CANVAS Weekly Update – August 13th, 2021


August 13, 2021

Dear Friends,


CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the developing situation in Afghanistan, Nicaraguan oppression of the media, protests in Thailand, and COVID-19 developments.


Conflict Update:

Amid urgent international calls for de-escalation, the Ethiopian government is calling upon Ethiopians to take up arms against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Conflict has expanded from the Tigray region to Afar and Amhara, six weeks after the government declared a unilateral ceasefire. Tigrayan forces, dismissing the ceasefire, say the government should accept the conditions for a truce. Months of fighting have left an estimated 1,300,000 people displaced, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Over 400,000 people are facing famine-like conditions. Amnesty International reported on Tuesday that Ethiopian government-aligned forces have subjected hundreds of Tigrayan women and girls to sexual violence as a weapon of war; the organization claims the scale of the violence is “particularly shocking” and amounts to war crimes. Three major Afghan cities fell to the Taliban this week, as the insurgent group continues its push to take over the country. The Taliban has control over 18 of 34 provincial capitals (about 65% of the country’s territory), and the rapid rate of its advancement has deepened the sense of panic across Afghanistan. Government forces are collapsing, and some American officials believe the government will not last through the month. Since May, at least 244,000 people have been internally displaced and 1,000 killed as clashes between Afghan and Taliban forces have left cities in ruins. The UNHCR warned that the heaviest toll has been on women and children, who make up about 80% of displaced persons. Fearing the fall of Kabul, the nation’s capital, the U.S., Denmark, and Norway are evacuating most members of their respective embassies.


Coronavirus Update:

Discussion over vaccine access inequity is becoming more present as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorizes a third vaccine dose for immunocompromised people. This comes after the World Health Organization called on Global North countries, such as the United States, to halt booster shots until at least 10% of every country worldwide was vaccinated. The balance between welcoming tourists and imposing lockdowns has also been growing worldwide. With rising Covid-19 cases, Phuket, Thailand has been caught in the middle of making decisions. In the first month of reopening alone, Phuket welcomed over 14,000 tourists, generating an estimated 829 million baht (24.8 million USD). While charter flights are still approved by the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand, the city has closed the Phuket Town Fresh Market for a week and converted unused prisons into field hospitals. Meanwhile, New Zealand is planning to reopen its borders to international travels early next year. Borders will not reopen until after New Zealand’s vaccine rollout is completed. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the government planned to follow the advice of experts, maintain the elimination strategy and proceed with caution. Only fully vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries would not be required to quarantine, however, everyone else will be expected to quarantine for some duration of time. In other news, Iran is facing a rising wave of Covid-19 cases, according to interviews with physicians and health workers, social media postings, and even some state media. The official recorded death toll is around 500-600 people a day, but frontline doctors in Tehran, Isfahan, Ahvaz and Mashhad told the New York Times that the real death toll was closer to 1,000 a day. With insufficient testing, lack of access to care, and less than 3% of Iran’s population fully vaccinated, the government is facing growing criticisms of incompetence.



A junta-appointed local administrator said that Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population is not on the list of priority groups for vaccine rollout, despite living in densely packed camps primed for spreading Covid-19. The Rohingya located in Sittwe live in crowded camps separated from the Buddhist majority population by barbed wire. Since Myanmar’s covid-response plan collapsed with the Feb 1st coup, densely populated areas like Rohingya camps have been hardest hit. Many Rohingya express fear regarding how they will be treated if they seek Covid-19 care at local hospitals. The administrator refused to comment on whether the lack of a plan to vaccinate the Rohingya is based in discrimination, stating the vaccine adminsters “are only following orders.” Myanmar officials estimate that 300 people die from Covid-19 a day in Myanmar, but the number is suspected to be much higher. To battle the virus, the U.S. announced this week that it is donating $50 million in humanitarian aid to Myanmar. In other news, 88 year-old Than Shwe, Myanmar’s former dictator, was admitted to a military hospital this week after contracting covid -19. Than Shwe ruled Myanmar’s previous junta for two decades before ushering in a civilian government in 2011. He is receiving treatment in the capital Naypyitaw and is said to be in stable condition.


The United States:

On Tuesday, New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo abruptly announced that he would resign in the face of sexual harassment allegations. An extensive report released last week by the state attorney general’s office found that Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women. Although Cuomo had previously defied calls to resign, it is almost certain that he would have faced impeachment and removal in the state Legislature had he attempted to stay in office. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will take power in Cuomo’s place, making her the first female governor of New York. Although many see Cuomo’s resignation as a first step to justice, he ultimately did not express guilt or remorse for his behavior. Cuomo instead framed his resignation as a means to avoid the divisiveness and inefficiencies that an impeachment proceeding would undoubtedly have brought. Another sweltering heat wave swept North America this week, with 150 million people in the United States under a heat alert. Power outages across the Midwest last week have left hundreds of thousands of people facing the current heat wave without electricity or air conditioning. Wildfires continue to rage in the western US with especially devastating blazes burning in California and Montana. In other news, Florida braces for heavy rains and wind on Saturday as Tropical Storm Fred approaches.




