January 14, 2022
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
In this issue, we cover the latest updates on the aftermath of Sudan’s October coup, the civil war in Tigray, US-Iran nuclear talks, and more.
Ongoing air strikes in Ethiopia’s Tigray have caused the deaths of dozens of civilians, including the deaths of 56 people and the injury of 30 in an air raid on a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Dedebit. While the government has previously denied such targeting of civilians, aid workers and members of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) cite this as only the most recent example of human rights abuses by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The targeted camps offer shelter to IDPs who have escaped conflict in Western Tigray, and include large populations of children and elderly women. On Friday (1/7), the government released several opposition leaders from prison along with a call from Abiy for the beginning of a national dialogue. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the release of prisoners, and noted the opportunity for improvement of humanitarian access. Amidst continued airstrikes, fighting, and the near collapse of hospitals, no humanitarian aid has entered Tigray since December 15.
Since 2021, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the border from Belarus to Poland in order to reach the EU. Many of the migrants travel to Minsk, Belarus from Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. They are then encouraged by the Belarusian authorities to cross the border into Poland, some even reporting being provided with wire cutters or prevented from returning to Belarusian cities. Poland has limited journalists and human rights groups from entering the border region. This week, the humanitarian organization Médecins sans frontières (MSF) withdrew from their work on the Belarus-Poland border. The MSF emergency coordinator for Poland and Lithuania, Frauke Ossig, cited the inability to reach migrants in Poland, and called the current situation “inhumane and unacceptable.” MSF reports that at least 21 people have died since 2021 due to extreme weather conditions, and that volunteers have been “vilified and intimidated,” and have had their property destroyed.
On Tuesday, the United Nations made a $5 billion appeal to help Afghanistan and neighboring countries avoid a looming catastrophe. 23 million people – over half the country’s population, are facing acute levels of starvation. This appeal wants to use $4.4 billion to distribute food, help farmers plant crops, and get necessary health services to areas that need them. Another $623 million will go towards helping the 6 million Afghans who have fled the borders of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is currently facing one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, and the UN hopes that this aid will allow them to “create a space of dialogue with the Taliban” and create a more secure and stable situation. Most people’s household incomes have been slashed over the past few months, with sanctions, and suspension of aid funds causing a collapse of the already fragile economic system. Many workers have either become unemployed or have not been paid for months. In rural areas, where people depend on agriculture to make a living, they’re struggling to afford food. Growing restrictions on women mean that they are also unable to help support their families, leaving households dependent on outside aid.
Recently a British-Iranian Council worker who had been sentenced to prison for 10 years was freed. Aras Amiri, an arts program officer in London, was arrested in 2019 on charges of espionage. After sanctions were piled onto the country by former President Donald Trump, rights groups are accusing Iran of using arrests of dual-nation citizens as a form of reprisal. Amiri was arrested on a personal trip to visit family, and she flew out of Tehran on Monday. In addition to Amiri, a British-Iranian worker named Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced on international spying charges, also in 2019. After she was released this year, she was sentenced to another year on new propaganda charges. A U.N. panel has criticized what it calls an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals” in Iran.
Iran and the US are progressing in talks about reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. In 2018, former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran to pressure them into a deal reaching beyond the nuclear program. Outstanding differences in the current deal are diminishing and both sides are slowly coming to a consensus on it. The Biden Administration needs a foreign policy success after their exit from Afghanistan and Iran is keen to gain sanctions relief. However, as talks are progressing, both sides have escalated in threats. Iran has places largely symbolic sanctions on 51 Americans, and the US has warned severe consequences if any of them are attacked.
The first session of Iraq’s new Parliament was marked with disarray after a general election where results have been heavily contested. According to Iraq’s constitution, the largest bloc has the right to choose the Prime Minister, but the leader of this bloc, Moqtada al-Sadr will have to manage tensions with rival blocs groups that are contesting the election results and want a hand in the government formation process. During the meeting, the Shia Coordination Framework, a bloc of factions that object to the election results, claimed that they were the largest parliamentary bloc rather than al-Sadr’s group. Right now, the disagreement is between Shia groups. Pro-Iranian factions like the Shia Coordination Framework contend that they lost two-thirds of their seats due to voter fraud. Al-Sadr’s faction has partnered with Kurdish and Sunni groups to create a majority government that they would dominate as a larger faction. The incumbent speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi has been reelected as the parliamentary speaker, and Parliament has 30 days to choose a President who will then, in turn, choose a Prime Minister nominated by the largest bloc.
