February 11, 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, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s ICJ settlement, and Iraq’s parliamentary failure in electing a president.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited US President Joe Biden to discuss diplomatic solutions to the situation around Ukraine, where over 100,000 Russian troops are reported to be near the Ukrainian border. US intelligence estimates that this is 70% of the military personnel and weapons Russia would need to invade Ukraine. On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in which Lavrov asserted that Moscow favored a diplomatic solution to the crisis, while also accusing Truss of being “dumb and deaf” and being unwilling to understand his points. A meeting of the Normandy Format, which includes representatives from France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine, also took place on Thursday. Russia has also launched a new round of joint military exercises in Belarus that will run until February 20. Ukraine has begun its own military drills, also set to run until February 20, and will reportedly be receiving shipments of US military aid. Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov has also urged the international community to place port restrictions on Russian ships and take other punitive measures against Russia.
Farmers from the Macva district in western Serbia held a protest in Sabac demanding state subsidies for fuel and fertilizer. Farmers from central Serbia and Ub municipality gathered a day earlier, stating they will continue to demand better and fair treatment. Kreni-Promeni activist Savo Manojlovic advises that farmers connect their protests to environmentalist efforts citing a farmer who said that the government should invest in agriculture instead of mining and exploration. Environmental activists camped in front of the Serbia Presidency and organized a breakfast on the morning after on Friday. The activists plan to stay until the government bans the exploration and excavation of lithium and boron permanently.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people gathered in New Zealand’s capital of Wellington to protest vaccine mandates. New Zealand requires that people of certain professions get vaccinated against COVID-19, many of the protesters were also opposing mask mandates in stores and schools and attended the protests maskless. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised that there will be no more lockdowns and did not meet with the protesters.
On Monday, fifteen climate activists in Germany glued themselves to the asphalt of motorways, blocking the roads and causing traffic jams. Over the past two weeks, 252 protesters have participated in road blockade demonstrations, including 69 that have fused themselves to the asphalt. Last Generation, the activist group, reported that there were 50 people in custody across Germany last Friday. They are protesting the German government’s plan to achieve climate neutrality by the year 2045, arguing that the plan is a violation of international law and a crime against humanity since significant change in climate is expected to take place by 2030.
On Tuesday, thousands of healthcare workers in Turkey went on a one day strike to protest for better pay and better working conditions. Currently, wages for some of these healthcare workers are barely above the national minimum wage. Inflation in Turkey increased to 49% this January, eroding purchasing power and value of savings, leading to this discontent. Other demands included shorter shifts, safety measures against patients and relatives, and for Covid-19 infections to be classified as an occupational hazard. The oppositional party has warned of a brain drain of trained physicians leaving the country.
The UN plans to swap millions in aid dollars to Afghan currency to stem humanitarian crises and prevent passing money to already blacklisted Taliban leaders. The goal is to have a Humanitarian Exchange Facility (HEF) set up by February. Prior to the full establishment, the UN will conduct several trial swaps to see if this measure will work. They warn that this is only temporary until Afghanistan’s central bank is able to work on its own and foreign aid reserves are unfrozen. The HEF would allow the UN access to local currency that they would swap out with aid dollars. This would bolster the private sector, and allow for critical imports to enter the country without requiring a flow of funds across the country’s borders.
American lawmakers feel pessimistic about the state of the nuclear deal with Iran. As it is, Iran will currently have the ability to produce nuclear weapons in two months, and the US is attempting to strike a deal as soon as possible to prevent this possibility. An agreement looks to be in sight, but significant points of contention still remain. Both sides have much to gain from this agreement, but they both want the other to make the first move. There is a significant lack of trust between the US and Iran, and remains a major issue in these negotiations.
Iraq has finally completed the $52.4 billion in payments to individuals, businesses, and governments due to its 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait. This money was taken from a portion, often 3%, of the profit from Iraqi oil sales. Over 2.7 million claims were made but the UN only approved 1.5 million, covering $52.4 billion. The last payment was made in January, and all obligations owed by Iraq have been closed.
