November 26, 2021
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
In this issue, we cover the latest updates on the crisis in Ethiopia, the release of deposed Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok, and the conviction of the three men in Ahmaud Arbery’s case.
In Ethiopia, continued violent conflict has left 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance in the northern region alone, with 400,000 people in Tigray in famine conditions. The UN official has reported that all parties to the conflict – the Ethiopian National Defense Force, Eritrean Defence Force, Amhara Special Forces, the Tigrayan forces – have violated international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law. The UN also reported that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed.
Just his week in Ethiopia a nationwide state of emergency was declared. Capital residents were told to be prepared to take up arms in defense of residential areas. An estimated 2 million have fled their homes since the Prime Minister launched a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front(TPLF). Thousands have been killed. The TPLF has threatened advancement towards the capital city, Addis Ababa. As a result, tens of thousands rallied in Addis Ababa this week in favor of the Prime Minister.
In the Solomon Islands, violent protests have been brutally put down by police forces, using tear gas and rubber bullets against protestors. The protesters have been alleged to have burned down a parliament building, a police station, and a store in the capital city of Honiara. Other reports include instances of looting. The police station was burnt down while officers were still inside. However, no reports of casualties are found. As a result, a lockdown was enforced from 7pm on Wednesday to 7am on Friday.
Russia’s foreign minister said on Monday that Moscow sent the Lebanese government satellite images from the day of the Beirut port blast. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced this news when he met with his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bou Habib. Lavrov hopes that the pictures, which were taken by the country’s space agency Roscosmos, will help Lebanon determine the cause of the blast. In their meeting, he also discussed the possibility of Russian companies participating in the reconstruction of parts of Beirut that were destroyed in the 2020 blast, which had killed more than 215 people.
Also this week, elections held on 21 November to select new members of the Beirut Bar Association saw all nine seats secured by candidates from traditional parties. The council will be led by lawyer Nader Gaspard, who is reportedly backed by influential political blocs like the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the Future Movement, and the Amal Movement. The elections are regarded as an indicator of nationwide sentiment with regards to the direction parliamentary and by-elections may take.
Meanwhile, ahead of the parliamentary elections, over 240,000 Lebanese living abroad registered to vote. The numbers were announced by the Lebanese Foreign Ministry, and are reportedly double the number of expats who have signed up to vote compared to 2018.
More news this week detailing the ongoing economic crisis resulting from the cutoff of international assistance in Afghanistan points to worsening conditions for many citizens. International assistance prior to Taliban rule made up 43% of Afghanistan’s GDP, and 74% of its public expenditure. As banks shut down, and access to currency is limited, the UN has confirmed that 55% of the population is under threat of food insecurity. In the UK, the labour party has urged the government to re-enable cashflow into Afghanistan through urging partner countries to amend sanctions regimes, and rehabilitating failing banking services to provide humanitarian assistance.
The United States declared three leaders of the Islamic State offshoot ISIS-K group as “global terrorists” this week. The group, responsible for the infamous Kabul Airport attack, is now designated by the state department as the most dangerous group operating in Afghanistan. The group is rumored to be operating in Jalalabad, a region in the eastern Nangarhar province.
This week, in the Taliban’s fight against the group, 1,300 additional fighters were deployed to the Nangarhar province in order to “increase the tempo of operations.” Reportedly, there is an increase in Taliban night raids on the ISIS-K members. Taliban fights and residents of the area reported that many of those arrested have disappeared or turned up dead. One Taliban fighter estimated that 7-10 suspected ISIS-K members are arrested in the region each week, and nearly 6 are killed. The increased military presence has led to the circulation of Islamic state recruitment propaganda, urging residents to resist the Taliban. According to United Nations assessments, since the initial Taliban takeover, the group has strengthened and expanded operations to each province in Afghanistan.
Since Myanmar’s military staged a coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on February 1, triggering mass unrest, the formerly restive far-western state of Rakhine has remained relatively peaceful. But recent skirmishes have raised concern that an informal ceasefire agreed in the long-troubled area in November last year is starting to break down, even as armed rebellion surges in other parts of the country. While fighting was reported on multiple days in the second week of November, Arakan Army (AA) Spokesperson Khaing Thu Kha only admitted that the rebel group was involved in one two-hour clash on November 9, after the regime’s troops “intentionally” entered an AA-controlled area. “There was a brief clash to defend the territory,” Khaing Thu Kha said, adding that the situation had calmed and that the military did not seem to want to continue its advance.