Tropical storm Fred downgraded to a tropical depression as it heads towards Cuba, expected to hit the eastern and northern parts of the island on Thursday and Friday. Fred will lose steam as it passes over mountain Hispaniola before hitting Cuba. Moving over the water at 14mph, it is expected to have winds up to 35mph. It is expected to hit Florida and the American South this weekend after hugging Cuba for two days. Fred is the 6th storm to be named this busy hurricane season in the Americas, but only one storm, Elsa, has been classified as a hurricane. Politics between the United States and Cuba has been turbulent under the Biden administration, taking a different approach than Trump or Obama. Pressure has been increased towards Cuba, with Biden sanctioning the island and restricting travel between. While Obama has tried to end cold-war restrictions and Trump has taken a harder reversed stance, Biden has been the most strict towards the island compared to the former administrations. “To many Cubans who had seen in the election of a Democratic president reason to hope for a return to normalized relations — with more flights to the island and more channels to send cash, medicine and food to loved ones — Mr. Biden’s approach has been a blow.” ‘Living through a war’: Coronavirus continues to rattle the island, with the healthcare system and mortuary services overwhelmed and suffocated. “I witnessed queues of more than 20 hours, people dying in the corridors (of the polyclinic)…Simply put, I saw what I would have hoped to never see: the collapse of our health system,” wrote local professor Ana Iris Diaz. The communist-run nation is shaken to its core, as the right to health care, central to the government’s ideology, is being put to a huge test. Cuba’s current 7-day average is close to 9,000 cases, near its highest peak ever, with one in five tests turning out positive.



With the presidential election in November, Daniel Ortega’s government has been finding ways to repress political opponents and complicate the process of publishing criticisms against him. On Thursday, the Nicaraguan government suspended print edition newspapers, crippling media critical of President Daniel Ortega. Newspapers, like La Prensa, will continue publishing online. However this move marks the third time the government has withheld paper or ink. Alongside this, Spain is recalling its ambassador to Nicaragua after Ortega accused Madrid of “unacceptable interference.” The withdrawal came a day after Nicaragua recalled its own ambassadors to Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica. The move follows the four countries’ own decision to recall their ambassadors from Nicaragua due to Ortega’s crackdown.



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.



In a striking diplomatic action against the United States, Belarus announced on Wednesday that it would deny permission for the American ambassador’s appointment in Minsk. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry also called for the US to reduce its embassy staff to only five diplomats. The announcements from the Foreign Ministry came after American President Biden marked the one-year anniversary of Belarus’ fraudulent presidential election with a fresh round of sanctions  against the Lukashenko regime. Widespread protests broke out in Belarus last summer when Belarus’ longtime dictator claimed victory in the disputed election. In the year since the election, Lukashenko’s regime has undertaken a targeted campaign of assaults on civil society and restrictions on civil rights. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry blamed the US for the deterioration of US-Belarus relations this week, calling the sanctions “hostile.”



The Georgian government imposed restrictions this week to curb the spread of the coronavirus. According to Our World in Data, cases in Georgia have increased by 88% in the last two weeks, leaving the country ranking 5th worldwide in terms of coronavirus spread per 100,000 people. On August 10th, Georgia recorded 5,697 new cases of coronavirus, a record daily high. The three-week restrictions will halt all public transport within cities, ban festivals and sporting events, and encourage all employees to work remotely when possible. Vaccine rollout has been inhibited by high levels of distrust––a recent poll reported that 45% of respondents would not get vaccinated against the coronavirus. In other news, polls released by the National Democratic Institute on Thursday shed light on lack of party loyalty in Georgia. When asked “Which party is closest to you?,” 45% responded “No party”; the ruling Georgia Dream party only received 24%. Of the most important national issues, jobs, poverty, and rising prices and inflation ranked the highest. Only 35% of the public believes Georgia is a democracy.



