December 10, 2021
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
In this issue, we cover the latest updates on Russia-Ukraine relations, the ongoing civil war in Ethiopia, and the border crisis between Belarus and Poland.
Thousands of demonstrators blocked major roads across Serbia, accusing the government of setting the stage for illegal land appropriations and ignoring environmental concerns. Activists celebrated as, later, Serbia’s government withdrew the controversial Expropriation Law form the Parliamentary procedure. The government also suggested that Parliament should review the Law on Referendum— meeting protestors’ second demand.
Tensions continue to run high between Russia and Ukraine, as 100,000 Russian troops remain stationed at the border. Conflict in eastern Ukraine has continued since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, resulting in fighting between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists. This week, Putin referenced the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, which has killed over 13,000 since its start, as “looking like genocide.” His remarks fuelled further suspicion of war between Ukraine and Russia. The top Russian military member has warned that any Ukrainian provocation in the eastern region of Donbas, where such conflict has taken place since the annexation of Crimea, will “be suppressed” by Russian forces. While the chief of Russian General Staff has denied any plans of attacking Ukraine, he also points to the massive buildup of the Ukrainian military on the border. The US has also announced that it will act as a middleman between Ukraine and Russia in order to de-escalate the conflict. President Biden has also threatened that harsh economic measures will be taken if Russia does invade. However, Russia has continuously stated that any NATO interference in Ukraine, or other post-soviet nations such as Georgia, would increase tensions.
In the ongoing civil war in Ethiopia, Ethiopian troops have retaken the famed city of Lalibela from the Tigrayan rebels. The rebels took the city, a tourist destination and UNESCO heritage site, in August. The government has also announced it is confident that it will soon retake the city of Dessie. Dessie was taken by the rebels just last month. The government has also retaken Shewa Robit. The government has also accused Twitter of targeting anti-rebel accounts, and China has spoken against foreign intervention in the region, accusing the US and Europe of pressuring the government over reports of human rights abuses during the war.
Human Rights Watch has also reported that Tigrayan rebel forces have executed dozens of civilians in the Amhara region. In the city of Chenna, residents reported that 26 summary executions occurred before the troops’ withdrawal. In Kobo, there are reports of 23 executions. It is alleged that executions might have occurred in retaliation for residents’ attacks against the forces.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban has allegedly aided in the forced eviction of more than 1,000 people in Northern Afghanistan. The targets of these evictions have largely been ethnic Uzbek and Turkmen. The evicted accused Pashtun of seizing their homes and land, largely in the province of Jowzan, with the aid of the Taliban. As a result, the Taliban have seized over 2,000 acres of land. The evicted has stated that: “If we raised our voices, we would be killed.” The Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi has denied any such evictions have taken place.
This is coupled with earlier reports of forced evictions of Hazara Shia communities, and those affiliated with the former government. It is reported that the evictions have in part occurred in order to distribute land to Taliban supporters. In October, at least 400 families were given eviction orders to leave their homes and crops to the Taliban. At least 2,800 Hazara were victims of such evictions.
Iran has announced new covid guidelines to restrict the unvaccinated from certain public spaces. Schooling, travel, and entertainment activities will require a Covid smart pass, which gives proof of vaccination. Other measures include fines for those unvaccinated or infected who attempt to enter high-risk cities. This is coupled with fines for the infected who leave their homes.
The US has alleged that Iran is increasing the presence of combat forces in the western territory in an attempt to attack Israel. The US has announced that they, as well as Israel, are preparing for attempts. This is occurring at the same time as nuclear negotiations between Iran and the US are appearing to break down. The US, as a result, has announced they are discussing strengthening ties with Israel.
US sources alleged that Iran, during the nuclear talks in Vienna, has walked back all compromises made and asked for more from the US. While Iran claims its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, the US, which supports Israel, has a vested interest in the destruction of such nuclear forces, despite Israel being widely suspected to hold nuclear weapons of its own. Israel has continuously threatened war with Iran if diplomatic measures do not prevent the nation from gaining nuclear power.
In Iraq, the US has officially ended its combat operations. The US has continued such operations on and off since the 2003 invasion as part of the “war on terror”. Troops were pulled out once, in 2011, and redeployed in 2014. However, Iraqi officials announced that U.S. and coalition forces will remain in the country to provide support. The U.S. Press Secretary has announced that 2,500 troops will remain, the entirety of the troops present before the “pull-out”. The responsibility for combatting Islamic State groups within the country has shifted to Iraqi and coalition forces. Coalition forces number 1,000. The US will continue to assist, advise, and train Iraqi forces.