Myanmar’s ruling military threatened on Friday to arrest citizens who invest in bonds offered by a shadow government, warning of lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in what it called “terrorist” financing. The National Unity Government (NUG), an alliance of pro-democracy groups, ethnic minority armies and remnants of the civilian government overthrown by the military, said this week it had raised $9.5 million in the first 24 hours of its bonds sale.
On Monday it was announced that Myanmar Brewery, a joint venture between military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Limited and Japan’s Kirin Holdings, had filed for dissolution under Section 298(f) of the Myanmar Companies Law to the Yangon Western District Court on November 19. This was a huge success for the Myanmar resistance movement. Myanmar Brewing was one of the most popular beer companies in Myanmar which sold brands including Kirin Ichiban, Andaman Gold, and Black Shield Stout. All together Myanmar Brewing held 80 per cent of the market share. However after the February 1st military coup, the profits from the company dropped by almost 50 per cent in 2021. This was a direct result of the Myanmar people’s boycott of military-linked products in efforts to cut off funding for the regime.
On Wednesday, three white men were convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery for chasing and shooting as the Black man ran through their neighborhood. The Georgia jury rejected self-defense claim in a trial that once again probed America’s divisive issues of race and guns. In other news, officials are pushing back Indigenous activists’ plea to change Squaw Valley’s name. Originally meaning women, the word “squaw” has become a misogynistic and racist term used to disparage Indigenous women. Squaw Valley the central California town of about 3,500 people, dates back to the 19th century, and is one of nearly 100 places in California to use the controversial term in its name.
The Biden administration is still seeking an agreement with Mexico to restart a Trump-era program obliging asylum seekers to await U.S. court hearings in Mexico. Two Mexican officials said on Wednesday that before coming at a common ground for agreement, certain conditions must first be met and that the agreement was unlikely to be reached this week. The United States also began deporting a record number of Nicaraguan migrants who crossed the border to escape a crackdown against dissent by President Daniel Ortega.
According to U.S. immigration statistics, Cubans migrating to the U.S.-Mexico border hit the highest level in a decade between October 2020 and May 2021. Cuba’s state-run TV reported on illegal migration from Cuba, particularly through Mexico, saying “to date 1,255 undocumented Cubans have been returned in 60 bilateral operations.” Of those, 856 were deported from the United States, 214 from Mexico, 184 from the Bahamas and one from the Cayman Islands. Cuba blamed the United States for the uptick in illegal migration, saying the country’s policies, including the Cold War-era embargo, encourage Cubans to risk their lives to leave the island.
With a growth forecast of 2% in 2021, versus an 11% contraction in 2020, Cuba is facing its worst crisis since the 1990s. According to the Cuban Ministry of Economy, the government is facing a decline in its main sources of income: remittances, tourism, and the export of medical professionals, reducing its hard currency earnings over the past two years by around 40% and shrinking the economy thirteen percent.
Yunior Garcia, a leading Cuban pro-democracy activist, told reporters in Spain on Thursday he and his wife had fled Cuba a day earlier following pressure from authorities and government supporters, promising to return back. On a similar record, “that day, Cuba became a gigantic jail”, and those who managed to break through the repressive barriers “were arrested,” stated Havana reporter Abraham Jimenez after the citizens organized on social media to go out and protest.
The former ambassador to the Organization of American States, Edgard Parrales has been detained. The OAS is a forum for regional diplomacy which supports human rights and democracy in the Western Hemisphere. According to his wife, Carmen Dolores Códova, Parrales was detained by two men dressed in civilian clothing and showed no signs of badges of arrests warrants. This arrests happened three days after President Ortega announced his intentions to withdraw from the OAS which Parrales later commented on the move calling it “nonsensical”. OAS was very critical of the election on November 7th. The organization accused the government of acts of repression and rigging the election and criticized the jailing of Ortega’s political opponent. In OAS, Twenty five countries in the Americas voted in favor of the resolution to condemn the elections while only seven abstained and Nicaragua was the only country voting to reject the resolution.
Ortega government also announced that they would drop visa requirements from travelers from Cuba. In a posted on their website on Monday the Minster said, (the decision to drop the requirements) with the purpose of promoting commerce, tourism and humanitarian family relations.” The Interior Ministry hopes that this will increase the amount of tourists traveling Nicaragua and offer an alternative route to travelers hopping to reach the United States.
