September 25, 2021
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of the weekly report! This week covers the rising tensions at the Serbia-Kosovo border, calls for governmental change in Hong Kong, and an alleged coup attempt in Sudan.
In Israel, Arab residents are protesting the onslaught of murders within the community. Just this week, three more Arab-Israelis have been killed, including one who was the victim of a shooting during a wedding. The majority of the killings, termed “communal murders” – counting 89 victims in the last year – are a result of gang infighting, family feuds, and violence against women. Earlier this year, there were already protests raised decrying the lack of police attention to Arab-Israeli murders, calling attention to the importance of race in Israel’s policing.
As a result of a new policy in Kosovo of removing Serbian license plates upon entry and replacing them with temporary Kosovo ones, ethinic Serbs have blocked two border crossings in Jarinje and Brnjak to protest for five days. Serbia has also raised combat readiness of border troops in response. Kosovar officials have denied responsibility for the reports of police beatings of three ethnic Serbs in Bernjak/Brnjak. The men claim to have been gathering wood when they were beaten and verbally attacked by Kosovar police. The police claim to have “detained, verified and then released” the three men, of Kosovar nationality, and that the Serbian media coverage is attempting to further heighten tension in the region. In Zubin Potok, Kosovo, a vehicle registration office in a municipal building was set on fire by ethnic Serbs protesting the new vehicle registration policy. In Zvecan, another public building was targeted with grenades that did not explode. It is significant that this new registration policy has been in effect in Serbia for many years, as the country does not recognize Kosovo, it’s former province, as a state, and regards the border crossing as a “temporary administrative boundary”.
In Melbourne, Australia, police arrested over 200 people in an anti-lockdown protest on Friday. The county carries some of the strictest measures on the planet – and has recently become the city to endure the longest lockdown of 253 days. Police exercised questionable measures to prevent protests by “picking off and detaining individual protestors on their way to the” planned large scale protests. This follows the protest Wednesday at the shrine of remembrance that ended with police using tear gas, rubber bullets, and pepper spray to disperse the crowd. Many have questioned the rapid pick up of Australia’s authoritarian enforcement of covid-regulations in the last year, including the use of military police, facial recognition, and tracking. Similarly, on Friday Quebec passed a law to make protesting outside of schools, hospitals, and vaccination sites illegal for the next 30 days.
On Tuesday, September 21, U.S. producer of vaccine materials Cytiva announced it will invest US$52.5 million in South Korea from 2022 until 2024. The announcement was made at a ceremony in New York, attended by President Moon Jae-in, about partnerships between South Korea and the U.S. Yonha News Agency attributes the investment to South Korea’s biopharmaceutical production capacity–the second-largest in the world. Furthermore, the investment is part of South Korea’s strategy to become a “global vaccine hub,” which includes a US$1.8 billion plan.
The theme of global cooperation in the COVID-19 pandemic was repeated by U.S. President Joe Biden in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, also on Tuesday. The speech focused on Biden’s detailed vision for a new era of diplomacy in the United States–one that he claimed will move away from an “America First” era of foreign policy. Among other concerns, Biden repeated his commitment to using technological innovation and global cooperation, not war, to address challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic. He added that the US has shipped more than 160 million Covid-19 doses to countries around the world, and put more than $15 billion toward the global Covid response. Biden also announced additional Covid-19 commitments during a US-hosted global Covid-19 summit on Wednesday.
Speaking remotely from Tehran, newly elected Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi responded to Biden’s speech by slamming U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran as a mechanism of war, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Raisi, who was sworn in last month after an election, is described by CNN as “a conservative cleric and former judiciary chief seen as close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In his speech, Raisi stated that “sanctions are the U.S.’ new way of war with the nations of the world,” and that during the Covid-19 pandemic, such sanctions amounted to “crimes against humanity.” To note, although U.S. sanctions allow for humanitarian aid, it has made the international purchases of medicine and equipment much more difficult.
But what is the reality behind global vaccine cooperation? According to a 64-page report released on 22 September by Amnesty International called A Double Dose of Inequality: Pharma companies and the COVID-19 vaccine crisis, big pharma (Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, etc.) is responsible for an unprecedented human rights crisis. The report, which reviewed all six of the big pharma companies’ human rights policy, vaccine pricing structure, intellectual property records, and transparency records, concluded that overall, these companies have failed to meet their human rights responsibility. Additionally, all six companies have yet to take part in international initiatives for sharing knowledge and technology to boost global vaccine supplies. They have also opposed proposals to temporarily lift intellectual property rights to their vaccines.
According to a research article by the BMJ, published by the British Medical Association, an intellectual property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines would significantly advance global equity. “The barrier to adequate vaccine supply today is not lack of vaccine options, nor even theoretical production capacity; the problem is the intellectual property (IP) protection governing production and access to vaccines,” the article writes. The full article goes on to explain how the lack of an IP waiver worsens (among other reasons): 1) A global political economy that allows some countries to purchase more vaccines than they need, 2) Suppliers failing to meet manufacturing targets, 3) The ability to protect against Covid-19 variants, some of which have already shown signs of resistance to current vaccines.
