January 21, 2022
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
In this issue, we cover the latest updates on the earthquake in Afghanistan, protests surrounding China’s Winter Olympics, and Indonesia’s new capital city.
A recent statement from UN Secretary-General António Guterres celebrated the “demonstrable effort to make peace” in Ethiopia. However, in a call to former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, Guterres also noted the extreme challenges still being faced, especially humanitarian. The World Food Program reported that aid and food operations are about to “grind to a halt” in northern Ethiopia due to ongoing violence and lack of funds.
Air raids were launched by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Tuesday, following an attack in Abu Dhabi by Houthi rebels. At least twelve people were killed in Sanaa. This comes after weeks of increased activity of Houthi rebels in the United Arab Emirates. On Monday, three people were killed in Abu Dhabi by a fuel tank blast claimed by Houthi rebels. This was the first deadly assault on U.A.E. soil by the rebels that the U.A.E. has acknowledged, though the U.A.E. has been part of the Saudi-led coalition backing the Yemeni government against the Houthis since 2015. Earlier this month, Houthi fighters seized a U.A.E.-flagged ship, claiming the cargo to be weaponry and holding the crew hostage. The U.A.E. has also backed Yemeni militias in a recent offensive against Houthi fighters in Marib, the area where most of the worst fighting in the past year has occurred.
Following the Saudi-led coalition’s attack in Sanaa, the UN expressed concern at the “continuing escalation of the conflict,” and warned that the level of violence may soon surpass what was witnessed in December.
On Monday, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake rocked Western Afghanistan, killing over 27 people, and destroying hundreds of homes. The Mujahideen, Taliban fighters, have been able to reach some of the affected areas, but the region is incredibly mountainous and the number of casualties might go up as few people are able to get the necessary help they need. At the moment, the main hospital in the area has received five injured patients from the quake, but the expect the numbers to rise as more people are unearthed from the rubble. Rescue teams have been sent to the affected areas.
Since the Taliban took power last August, most girls in Afghanistan have not been allowed back to schools after the 7th grade. The last time the Taliban were in power, 20 years ago, they had banned women from all education, work, and public life. There are concerns from the international community that the same could happen now. The Taliban Minister of Culture and Information, Zabihullah Mujahid has said that they are looking to open classes for all girls and women after the start of the Afghan New Year on March 21st. Mujahid said that girls and boys must be completely segregated, not just in different classes, but in different buildings. The biggest obstacle so far has been finding enough buildings in order to enforce this segregation. So far, edicts on education have varied by province, but Mujahid said that they “are not against education”. It remains to be seen whether this will happen or not.
China, Russia, and Iran will be holding joint naval drills on Friday. These drills will be held north of the Indian Ocean, and is the third joint drill between these countries. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi wants to deepen ties with China and Russia, and this naval drill will be among many steps in doing so. Tehran joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an Asian security body led by China and Russia in September. In addition, there have been meetings organized between heads of states throughout the past year.
The US, and European allies believe there are only a few weeks left for current nuclear talks with Iran to be revived. After former President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018, talks have begun starting December 2021 to revive the deal. So far, “modest progress has been made” but core issues remain to be resolved and both sides believe that a decision needs to be made soon. Iran refuses to meet with the US so other countries must currently act as a go between. A French source at the most current talks believes that this trend will not be sustainable, and the month of February will be decisive to seeing how talks will play out.
Iraq’s 2021 October election was marked with significant disagreements between factions over election results. The first Parliamentary session last week was chaotic, with neither bloc coming to a consensus over who should be voted in as Prime Minister. Last Friday, a hand grenade caused an explosion at the headquarters of the Iraqi Parliament Speaker, Mohammed Halbousi. 2 people were wounded, and a similar event happened a few hours later at the headquarters of another politician. No group has claimed responsibility for this incident.