Iraq’s Parliament failed to elect a new president on Monday due to boycotts of the parliamentary process. Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who leads the largest parliamentary bloc, encouraged politicians to boycott the vote. Due to Iraq’s Parliament rules, two thirds of the legislature is required to vote, but only 58 people showed up. This boycott comes as the Supreme Court temporarily suspends the nomination of the frontrunner Hoshyar Zebari, who is supported by al-Sadr, due to pending charges of corruption.
The international community reiterates the need for Lebanon to hold Parliamentary elections in May, on time. These elections are coming as serious economic and political fractures in the country occur. This is the first time since 2019 that elections will be held, after months of the government being deadlocked over the plunging national currency and increasing debt. The Chief of Lebanon’s Hezbollah describes a recent list of Kuwaiti proposals as demands rather than propositions. This comes as Lebanon seeks to repair ties with Gulf Arab nations; the Kuwaiti list was provided as an outline of what could help repair relations, but Hezbollah perceives it as Kuwait dictating Lebanese affairs. Growing Iranian influence is a significant concern for Arab countries, and Hezbollah believes these demands impeded on Lebanese sovereignty.
Khalid Omer Yousif and Wagdi Salih, two prominent leaders who have been critical of the military and previously a part of a taskforce investigating al-Bashir’s regime and those connected to it, have been arrested. The pair held top positions in the civilian government before the military coup in October and were a part of a taskforce seizing property of officials and firing bureaucrats that were connected to the Omar al-Bashir regime. Approximately 2000 have been detained and released on bail in connections to the protests against the coup. Foreign aid, specifically from the United States is being cut as a consequence for the “arbitrary” detention of journalists and activists in wake of the military coup. Amid the crackdown, a quiet victory comes from social media: Twitter has unblocked Sudanese phone numbers from authentication, opening doors for activists organizing mostly on social media to use the platform.
The long-running dispute about reparations Uganda must pay to the Democratic Republic of Congo for its role in conflicts in the Ituri province has been settled by the International Court of Justice. The judges ruled in the case that had first been brought before it in 1999 that Uganda must pay $325 million in reparations to the Democratic Republic of Congo, in five annual installments of $65 million, starting in September 2022; this is far shorter than the $11 billion the Congo was seeking. The ICJ dismissed claims for broad macroeconomic damage and other broad arguments for which clear links could not be shown. Uganda had previously said the amount the Congo was seeking would economically devastate them and officials maintain that this judgment is unfair just as the 2005 judgment which held Uganda liable for aspects of the conflict in the Ituri province.
As pictures of satirical author, who criticizes the Uganda government specifically the President and his son, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s tortured body emerge, General Abel Kandiho is appointed Ugandan Head of Police. The United States has black listed Kandiho as a human rights offender, specifically for targeting opposition activists and encouraging and presiding over their torture. Rukirabashaija released images of his scarred back from injuries he sustained in prison where flesh was plucked from his body with pliers, he was made to dance for hours on end and injected with unknown substances. The European Union and the United States have made statements denouncing the treatment of prisoners by Uganda and have taken a special interest in this case, specifically denouncing the torture of an author. A lawyer for Rukirabashaija says the author has fled the country into Rwanda over the land border and will make his way into an unspecified European nation to save his life. The award-winning author has not been heard from otherwise. Only 12.7 million covid vaccines have been administered to Uganda’s 45 million population. The nation is now seeking a law, making vaccination against the virus mandatory as the economy opens up.
Zimbabwe’s economy is in crisis. Rising inflation and low employment prospects have caused Zimbabweans to risk crossing the border illegally into South Africa, a nation which has seen a rising stream of xenophobia specifically towards Zimbabweans. There are both those desperate enough to cross fast-flowing rivers with crocodiles and those with enough cash to bribe security forces along the way. However, both sets of people often get arrested at roadblocks further inside the country. Economic issues are building as the government rate for U.S. dollars and the black-market rate do not match up causing inflation, as citizens prefer to do business in U.S. dollars at an inconsistent rate. The Zimbabwean government has previously condemned these tactics and is now in the process of exploring if the development of a Central Bank Digital Currency is feasible.
On Thursday, the trial against former interim president Jeanine Anez began virtually due to covid-19 retstrictions. After different interventions and technical failures, the trial was postponed and a new date has not been set. Anez has been held in prison for 11 months in pre-trial detention and could face 12 years in prison if found guilty.
