March 4, 2022
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
In this issue, we cover the latest updates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, political turmoil in the run-up to the Zimbabwe by-elections, and Bolivian government reactions to the recommendations of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts which criticized the judiciary system and human rights violations under previous presidents.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the United Nations estimates that 227 civilians had been killed and 525 injured, though these numbers are likely undercounts due to difficulty corroborating reports. Countries neighboring Ukraine, including Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia, have accepted a total of over one million refugees, a number that the UN expects to reach 4 million in just a few weeks, many of them unaccompanied children. Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 are prohibited from leaving the country due to conscription. Countries around the world have launched economic sanctions against Russia and banned Russian flights from airspace, and the UN General Assembly voted to adopt a resolution demanding that Russia immediately end military operations in Ukraine. On Monday, meetings on the Belarusian border began between representatives of Russia and Ukraine. On Thursday, officials announced an agreed plan to create humanitarian corridors to assist in the evacuation of civilians. A fire at the Russian-seized Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant following fighting on Thursday raised fears of a nuclear disaster, which Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy said could lead to “the end of Europe.”
Anti-war protests continue around the world, including Russia. More than 6,800 people have been arrested across Russia for participating in demonstrations. Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who has led some of the biggest protests in Russia against Putin in recent years, urged people in Belarus and Russia to protest regularly against the invasion of Ukraine, writing, “If, to prevent war, we need to fill up the jails and police vans, we will fill up the jails and police vans.”
The Taliban say that Afghans with the correct legal documents will soon be able to travel abroad. Thousands of Afghans with links to the US remain in Kabul, and efforts to evacuate them have gotten more difficult over the past few months.
On Tuesday, the World Bank approved the use of more than $1 billion from a frozen Afghanistan trust fund to finance needed aid programs. This plan will disburse this money through UN agencies and international aid groups to provide humanitarian aid to a worsening crisis. According to the World Bank, there will be a “strong focus on ensuring that girls and women participate and benefit from the support.”
Iran has said that it will not accept any deadline imposed by Western powers on a nuclear deal, and wants claims by UN watchdog IAEA about Tehran’s nuclear work to be dropped. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh has said that Iran has answered all questions about uranium traces found at old, undeclared sites in Iran, but this is a major sticking point in talks with the US. Iran has made it clear that they want an end to banking and oil, as well as human rights related sanctions, and are ready to commit to a deal if “Western powers show real will”.
Leaked documents show that Swedish telecommunications giant Ericsson allegedly paid bribes to the Islamic State to continue selling its services after they seized large swaths of territory in Iraq. These bribes were allegedly paid to the IS in order for the company’s products to be transported across IS held parts of Iraq. Payments were made through a slush fund run by contractors. Investigations also uncovered allegations that Ericsson was involved n corruption in at least ten other countries.
The IMF has asked Lebanon to fulfill a set of conditions before negotiating a bailout. IMF officials have agreed on a figure of $70 billion, but there is no plan for how to distribute it, one of the conditions required for negotiations. Other IMF requirements include creating a five-year budget among other fiscal reforms, revamping the banking sector, and auditing the central bank, which has long been shrouded in secrecy. Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government aims to create an agreement before the May elections, but many believe that political blocs will be reluctant to take action on sensitive topics before elections.
The crisis in Ukraine has created concerns in Lebanon over wheat imports. At the moment, Lebanon currently has enough wheat reserves to last the country one month at the most due to the destruction of grain silos in the August 2020 blast. Lebanon depends heavily on wheat imports to provide subsidized bread to its population and Ukraine made up 60% of their wheat market. At the moment, the government is in talks with other countries, like the US, Canada, and India to provide wheat to Lebanon.
On Sunday, Sudanese groups leading protests against the October military coup released a political charter. The charter includes a two-year transition plan to be carried out under a prime minister appointed by the signatories, ending when a transitional legislature ratifies a constitution. It also includes plans for special human rights courts and options of achieving transitional justice through working with international organizations.
General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, deputy head of Sudan’s sovereign council, spoke to the press after his trip to Moscow which began the day before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sudan is in need of economic support after Western assistance has been cut off in the wake of the October military coup in Sudan; the delegation that went to Moscow was mostly economic ministers. In his statement, Hemedti says Sudan should be open to a naval base accord with Russia or other nations provided it poses no threat to national security.
Uganda has taken a loan from China to “modernize” Entebbe Airport; the terms of the agreement are more extreme than the world has seen before. The Ugandan government is required to channel all revenue from the airport into a jointly held account with the lender, according to the contract obtained and published on Monday by AidData. An executive director at AidData says that these terms limit the fiscal autonomy of the Ugandan government as “The lender is asking not just for revenues from the new projects they are funding, but also from the underlying asset-or the airport-that already exists.” In addition, the government is required to pay back part of the loan from the revenue each year before investing in public services.