The Iraqi government has organized ten flights from Belarus to Baghdad in order to repatriate its citizens. Currently, 4,000 Iraqis who were stuck at the borders of Belarus have made it back to Iraq. According to Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed al-Sahaf, some Iraqis are still stuck in Belarus, but Iraq and Lithuania want to cooperate in order to bring those stuck at the borders back to Iraq. Since last summer, many Iraqis have been attempting to enter Belarus as migrants, and the EU has accused Belarus of luring migrants to the border as revenge against sanctions.
Lebanese groups Hezbollah and Amal are ending a three-month boycott of cabinet sessions, allowing ministers to meet. Lebanon is currently facing one of the worst financial crises in the world with the currency having dropped over 90% since 2019. The cabinet has not been able to meet since Hezbollah and Amal were boycotting them due to disagreements over how to handle the 2020 Beirut port explosion, further spiraling the country into a financial crisis. Now that the government will be able to meet after a three-month gap, ministers hope to approve a 2022 budget and discuss an economic recovery.
Jordan is signing a deal with Lebanon and Syria to help provide Lebanon with electricity under a US backed plan. This deal will hopefully help ease power shortages that Lebanon is currently facing and bolster their power output, which is very weak at the moment. This plan will also include providing gas supplies to Lebanon via an Arab pipeline established 20 years ago.
The death toll in Sudan has risen to 72 with more than 2000 wounded in protests since the October 2021 military coup. Thousands have taken to the streets again to protest the violence against protestors; roads in Sudan’s capital were even barricaded. The United States has announced no more economic aid to Sudan until violence against the protestors is ended and considers taking steps against “those holding up efforts to resolve Sudan’s political crisis.” Sudanese judges, in response, have condemned violence against anti-coup protestors; saying “military leaders have “violated agreements and covenants since the October 25 coup, as they have carried out the most heinous violations against defenseless protesters.”
A fuel shortage in Uganda saw prices shooting up from 4000 Ugandan shillings to 12,000 per liter, while hundreds of trucks are stuck at tailbacks at the border with Kenya. The Energy Minister Ruth Nankabirwa said that the trucks are delayed due to a faulty scanner that is used by custom officials to check vehicles in addition to Covid-19 issues. Nankabirwa has also called on fuel suppliers to stop “cheating” and says that though Uganda is a liberalized economy the amount the price was raised is not supply-demand economics and is just plain cheating.
According to France 24, Lira has handed down an order which went into effect immediately which bars women from sitting in the front cabin of trucks, even if they are the wives of the drivers. It is supposedly due to the amount of accidents that coincide with women in the front seat, who create a “distraction” by wearing skirts.
The ANC 110th anniversary saw speeches that called for promoting democracy in the SADC. A main cause for concern for listeners was South Africa has canceled the Zimbabwean Exemption Permit which had allowed for citizens of Zimbabwe to freely work and live in South Africa without other visas. Zimbabwe’s economy is weak and with more citizens returning it is struggling to provide for its people.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa fired the State Security minister Owen Mudha Ncube who has previously been cited by the United States for Human Rights Abuses. He was in charge of the Central Intelligence Organization and was fired for inappropriate conduct “for a minister of government.”
Developers in Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Peru are evaluating the creation of an association of lithium-producing countries after Chile elected left-wing Gabriel Boric as president. Bolivia has the largest lithium reserves globally with 21 million tons, followed by Argentina and Chile, and the organization could control the lithium market.
Former Bolivian President Evo Morales called for a second “democratic and cultural revolution” and proposed an amendment to the Bolivian constitution. Morales, who many believe is still running the country, also said that “It is a constitutional responsibility to change, to improve the cabinet of the President of the State,” after eight cabinet members were accused of responding to him instead of President Luis Arce.
Spanish news agency EFE, which has been covering Cuba since 1975, announced that they may be forced out of Cuba. The Cuban government has revoked the press credentials for three editors, a camera operator and a photographer, and have denied visas to different EFE members, after the news outlet covered protests in the country. EFE is responsible for nearly 50% of all news published about Cuba in Latin America and its absence would place a big threat to freedom.