An army colonel received six months in prison for helping transfer tea gas from Ecuador to Bolivia on November 2019, during the interim presidency of Jeanine Anez. Army Colonel Hector P.O. was assistant to former Defense Minister Fernando Lopez. According to a police investigation, under orders from Lopez, the colonel traveled with a police officer to Ecuador to bring the tear gas, which processed as a ‘loan’ by Lopex and the former Minister of Government Arturo Murillo to confront anti-government protests. In 2019, former Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno ‘lennt’ 8,449 units of non-lethal weapons to the Anex administration. This was confirmed by Ecuador’s National Police, who justified the loan as part of their ‘international cooperation.’
Human Rights Watch released yet another article on Wednesday to draw attention to the violence at the Belarus-Poland border. The 26-page report shared by HRW, “‘Die Here or Go to Poland’: Belarus’ and Poland’s Shared Responsibility for Border Abuses,” documents serious abuses on both sides of the border. People trapped on the Belarus border with Poland said that they had been pushed back, sometimes violently, by Polish border guards to Belarus despite pleading for asylum. On the Belarusian side, accounts of violence, inhuman and degrading treatment and coercion by Belarusian border guards were commonplace. Poland’s border guard said Belarusian forces were still ferrying migrants to the frontier. “I think that the things that unfold before our eyes, these dramatic events, may only be a prelude to something much worse,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Poland has threatened Belarus with further economic sanctions and the closure of its border to all freight and rail traffic, as thousands of migrants continue to try to cross the frontier. Harsh winters are causing great misery to migrants stuck at borders. Ukraine, with the fear of migrants crossing its border, launched an operation on Wednesday to strengthen its frontier, including military drills for anti-tank and airborne units.
In other news, Belarus’s banned the country’s oldest newspaper Nasha Niva on the grounds of it being “extremist” on the 115th anniversary of its establishment, yet another war on independent press and freedom of speech.
Former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been on a hunger strike, said that he was taken hostage by the conclusion on the initiative of the leader of the ruling party of the country Bidzin Ivanishvili. Thus, the politician was deprived of the opportunity to involve the Georgian people in a decisive struggle against the Russian regime. The politician stated this in an address to the Georgian people, published on his Facebook in four languages - Georgian, English, Ukrainian and Russian. He expressed his deep gratitude to his compatriots and everyone who is involved in his salvation. According to him, this was facilitated by the “unanimity of the opposition and civil society in upholding the country’s western orientation”. “Putin, with the hands of Ivanishvili, is doing everything for my physical elimination, I am sure of this”, Saakashvili said. He expressed confidence that Ivanishvili’s court will not be able to achieve justice. He called for an impartial and independent trial, as he is not afraid to appear before him.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe expressed a shared interest in stepping up strategic military exercises and joint patrols by Russia and China pointing to increasingly frequent US strategic bomber flights near both countries’ borders. On Tuesday, Russia’s defense chief signed a roadmap for closer military ties with China. China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday that Lithuania had ignored China’s “solemn stance” and the basic norms of international relations in allowing Taiwan to set up its representative office, further officially downgrading its diplomatic ties with the country. China’s defence ministry also very firmly said that there is “no room for compromise” with the United States when it comes to Taiwan when asked about US-Chinese relations at a press conference on Thursday.
Detained journalist Zhang Zhan, who was arrested in May 2020 after posting dozens of videos to YouTube about the pandemic situation in Wuhan, is reportedly on the “hanging by a thread” amid a hunger strike, as international pressure mounts on the Chinese government to release her.
The Hong Kong government said on Thursday that it had detected two cases of a new variant identified in South Africa, which scientists have warned shows a “big jump in evolution” and could limit the effectiveness of vaccines. The infections were detected in a man who had returned to Hong Kong from South Africa this month, and later in another man staying across the hall in the same quarantine hotel. (Hong Kong requires almost all overseas arrivals to quarantine in hotels for two to three weeks.) The virus’s genetic sequence was identical in both men, suggesting airborne transmission, according to the city’s Center for Health Protection. Both men were vaccinated. Further sequencing by the University of Hong Kong confirmed that the viruses belonged to the new variant from South Africa, officials said, though they acknowledged that information about the variant’s public health impact was “lacking at the moment.” Some Hong Kong experts have questioned the length and efficacy of Hong Kong’s quarantines, noting that officials have recorded several cases of residents in quarantine hotels apparently infecting people who were staying in other rooms.
