February 18, 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 at the Beijing Winter Olympics, and the death of a Nicaraguan political leader.
On Tuesday, Russia announced that some of its troops would be withdrawing to base after completing military exercises near Ukraine, though the amount of units and how far they would be going was not specified. On Wednesday, a video was published showing Russian military vehicles being transported out of Crimea, but the US and other NATO countries continue to state skepticism over the claim that Russia is truly withdrawing. In Ukraine, residents played the national anthem, posted on social media, and flew the country’s flag outside schools, hospitals, and shops to mark “Unity Day,” a holiday created by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to show unity against fears of a Russian invasion. At the same time, a cyber attack, thought to be caused by Russia, overwhelmed defense ministry online networks and two banks. On Thursday, both pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine and Ukrainian government forces accused each other of opening fire along the line of contact in Donbas.
Tunisia’s President Kais Saied published a decree establishing a new provisional Supreme Judiciary Council over which he largely has control. Protesters marched on the streets of the capital Tunis on Sunday, chanting messages such as “Shut down the coup… take your hands off the judiciary” and calling the decree “the completion of the coup.” The decree also forbids the judges from striking, a tactic used just last week as a form of protest against the president’s announcement that the council would be a “thing of the past.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet triggered the Emergencies Act on Monday in response to protests that erupted earlier this month that caused disruptions on the US-Canada border. Demonstrations began in protest of COVID-19 mandates. The Emergencies Act is considered by many to be a last resort action, and it can only be invoked when the federal government has determined that an emergency poses a serious threat to the sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity of Canada and that responding to the threat exceeds the capacity of a province. The government has warned that it will freeze the bank accounts and suspend the vehicle insurance of protesting truckers. Banks are now able to freeze personal accounts of people linked to the protests without a court order. Protesting truckers are reported to have received a total of $8.4 million from 93,000 donations.
On Mexico’s southern border, a dozen undocumented migrants sewed their mouths shut on Tuesday to urge immigration authorities to allow them passage to the United States. For months, thousands of migrants have filled the border city of Tapachula, waiting for papers so that they can continue through the country.
President Biden issued an executive order last Friday to consolidate and freeze $7 billion of assets that the Afghan Central Bank kept in New York. These assets have been in the Federal Reserve for years, but when the former government was dissolved and the Taliban took over, there were concerns over what to do with that money because American sanctions make it illegal to engage in financial transactions with them. $3.5 billion of those assets have been set aside as aid for Afghanistan. In September, a group of relatives of 9/11 victims won a lawsuit asking for a share of these bank assets. Biden has said the government won’t object to the court decision, and the remaining $3.5 billion will go towards paying out these lawsuits.
Britain will be co-hosting an international aid conference with the UN to help with Afghanistan’s hunger crisis. The UN has made a plea of $4.4 billion in aid for Afghanistan, and they will be holding a virtual pledging conference in order to do so. This sum is the largest request ever made for a single country. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said that the UK is committed to leading the global effort, and wants to bring together the international community in order to provide aid and support to Afghanistan.
A draft of the nuclear deal between Iran and the US has laid out mutual steps to bring both countries back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Most of the wording has been finalized. The main text of the agreement focuses on Iran suspending enriched uranium above 5% purity. In addition, Iranian assets will be unfrozen, and Western prisoners in Iran will be released. After that, the main phase of lifting sanctions would begin. Currently, the main disagreement lies over Iran wanting assurance that the US will not withdraw, and what measures they could take in the event that happens.
Oil prices fell about 2% on Thursday as a nuclear deal approaches closer, and Iran looks forward to a removal of sanctions on oil. Prices would have fallen further if not for the rising tensions between Russian and Ukraine and the possible disruption of energy supplies.
According to a new UN report, Iraq has detained over 1000 children, some as young as 10 years old on national security charges, mostly for suspected links to the Islamic State. Although IS attacks have decreased considerably, the detention of these children has increased. Many of them were arrested on dubious evidence, and were tortured into confessing to involvement with the IS.
Lebanon’s government approved $18 million (360 billion Lebanese pounds) to hold the May Parliamentary elections. There are concerns that these elections may be stalled by powerful political parties, using Lebanon’s financial crisis as a pretext. Prior elections cost 3 times that amount, but there is a significantly smaller budget available this year. All that is left is for the Council of Ministers to approve the electoral budget for election preparations to begin.