The US government has allowed Icelandair to create a new route that connects Havana with Miami, Orlando, and Houston, despite ongoing sanctions that prevent US citizens from traveling for tourism.
On Tuesday, President Daniel Ortega thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his support and Russia’s solidarity with the people of Nicaragua after he called to congratulate him on his reelection. During the call, Russia reaffirmed its “unwavering support to the efforts of the Nicaraguan government to ensure the national sovereignty and its readiness to further support the social and economic development of the republic.”
On November 22, Nicaragua’s government announced that Cubans would no longer need a visa to travel into the country. However, few had benefited since flights between the two countries did not resume until January 12. Experts worry that Nicaragua’s immigration policies could stimulate a mass exodus of Cubans trying to reach the US, similar to the 1980 Marial crisis.
To mark his first year in office, President Joe Biden held a press conference on January 19. During the conference, President Biden talked about the Build Back Better economic package, which had been delayed this past month, the voting rights bill blocked by the Republican party later that day, inflation, and the pandemic. President Biden also spoke about the Russia-Ukraine conflict and said that he expects Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, and warned him that he would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and potentially being removed from the world banking system. On January 20, the administration announced that it approved four NATO members to send weapons to Ukraine.
China’s Winter Olympics organizing committee warned foreign athletes that they might face punishment for speech that violates Chinese law, spotlighting censorship in the country. In China, activists and dissenters are sentenced to prison for staging protests and posting on social media. Organizations like Human Rights Watch recommended that athletes be careful and avoid talking about China’s human rights records for their safety after Chinese authorities arrested prominent human rights activists Yang Maodong and Xie Yang.
NGO Safeguard Defenders released a report that details methods used by China to force fugitives to return from other countries through “Operation Sky Net.” Methods include threatening family members, intimidation, and kidnapping.
A Hong Kong democracy activist named Edward Leung has been released from prison. He was jailed in 2018 on charges of rioting and assaulting police. Advocating for independence from China is now a crime that carries a sentence of lifetime imprisonment. Leung was arrested before the 2020 law went into effect, but he was a staunch advocate for Hong Kong “localism” which advocates for independence from China and the promotion of a Hong Kong rather than Chinese identity.
With a surge in Omicron cases, Hong Kong is following China’s approach to Covid-19 control. They’ve closed their borders and imposed strict social restrictions on people in the region. For a city dependent on visitors, and with Chinese New Year coming up, citizens are frustrated at the measures imposed on them as authorities try to contain the spread. So far, 50 locally transmitted cases have been found, after three months without any. Hong Kong is also significantly behind in the rates of vaccination compared to other developed cities, with only three quarters of the population having had their first dose.
Indonesia has named its new capital Nusantara, citing environmental concerns surrounding the city of Jakarta. On Tuesday, the parliament approved the bill to relocate the capital, though Jakarta will officially remain the capital until a presidential decree is issued at a currently unspecified time. Nusantara—a Javanese name for the archipelago—is in the Kalimantan Province of Borneo, an area at the center of Indonesia that is covered with jungle and less prone to natural disaster. The government has stated that it envisions the new capital as a “super hub” to promote sustainable growth, and support pharmaceutical, health, and technology sectors. The project is estimated to take a decade, and will cost a total of $32.5 billion. Critics, including environmentalists, question the lack of public consultation as well as the possible environmental degradation that may come from the destruction of forests, as well as the coal mining and palm oil industries.
Since Myanmar’s coup in February 2021, many citizens have taken to leaving their jobs and refusing to pay their electricity bills as an act of civil disobedience. While this tactic is not expected to end the regime, it does seem to be putting a strain on the ruling military, as residents report that soldiers are now acting as debt collectors and are increasingly using force to get payment. In September, the shadow opposition government estimated that people’s refusal to pay their electricity bill had cost the regime $1 billion. The coup and the prevalence of Covid-19 have both had a profound impact on Myanmar’s economy. A report from the World Bank found that Myanmar’s economy was expected to contract by 18% in the 2021 Fiscal Year, and a United Nations survey in December of 2021 predicted that Myanmar’s urban poverty rates would triple by early 2022.