In response to a lower minimum wage raise compared to previous years, thousands of union workers across Java are conducting ongoing protests. Among the protestors are, reportedly, workers from 1,000 factories in 24 provinces and 100 regencies/cities. The Nationwide Confederation of Workers’ Unions (KSPSI) are protesting three specific issues. First, the 2022 minimum wage raise, a 1.09 percent increase, which is lower compared to previous years. Second, the KSPSI are asking for the Internal Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian to revise or revoke the institution of the new minimum wage. Lastly, the workers’ protests coincide with the Constitutional Court of Indonesia (MUI)’s judicial review of the controversial 2021 Omnibus Law. “We hope that the constitutional court can act as fairly as possible,” said Andi Gani, president of the KSPSI.
Also this week, Indonesia’s counterterrorism task force, Densus 88, received significant backlash after arresting three suspected terrorists, one of whom is a former member of the Jemaah Islamiya (JI) Farid Okbah. JI, which functioned as a terrorist group until 2007, is currently regarded as a non-governmental organization, providing aid to Muslim communities. However, recent investigations by Densus 88 revealed that from 2013 to 2018, JI trained thousands of members in high-skilled militancy like weapons handling and explosives making. In response to Okbah’s arrest, Densus 88 are being accused of using intimidation tactics on Okbah’s family members, as well as other allegations of misconduct. There was even calls on WhatsApp to declare jihad on Densus 88 and burn down police stations.The perpetrator was immediately caught by the police, but was released soon afterwards.
Thai activists who have called for reform of the monarchy are among at least 17 people in Thailand who say they have been warned by Apple that they have been targeted by “state-sponsored” attackers. Warnings were sent to the prominent activists Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Arnon Nampa, according to Panusaya’s sister May and the administrator of Arnon’s Facebook page. Panusaya and Arnon are in pre-trial detention after leading demonstrations calling for the power of the monarchy to be curbed. Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, a rapper known as Hockhacker with the group Rap Against Dictatorship, said on Facebook he had also received an alert from Apple, and posted a screengrab of the message. The group’s music has taken aim at the monarchy and the military-backed government, and Dechathorn faces charges of sedition. The message posted by Dechathorn said: “Apple believes you are being targeted by state-sponsored attackers … These attackers are likely targeting you individually because of who you are or what you do. If your device is compromised by a state-sponsored attacker, they may be able to remotely access your sensitive data, communications, or even the camera and microphone. While it’s possible this is a false alarm, please take this warning seriously.” Less high-profile activists who have worked behind the scenes to support pro-democracy protests have reported receiving similar warnings, as have academics.
One of the most extreme drops in birth rates around the world has occurred in Iraq, with an 8% decrease in just one year. In order to combat the birth-drop, a new law has been implemented. The law has denied women access to reproductive care in order to “rejuvinat[e] the population and support [the] family.” The law will make sterilization illegal, and prohibit the free distribution of contraceptives through the public health system, with the exception of life threatening pregnancies. Many international organizations have criticized the law for undermining women’s rights, and the health of the population. The law also includes increased employment benefits for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The law will further limit already restricted legal abortion, which previously could only occur in the first four months of pregnancy, only if three doctors agree that it is life threatening, or the fetus has severe physical or mental disabilities. Once the law is signed, it will be in place for 7 years.
In the city of Isfahan, 500 demonstrators gathered to demand drought aid from the government. The group was largely made up of farmers. Video shows police and demonstrators fighting in the dry riverbed of the Zayandeh Rud river. There are reports of similar protests occurring nearby in the city. Security forces were brought in to break up the demonstrators, using tear gas.
In Belarus, several thousand Iraqi Kurds fled seeking entry into the EU, and instead faced dangerous winter conditions, and political posturing, leaving them stranded on the border. In order to remedy the situation, Iraq has sent multiple repatriation plane’s to return those who voluntarily want to return. On Friday, 431 migrants will board a flight to Baghdad, with another 430 joining on Saturday. This number is only an addition to the 1,000 migrants that already returned to Iraq.
