January 28, 2022
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
In this issue, we cover the latest updates on Ukraine’s border crisis, protests surrounding China’s Winter Olympics, and Hong Kong’s National Security Law.
Although Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied his plans to invade Ukraine, Russian troops have continued to build up on Ukraine’s borders. Though both the United States and the EU have stressed the importance of a diplomatic resolution, the US has placed 8,500 troops on “high alert.” If activated, these troops would be part of a NATO response force. Russia, blaming the US for escalating the situation, responded on Tuesday with military drills both near and far from Ukraine. On Wednesday, both the US and NATO made formal written responses to Russia’s demands. While they reportedly refused many of Russia’s demands, both responses are said to propose a diplomatic path forward. Separately, officials from Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France participated in talks in Paris, which ended in an agreement to uphold the 2014 ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine.
On Monday, the military seized control of Burkina Faso. The military suspended the constitution and ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. President Kaboré has led Burkina Faso since 2015. President Kaboré’s whereabouts are currently unknown, but a spokesperson for the military junta said that authorities are being held in a secure location and that no violence occurred in their arrest. One soldier also told the Associated Press that Kaboré had submitted his resignation. Captain Sidsore Kaber Ouedraogo promised that the new leaders would schedule new elections at a time “acceptable to everyone.”
On Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Afghanistan is “hanging by a thread” and called for countries to do whatever necessary to provide humanitarian aid. Guterres also pushed for a suspension on conditions that would constrict lifesaving aid operations, as many social and aid systems in Afghanistan are on the edge of collapse, and millions are suffering from extreme hunger. The UN is currently working with the World Bank to transfer money to help provide nutrition and aid to the Afghan population. As winter approaches, the crisis will continue to get worse. The World Food Program has set up stations in Afghanistan to provide food aid, but many that still need help aren’t getting it.
Afghanistan met with diplomats, namely EU representatives, the US, Britain, France, Italy, and Norway, for the first time since the Taliban takeover last year. Ahead of the talks, western diplomats met with Afghan human rights activists to discuss their demands and assessment of the on the ground situation. The Taliban have been criticized for establishing an all-male, all Taliban cabinet. Most of the international community has urged them to open the government up to women, and other religious and ethnic minorities.
The Biden Administration has put out a statement that Iran and the US are close to a return of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Progress in Vienna has been slow, but both parties want to strike a deal on a nuclear agreement for different reasons. The US is concerned that Iran’s dallying allows them to get to a point where it’s feasible for them to make a nuclear bomb and it is necessary to reach an agreement soon. Iran wants sanctions relief from the US. They deny that they are trying to create nuclear weapons, and instead are using uranium for civilian use. Iran also believes that US demands beyond the original deal are unconducive to the Vienna talks, and they will not be speaking to them directly as it is unnecessary.
Iran has regained the right to vote in the UN General Assembly after their dues were paid by South Korea, using frozen Iranian funds. US sanctions have made it difficult for Iran to pay their dues, and any release of frozen funds requires US approval. Around $7 billion have been frozen in just South Korea due to US sanctions, and it took active cooperation with the UN Secretariat and the US Treasury in order to pay the UN dues.
Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi’s reelection was upheld by the Supreme Court. Hours after, his residence was targeted by rockets in what seems to be the latest in a string of attacks by Iran linked armed factions. Halbusi has repeatedly been threatened by people close to Iran-linked factions, but at the time of the attack, he was reported to not have been in the area. As the head of the party with the largest number of Sunni votes, Halbusi was targeted by enraged Shiite factions, unhappy with the lack of government representation. Halbusi’s election as Parliament Speaker will allow Iraq to continue with the formation of the new government after elections last October.