Divisions among ASEAN have arisen surrounding the bloc’s peace plan for Myanmar and what Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called no “significant progress” in the Five-Point Consensus. Leaders disagree on whether to include Myanmar’s military junta in talks, while violence in Myanmar continues to escalate. A U.N. envoy called on Thailand’s support in assisting displaced people in Myanmar, and pushing for the implementation of ASEAN’s five-point peace plan.
After Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the new chair of ASEAN, visited the military ruler of Myanmar at the beginning of January, tensions among ASEAN members have slowed progress in the peace plan for Myanmar. A U.N. envoy has called on Thailand to help push the peace plan forward and provide support to refugees from Myanmar. Thailand has longstanding ties with Myanmar’s military, as well as being the destination of thousands of Myanmar civilians fleeing across the border. 1,300 Myanmar civilians are reported to be in Thai shelters. Though Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth has said that Thailand has a “humanitarian area” where refugees are being cared for and returned on a voluntary basis, international organizations have reported that they are not being given access to these areas.
Starting on February 1, Thailand will resume its “Test & Go” quarantine waiver for people who are vaccinated. Vaccinated visitors will be required to get a Covid-19 test upon arrival, and then again five days later, while having their whereabouts tracked by authorities. This is part of a larger plan within Thailand to restore tourism. The number of visitors last year was only 0.5% of pre-pandemic figures.
A Ryanair flight last year was forced to land in Belarus due to a “bomb threat” from the Palestinian militant group Hamas, according to the Belarusian government. The UN International Civil Aviation Organization’s report, released on January 17, says otherwise. The UN agency has found that the threat was deliberately false. As a result of the flight’s diversion, Belarusian dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend were arrested. The pair, currently under house arrest, are facing charges relating to civil disturbances after the disputed presidential election of August 2020. There are also many Belarusian athletes living abroad because of fear of prosecution due to their political views and the opinions they shared in the aftermath of the protests in August 2020; some say they would like to return but not under a “Russian puppet government”
Russian troops have arrived in Belarus for joint military exercises. Regional experts argue that the troops are a “stress test” for Russian military capacity and a tactic to further Russian demands with or without an attack on Ukraine. Belarus has said the first phase of drills, which is running until February 9th, rehearses “deploying troops, defending military facilities, and assessing troops’ air defense capabilities.” The second phase running from February 10th to 20th, will “go over” “destroying illegal armed formations, and the enemy’s sabotage and reconnaissance groups.” The Russian defense ministry has said “the goal of the exercise is to fine-tune the tasks of suppressing and repelling external aggression during a defensive operation, countering terrorism and protecting the interests of the Union State.” Russia is calling these “Allied Resolve” drills, practicing them on the western border of Belarus by the Polish and Lithuanian borders. This is of particular concern to the NATO member Lithuania; the minister Arvydas Anusauskas taking to Facebook to call the Russian troops in Belarus a direct threat to Lithuania.
The medical council for former president Mikheil Saakashvili says that he is not receiving the care he needs. The medical council invited by the Georgian Public Defender Nino Lomjaria says that he is still suffering from PTSD and depression and is not receiving the psychological care he requires and is still in need of physiological care following his hunger strike. Ruling party MP and Vice Parliament Speaker Gia Volski seems to imply that Saakashvili’s mental state is simply a product of being in prison and says that a prison is not a place people feel at ease, adding “Thousands of people were tortured and humiliated in the prison set up by Mikheil Saakashvili.” The Ukrainian foreign ministry has previously told the Georgian government that Saakashvili, now a Ukrainian citizen, was not fit enough to transfer back to prison. The United Nations has also urged the Georgian government to ensure the safety of the prisoner.