The Sudanese military controlling the government is continuing to “arrest” protestors, often in the middle of the night, and hold them without charge. Protestors are raising their voices against the military coup in October of last year and the resistance committees are now standing in solidarity with farmers whose electricity bills were raised sharply. These protests are now barricading the “Northern Artery” which is the road-route for trade with Egypt. This blockade has resulted in approximately 1500 truck drivers stuck as of late January, unable to return to Egypt. Specifically, the export of camels has been interrupted for about three weeks.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, an author who has fled the country after torture by Ugandan Sepcial Forces Command (led by the President’s son), is now in Malawi seeking passage to Germany for treatment. The author plans to return to Uganda after he has received the medical treatment he requires. There has been international condemnation of Uganda’s treatment of Rukirabashaija and other human rights abuses. In the aftermath of last year’s election, thousands of people were reportedly detained and some were taken to unknown areas in unmarked vans by Ugandan security forces. Upon release, some of these detainees have physical evidence of torture on their bodies. The reports of torture continue, and the United States has announced sanctions against Uganda’s military chief.
Zimbabwe teachers are protesting for a better pay and work environment, demanding that their salary is in U.S. dollars. Much of Zimbabwe’s economy runs on the black market, which utilizes U.S. currency. The Zimbabwe President has said that this concession will not be made, as a nation cannot prosper without its own currency. This dispute traces back to October 2018 when Zimbabwe stopped paying its teachers in U.S. dollars and instead started paying in its own currency the Real Time Gross Settlement Dollar, which has continued to lose value due to high inflation. The government has announced that striking teachers have been suspended without pay for three months.
A Zimbabwe journalist freelancing for the New York Times was put on trial after he was accused of “illegally procuring false accreditation” for two other Times journalists. The trial came to a swift end after only one witness was brought to the stand. A government lawyer said that the case was “on shaky ground” before the trial had even begun and after the witness was called the government was unable to “show a crime was ever committed.” This is a strong move in Zimbabwe as freedom of the press is being challenged with many such cases with little evidence supporting the government’s stance.
On Thursday, former interim president Jeanine Añez collapsed during a hearing. Añez has been participating in a hunger strike for nine days. After Añez collapsed, the judge postponed the hearing. The president of the Permanent Human Rights Assembly of Bolivia Amparo Carvajal and former president Carlos Mesa attempted to visit Añez but were denied entry.
Russian vice-president Yuri Borisov is in the middle of a Latin American tour to Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua to strengthen ties between Russia and these three Latin-American countries. The tour comes after the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statement that Russia wanted to expand the strategic cooperation in all areas of the economic, cultural, educational and military-technical development with these countries.
Anamely Ramos, activist and member of the opposition group San Isidro Movement, was denied boarding to a flight to Cuba from Miami, where she was visiting, since Cuban authorities banned her from reentering the country. “Right now I have no country, nowhere to return to, no residence in any other country in the world, no visa to anywhere and here I am,” said Ramos in an interview. Other member of the opposition group San Isidro Movement have faced persecution. Artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and rapper Maykel Castillo have been in jail since July 11 and there are concerns about their health.
On Saturday, Hugo Torres Jimenez, the vice president of the opposition Democratic Renovation Union (Unamos), died while detained. Torres was detained in the run up to last year’s November elections, among other dissidents and opposition figures. Calls for the political prisoners to be released mounted after Torres’ death including statements from Antonia Urrejola, the former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and Peter Stano, the European Union’s external affairs spokesman, who called for an independent investigation into Torres’ death and urged for the release of all political prisoners. Other political prisoners started their trials this week, including former possible presidential contenders Juan Sebastian Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, and Felix Maradiaga, as well as the former head of Nicaragua’s business association Jose Adan Aguerri, former deputy foreing minister Jose Pallais, and activists Tamara Davila and Violeta Granera.
On Tuesday, the Nicaraguan Parliament banned six NGOs that advocate for human rights, bringing the total of banned organizations to 93. The organizations banned are the María Elena Cuadra Women’s Movement, PEN International-Nicaragua, which created literacy programs and spoke up about attempts against the freedom of the press, the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights, the Center for the Promotion of Youth and Children, the Ibero-American Foundation for Cultures, and the Foundation for the Promotion and Development of Women and Children Blanca Arauz (Fundemuni).
The United States recalled all its diplomats and staff members from Ukraine, as tensions with Russia continue to escalate. President Biden said that the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine remained very high and stationed 5,000 troops in Poland to reassure NATO allies and possibly evacuate Americans. On the other hand, the Kremlin insists they’ve withdrawn troops and that the US should meet Russia’s demands or they would be “forced to respond, including through the implementation of measures of a military-technical character.”