Ahmad Massoud and Amrullah Saleh, heading the anti-Taliban resistance in the Panjshir Valley, have been reported to have fled into Tajikistan on September 6th, in opposition to claims that they were in the Panjshir Valley. They are also reported to have lost US backing, but have gained the support of US politicians in favor of the US return to Afghanistan, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham.
The U.S. has approved two humanitarian licences for aid to Afghanistan in spite of the current sanctions placed against the country. The licenses allow for the U.S., NGO’s, and international organizations such as the UN to participate in humanitarian transactions with the Taliban/Haqqani Network. This comes after unilateral advice, from former aides to the Tajik government, that without aid, many Afghans face death and starvation in the coming winter. Due to the increase in internally displaced peoples living in refugee camps, winter conditions will affect many more people than usual.
The Taliban have appointed an Afghan UN envoy, and requested to conference with global leaders on Tuesday. Currently, they have not been accepted to speak before the General Assembly, which finishes on Monday.
Taliban founder and chief enforcer confirmed Thursday that executions and harsh punishments such as hand amputation will return under the new regime. He cited practices such as hand cutting for thieves as necessary for safety under the new regime. Judges, including female judges, will decide verdicts, but the law will follow the foundations of the Quran.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and migration agency IOM have called for an immediate investigation into the deaths of four people near the border between Poland and Belarus. The agencies expressed their shock and condolence in a joint statementon 21st September. Out of four, two of the victims are identified as Iraqi nationals. BBC reports that the migrants were illegally deported from the European Union by Polish border troops and died of hypothermia. On Friday 24th, another migrant reportedly died at the Poland-Belarus border. Amid the accusations of Lukashenko using migrants as a weapon, these deaths have shocked many.
Christopher Cavoli, the commanding general of the U.S Army Europe and Africa said on Thursday that the United States and Lithuania would work to preserve the continent’s peace “no matter who positions what, where” after speaking to Lithuanian General about the region’s security. Both the counties are concerned about the recent war games between Belarus and Russia. Lithuania has further limited the electricity imports from Belarus.
Belarusian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs with Regional Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) held a discussion about the format of future interactions this week, ahead of the UNHCR’s decision to shut down its dedicated office in the country.
The Council of Europe Office in Georgia is implementing “Get Out the Vote” initiatives and voter education campaigns to encourage more active participation by Georgian citizens in upcoming local elections on the 2nd of October. This campaign is planned to be in cooperation with local NGOs, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), and Public Movement Multinational Georgia (PMMG). The campaign aims to educate and inform Georgian voters about their electoral rights and the most up-to-date electoral regulations and practices. All the activities are implemented within the framework of the Council of Europe Project “Supporting Transparency, Inclusiveness, and Integrity of Electoral Practice and Process in Georgia”.
Over the last few months, Moscow has used the negative “foreign agent” label to describe several independent media outlets and individual journalists, and Navalny’s countywide network has been branded as “extremist.” Students, activists, and artists have received prison time for voicing support for anti-government protests. Georgia has always been seen as a political safehaven for Russian dissidents who are unsafe in Russia, and the new generation of activsts have followed this pattern, with many protestors who have recently been forced out of the country due to safety concerns moving to Georgia. However, some of those in exile have been worried as critics of the ruling Georgian Dream party say it is taking Tbilisi into Moscow’s orbit while damaging democratic institutions. With the upcoming October elections, Georgia is not as stable as it used to be and is going through political instability.
On Sunday, US officials released reports confirming they carried out an airstrike on a weapons storage facility in Iraq. Allegedly, they were targeting Iran-backed militias in the region, as well as in Syria. They claimed that the attacks were carried out in retaliation to drone attacks against US personnel in Iraq. Death tolls were not released, but two Iraqi militia members claimed 4 militia members were killed in the airstrikes.
The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have vowed revenge on the US airstrikes, promising to “attack American military facilities with missiles.” Iraqi politicians affiliated with the PMF have said that the US “only understands the language of force”. With 2,500 US military members in Iraq, there have been 40 attacks against the US in the region since the start of the year. With the new tensions added, there are likely to be more.
An electric fence initiative started by a partnership between the NGO Space for Giants and Uganda Wildlife Authority is one solution to stop crop raids and poaching. Local farmers are relieved by the move as they can relax their heightened security around their property. Since the electribe was erected in 2018, farmers have seen a significant decrease in human-wildlife contact. Even though poachers and crop raiders are deterred by the fence, animals have found ways to maneuver around which means this initiative will need to be updated to adapt to the animals new behavior.
In efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates around Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni said they will dismiss local government and health officials who do not mobilize the population. They describe someone who fails to mobilize as someone who lets vaccines expire or go to waste. Museveni’s goal is to vaccinate at least half the nation. Additionally, Museveni’s cabinet considered introducing a new law to fine people for violating measures that were created to stop the spread of COVID. For the moment, Uganda has given out at least 1.8 million doses.