According to Iraq’s Integrity Commission, 98 arrest warrants were issued for government officials in October. Nearly 18 years after dictator Saddam Hussein was toppled, corruption still remains endemic in Iraq. Nearly $150 billion was smuggled abroad from corrupt deals in 2019, but Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi’s efforts to fight corruption are beginning to work. Ministers and other government officials are starting to be fined and arrested for taking financial bribes and making deals. Kadhimi’s focus on rooting out corruption has made him a popular figure, and he is highly favored to be voted in for another term.
Lebanon’s currency has lost over 15% of its value since the beginning of the year. It has dropped over 90% in value from 2019, creating a crisis that has plunged many people into poverty and created vast public frustration. A new cabinet appointed in September has not met for three months amid a dispute over the 2020 Beirut port explosion. On Thursday, a general strike by labor and transportation unions blocked the main roads in the capital, and all throughout the country to protest the failure of politicians to address the economic crisis. President Michel Aoun has been trying to get the multiple factions of the government to meet, but opponents want to wait until after May’s parliamentary election.
On Tuesday, France’s foreign minister said they would join with the United Arab Emirates to create a joint fund to support the Lebanese people. After a diplomatic row late last year between Lebanon and the UAE, this fund is a first step to them re-engaging. France has led diplomatic efforts internationally to help resolve Lebanon’s economic crisis, but so far have not been able to convince politicians to do much in terms of concrete reforms. So far there are no details on how the Franco-Saudi fund would work or how much is being pledged.
Sudan saw a protester and an officer killed with dozens others injured on Thursday as protests against the October military coup continue in the streets of Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan. In the aftermath, security forces have increased even more with added security on foot, in vehicles, using tear gas and water canons. Protesters reiterated that they have been and will continue to be peaceful and have not carried knives or weapons. Despite this, since the protests began, 60 people have been killed and hundreds injured. The United Nations is pushing for the military to cease their harsh crackdown on protests and hold accountable the responsible parties for those killed in the past protests and enforce laws protecting healthcare workers. Healthcare workers and facilities are being attacked, which is dangerous as an intimidation tactic but also for public health as Covid-19 cases rise. Security forces have attacked a teaching hospital in Khartoum 3 times, and the Swedish Ambassador calls the situation a blatant violation of basic human rights. Additionally, the UN started conversations with separate factions in Sudan to bridge the gap between the military authorities and the pro-democracy movement in the streets. While the military is willing to come to the table, pro-democracy groups including The Sudanese Professionals Association and the Forces for Freedom and Change reject “any partnership” with the military which plans to only hand over power to an elected government. Elections are planned for July 2023.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, 33, winner of the PEN Pinter Prize for an international writer of courage, who has been detained since the 28th of December was formally charged with two counts of “offensive communication” with the aim to “disturb the peace” of President Yoweri Museveni and his son. Rukirabashaija, who has been detained twice before, was transported to a maximum security prison, from where he has since been “secretly remanded,” for criticizing Museveni as an election thief and his son as “intellectually bankrupt.” After international pressure to produce Rukirabashaija in court, witnesses say he looks sick and frail; there is suspicion that the army unit that protects the First Family had been holding him. Rukirabashaija’s next court appearance is due in one week on January 21.
Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have continued their offensive against the ADF and captured 34 rebels and neutralized 4 camps. However, 31 other captives were freed.
Uganda opens its schools after 83 weeks, the world’s longest Covid-19 related shutdown. However, officials expect that a third of the students will not be returning. Many students have taken on jobs to support their family through the pandemic while others, particularly in rural and lower-income areas have gotten married and/or pregnant. The Ministry of Education acknowledges this problem, as UNICEF has pointed it out as well, but says that it is not nearly as widespread as other officials believe.
A New York Times freelance reporter is on trial in Zimbabwe for breaking immigration law by obtaining fake documents for two other New York Times reporters. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has had a tumultuous relationship with non-state media and cracking down on freelancer Jeffery Moyo is being seen as an example of Mnangagwa’s authoritarian governing. Another reporter, Hopewell Chin’ono, who has been critical of the government has been arrested three times.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Bolivia’s Vice President David Choquehuanca and six members of the cabinet tested positive for Covid-19. Bolivia’s government reported there was a 77% increase in Coronavirus cases. Bolivia declared a national health emergency, introducing new safety measures and increasing staff and resources to treat those who are sick.
Formal accusations were brought against Bolivia’s former Minister of Government Arturo Murillo and former Minister of Defense Luis Fernando Lopez, among others, for bribery and money laundering after selling tear gas at inflated prices to the government of former interim President Jeanine Anez, who is awaiting trial. The prosecution asked for the maximum penalty, 10 years in prison.
