March 11, 2022
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
In this issue, we cover the latest updates on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, International Women’s Day, and developments in the nuclear deal between Iran and the United States.
Last week, representatives of Russia and Ukraine agreed to create humanitarian corridors where fighting would cease to allow for the safe passage of civilians. Despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial that Russian forces are targeting civilians, there have been reports of evacuation routes being attacked, such as the mortar shells that rained down on civilians fleeing from Irpin into Kyiv on Sunday. At least four people died in the attack, including two children. Three people died, including one child, in a Russian strike on a maternity and children’s hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Wednesday. According to recent UN numbers, at least 474 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since February 24. On Monday, Russia announced that it would hold fire and open humanitarian corridors in several cities, though many of those corridors will lead evacuees into Russia and Russia’s ally Belarus, a move which Ukraine denounced as “completely immoral.” The invasion has now lasted two weeks. While Russian troops suffer from logistical errors and low morale, Ukrainian troops have shown unexpected force against a significantly larger opponent. Thousands of people around the world have traveled to Ukraine to join the volunteer corp after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged foreigners to fight side-by-side with Ukrainian troops against “Russian war criminals.” A meeting between foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine in Turkey on Thursday resulted in no progress made towards a ceasefire. Many companies around the world have also severed or significantly scaled down business operations in Russia, though President Zelenskyy continues to urge stronger action from NATO countries.
On Sunday, more than 4,300 people were arrested across Russia in protests against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, bringing the total number of people arrested due to anti-war protests since February 24th up to over 10,000. Footage shows at least one protester being beaten on the ground by police. Human Rights Watch expressed concern over two laws that Russia has enacted, which criminalize independent war reporting and protesting the war, actions which could now result in up to 15 years in prison. The laws impose strict censorship over discussion of any deployment involving Russian armed forces and could be applied retroactively. Since the passage of the laws on March 4th, many foreign media outlets have pulled out of the country and many Russian independent media outlets have decided to delete their previous war-related publications. As protests in Russia persist, it is very possible that people who participate in more than one protest could be prosecuted for criminal offenses.
Demonstrations occurred around the world on Tuesday to mark International Women’s Day. Some of the demonstrations, such as the “Women stand with Ukraine” rally in Brussels, focused on support for the people of Ukraine, especially women, children, and other vulnerable groups of refugees. Russian feminists urged women’s rights activists to stand against the war, as it brought out both “the violence of bullets but also sexual violence.” Other demonstrations raised awareness for other gender-related issues, including femicide and other forms of violence.
Iran is holding talks with the Taliban to resume construction of a rail project that aims to connect 5 Central Asian states. According to Iranian transit official Abbas Khatibi, Iran is willing to make further investments and both sides want construction to continue. More than half of this project runs through Afghanistan, and there is a missing link of track spanning 657 km in the country. If completed, this rail line will be able to move over a million passengers and six million tonnes of goods a year.
A Canadian aid worker named Nadima Noor was arrested at gunpoint last month and has been held without charge. According to Noor’s brother, Dastaan Noor, about a dozen men showed up at her office in Kabul, and arrested Noor and six of her colleagues. Noor is a social media activist and founder of the NGO Dream Voice Act. This arrest comes amid a crackdown on women and activists by the Taliban government. Dastaan says that while in Afghanistan, Noor had always followed laws, and both her NGO and her work were completely legal. A senior Taliban official says he does not know what Noor was charged with, but most Westerners are arrested on suspicion of sedition or human-trafficking. Officials initially said Noor would be released within days, but have since told her family that the investigation is ongoing.
On Wednesday, Iran said that an Israeli airstrike in Syria that killed two Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers would be avenged. Four people in total were killed, two being civilians, and six were wounded. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that this was the seventh Israeli strike in Syria this year, and it was targeting a weapons and ammunitions depot near Damascus.
Last minute Russian demands on the nuclear deal between Iran and the US caused chaos on Wednesday. As final issues were being resolved, Russia demanded written guarantees from the United States that Western sanctions targeting Moscow would not impede its trade with Iran. Russian envoy to the talks Mikhail Ulyanov said that in light of new circumstances, Russia has the right to protect itself and its interests, but these demands were not met with a positive reaction. Iran’s chief negotiator returned to Tehran after these demands saying Iran would not let its interests be harmed by “foreign elements.”
Oil prices plunged 17% after OPEC producers, including Iraq, said that they would support increased production, offsetting sanctions on Russia. Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Jabbar and OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo put out a statement on Thursday saying that OPEC+ is keen to achieve a supply and demand balance, and ensure market stability. According to Oil Minister Abdul Jabbar, keeping prices high could prove detrimental in the long run, lowering demand, and encouraging a shift to electric vehicles. He says that at the moment OPEC+ will stick to current supply plans, but said that “if there are real sanctions on Russian oil, OPEC will make the right decision” in the event that there are shortages.
