CANVAS Weekly Update – March 18th, 2022


March 18, 2022

Dear Friends,

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, a missile strike in Iraq, and developments in the persecution of human rights advocates.

Conflict Update:

As of Tuesday, 1,834 civilian casualties in Ukraine have been confirmed by the OHCHR, including 691 killed and 1,143 injured, though these numbers are considered to be a significant underestimation. Many Ukrainian areas, including Izium, Mariupol, and Volnovakha are reporting hundreds of civilian casualties in their cities alone. Approximately 3 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the UNHCR. Refugees of color, many of them students, report facing discrimination as they flee Ukraine based on their race. On Thursday, a theatre was bombed in Mariupol, where over 1,000 civilians were reported to have taken shelter. The Ukrainian foreign minister and Mariupol’s city council accused Russia’s attack of amounting to a war crime, though Russia continues to deny that it is targeting civilians. A fourth round of talks took place between Russian and Ukrainian officials this week, where slight progress was made in negotiations. Ukraine’s neutrality is reportedly being discussed, a proposition that was initially refused. On Wednesday, the International Court of Justice ruled that Russia must immediately cease military operations in Ukraine.

Protests continue in Russia in support of Ukraine. On Monday, an employee of Russia’s state TV Channel One interrupted a live news bulletin with a sign reading: “NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.” The journalist was identified as Marina Ovsyannikova, who later reported being questioned for 14 hours with no sleep for two days and no access to legal help.

Mali plans to suspend French state-funded international news outlets RFI and France24. The ruling military junta has increased restrictions on foreign media in response to what they claim to be false allegations of army abuses. This comes a month after French troops withdrew from Mali for the first time since 2013. Human Rights Watch has accused militants and Malian soldiers of executing civilians in addition to other abuses.

Human Rights Watch reported that 20 opposition political leaders had been convicted in a Cambodian court as a result of an unfair trial with no credible evidence. The trial of these 20 members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) is expected to be only the first of many. Activists and opposition members have been fleeing Cambodia since the ruling-party-controlled Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in 2017.



The UN votes to secure a formal presence in Afghanistan. The vote was 14 in favor, with Russia abstaining. This resolution describes a one-year mandate for the UN political mission in Afghanistan calling it “crucial to peace”. There are several different areas of cooperation in this mandate, from humanitarian, political, and human rights fronts. According to Norwegian UN ambassador Mona Juul, who’s country drafted this resolution, this mandate is crucial for the UN to meet its overarching goal of peace. All UN security council members agree that Afghanistan needs help, the issue was how to bring aid into the country without formally recognizing the Taliban.

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education has opened the doors of universities again after 7 months, but this is contingent on both universities and students adhering to a strict set of rules that violate freedom of speech. Previously private universities were ordered to separate male and female students and required male professors to teach male students, and have female professors teach female students. This has now been codified into one procedure, and public universities have been ordered to follow these regulations as well. In addition, students are not allowed to speak with media about their universities, use smartphones inside, or share anything on social media.



Two British-Iranians, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori have been released from prison in Iran, and have finally been reunited with their families. This release comes with the settlement of a historic debt Britain has owed to Iran over military equipment. Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori were held for years in a Tehran prison and used as diplomatic pawns. Britain’s foreign secretary said that the Iranian government had released a third dual British-Iranian citizen, Morad Tahbaz, and that she was working on getting him out of Iran.

Iran has decided to temporarily suspend talks with Saudi Arabia, another regional power, after the largest mass execution in Saudi Arabia’s history. These talks have been ongoing for a year to restore diplomatic ties between both countries. There was no reason given by Iran for the suspension of talks, but it comes right after Saudi Arabia has put 81 people to death, with over 3 dozen being Shiites. Shiites have often complained of being treated as second class citizens in Saudi Arabia. Iran, the largest Shiite Muslim majority country in the world, and Saudi Arabia, a majority Sunni country, severed ties in 2016 after a prominent Shiite cleric was executed.



On Sunday, Iran claimed responsibility for a missile strike in Iraq, near a US consulate site. No Americans were hurt and no US facilities were hit, but one civilian was injured. Iranian state media claims that this strike was revenge against recent Israeli strikes which killed Iranian military personnel in Syria. This strike comes during an Iraqi attempt to form a new government with minimal Iranian influence. This attack drew harsh condemnation from the Iraqi government, calling it a “violation of sovereignty”, and demanded an explanation from Iranian leadership. The United States has also strongly condemned this attack.