Olympic officials and the Chinese government warned athletes at the Winter Olympics against staging any protests, saying they could violate Olympic rules as well as Chinese law and be subject to unspecified punishment. Activists have urged athletes to speak out about human rights abuses, and many activists from across the country and abroad have joined together in protests. Journalists have also continued to ask political questions during press conferences, asking whether Taiwan would be allowed to participate in the closing ceremony and whether they could prove their uniforms weren’t made by forced labor.
A singer-activist in Hong Kong has been arrested on charges of sedition. Tommy Yuen, a 41 year old singer performed a song last year with the words “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Time”, which had been found by Hong Kong courts to be a slogan capable of inciting people to violence. Yuen is well known for protesting for democracy in Hong Kong, and is being arrested for suspected sedition and money laundering.
The number of Covid cases in Hong Kong have increased by 60 times in the past month. Hospitals are being overwhelmed and some patients are left lying outside in the cold as beds become scarce. Leader Carrie Lam says that experts from mainland China are being brought in to curb the spread, and the city is planning to perform up to a million tests daily by March. Hong Kong is working with local hotel owners to free up space for people who become infected.
A meeting of the G20 took place in Jakarta on Thursday. Topics include geopolitical risks and the economic fallout of the pandemic. The diverging rates of recovery across different countries are expected to cause challenges is effectively planning an exit strategy from the pandemic.
On Thursday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte issued a full apology to Indonesia regarding the violence used by the Dutch to maintain control over the former colony after World War II. The apology came after a historical review found that the Dutch had engaged in systemic and excessive violence, including frequent acts of torture that could today be considered war crimes.
On Saturday, Myanmar’s military junta held a parade in the capital of Naypyitaw to celebrate Myanmar’s Union Day, beginning the day with mobile internet blackouts. They also announced the pardoning of 814 prisoners. The General Strike Committee of Nationalities said that some political prisoners held at Insein prison in Yangon began a hunger strike on the same day.
On Monday, Kirin Holdings, a Japanese beverage company, announced its withdrawal from business in Myanmar and the termination of its joint venture with Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company (MEHPCL), which has been linked to the military. This act comes after a year of disputes between the two companies, as well as a widespread campaign to boycott Myanmar Beer and public pressure from activist groups and human rights organizations.
No representatives of Myanmar’s ruling military junta attended this week’s ASEAN meeting. At the beginning of the month, Cambodia, the bloc’s current chair, announced that only a non-political representative would be allowed to attend due to the country’s failure to implement ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus peace plan, and Myanmar opted not to participate.
On Thursday, protesters gathered outside Thailand’s Ministry of Interior to call for the end of Amnesty International’s presence in the country. Ultra royalists have accused the NGO of threatening Thailand’s security and interfering with internal affairs. This comes after Amnesty condemned court judgements against protesters who had called for limits on the wealth and influence of the royal family. Thailand has in place restrictions on what can be said about the monarchy, and NGOs have also expressed concern over a proposed law to regulate non-profits.
On Tuesday, Thailand’s cabinet approved a package of incentives to promote a shift to electric vehicles. The incentives are part of a new zero emission vehicle policy and a goal for 30% of Thailand’s total auto production to be electric by 2030. Thailand has demonstrated interest in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth jets, which are the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft and are usually only sold to the closest allies of the US. Tim Cahill, Lokheed Martin’s senior vice president for Global Business, said that the exportation of the jets would be a US government policy decision.
After a meeting with EU leaders in Brussels, Lithuania says that Russia has amassed 45,000 troops in Belarus and this is a direct threat not only to Ukraine but also to Poland and Lithuania. After Belarus and Russian troops visited a nuclear weapons storage site as a part of their exercises, Lukashenko said that Belarus could host nuclear weapons and deploy “super nuclear weapons” to defend their territory if their “rivals and opponents” take “foolish and unreasonable” steps.
Human rights defenders are being threatened and harassed on the Poland-Belarus border. While experts are contacting Polish authorities in this matter it is important to note that the migrant issue is rooted in Belarusian efforts to send a heightened amount of refugees into Poland and the EU.
Georgia’s Defense Minister, Juansher Burchuladze, met with NATO secretary Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on February 17 to discuss common security challenges. Additionally, this statement is coming as Russia is at a diplomatic standstill with the West over the question of Ukraine potentially joining NATO. Russia is demanding that Ukraine never be allowed into the military alliance as being surrounded by NATO nations is perceived as a threat.