Uganda is Africa’s biggest coffee exporter and the International Coffee Organization (ICO) accounts for 98% of the coffee produced and 83% of coffee consumed in the world. Yet, the Ugandan government has pulled out of the ICO over a series of “unreasonable articles” in the new two year agreement. Ugandan coffee farmers are protesting their government’s decision over fears that instead of increasing exports this will decrease exports despite expecting an unusually high volume of harvest this year.
Political unrest and violence has seen an uptick in Zimbabwe in the run up to the by-elections scheduled for March 26th 2022. Human Rights focused NGO Amnesty International, has called for Zimbabwe to investigate violence on political opposition supporters. This comes after on February 26th, Vice President Chiwenga stated that the ruling ZANU-PF party will “crush the [CCC] like lice.” CCC is the Citizens Coalition for change, founded by former leader of the Movement for Democratic change and the man who almost defeated current President Mngagwa in the disputed 2018 elections. The first set of elections since dictator Mugabe was ousted were a beacon of hope for the Zimbabwe people in 2018 when then-candidate Mngagwa and now-leader of the CCC Nelson Chamisa were running for president; however, the hope for free and fair elections collapsed after police and turned on people waiting to hear the election results. On February 26th, the police revoked permission for a CCC rally citing the lack of resources to provide security but when crowds rallied anyway, the police used force including water canons and dogs on the peaceful crowd. The next day, the CCC was holding a rally in Kwekwe at a shopping center when a “machete-wielding” gang started violently preventing people from attending the rally. As a result a 30 year old man was killed and at least 22 others were injured. During the violence, police reportedly did not step in. 16 people were arrested in connection with the violence but only 5 are being held with charges while the 11 others have been released. Mere days after political violence has increased the Embassy of the Netherlands in Zimbabwe has announced funding opportunities for Zimbabwean civil society organizations under the Human Rights Fund. The Dutch Human Rights Fund is meant to support activities in human rights.
As Zimbabwe evacuates citizens, most of which are students, from Ukraine, students struggle to get across the border to where Zimbabwean authorities can help them. Allegations of racism are widespread and drawing much criticism on social media regarding the treatment of Africans who are trying to flee Ukraine. Zimbabwe has evacuated 118 students from Ukraine and are arranging to purchase flight tickets to bring them home.
César Muñoz, the Human Rights Watch senior researcher for the Americas, said that Bolivian president Luis Arce has not followed any of the recommendations made by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), criticizing the judiciary system in Bolivia and the impunity for the massacres in Sacaba and Senkata, as well as human rights violations committed during the presidency of both Jeanine Añez and Evo Morales. On Wednesday, the GIEI did their final presentation to the Organization of American States and found severe human right violations had been committed in the last trimester of 2019.
On Thursday, the Biden administration announced a plan to restore some staff at the U.S. embassy in Cuba to restore visa processing that’s largely been downsized since the Trump administration. Reinstating visa processing will likely not face as much partisan rancor as other rapprochement policies would, since the closure largely affected Cuban dissidents.
On Tuesday, the Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN) demanded that President Ortega releases journalists Miguel Mendoza, Miguel Mora, Cristiana Chamorro, Jaime Arellano, Samanta Jirón and Juan Lorenzo Hollman, who were detained in the runup to the last November elections and were accused of treason. PCIN also demanded journals stop being shut down and are reinstated and allowed to operate freely. Tuesday was the Day of the Journalist in Nicaragua, and 470 journalists from around the world signed a letter to demand the implementation of urgent measures to guarantee freedom of expression.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden gave his State of the Union speech. During his speech, Biden slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for starting a “premeditated and unprovoked war” by invading Ukraine, he laid out his domestic agenda to combat higher prices across the US, and highlighted the unity of NATO and the West, as an unprecedented level of cooperation took place to inflict economic sanctions on Russia.
On Monday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the U.S. to take steps to improve ties as tensions simmer over Taiwan. Wang urged Washington to view their relations “in the broader perspective, with a more inclusive attitude, and choose dialogue over confrontation, cooperation over conflict, openness over seclusion, and integration over decoupling.” Wang said that China was willing to work with the United States on a G-7-led global infrastructure plan called Build Back Better World and welcomes Washington in its Belt and Road Initiative, which has been jeopardized by Russia’s invasion.
On Wednesday, Guo Shuqing, China’s head of banking and insurance regulator, said that China opposed unilateral financial sanctions and wouldn’t join Western nations in imposing those sanctions against Russia. Guo stated that China “will continue to maintain normal economic, trade and financial exchanges with relevant parties.”