Iraq is still facing dire water shortages, with the increasing possibility for worse conditions in the future. Only this October, Iraq’s water minister, Mahdi Rashid Al-Hamdani, met with Turkish officials and announced that “The Turks promised to increase the water quota that will flow into the Euphrates River to Iraq.” In 2009, Iraq and Turkey signed their most recent water supply agreements, but the conditions stated have not been met. Turkey blames such low water supply on the mismanagement of water systems in Iraq. However, Turkey has continued the construction of the “Great Anatolia Project” Which entails the construction of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric power plants. Such a project will severely restrict water flow from the rivers Tigris and Euphrates into Iraq and Syria. Iran has also halted the opening of dams which would increase water flow into Iraq due to its own drought problems, further worsening the crisis in the region.
On Sunday, General Abdel Fattah-al Burhan signed a new power sharing agreement with the deposed Prime Minster, PM Abdalla Hamdok and subsequently released him from house arrest. This is one of the biggest concessions made by the military since the coup. The new agreement is a 14-point that was signed in the Presidential palace in Khartoum on Sunday.
In response to the deal, many in the international community saw it as a positive step forward for the country. However activists from the pro-democracy movement are unhappy about Hamdok’s willingness to agree to a deal with the military. They believe the ousted civilian leader allowed himself to serve as a olive branch for a continued military rule and a disgrace to the pro-democracy movement. Mohamed Hamden Dagalo, more commonly known by his nickname Hemeti announced on Friday 26 November that Prime Minister Hamdok was aware of the military takeover and was “completely agreeable” to it. Many Sudanese have been skeptical if Hamdok was in face aware that the coup was going to happen bringing into question Hamdok’s legitimacy as a leader.
This power sharing agreement signed by Hamdok and the military has fallen short of what many protesters have been demanding for since the coup which is a proper transition to civilian rule. On Thursday thousands of Sudanese protested in the streets of Khartoum and neighboring cities. Protesters banged on drums, held signs and peacefully marched through the streets. One protesters stated, “we are still abiding by peaceful protests, but it is known that security forces have turned oppressive. Peace has been out weapon and hopefully it will bring us to our goals.” Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to try and suppress demonstrators.
Authorities from Uganda’s Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) have threatened the International Coffee Organization (ICO) stating they will pull out of the organization. Officials announced they believe that Uganda has been cheated by the ICO. Uganda produces around 8 million bags of coffee per year and is ranked as the third best coffee around the world by a group of independent coffee specialists. This announcement was made by the chair of Uganda’s Coffee Development Authority, Dr. Charles Mugoya, following President Museveni’s approval of the National Coffee Act. The act give the UCDA the power to oversee and regular the price of Ugandan coffee. According to Dr. Mugoya, Uganda would not lose much by pulling out of the ICO. He said in an announcement on Thursday, “ICO only monitors the trends of coffee around the world, then the member countries use the information for their own benefit. Even if we pull out, we do not lose out.”
In 2015, Uganda parliament approved a $325 million loan from Exim Bank in China to expand the Entebbe airport. This launched the countries ambitious 20-year-civil aviation plan which would enable the country to handle 150,000 operations a year making Kampala a regional hub. This week officials reviewing the loan agreement have spotted some red flags. Altogether authorities found 13 clauses which were cause for concern; one of the clauses of the loan agreement gives Exim Bank the authority to withdraw funds form Uganda Civil Aviation Authority. This has raised lots of concern within the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority at how poorly the deal was negotiated. Finance Minister Kasaija commented stating that in case of loan default, “the government would set in and intervene”. Other government officials say that this should be no clause for alarm but the Civil Aviation Authority is very cautious.
Zimbabwe Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube announced on Thursday that the government will be targeting small budget deficits with a sharp drop in inflation in the next coming years. Zimbabwe has been struggling with its currency and experienced low investor confidence under the leadership of late President Robert Mugabe. To build back stronger investor confidence within the country the Minister announced they would target a 5.5.% growth and 1.5% GDP budget deficit in 2022.
On Thursday, South African Cabinet announced that they would not extend Zimbabwean Exemption Permits. Current holders will have a 12-month grace period to apply for other permits to stay in South Africa. This is worrying too many current permit holders as they are unsure if they will be able to quality for other permits allowing theme to stay in the country. Presently, there are around 182,000 Zimbabwean permit holders. This makes many Zimbabweans worried about travel for the upcoming Christmas season. Banks have been refusing to grant permit holders loans and some employers have not renewed holders contracts due to their uncertain status.