ISIS fighters remain active across parts of Iraq and Syria and have started stepping up hit-and-run attacks against anyone against them. Iraq’s security forces have been hunting IS cells across a vast territory. At a string of bases last Friday, IS fighters struck, killing 11 soldiers. This is the first time that these fighters have attacked directly, preferring to IEDs and use snipers instead. This comes among a larger pattern of ISIS trying to reorganize troops and activity in Iraq. It is estimated that 10,000 ISIS fighters remain active in this region, sticking to mostly desert hideouts. Iraq has recently lost support of a US-led international anti-jihadist coalition, making it more difficult to counter ISIS attacks.
Lebanon signed deals on Wednesday with Syria and Jordan to purchase electricity, bringing Lebanon up to 250 megawatts (2 hours of energy) a day. The World Bank will be financing these deals, and negotiations over that should conclude in two months. The national grid has not been able to supply much energy since 1990, and Lebanon has taken to subsidizing fuel oil. These subsidies have been a large driver of Lebanon’s massive national debt, and increasing the amount of energy the country gets should help reduce it. Lebanon will also be receiving natural oil and fuel for power plants through Egypt and Iraq.
Saad Hariri, one of Lebanon’s former Prime Ministers and a prominent politician, announced on Monday that he was leaving his political career. Hariri was the head of the Future Movement, the most prominent party standing against the increasing power of Iran backed militants, and he called on his party not to run in upcoming parliamentary elections either. Hariri was the top representative of the country’s population of Sunni Muslims. With his departure, there is a power vacuum and it is unclear who will be able to replace him.
Anti-coup protests continue in Khartoum and other cities as Sudanese security forces killed three more protestors this week. Protests, organized by neighborhood committees, are continuing as their headquarters are raided and protestors exposed to the risk of being killed or wounded. The brutal military has fired tear gas and bullets at anti-coup protestors. Sudenese women’s rights campaigner Amira Osman was taken by 15 masked men, wearing civilian clothes, at a nighttime raid at her home. Osman was previously notable in protesting the government of former President Omar al-Bashir, and creating waves by violating dress code laws in 2002 and 2013. The United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission In Sudan, took to twitter to condemn Suden’s pattern of violence against women’s rights acitvists which severely reduces women’s participation in politics.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was released on Wednesday, after being taken away by unknown security personnel before his lawyers were able to successfully serve release papers to the prison he was in. His lawyer says he was “dumped by gunmen” outside his home. The 33 year old award-wining author of The Greedy Barbarian is awaiting trial for the communication offenses which were a series of tweets about President Yoweri Museveni and his army general son. The charge sheet reads Rukirabashaija “wilfully and repeatedly used his twitter handle…to disturb the peace of his Excellency the president of Uganda General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni with no purpose of legitimate communication. He spent 14 days in official custody before he was charged and had no communication with anyone during that time. He was then missing for 2 days after he received bail.
The New Humanitarian reports violent cattle-stealing rustlers have returned to Karamoja, leading to a renewed military effort of disarming the public, in the poorest area of the country. There has been an influx of weapons from Kenya as Ugandan cattle farmers share a grazing field with the neighboring nation. These weapons resulted in a slow build of a few stolen cattle to hundreds of people killed from December 2020 to July 2021 in efforts to steal all the cattle a village has. The government and military have increased presence in the area, listening to concerns and launching a third disarmament campaign. The last two campaigns are called successful and occurred after the Idi Amin regime fell in 1979, though locals are traumatized and fearful of another campaign. The villagers would much rather the military protect them from raiders directly rather than confront villagers, especially since there are reports that raiders include military personnel and the military in the area may be benefiting from the raids. Additionally, there are reports that some villages may have been deserted both from fear of the raiders and the Ugandan military.
Uganda is seeking to decrease borrowing and increase exports, specifically in the Dairy sector. The nation has invested in 14 private dairy companies to reduce the market power the state-owned dairy had. The nation now produces 2.81 billions of liters of milk while it only consumes 800 million liters. They used to export milk to Kenya who has since restricted the practice in violation of free trade agreements, Uganda claims.