A pro-democracy DJ, Tam Tak-chi was convicted of seditious speech under a British colonial-era law. After massive democracy protests in 2019, the Hong Kong government has been charging activists with sedition. Tam was the first defendant since 1997 who was convicted of sedition and chose to go through a whole trial. As a result, this case sets a precedent for the number of upcoming sedition prosecutions.
Hong Kong records 53,353 Covid cases, and over a hundred deaths, just on Wednesday. According to health experts in the area, cases are expected to keep doubling every 2-3 days, and have not yet peaked. Chief executive Carrie Lam has said that there will be a restriction of movement due to this surge, but there will not be a complete lockdown that would isolate the city. Hospitals are reaching peak capacity and are having trouble admitting new patients and Hong Kong has reached out to mainland China for support.
Last Friday, an earthquake on the island of Sumatra killed at least 10 people and injured nearly 400, as well as displacing thousands more. Over 400 houses and buildings were reported to be damaged. Tremors were also felt in neighboring Malaysia and Singapore. The earthquake was followed days later by floods in Banten Province, causing at least five deaths. The floods were caused by extreme rainfall and rising water levels of the Batang Nago river.
UN human rights experts expressed concern over the human rights situation in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. Approximately 100,000 people have been displaced since the escalation of violence in December 2018, many fleeing to the forests and having to contend with harsh climates and lack of resources. Humanitarian aid to displaced Papuas is reported to have been obstructed by authorities, resulting in severe malnutrition. Violence has ended in the deaths of civilians, many of them children. The experts advocated for urgent action, including allowing for independent monitors and journalists to be allowed access to the region and creating plans for impartial investigations into allegations.
Several Myanmar celebrities were pardoned and released from Insein Prison in Yangon on Wednesday, according to state-run television. The celebrities were arrested for supporting protest movements against the February 2021 military coup, but have reportedly been released so that they could participate in nation-building through their art. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a total of 12,000 people have been arrested since February 2021 and 9,400 remain in detention.
Myanmar’s military junta has been accused of hostage taking a group of civilians, including 80 children, in a clash with rebels in Sagaing Region last weekend. Sagaing has been an epicenter of civilian resistance since the military seized power in February 2021. Strikes and raids were reportedly intended to destroy a training camp for a civilian People’s Defense Force, but a witness said that around 40 junta troops took hostage a group that included around 100 preschoolers and other villagers. The group was released on Monday as soldiers withdrew, and the act was strongly condemned by Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government.
Despite an omicron surge, Thailand is easing requirements for its quarantine-free entry program beginning March 1. These efforts are meant to decrease obstacles that could prevent people from visiting Thailand for tourism, an industry that could prove significant in helping the country recover from economic contractions in 2020. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could also discourage travel due to increasing geopolitical tension, further prompting the need for Thailand to take efforts to boost its tourism as 18% of foreign visitors to Thailand in January were Russian.
Last week, the leader of Thailand’s second largest opposition party, the Move Forward Party (MFP), Pita Limjaroenrat, tweeted a call for Russia to immediately retrieve troops from Ukraine. This response contrasts with Thailand’s historically cautious stance on foreign policy matters, launching a discussion on what Thailand’s international presence could look like if Pita, a popular pick among young dissatisfied voters, were to take leadership. Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai has previously stated that Thailand would not rush to condemn Russia. On Wednesday, after reportedly careful deliberation, Thailand voted in support of the UN resolution to condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Mere days after Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, Belarus voted through a referendum to renounce its non-nuclear status with a 78.63% voter turn out and 65.2% of voters voting in favor of the referendum. During the voting, Lukashenko said “If you [the West] transfer nuclear weapons to Poland or Lithuania, to our borders, then I will turn to Putin to return the nuclear weapons that I gave away without any conditions.” This could bring nuclear weapons back on to Belarusian soil for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union. The referendum vote also allow the president to stay in power until 2035 and give him lifetime immunity from prosecution once he leaves office. Additionally, the reforms give power to the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly for the next five years.
On Thursday the Asian Infrastructure Investment bank, a China-led development bank, released a statement saying “under these circumstances, and in the best interests of the Bank, Management has decided that all activities relating to Russia and Belarus are on hold and under review.”
Georgia is set to “immediately” submit an application for European Union membership. Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, says that EU integration would put Georgia “on a path which will lead our country to a qualitative increase in our population’s wellbeing, security and to deoccupation.” Georgia fears Russian aggression as the invasion of Ukraine continues. Georgia’s move comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged EU membership for Ukraine and received support through a non-binding resolution by the MEP.