In Northern Iraq, Turkey has retaliated against the PKK once again. The PKK killed three Turkish soldiers this Wednesday. The PKK group is outlawed within Iraq. In response to the attack, Turkish soldiers launched an airstrike, hitting multiple PKK posts to target six PKK fighters. Such airstrikes against the PKK have been common since April, and the conflict between Kurds in Northern Iraq and the Turkish state has continued since 1984. Earlier this year, in October, Turkey announced an extension of its military operations in Syria and Iraq for two more years.
A US journalist was released by Lebanese authorities after pressure from two international human rights groups. Nada Homsi, a journalist for the National Public Radio, was arrested in Beirut last month. According to Homsi, her arrest is part of the government’s ongoing intimidation campaign against foreign journalists, who have been reporting on the widespread corruption among Lebanon’s political class, amidst the country’s deteriorating economic situation. According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Homsi was arrested without a judicial order after authorities raided her apartment. During the raid, which was allegedly sparked when Homsi raised the Palestinian flag in her home, police confiscated Homsi’s electronics and some documents, and also arrested her partner, a Palestinian national.
Also this week, the Labor Minister declared a new law that will allow Palestinians born in Lebanon to take jobs in sectors they were banned from for decades. These sectors include pharmacology, public transport, engineering, law— any professions that require syndicate membership (official registration with the Ministry of Interior). The news has been welcomed by many, including the Alliance of Palestinian Forces and the Lebanese Dialogue Committee. The latter of which issued the statement: “this decree would herald amendments to discriminatory laws and ensure greater employment for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, guaranteeing them a decent and dignified life.” However, others have highlighted a number of flaws with the decree. Independent media platform Megaphone pointed out that the decree could be rescinded by the next labour minister, due to it being a ministerial decision, i.e., based on the authority of the minister itself. The decree also denies employment for one Palestinian in each institution for every three Lebanese.
UN special rapporteurs have accused the Bolivian government of the unauthorized use of mercury, resulting in the poisoning of indigenous communities. Over the last few years, mercury has been used more and more often in mining activities around the Kaka River. As a result, the Leco indiigenous people— who live in the area and rely on the river for water, with some even working in mining cooperatives to sustain themselves—are being poisoned. Effects include brain damage, blindness, and pregnancy complications, among other effects on the body. Although the risks of mercury are clear, and Bolivia is a signatory of the Minamata Convention in 2013 prohibiting the contaminant’s use and commercialization, no public policy is in place to control the importation, commercialization, and use of mercury, in addition to illegal mercury trafficking through the region.
Over 300 prominent figures from the art world, including world-renowned figures such as Meryl Streep, Orhan Pamuk, Elena Poniatowska, Jules Feiffer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Khaled Hosseini, as well as notable Cuban artists said today in a statement co-signed by PEN International, the Artists at Risk Connection of PEN America, and Human Rights Watch that the Cuban government should immediately stop its abuses against Cuban artists. The statement demands the Cuban government should respect freedom of expression, release arbitrarily detained artists, drop abusive criminal charges, and allow those in exile to return to their country, the arts figures and human rights groups said.
President Miguel Díaz-Canel will speak via videoconference at the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, the supreme body of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), on Friday. Cuba received its status as an Observer State before the Union in December 2020 and since then it has participated in four sessions of the Council. Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez said The US “summit for democracy” and its exclusive guest list belies the country’s strength, illustrates America’s weakness and its inability to endure critiques of its foreign policy at the UN.
Nicaragua has cut ties with Taiwan and now aligns itself with Beijing. The Foreign Ministry announced it would be breaking diplomatic ties leaving the democratic island with only 14 formal diplomatic allies. In a statement made on Thursday, Nicaragua cited Beijing’s “One China” policy and said, “The People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government that represents all of China and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory.” Nicaragua is one of the three countries in Central America that is participating with the Belt and Road Initiative. China was quick to accept their move. Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations tweeted that he welcomed Nicaragua’s decision. Taiwan, in response, announced it would be breaking off relations with Nicaragua. Nicaragua and Taiwan have been allies since the Cold War as both countries were united by anti-communists sentiment.
Ortega is well known for detaining his political opponents however there is one group of critics who have remained relatively safe from this oppression; Nicaragua’s bishops are part of a specific group in the country who have spoken out against Ortega’s government. Only one of Nicaragua’s 13 Catholic bishops cast a vote in the November election. The rest of the bishops stayed home and participated in the nationwide boycott.
The United States announced new restrictions on Cambodia on December 8, which includes the Commerce Department’s new trade restrictions on military and dual-use items and the State Department’s arms embargo, citing the “growing influence” of the Chinese military, as well as corruption and human rights abuses. The US State Department on Friday also called for democracies to “expand engagement with Taiwan”. In other news, the Biden administration is holding talks among federal agencies about the security of Americans’ data, and the departments of Commerce and Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence “have submitted an initial set of analyses and recommendations” to the house.