Many Zimbabweans live and work in South Africa due to the Zimbabwean Exception Permit. However, due to a rise in Xenophobia as the economy slows, the Zimbabwe embassy has received multiple reports of their citizens in South Africa being told to leave by a certain date or face eviction. Zimbabwe, and other African nations, have previously condemned South Africa over the treatment of migrants. Zimbabwean migrants have been told to stay vigilant and law-abiding in response.
There is a widening gap between the national currency’s official and black market rates. Officially the Zimbabwe dollar is 112.80 to 1 U.S. Dollar, however, on the black market it is 200 to 1. Business leaders say the gap is due to a lack of supply of foreign currency, yet the government claims it’s due to businesses accepting U.S. dollars for payment at the black market rate. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe is hesitant to close this gap and match the black market rate fearing that it will only encourage further inflation. National leaders are calling on businesses to converse with the government so that convergence can take place at a realistic rate.
Former Anti-Drug Chief Maximiliano Davila was arrested for illicit enrichment and links to drug cartels. Davila, who served as Chief of Bolivia’s Special Anti-Drug Trafficking Force during President Evo Morales, was arrested trying to flee to Argentina. Davila is the second Anti-Drug Chief to be detained for links to cartels and sets a concerning trend.
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White movement, was arrested by police on January 23. The Ladies in White movement is primarily made up of mothers, wives, and sisters of political prisoners in Cuba and stage peaceful protests where they dress in white and carry white flowers as they march. Plainclothes police arrested Soler and three other women. Barbara Farrat, one of the other women, is the mother of Johnatan Farrat, a 17-year-old that faces criminal charges for his participation in the July 11 demonstrations.
President Daniel Ortega, recently reelected, has hundreds of political prisoners being accused of treason. On January 25, Berta Valle, wife of presidential candidate and human rights activist Felix Maradiaga, spoke about the conditions her husband is being held in. Valle states that Maradiaga has lost 50 pounds, is being held in a cell with no light, is not allowed to speak, is refused medical attention, and suffers from mental health issues like memory loss and cognitive damage. Valle believes Ortega is keeping the political prisoners as bargain chips to ease sanctions.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the senior member of the liberal wing, will retire. It is expected that President Joe Biden will nominate a black woman to Breyer’s seat. Potential candidates are U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, and U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina Justice J. Michelle Childs.
As U.S.-Russia tensions increased over Ukraine, the U.S. has threatened to halt the opening of a key pipeline that would send Russian gas to Western Europe. While the U.S. is not responsible for the project, they have stated that they will work with Germany to halt it, and Germany stated that “nothing was off the table” if Russia invaded Ukraine.
China is demanding the US “stop interfering” in the Beijing Winter Olympics, which will start next month. The US and its allies are implementing a diplomatic boycott and will not send dignitaries to the Games in a protest over China’s detention and genocide of more than 1 million Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.
The European Union launched action against China at the World Trade’s governing body for discriminatory practices against Lithuania. Tensions between Lithuania and China have escalated after Lithuania broke with diplomatic custom and agreed that the Taiwanese office in Vilnius would be named Taiwan instead of Chinese Taipei. Since then, China expelled the Lithuanian ambassador from Beijing and withdrew its own ambassador.
Hong Kong has made it significantly harder for defendants to seek bail before trial, leaving some imprisoned for over a year. In 2020, after mass democracy protests, China put into place the National Security Law to curb said protests, and any pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong. Bail conditions have also become stricter and has led to a shift in culture that views defendants as guilty before their trials. Some legal scholars believe that the practice of denying bail “may encourage arbitrary arrests just to ensure that the accused would be incarcerated for a lengthy period of time before trial”.
Hong Kong’s strict Covid-19 laws risk driving many foreign firms and workers out of the country. Hong Kong’s strict Covid regulations have done well in keeping the virus under control during 2021, but with a surge in the Omicron variant, strict laws and lockdowns have contributed to a “brain drain”. As an international business hub, Hong Kong’s economy relies on international businesses and travelers. With a lack of transit, and flight restrictions, many foreigners are choosing to leave instead. The European Chamber of Commerce has made several recommendations to the government, including shortening quarantine times to placate the international business community.