The family of Juan Carlos Flores Bedregal, former leader of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario, and alleged victim of enforced disappearance in 1980, asked the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) for a ruling that obliges the State to clarify the facts and identify his whereabouts. The IACHR determined that “the forced disappearance of the victim was motivated by the repression of the exercise of political rights and freedom of association.”
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez met with the president of the Communist Party of Spain, José Luis Centella Gómez, to discuss current regional and international issues. President Díaz-Canel thanked the Spanish communist leader for his support in denouncing the embargo imposed by the US government.
Last week, Nicaragua started trials against political prisoners– opposition leaders, rival presidential candidates, businessmen, journalists, and student and peasant leaders that were arrested in the run up to last year’s elections. Manuel Orozco, a Latin America analyst at Inter-American Dialogue, stated “The trials are part of a strategy to maintain power by using repressive and legal force to instill fear.” The political prisoners had little contact with defense lawyers, trials are being held out of public view, only one relative per defendant is allowed to observe, and transcripts of the hearings haven’t been made available. This week former foreign minister Francisco Aguirre Sacasa and journalist Miguel Mendoza were found guilty of conspiracy to undermine national integrity. The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights criticized journalist Mendoza’s nine-year sentence requested by the Prosecutor’s Office, calling the charges “invented crimes.” A series of political opposition figures have been convicted and sentenced in trials lasting a few hours; the latest is former presidential hopeful and journalist Miguel Mora who is sentences to 13 years in prison for “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.”
On Thursday, President Biden urged Americans to leave Ukraine, as thousands of Russian troops have amassed at its borders. President Biden stated that Americans should leave since U.S. troops would not be dispatched to retrieve them should Russia invade. “We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. This is a very different situation, and things could go crazy quickly.”
The Canadian border has become of concern to the United States as Canadian truckers’ blockade border-crossings in protest of a covid vaccine mandate. The United States government is urging the Canadian government to use federal powers to end the blockade and allow normal trade and border-crossing to resume.
With the Winter Olympics officially starting, the Chinese government has cracked down on dissent. Human rights activist Hu Jia is in house arrest imposed by authorities who want him out of public view during the Games. According to Human Rights Watch senior China researcher, Maya Wang said that “The point is to prevent any contact between the activists and, essentially, the outside world, which, during these events, tends to pay more attention to what’s happening in China.”
Tennis champion Peng Shuai has released a statement in a supervised interview saying that she did not make any sexual assault accusations. The International Olympic committee, without mentioning her interview, has raised the possibility of the athlete moving to Europe when the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
Due to ongoing threats towards journalists in Hong Kong, the International Federation for Journalists is calling on governments to offer support and pathways for Hong Kong journalists fleeing the city. Due to the National Security Law, over 20 journalists have been arrested or detained since 2020. In addition to that, journalists are reporting intimidation and harassment aimed towards them, as well as the pervading atmosphere of fear. The IFJ argues that these journalists are being persecuted, and asks for aid to help move them overseas to continue work in exile.
Hong Kong courts reject appeal of American lawyer convicted in a police assault case. Lawyer Samuel Bickett got in an altercation in 2019 with a plainclothes police officer, Yu-shu Sang, and was arrested. Bickett asked Yu if he was a police officer while Yu was attempting to stop a man from jumping a turnstile. After Yu responded no, Bickett grabbed his baton from his hand, and Yu ended up on the ground. Bickett was arrested for this, and served four months in jail before being let out on appeal. He lost his appeal on Tuesday, and will be going back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence. Bickett says he will appeal his sentence again as he believes he has suffered an injustice.
Clinical trials for a homegrown COVID-19 vaccine have begun in Indonesia. The “Merah Putih” vaccine has suffered delays since 2020, but may be authorized by the middle of 2022. Indonesia’s health minister announced that the vaccine could be donated to other nations as a booster jab or for young children. Vaccination rollout in Indonesia has been relatively slow, as only 48% of the population has received two jabs of the vaccine and only five million people have gotten the booster shot. Authorities hope that this new vaccine, which has been granted a “halal” certification, may help to raise vaccination levels.