The Chinese government has unveiled a 5 year plan to regulate businesses around the country further. The “ten point plan,” released on Wednesday, plans to tackle monopolies and foreign businesses with non-Chinese ways of conducting business that the government does not agree with. Shares in many Chinese companies listed in the US have plummeted since earlier this year, when the government started the regulatory crackdown. In April, technology company Alibaba accepted a 2.8billion fine after a crackdown on its monopoly on the market, and recently, music giant Tencent was told to break all exclusive music deals with international record labels. According to the government, “The people’s growing need for a better life has put forward new and higher requirements for the construction of a government under the rule of law,” it said. “It must be based on the overall situation, take a long-term view, make up for shortcomings, forge ahead, and promote the construction of a government under the rule of law to a new level in the new era.” China is also cracking down on Karaoke songs at bars around the country. Effective October 1st, a blacklist has been created by the government that prohibits songs with “illegal content.” According to the new rules, “karaoke must not endanger national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity, incite ethnic hatred or undermine ethnic unity, promote cults or superstition or violate the state’s religious policies,” in addition to not promoting taboo themes such as “obscenity, gambling, violence, drug-related activities or crime.” In a stand against songs that do not promote “national unity,” the new regulation will put the pressure on content providers to filter through the hundreds of thousands of songs that exist in music libraries at karaoke bars around the country. Covid continues to return in China, with the government punishing 40 local officials for failing to contain the covid outbreak. The zero-tolerance policy enacted by China is fairly successful, but with consequences: the economy is being choked, with the tourist industry hurting the most. With 125 cases being recorded on Monday, China’s reaction is seen as radical compared to the rest of the world, which records millions of cases of daily. “The jury’s out on whether or not China’s traditional methods will be able to contain it this time,” said Craig Allen, a former U.S. ambassador. “Has the virus outsmarted them? We don’t know the answer to that, but that is the real-life drama being played out.”


Hong Kong:

On Tuesday the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union announced its disbandment. Following criticisms from state sponsored media last week, Hong Kong’s largest teacher’s union  decided that there was no way to continue its operations effectively. The teachers union is not the only group that has come under fire from Chinese State Media. This week four members of the government-funded Hong Kong Arts Development Council have resigned after being accused by newspapers of being “troublemakers” and potentially violating the national security law. On Thursday a written statement regarding a Hong Kong activist charged under the National Security law was published by the judiciary. Owen Chow is one of the 47 democrats accused of subversion in connection to a primary election from last July. The activist has been jailed since February and no trial date has been set. Despite this, High Court Judge Esther Toh released Chow on bail in late June, citing that they gave him the “benefit of the doubt.” Despite the complexity and pressure of posting bail in a national security matter, the judge found Chow’s character and humble upbringing as a sign of discontinuing political involvement. In other news, crackdowns continue as the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance was amended this week, outlawing any desecration of the Chinese flag or emblem on the internet.



On Thursday, the chief of staff for the Indonesian Army announced that the army would end the practice of requiring “virginity tests” for female cadets. These invasive vaginal exams have long been criticized by rights groups as intrusive, unscientific, discriminatory and a form of gender-based sexual violence. The army previously used these tests to determine if female cadets had prior sexual intercourse and therefore to judge their morality. Although organizations such as the National Commission on Violence Against Women welcomed the announcement, they called for evidence that the practice had been abolished. As COVID-19 pandemic continues in Indonesia and hospitals fill with patients, authorities have searched for creative solutions to slow the spread of the virus. Off of the Indonesian port city of Makassar, the passenger ship the KM Umsini has been turned into a floating isolation facility for mild cases of the coronavirus. Patients on the ship spend ten days in isolation, with routine medical checkups and the opportunity to exercise on the deck and even fish off of the side of the ship. Town authorities report that the project has been successful in keeping sick people out of densely populated areas.



On Monday Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, along with 3 other well-known activists leading protests against the government turned themselves in to the National Police Headquarters. Arrest warrants were issued for protesting in violation of the Emergency decree. The four leaders were taken into custody and transported to Khlong Ha police station and are awaiting transfer to the Thanyaburi Provincial Court. Protests continued this week, targeting companies financially supporting the government. On Wednesday, protestors moved from Ratchaprasong intersection to Asok, ending up in front of Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction. The demonstration continued on to Thamanat Prompow’s residence, the controversial Secretary General of the Palang Paracharath Party. Rallies were organized by the Taluh Fah group, closely allied with pro-democracy groups. Protestors at the Victory Monument ended up clashing with police outside the roadblock leading to PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s residence. Fireworks were thrown at officers and a police kiosk was set on fire. Police responded with rubber bullets and teargas to disperse protestors. The Talu Fah group has posted an apology on Facebook, saying the violence was from younger members, but still pointed out the police’s inappropriate behavior. Immediately following the protests, a journalist and photographer filed a suit against the police for using rubber bullets and teargas at various protests. After being injured, the plaintiffs are seeking 1.4 million baht (42,200 USD), a formal apology, and a pledge for no violence against the press. The suit was thrown out by Thailand’s Civil Court this week.