At least 57 protestors arrested in Cuba’s July 11 peaceful protests are scheduled to go on trial this week, according to relatives, and may face up to 30 years in prison. According to the Cubalex rights group, 1,355 protestors were detained during the protests, including minors who were questioned without the presence of adults or lawyers. Cuba started prosecuting protestors and has handed sentences of 20 years for filming a protest and 15 years for sedition. UNICEF has not issued a statement on the minors being detained and questioned without adult supervision, which violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Cuban government has not released official information, and the information available comes from NGOs Prisoners Defenders and Cubalex that have compiled data from arrests and families. The July demonstrations protested food shortages, rising prices, economic hardships, and a change in government. The United States imposed travel bans on eight Cuban officials, claiming they were complicit in the detention and repression of peaceful protesters.
Cuban officials spoke against ongoing U.S. military presence in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay on the 20th anniversary of the opening of the detainment facility.
This Monday, Daniel Ortega was sworn in for his fourth consecutive term as President of Nicaragua and second with his wife Rosario Murillo as vice-president. Ortega, former leader of the Sandinista Revolution that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza DeBayle, is now criticized for leaving revolutionary ideals behind and becoming a dictator. In November, Ortega’s government was accused of electoral fraud, incarcerating political opponents, banning large campaign events, and passing “treason” laws.
Prior to the inauguration, the United States and the European Union accused Ortega and Murillo of human rights abuses and undermined democracy, and imposed new sanctions on Nicaraguan officials, including Defense Minister Rosa Adelina Barahona De Rivas and Military Chief of Staff Bayardo Ramon Rodriguez Ruiz.
On Thursday, Stewart Rhodes, the leader and founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy for his participation in the January 6 Capitol riot. The Oath Keepers claim to defend the US Constitution and claim the federal government is working to destroy Americans’ liberties. The indictment alleges that Rhodes, along with his group, conspired to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The Department of Justice also indicted Eduard Vallejo, who stayed at a hotel with the quick reaction force, awaiting to bring weapons into DC.
On Monday, the United States and Russia held negotiations in Geneva over Ukraine. The Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov insisted that Ukraine should never become a NATO member, while his American counterpart, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, stated that they couldn’t close NATO’s open-door policy. While both sides emerged with slight optimism, the future of Ukraine is still unclear. Talks continued on Wednesday, with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister stating that they couldn’t exclude dispatching military infrastructure to Venezuela or Cuba if tensions with Washington continue to rise.
On Thursday, MI5, Britain’s domestic security agency, the United Kingdom’s domestic counterintelligence and security agency, circulated an alert to MPs about a Chinese lawyer who was trying to interfere on behalf of Beijing in the UK Parliament. The lawyer, Christine Ching Kui Lee, received an award from former Prime Minister Theresa May and has donated £584,177 to the office of Labour MP. This comes as tensions between the two countries increased after the UK revoked the license of China Global Television Network, granted visas to Hong Kong residents after the introduction of China’s national security law that stifled political dissent, and banned Chinese telecommunications company Huawei from providing equipment for Britain’s 5G network.
China has accelerated settlement building, erecting 200 structures and creating roads along Bhutan’s disputed border, according to satellite images. Bhutan and China have been negotiating for almost four decades to settle their 477 km border. China’s building acceleration is designed to force Buthan to yield to Chinese demands over the border dispute, with the latest negotiations taking place in April 2021. When asked to comment on the construction, China’s foreign ministry stated that “It is within China’s sovereignty to carry out normal construction activities on its own territory.”
China has locked down three cities after some residents tested positive for Covid-19. Citizens in Anyaang, Xi’an, and Yuzhou have been locked down, raising the number of confined people to 20 million. This comes as part of China’s zero Covid strategy. While other nations have eased regulations, China continues to tighten them as they prepare for the Winter Games.
Three leaders of a pro-democracy student group will spend another month in custody after their case was adjourned on Thursday. The extension is allegedly so that the defence will have more time to go over the documents presented by the prosecution. The group’s, Student Politicism’s, leaders were arrested in September last year under the Beijing-imposed security law. Initially, four students were arrested, but one was later released on bail. The group allegedly took part in the 12-day police siege of the Polytechnic University in 2019. The documents from the prosecution include WhatsApp messages, CCTV videos, and screenshots. Combined with the said members of Student Politicism, more than 1,300 people have been arrested in connection with the PolyU siege.
This week, leader Carrie Lam also announced that Hong Kong will draw its own national security law in accordance with Article 23 of the country’s constitution. Lam made the announcement during the first session of a new legislature which excluded any political opposition. Although Lam did not elaborate on what the new law will include, Article 23 lists treason, secession, sedition, subversion, and theft of state secrets as threats against national security.