Many parents and family members have taken to cutting ties with opponents to the ruling military junta. Many cite a fear of the military attributing their children’s actions to them and being targeted by the junta. The announcements are posted in state-owned newspapers and first began to appear in large numbers last November after the army announced it would seize the properties of opponents and arrest those providing shelter to protestors. Many homes of the family members of opponents have been raided.
Activists have been pushing for the Norwegian-based telecommunications company Telenor to reverse its decision of selling to M1, a Lebanese investment group. When Telenor first came to Myanmar in 2014, many democracy advocates and human rights activists became customers because they believed their data would be safe due to Norway’s reputation of human rights protections. These same activists are now worried about the security of their metadata, as Telenor has responded to queries by stating that Europe’s GDPR privacy law does not apply to Telenor Myanmar. This poses significant risks to the activists. If the military junta gains access to this metadata, they will be able to identify individuals and connections between people who have opposed the ruling military.
The same pipeline owned by Star Petroleum Refining Public Company (SPRC) that sprang a leak on January 26 leaked again on Thursday, spilling an additional 5,000 liters of oil off of Thailand’s eastern coast. SPRC is working with authorities to contain the spill, which is reportedly unlikely to reach the shoreline.
In November, it was announced that the US government had helped broker a deal to send millions of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses to Thailand through COVAX’s humanitarian buffer, which facilitates immunizations for people living in humanitarian emergencies. Vaccines were supposed to be delivered to refugees living on the Thai-Myanmar border in December, but are still delayed due to legal and logistical obstacles. Similar difficulties are being faced around the world as global health advocates struggle to settle logistics and gather resources.
Nearly 100,000 Russian troops are amassed on Ukraine’s border in Belarus under the joint military exercises Belarus and Russia are conducting until February 20th. This has been of major concern to the West with many calling it the most dangerous moment in Europe in decades. Russia is demanding that NATO not be expanded and that Ukraine never be accepted into the military alliance. The West says that Russia cannot dictate how diplomacy and alliances are made. Ukraine has now also started military exercises in a show of strength. These exercises by the Ukranian military are set to continue until the February 20th date that is the same date for Russian and Belarusian joint military exercises to end. Ukraine begins these exercises while waiting for support in military supplies from the United States.
Russian and Belarusian military connections are growing further as an agreement between the two nations which envisages the deployment of up to 200 Belarusian military personnel to Syria has been drafted. President Lukashenko of Belarus says that this will only result in army medics sent in, but concerns grow from reporters in Ukraine, since these personnel will be under operational command of Russian forces in Syria.
Other neighbors of the states are concerned as well. Latvia has prepared for a “total” defense in case chaos erupts in the region from the Ukraine crisis. Latvia is especially concerned as the nation blames Belarus for their migrant crisis, citing migrants saying that Belarusian authorities invited them in and then directed them to the borders of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, EU or NATO states. The small nation claims this “political mischief” is to exhaust the nations’ resources. Poland has started construction on a border wall through Europe’s last old-growth forest, citing the same reason.
Amid the military controversy, Belarus is also making waves by banning athletes from competing at the Olympics. Specifically, the daughter of a seven-time Olympic cross-country skier: Darya Dolidovich, has had her FIS code deactivated based on a decision by the Belarus Cross-Country Skiing Federation. The FIS code is necessary to compete at any events run by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Both father and daughter of the Dolidovich family have been vocal about their opposition to the current president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. Reuters reports that several Belarusian athletes have been jailed or kicked off national teams for their participation in protests that occurred after the 2020 elections. The tactic has drawn international criticism since the Tokyo Olympics last year.
Former President Saakashvili has used the timing of his trial to recommit to his now-Ukrainian citizenship. At his trial hearing he expressed support verbally and also performed the national anthem of Ukraine as well as using popular slogans for Ukrainian national movements. Saakashvili has long been a foe of the Russian government, especially with the 2008 Russia-Georgian war which resulted in essentially Russian-controlled areas of Georgia (Abkhazia, and South Ossetia). Saakashvili is offering transparent support to Ukraine even as his trial is underway in Georgia and he is coming off of a hunger strike for which doctors say he did not receive proper treatment.