Protests have erupted in Iraq’s south over a rise in food prices due to the war in Ukraine. More than 500 protestors gathered in a square in the city of Nasiriya on Wednesday. Many say that they can barely make ends meet as the price of staples soar. Ukraine has a large share in the global market on wheat and cooking oils. On Tuesday, the Iraqi government announced measures to help confront this rise in prices by giving a monthly allowance to pensioners and civil servants earning less than a set rate.
The war in Ukraine is causing fears in Lebanon over people not being able to afford food. Many say that most of their salaries are going towards affording food, and sometimes even that is not enough. Around 90% of Lebanon’s wheat and cooking oil imports come from Ukraine and the war has put a stop to shipments. With the ongoing financial crisis, food insecurity has deepened significantly. However, a Ukrainian ship loaded with 11,000 tonnes of wheat arrived in Tripoli recently, increasing Lebanon’s wheat supply to two months. Lebanon is also currently in talks with India to supply Lebanon with wheat during this crisis.
Lebanon’s central bank has asked commercial banks to provide a list of political figures who failed to comply with a circular, ordering them to repatriate funds sent abroad before the country’s 2019 financial crisis. The central bank said other banks must provide their Special Investigation Committee with a list of names by the end of March. Allegations of financial misconduct are high following the financial collapse, and many have called on the government to regulate the banking sector which is full of corruption.
The talks over the dam being built on the Blue Nile are continuing as Western nations are distracted by the invasion of Ukraine, however, instead of all three nations involved coming to the table, the talks have become bilateral. Sudanese acting Irrigation and Water Resources Minister and Ethiopian Ambassador had a meeting in Khartoum without Egyptian representatives present. Ethiopia announced the partial start of power generation from the dam on the main tributary of the Nile River, a move that Egypt and Sudan say is a violation of the Declaration of Principles Agreement signed by the three nations in 2015, which prohibits any of the nations from taking unilateral decisions with regards to the Nile’s water.
Human Rights Watch is calling for the release of two men who have been held since last year for criticizing the government. One of the men, a 69 year old clergyman, Abraham Chol Akech was arrested from his home after telling his congregation that new leadership would be coming to South Sudan. Weeks later 66 year old Professor of Economics Kuel Aguer Kuel was picked up by the secret service after publishing an online memo with other members of the People’s Coalition for Civil Action advocating for government reforms. If convicted, the two men face life imprisonment or the death penalty.
According to the Socialist Doctors Association, 54 people were injured after security forces descended on peaceful demonstrations, meant to coincide with International Women’s Day, in Khartoum. These numbers include troops from the security forces.
Zimbabwe was struggling to hold healthcare systems up before the pandemic, but the increase in deaths due to Covid and a rapidly unfolding economic crisis, have caused mortuaries to become overcrowded and congested. Socioeconomic issues also create delays in bodies being claimed for sometimes up to a year or longer, as some can’t afford to pay for a funeral or others refuse to bury a daughter-in-law because the “bride-price” paid by the husband was not paid for a “dead bride.”
On Monday, hundreds of women took to the streets carrying pictures of men who have been accused of or found guilty of rape, as well as pictures of judges and prosecutors who have downplayed cases of violence or femicide against women, and pictures of women who have been victimized. Similar protests took place across Latin America, as cases of violence against women and femicides plague the region.
On Tuesday, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel took to twitter to congratulate Cuban women on International Women’s Day. Female activists took to social media to demand justice for the four women who have died as victims of femicide since the beginning of the year, as well as the 34 women who met a similar fate in 2021. Activists criticized the lack of shelters and protocols for victims of domestic violence, and demanded that femicide be included and recognized in Cuba’s penal code. The group Justicia 11J also demanded the release of 20 mothers who were detained and sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for participating in the July protests.
In Latin America, International Women’s Day is characterized by widespread protests. However, President Daniel Ortega has banned any protests against his government, preventing feminist groups from protesting for the fourth consecutive year. Activists took to social media to demand the release of 14 women who are being held as political prisoners. Nicaragua is the country with the highest rate of child and teenage pregnancy in Latin America, and one of the few countries that completely bans and criminalizes abortion, even when the mother is at risk of death.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden banned imports of Russian oil, gas, and coal. President Biden stated “If we do not respond to Putin’s assault on global peace and stability today, the cost of freedom and to the American people will be even greater tomorrow” and vowed to do everything possible to minimize price hikes in the US. However, oil prices are rocketing, with US consumers not paying this much for a gallon of gas since 2008.
Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Poland to reinforce cooperative ties between the two countries after the US rejected Poland’s offer to facilitate fighter jets to Ukraine. Vice President Harris stated “I want to be very clear. The United States and Poland are united in what we have done and are prepared to help Ukraine and the people of Ukraine, full stop,” at a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry Wang Yi stated that the real goal of the U.S.’s Indo-Pacific strategy was to form Asia’s answer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Wang stated that “The perverse actions run counter to the common aspiration of the region for peace, development, cooperation and win-win outcomes,” and “This would not only push Taiwan into a precarious situation, but will also bring unbearable consequences for the U.S. side.”
On Tuesday, President Xi Jinping met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. During the video summit, President Xi criticized sanctions imposed on Russia and called them “harmful to all sides.”