Amnesty International released a report this Wednesday calling out the Iranian security forces for unlawful use of force against the largely peaceful protests in a Western Azerbaijan province. Kurdish protesters took to the streets on August 7th in front of a police station after Fardin Ebrahimi, a Kurd, was killed in a fight. Since mid-July, there have been dozens of protests across Iran, which security forces have met with tear gas and live ammunition. Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, presented his hard-line-dominated Cabinet list on Wednesday. The conservative president selected several officials from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and no women for his administration. Of note is the appointment of IRGC General Ahmad Vahidi to the Ministry of the Interior, for whom there is an international arrest warrant against for crimes related to the 1994 bombing of an Argentine-Jewish Mutual Association in Buenos Aires. The Iranian health ministry and health care system seem to have collapsed, as daily Covid deaths reach the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic. Low vaccination rates coupled with the spread of the highly-contagious Delta variant has put significant stress on the country’s hospitals and healthcare workers. Unrestricted religious gatherings, officials worry, are likely to worsen the already dire situation.



ISIS militants conducted a series of attacks on the Iraqi power grid this week, disrupting an already strained sector. Explosions have damaged or destroyed high-voltage towers in multiple provinces, causing power outages across Ninewa. Iraqi forces have reportedly thwarted an additional 18 attacks on electricity lines in the past two weeks. A spokesperson from the Joint Operations Command said that the “ISIS terrorist organization seeks to create panic through targeting these power lines”; the U.S. Pentagon echoed these remarks in a report: “ISIS probably views infrastructure as a soft target; the attacks require minimal resources and personnel, but the resulting electricity disruptions garner attention and undermine the Iraqi government.” Protests escalated in Nasiriyah on Monday after security forces targeted activists in night raids. Activist leaders fear that raids may push activists to seek refuge in other provinces. A police spokesman denied conducting night raids.



​​Sudan plans to turn Omar al-Bashir over to the International Crime Court, it was announced on Wednesday. The decision, which still awaits official approval by Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, follows the ICC chief prosecutor’s visit to Sudan. Mr. al-Bashir has been imprisoned in Sudan since he was removed from his dictatorship in 2019. Since then, the ICC has pressured Sudan’s transitional governments to try him for the atrocities his government committed, which the United Nations reports resulted in the deaths of 300,000 people, and the displacement of 2.7 million others. Meanwhile, at least five victims of the continuing violence in Darfur were reported dead this weekend, with many more injured. The majority of the assailants are gunmen who have clashed with local farmers over livestock and agricultural land. Residents of Darfur protested the violence in front of the governor’s house on Tuesday, demanding increased security to protect civilians. As of Tuesday, the official death toll from flooding across Sudan has risen to 24. Almost one thousand residences have been destroyed due to water damage. The flooding is a result of especially heavy and torrential rains that have persisted since June.



The push for immunization continued this week after Uganda received 586,000 new vaccines. This new shipment, which includes AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, is the first since Uganda ran out of shots in June. Authorities report that people are more confident in the vaccine and are eager to receive it. Despite this drop in vaccine hesitancy, however, vaccination rates remain low and only 1.1 million Ugandans have been vaccinated to date. On Tuesday, health centers reported being overwhelmed with Ugandans hoping to receive a dose. In other news, Uganda has started a new campaign to reduce plastic emissions. Beatrice Anywar, the Junior Minister for Environment, says the ban on polythene bags and other plastics is just one measure the Cabinet has passed in a recent push to conserve the environment.  Still, local environmentalists doubt that there is the political will for strict implementation.



The UN has condemned Zimbabwean child marriages after 14-year old girl Memory Machaya died while giving birth last month. Human rights activists, local citizens, and international institutions alike are outraged, especially when learning that “she was reportedly forced to abandon school to get married.” The government has traditionally always allowed child marriage, as there is no minimum age of consent for marriages in the country. However, a new bill seeks to create an age of consent of 18 years old for marriage and prosecute adults who are marrying minors. Zimbabwe’s cases are going down while the vaccine rate is going up, but the country is still overwhelmed. Morgues are trying to catch up with the large rate of covid deaths, especially last month. Many morgues have fallen behind or run out of room for burials, leading many citizens and officials to beg their fellow countryman to be safe and receive a vaccine when available. Additionally, Zimbabwe is trying to bring tourism back by vaccinating the entire town of Victoria Falls, population 35,000, which is the top tourist destination in the country.  Tourism has been heavily affected by the pandemic, with hotel occupancy rates being so low that many hotels have gone out of business. About 60% of the town’s population has already been vaccinated with sinovac and sinopharm vaccines, both from China. In the country overall, nearly 7% of the population has been fully vaccinated.