $30 million in COVID-19 aid to Indonesia as the country struggles with surging infections, oxygen shortages and a slow vaccine rollout. Indonesians continue to suffer amid out-of-control COVID-19 infections. On Wednesday, the country surpassed the grim marker of 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus. The true death count is likely to be far higher.



On Tuesday night a new order was published in the Royal Gazette, banning all mass gatherings, including rallies, protests, and assemblies. Implemented under the Emergency Decree, the government is denying any political motivation, despite the weekly pro-democracy protests. However, the order has raised a stir on social media, where political activists are encouraging people to still attend the latest protest scheduled for this weekend. In order to be Covid-19 friendly, demonstrations are planned to take form in another car mob. However, the upcoming protest from the Free Youth movement is facing additional challenges. On Thursday, pro-monarchy groups in Thailand requested military protection against the protest. The Centre of the People for the Protection of Monarchy submitted a petition Thursday. The leader of another pro-monarchy group, Thai Pakdee, posted an accusation on Facebook, claiming that the pro-democracy movements were weaponizing Covid-19 into “biological warfare.” While military assistance was sought out, Pakdee asked other monarchy supporters to refrain from counter protests, and instead wait.



Iran’s parliament moved forward with a controversial internet censorship bill this week. The bill, entitled ‘Legislation to Protect Cyberspace Users’ Rights’, would require foreign social media and messaging companies to adhere to Iranian laws and regulations and appoint an Iranian representative. Since 2000, Iran has blocked thousands of websites, including YouTube and Facebook; it is unlikely that Instagram, which is currently available in Iran, will comply if the bill is passed. Communications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari-Jahromi criticized the bill, warning it will be unpopular with the Iranian people and will restrict, rather than establish, “cyber-sovereignty”. Since July 15th, protesters in the region of Khuzestan have taken to the streets, calling for better living conditions and government resolution of the severe water shortage. This week the protests spread to other regions; in Baharestan on Wednesday, protesters blocked roads and burned a banner of Supreme Leader Ali Khameni while chanting “Death to Khamenei”.  The protests have been met with tear gas and firearms, and four men have been officially reported dead. Human Rights Watch called for the release of detained protesters and an independent investigation into the security agencies’ use of force.



The U.S. agreed to return more than 17,000 artifacts to Iraq, after they were looted and smuggled out during the invasion in 2003. The most important of the treasures is the Gilgamesh tablet, which holds the 3,500-year-old Sumerian tale that is considered one of the first pieces of literature. Tens of thousands of antiquities have been looted since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein and have been illegally traded around the world. The culture minister in Baghdad is calling this an “unprecedented” restitution.



USAID administrator Samantha Power arrived in Sudan on Sunday to demonstrate the United States’ support for Sudan’s transition to democracy. In a talk Power gave at the University of Khartoum, she stressed that unifying the separate existing security forces into one national army is crucial to Sudan’s success. She also announced that USAID is providing Sudan $700 Million to support the more difficult parts of the transition, especially improving security in regions experiencing regular tribal violence. Local authorities in the Kassala province discovered approximately 50 bodies floating in the river between Sudan and Ethiopia. Some had several gunshot wounds and others had their hands tied, but the exact cause of death is unknown for most. The bodies have yet to be identified, but they are assumed to be victims of the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. On Thursday, a Sudanese court sentenced six former paramilitary officers to death for the killing of six student protestors in June 2019. The former officers were members of the Rapid Support Forces after the fall of the al-Bashir regime. Because the RSF is now headed by Sudan’s transitional government, the sentencing of officers for human rights abuses is seen as a sign of the country’s commitment to democratization. It is still unclear if the accused plan to appeal the verdict.



Fred Lumbuye, a supporter of Uganda’s opposition party, was arrested on Tuesday for spreading a false rumor that President Museveni had died from Covid-19 and that Ugandan soldiers were planning a government takeover. The rumor spread across social media in June and July. After allegedly starting the rumor, Lumbuye fled to Turkey, but was located by officials after just a few weeks. Lumbuye is charged with spreading falsehoods about the government. Uganda had a great week in the Olympics, winning gold in both the women’s 3,000m steeplechase, and the men’s 5000m.  Joshua Cheptegei is the first Ugandan to win the men’s 5000m event. The winner of the women’s 3,000m, Peruth Chemutai, is the first Ugandan woman to ever win an Olympic medal. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has criticized a recent increase of police attacks against journalists. Over the past six weeks, police have violently attacked four journalists for being out after curfew, despite the fact that media personnel are considered essential workers and therefore allowed out past curfew. Following these attacks, RSF expressed concern that Uganda’s police are using lockdown measures as an excuse to repress free press.



Rural communities are recently being hit hard by the covid pandemic, once previously seen as only a ‘city disease.’ Cities are not the epicenter of the pandemic, as Zimbabwe enters its 3rd wave mostly due to the highly infectious delta variant. “No province has been spared” according to a local, as the country maintains a daily average of over 1,000 cases, prominent for a country with only 14 million people. Deaths are averaging between 40-50 per day, which is slightly optimistic, as the peak of the wave seems to have been last month, when there were a reported 100 deaths per day. Covid vaccinations are slowly rising, with 11.9% of the country receiving at least one dose so far. Members of parliament have been frustrated by the slow vaccination rate, critiquing the government for not providing enough doses, especially to people in need of a follow-up shot. Many are frustrated with how the vaccines are being bought and used up without planning for the second dose, rendering the vaccination drives to be less effective. Additionally, the Zimbabwean vice president was traveling in China when one of his staff tested positive for covid, raising questions about recklessness and covid-19 protocols. China hasn’t listed this case in its national average, leading many to believe that the government is not honestly reporting on the accurate amount of coronavirus cases in the country. In better news, Zimbabwe will be receiving 5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, secured for the entire continent from the African Union (AU).