Indonesia recently made a deal with Singapore to resume quarantine-free travel between the two countries. The arrangement is open to visitors who are fully-vaccinated and insured traveling by sea between Singapore and the Indonesian islands of Batam and Bintan. The resumption of quarantine-free travel is expected to boost tourism and other parts of the economy. In 2020, income for food and accommodation businesses on the two islands was cut by 41%. Indonesia is also in talks with Japan and India to initiate a similar travel arrangement.
This arrangement is part of a set of three bilateral agreements reached by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders’ Retreat in Bintan. The other two agreements involve the realignment of the boundary between their flight information regions and provisions for the extradition of fugitives. For the agreements to take effect, a domestic ratification process will need to take place in both countries.
An article from Human Rights Watch urged the UN Security Council to initiate concrete action in response to atrocities in Myanmars, citing both the 2017 campaign against the Rohingya and the 2021 coup. Though the Security Council has issued many statements about the events in Myanmar, HRW argues that the Security Council should ignore the threat of a Chinese and Russian veto and move forward with a resolution to suspend arms transfers to Myanmar.
A spokesperson for Myanmar’s military government told Nikkei that the regime did not plan to dissolve ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) until the 2023 August elections. According to Major General Zaw Min Tun, this decision is in line with recommendations from several countries, including China. Many NLD leaders have already been detained, and the Union Election Commission is currently undergoing investigations into all political parties.
Thailand’s narcotics board announced that cannabis would be removed from its drugs list, allowing cannabis to be grown from home. In order to grow cannabis, people will have to notify their local governments and acquire further licensing if they intend to use it for commercial purposes. Later this week, the health ministry will present a separate draft bill that specifies the legal use and production of cannabis under the new rule, including guidelines for recreational use. The food and drug regulator chief said that there would be random inspections to ensure that homegrown cannabis was not being misused, further noting that it should be used for medical purposes. Police and lawyers have expressed that the legal status of recreational marijuana in Thailand remains in a gray area with this new rule, which seems to be the latest measure in establishing cannabis production as a major industry. Thailand is the first country in Asia to approve the de facto decriminalization of marijuana.
Poland has started building a wall through the forest that the Belarus-Poland border runs through. This is a result of increased migration concerns. Belarus has been accused of encouraging refugees from countries like Syria and Afghanistan to come to Belarus and promising them safe passage into the European Union. There are many who are disappointed by the building of this wall and say that the Bialowieza forest world heritage site is endangered by these actions and instead the money going into building the wall and militarizing the area should focus on providing humanitarian aid and passages of safe asylum seeking.
Belarus says that Russian troops will leave Belarus once the training exercises, which has seen the Russian military move into Ukraine’s neighbor’s territory, end. The world is on edge watching the Russian military move into Belarus as the “Allied Resolve” drills are due to continue until February 20. While the United States and the European Union have condemned Russian military movements, China is encouraging “all parties” to stay calm and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the U.S. secretary of state that “reasonable security concerns should be taken seriously and resolved.” Germany, unlike other NATO allies, has said that it would not provide weapons to Ukraine but that a field hospital and necessary training would be provided by Germany. Other non-NATO countries such as Finland are also increasing militarization in anticipation of conflict.
On January 23, Georgian protesters gathered at the Ukrainian Embassy in solidarity with Ukraine as Russian militarizes the border. Ukranians and Belarusians (nations opposing each other at the moment) based in Georgia were also at the protests. Georgians are sympathetic to the Ukrainian position as approximately 20% of Georgian territory is in regions controlled by Russia. However, the Georgian government is not making a strong stand against Russia. In the past Georgia and Ukraine have been close allies, however there are recent tensions, specifically in the case of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili who is now a Ukrainian citizen and in prison in Georgia. Georgia is also fearful of Russian retaliation as the memory of the 2008 war is recent.