State District Court Judge David Peeples ruled on Thursday that a law prohibiting abortions after about six weeks violated the state’s constitution because it allows private citizens to sue abortion providers. Texas Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that backed the law, immediately filed an appeal against Thursday’s ruling.
On Thursday, the New York City Council passed a bill that if signed into law would enable hundreds of thousands of non-citizen immigrants who are in the country legally to vote in municipal elections, becoming the largest city to do so.
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the head of the Uyghur Tribunal and prominent human rights lawyer, said the Chinese government has targeted the Muslim Uighur population with forced birth control and sterilization policies in order to reduce the group’s population. The UK-based Tribunal has ruled that the Chinese government has committed genocide, crimes against humanity, and torture against Uighurs and other minorities in its western region of Xinjiang. In other news, Nicaragua decided to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China, The decision was greatly praised by China. Nicaragua’s foreign ministry said it “recognises that there is only one single China” after breaking away from its long-standing relationship with Taiwan.
China has told multinationals to sever ties with Lithuania or face being shut out of the Chinese market dragging companies into a dispute between Lithuania and Beijing. Beijing has also accused Australia, Britain, and the US of using Games ‘for political manipulation’ amid diplomatic boycotts and said these nations will pay a price for their “mistaken acts” in deciding not to send government delegations to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.
Three prominent figures in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement have been found guilty for their involvement in the territory’s annual vigil to mark the Tiananmen square crackdown that left thousands of people dead. Media tycoon Jimmy Lai and activist Chow Hang-tung were convicted of inciting others to take part in the city’s annual Tiananmen vigil on June 4, 2020, while the other two were convicted of “unauthorized” assembly. Rights group Amnesty International said the convictions were an “egregious attack on the rights to freedom of expression and assembly”.
A young Hong Kong democracy activist has been sentenced to three and a half years behind bars after pleading guilty to secession under the city’s sweeping national security law. Tony Chung, 20, is now the youngest person to be convicted under the law. Earlier this month, he pleaded guilty to one count of secession and one count of money laundering but declared he had “nothing to be ashamed of”.
A Hong Kong government proposal to change the legal aid system could violate the constitutionally guaranteed right of people to choose legal representation in the event that they cannot afford a lawyer, according to the city’s Bar Association. In October, the government proposed changes that would see defendants no longer able to choose a lawyer unless under “exceptional circumstances”, in addition to other amendments.
The Indonesian government has announced plans to reopen its embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan soon. This announcement comes after Indonesia closed its embassy and evacuated its diplomats days before the Taliban takeover last August. According to Ahmadullah Wasiq, the Taliban’s deputy spokesman, the Indonesian government has also decided to resume diplomatic activities in Kabul. Apart from Indonesia, other countries like Japan, Germany, and Italy, are expected to reopen their embassies too. However, all the countries reopening their embassies have maintained that the move does not equal to recognizing the Taliban government.
Also this week, an Indonesian woman’s death has fuelled calls for tougher laws against sexual violence and police reform. The woman, Novia Widyasari, was raped and forced to undergo an abortion by her policeman boyfriend, Randy Bagus Sasongko, a member of the Pasuruan police. She was then found dead next to her father’s grave in Mojokerto, East Java. Police reported that she had died of suicide by potassium poisoning. Widyasari’s death went viral on Indonesian Twitter with the hashtag #SAVENOVIAWIDYASARI, sparking increased calls from women’s rights activists for a sexual violence eradication bill.
Myanmar soldiers have been accused of rounding up 11 people in a village in a central area of the strife-torn country, before shooting them and setting fire to their bodies, according to residents in the area and media reports. The charred remains were found in a village in Sagaing, an area that has seen fierce fighting between security forces and militia set up by opponents of military rule since the coup, said residents, who said some of the victims were still alive when burned. Video footage purporting to show the burned bodies was circulated on social media and images were published by some media, including the Myanmar Now news portal.
Myanmar’s military government accused senior United Nations officials on Thursday of interference and making judgments based on “distorted news”, days after a storm of international criticism over the jailing of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet was among several officials who denounced the conviction on Monday of Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s elected leader who was ousted in a Feb. 1 coup. “It is not appropriate to make a one-sided judgment against the decision of the court which falls within the domestic jurisdiction of a sovereign country. Such acts constitute interference in the judiciary process and internal affairs of Myanmar,” the junta’s foreign ministry said in a statement. Suu Kyi, 76, was sentenced to four years, commuted to two, for incitement and COVID-19 violations, the first among nearly a dozen cases against her. She denies all the charges.