On Monday, the Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit watchdog group, released a report that linked Amazon Basics production to companies previously linked by journalists and think tank researchers to “labor transfer” programs in China, where minority Uyghurs in Xinjiang are forced to work.
Over 100 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar reached Indonesia’s Aceh province by boat on Sunday. It was unclear how long the refugees had been at sea, but many of them were in need of medical treatment from their journey. Villagers in Aceh arranged food for the refugees, but did not expect them to stay for very long. Indonesia is seen as a transit country for those seeking asylum in a third country, as Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees. On Thursday, Bambang Susantono was appointed head of the National Capital Authority, giving him responsibility over the preparation, development, and administration over the new capital Nusantara. Susantono is currently the vice president for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development at the Asian Development Bank. The authority head effectively acts as a governor, and is directly appointed by the president for a five-year term with the possibility of reappointment for another five years.
Myanmar’s military junta has revoked the citizenship of 11 opposition figures, including ministers of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG). The junta applied the military-drafted 1982 Citizenship Law, claiming that the 11 individuals fled Myanmar and harmed the interests of the country.
A new UN study found that violence and insecurity are deteriorating progress of women’s empowerment in Myanmar. The study consists of a survey conducted of 2,200 women in December 2021 and found that, since the pandemic and the February 2021 coup, more women feel unsafe in their neighborhoods and their homes, more women report a fall in household income, and more women face obstacles in access to healthcare.
At least 8 civilians were killed in Sagaing region’s Yinmabin township on Tuesday. Elderly residents were taking shelter in a monastery following military raids in the surrounding region. When shells hit, people inside the monastery were unable to flee, and the dead include a grandmother, a mother and her two small sons, and four other people over 70 years old. This was the tenth day of troop raids in the area, which have caused a total of almost two dozen civilian deaths. This month has reportedly been one of the deadliest in Sagaing region since the February 2021 coup.
Sectors of Thailand’s economy are being highly impacted by western sanctions against Russia in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Only 1% of Thai exports go to Russia, but there have been significant supply chain disruptions for firms with business in Russia due to the banning of the Russian airline Aeroflot and the crash of the rouble. Many residents of Russia are no longer able to pay for necessities, much less Thai produce such as mangos, durians, and rambutans. Russia has also been one of the largest sources of tourists in Thailand, but many Russians have had to cancel travel plans due to difficulties being able to afford the trip. Thailand’s government has stated that they will do their best to mitigate the impacts, but is struggling from a general lack of funds. Thailand’s inflation in February rose to 5.28%, which is the highest it has been in 13 years.
Thailand’s government is trying to encourage people to have children by providing childcare and fertility centers and using social media influencers to promote the joys of family. The number of births in Thailand has dropped by almost a third since 2013, and last year the number of births was lower than the number of deaths. Thailand, unlike other countries experiencing low birth rates, is not wealthy enough to support a migrant workforce, which raises concern for Thailand’s large manufacturing sector. The main factor cited amongst people who choose not to have children is the expense of raising a child, which is not feasible for a population struggling with rising debt from the pandemic and previous political instability.
Russia has begun using Belarus as a staging ground for airspace missions in the invasion of Ukraine alongside the ground-level convoy of supplies and infantry. This comes as Belarus leader Lukashenko doubles down on his alliance with Russia, telling his defense ministry that Belarusian forces must prevent any attack on Russia “from the rear.” Belarus’s dedication to Russia is historical but is also a result of Putin’s support during a crackdown on protests after the disputed 2020 elections. A report was published on Wednesday by the United Nations which revealed the extent of the crackdown on media, protestors, and even non-governmental organizations. From August 2020 to May 2021 at least 37,000 people were detained arbitrarily. Prisons were also overflowing with 969 people held on purely politically motivated charges at the end of 2021, a number which has grown to 1,084 by March 4th of this year. By October 270, NGO’s had been closed down. By the end of 2021, 32 journalists had been detained, 13 media outlets declared extremist, and 36 lawyers who defended human rights lost their licenses. All this is done, along with further torture of prisoners, with complete impunity with systemic protection of those who commit human rights abuses.
As the invasion of Ukraine continues, Russian journalists are fleeing to Georgia. However, the journalists report that they feel Georgia may not be safe for them either as some of their own are turned away at the border, speculating that their profession dedicated to critiquing the government might influence those decisions.
Georgia is split in its reaction to the Ukrainian invasion. The Georgian Dream Party, which presides over Georgia, stated that pursuing EU membership at this juncture would be counterproductive, but the prime minister signed the formal application for EU membership last Thursday, even as the public protested against his “weak” reaction to Russian aggression. Protestors called for the prime minister’s resignation and concrete steps to help Ukraine. They say they feel ashamed that Zelenskyy recalled Ukraine’s ambassador to Georgia because Georgian officials created “obstacles” for volunteers who try to help Ukraine and for “holding an immoral position regarding sanctions against Russia.” Tbilisi has chosen to not join in sanctioning Russia alongside Western nations and has subsequently been left off the “unfriendly nations” list published by Russia.