This Wednesday, Indonesia began its Covid-19 booster program. While the elderly and people unable to pay are being offered free shots, everyone else will be expected to pay for their booster. Many have pointed to the ineffectiveness of this approach, as less than 50% of Indonesians are fully vaccinated. Deep discrepancies have been documented between the vaccination rates of different areas of the country. Aside from the difficulties of encouraging people to take the vaccine, experts also note that the necessary vaccines may be difficult for Indonesia, a middle-income country, to source. Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told the media that Indonesia currently has half the necessary vaccines for its population, and that the booster shots will be administered in half doses that align with studies confirming the efficacy of the dosage.
On Monday, January 10, ousted civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to four years in prison. In addition to the two years she received at her December 5 conviction, she is set to serve a total of six years in prison. Her most recent charges are based on the importation of walkie-talkies, the violation of telecommunications law, and the violation of Covid protocol. These charges stem from episodes taking place in 2020, or just days after the February 2021 coup. Amnesty International noted that the charges are evidence of the military’s desperation for a “witch-hunt” to “intimidate anyone who challenges them.” Human Rights Watch denounced the charges as “politically motivated.” Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly faces seven more charges, which could lead to 89 years of imprisonment if she is found guilty of all of them. Other members of the opposition, such as ousted President U Win Myint, and Daw Cherry Htet, the former bodyguard of Aung San Suu Kyi, are also facing convictions. These developments come amidst continued efforts of the military to suppress resistance movements and pro-democracy protests. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reports that at least 1,477 civilians have been killed by soldiers and police since the February 2021 coup, and 8,500 have been detained.
In what is reported to be one of the largest massacres of the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar military, soldiers of the Tatmadaw are accused of killing and burning the bodies of at least 35 fleeing villagers on December 24th. The dead include unarmed civilians, at least one child, and two volunteers for the aid organization Save the Children. In what Myanmar’s shadow government calls a “Christmas massacre,” soldiers trapped civilians fleeing a village near a military-controlled area of Kayah State in cars and tractors, claiming that the vehicles did not stop for inspection and were transporting terrorists. The unity government claims that the troops were conducting a “clearance operation,” a term widely associated with ethnic cleansing.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, there are 8,000 Myanmar refugees living in temporary shelters in Thailand. Although the Thai government has reported that the refugees are being taken care of, conditions in the refugee camps have prompted many refugees to return to the Myanmar side of the border. The UNHCR has supplied materials to support the humanitarian response, but has not been granted access to the sites. The deputy Asia director of Human Rights watch has urged Thailand to do more to help refugees displaced from Myanmar.
At the end of 2021, over 40 Thai and international civil society organizations wrote a joint open letter to Thailand’s Cabinet urging the withdrawal of the proposed Operation of Not-for-Profit Organizations Act. Amnesty International stresses that the language of the draft law is too broad, to the point that it could “significantly impact the day-to-day operations of civil society.”
Belarus authorities have cracked down on free civil society, in 2021, targeting independent journalists, activists, rights defenders and lawyers. This follows the widespread protests in the spring and summer of 2020. There was widespread harassment, intrusive searches, arbitrary detentions, and even beatings of not only human rights defenders but their families and journalists as well. Over 100 cases of arbitrary detention of journalists were recorded in 2021, and at least 32 attorneys representing jailed political opposition leaders and peaceful protesters had their licenses arbitrarily revoked. Athletes are also being targeted, the latest being two cross-country skiers who had their sports identification numbers (FIS, International Ski Federation) deactivated preventing them from participating in not only national training sessions but also qualifying events for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Belarus’s state-owned potash producer, Belaruskali, lost transport contract with Lithuanian state railway. On Wednesday, Lithuania, a vocal supporter of human rights and a close ally of the United States, terminated the 2018 agreement on the grounds that it threatens national security. Belarus has been hit by sanctions from both the European Union and the United States; potash was not included in the original sanctions against Minsk by the EU but was included in the August 2021 United States sanctions. However, non-state-owned railway companies in Lithuania are looking into the Belarus potash transport business. Potash is a vital fertilizer ingredient and the sanctions are increasing costs in the global farming market which is already struggling to tackle global food cost inflation. This will likely only get worse as Yara, a Norwegian fertilizer-maker, which normally purchases 10-15% of Belaruskali’s supply, winds down purchases.
Georgia’s ex-President Saakashvili underwent treatment in December following his hunger strike in prison. He was transferred back to prison following treatment in the early morning of December 30th, 2021. Saakashvili’s lawyers say he was not yet healed and moved back to prison prematurely without them being informed. His lawyers were able to visit him that day; however, riot police and water canons were deployed outside the prison were a small number of his supporters gathered. Saakashvili is currently serving a six year sentence for abusing his power during his presidency.