U.S. President Joe Biden has been accused of showing a belittling diplomatic attitude toward Thailand, by not inviting the country to the Summit for Democracy. The two-day virtual summit has over 100 countries, territories and regions in attendance, including ASEAN members like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. It is widely understood as a forum to encourage invitees to ally more closely with the U.S. than with China. During a lower house session on Nov. 25, Suthin Klangsaeng from the opposition Pheu Thai Party raised a concern regarding Thailand’s absence from the summit. Don Pramudwinai, a deputy prime minister and foreign minister, dismissed Suthin. The summit,” he said, “is nothing more than pure politics being played by some countries against one another.
In response to Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruling against same-sex marriage in November, a petition for marriage equality has begun circulating, amassing over 275,000 signatures so far. The ruling dealt a crushing blow to the LGBT+ community in Thailand, with people worried that this is a significant step back for human rights, and that preconceived biases will become more oppressive and even violent. Activists have expressed their concerns that the wording of the verdict could be twisted in the future to prevent further advances in LGBT+ rights, or even to strip existing rights.
According to the Ministry of Defence, Britain will be sending 140 military engineers to Poland this month to provide support at its border with Belarus, and the deployment of the engineers was expected to last until April. Britain already has personnel in Poland, amid tensions at the EU’s border with Belarus. The Lithuanian parliament decided this week to extend the state emergency at the border with Belarus and migrants’ camps set up there until January 15. Meanwhile, another migrant death was recorded on the Belarus border this week as reported by Poland. Polish soldiers found a body of a migrant in a forest near Olchowka in the Narewka commune on Tuesday.
The Minsk City Court on December 9 found 20-year-old Artsyom Bayarski, an award-winning university student, guilty of creating an extremist entity and of organizing activities that violated social order. After pronouncing the verdict, Judge Alena Shylko sentenced the former chemistry student to five years in prison.
A European Union summit on December 15th will confirm support for Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in their bid to move closer to the bloc, and further from Russia’s sphere, but according to a draft final statement, they make no promise of future EU membership. In July, the trio signed a joint declaration to work together to integrate into the bloc.
A 9th-grade history-of-Georgia textbook came into focus in national news after a photo of one of the pages of the book was posted online, featuring Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream party. In the textbook, Ivanishvili was referred to as a “philanthropist and patron of arts”. Considering that Georgia is highly politically polarized, the mention of an informal ruler in a history book sparked heated debate in the media. In addition, critical readers have found other controversial entries in the textbook, which relate to the most important events in the modern history of Georgia – the August 2008 war and the Rose Revolution. Many believe that the material presented in the textbook is quite pro-Russian. The opposition Droa movement organised a protest, demanding the removal of the textbooks from the school curriculum.
He accused diplomatic missions of inciting a revolt against the Sudanese security forces. Protests by pro-democracy demonstrators continue to take place in the capital. Different watchdog groups and eyewitnesses report watching security forces use violence against protesters. Security officials have fired live ammunition and tear gas; a total of forty-forty protesters have been killed since the coup. “ We are all watching the political scene and unfortunately see that a number of diplomatic envoys are circulating amongst citizens and are clearly trying to incite the people to turn against the armed forces…”Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudan’s top general who led the October coup, announced that foreign interference in what he described as the country’s internal affairs will be met with hostility. In his speech al-Burhan warned,
Around 138 people have been for the past few weeks in Sudan’s western state of Darfur. Attacks in the Kreinik on Wednesday and Thursday resulted in the death of 88 people and increased violence near the Jebel Moon mountains caused the death of 25 people. A local NGO reported that rival groups caused different separate clashes to erupt.
Uganda has now confirmed its first cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. The virus was first detected in seven travelers who arrived from Southern Africa at the Entebbe International airport. All travelers are in isolation and are experiencing mild symptoms. The fear of the new variant has had a positive impact on vaccination rates; now previously vaccine hesitant Ugandans have expressed interest in getting a vaccine. Now around 7.6 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in Uganda since they began distribution in 2021.
Ugandan Climate activist Vanessa Nakate expressed her disappointment with the COP26 summit in an interview this week. In Uganda, the 25-year-old activist has risen to fame quickly due to her passion for environmentalism. In the past she was successful for organizing a protest about the damage climate change will have on Africa. In the interview she talked about her disappointment and spoke her plans for the year. She said, “We (young environmental activists) expected the leaders to rise up for the people, to rise up for the planet.”
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has spread in Zimbabwe. In the past week the country is reporting record rates of positive test results. Numbers have been increasing due to a concerted effort by the government to increase testing. Now around 1-out-3 COVID tests are positive for the new strain. Health experts all point to the face that this rate means that the pathogen has strong transmission levels within Zimbabwe. On Tuesday, the country hit a new record of 4,031 new infections which was well above the last record of 3,110 in July. The acting chief executive office at one hospital told news outlets that, “We (the people of Zimbabwe) are at the stage of mass infections and rising hospitalization, which is an ominous sign”.