On Tuesday, the Iraqi Parliament scheduled a session on March 26th to hold a delayed vote on Iraq’s president. The role of president is one that is mostly ceremonial and constitutionally reserved for the country’s Kurdish minority population. Parliament released a list of 40 candidates for the post. Some of the frontrunners are Barhem Saleh, the incumbent, and Rebar Ahmed, a candidate from the opposition party. This vote has been held up due to a lack of quorum and legal issues, adding to Iraq’s political uncertainty.



A Lebanese judge has frozen the assets of five top banks and board members while she investigates transactions they’ve taken with Lebanon’s central bank. This probe is investigating possibly illegal transfers of billions of dollars that occurred during Lebanon’s economic meltdown. The asset freeze happened against Bank of Beirut, Bank Audi, SGBL, Blom Bank and Bankmed, and applies to property, vehicles, and company shares. Lebanon’s Banks Association said that this move by judge Ghada Aoun was illegal, and would further destabilize the banking system.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that he will not seek reelection during Lebanon’s May parliamentary election. His statement throws Sunni politics in Lebanon in deeper disarray, two months from a vote seen as important to restabilize the country. This statement comes after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, also a Sunni Muslim, said that he would withdraw from politics, and urged other members of the Future Movement party to do the same. Right now, there is a “political void” for the Sunni community, and Mikati urged the Lebanese population to vote. He said his move would “provide room for the younger generation.”



This week 4 villages were burned down and 17 people were killed in the Jabal Moon mountain region. This brutality was allegedly carried out by the government-linked militia known as Janajaweed or more formally the Rapid Support Forces. Among those killed by the  militia were three workers with the Human Rights Monitors who had been assessing the human rights situation in the area. All roads to Jabal Moon have been closed due to security concerns but this results in economic and security consequences. People have become internally displaced or are struggling financially. Since November hundreds of people have been killed in the seven attacks by armed forces. Racial tensions have existed since before the 2003 Darfur war between Arab and non-Arab populations in the area; much of the conflict revolves around ethnic tensions and the control of resource rich lands. The latest anti-coup protest on Thursday left 187 wounded. 87 protestors have been killed by security forces since the coup on October 25th. Western nations responded to the coup with more sanctions on the already economically struggling nation. The inflation has almost reached 260%.



Another wave of journalist arrests saw 9 journalists/authors arrested. Seven of them were released but author Norman Tumuhimbise who is set to release a book criticizing the president later this month and a woman journalist Farida Bikobere were charged with “offensive communication” the same charges levied against Kakwenza Rukirabashaija who has now fled to Germany. The pair who was arrested in the most recent wave of arrests are held in remand in a high security prison until 21 March and have allegedly been tortured like their counterparts were.

On March 8th, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, son of the President, announced that he had retired from the military. However, a military spokesman said “the general has not retired from the army, he is still in active service. The army promotions and the commissions board, which is the military body mandated with handling retirement requests, has not received his application.” The tweet concerned many who believe he has been groomed to succeed his father. According to Ugandan law, serving soldiers cannot participate in politics. While Kainerugaba has not stated his interest in running for president, his supporters have already begun campaigns.



The struggle for a living wage for teachers continues in Zimbabwe. On February 8th the government conceded a 20% pay increase among other benefits such as a housing scheme. However, teachers are still demanded a salary equivalent to 540 U.S. dollars. They say it is impossible to pay for their children’s tuition at the rate they are given now. Inflation has increased rapidly in Zimbabwe as wages have stayed stagnant at best and decreased at worst.



Starting on Tuesday, 17 people between the ages of 18 and 49 are being tried for their participation in the July protests and face between 5 and 9 years in prison. According to human rights groups Justicia11J and Cubalex, 1,442 people have been detained for participating in the protests, with at least 756 people still detained.

On Tuesday, a delegation of Mexico’s ruling party Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (Morena) arrived in Cuba. The delegation is set to meet with Cuban Communist Party members and government officials ahead of the visit of Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.



On Monday, the NGO Autonomous Movement of Women released a statement that the 14 women being held as political prisoner in Nicaragua have been subjected to greater abuse than their male counterparts. Violeta Delgado, spokesperson of the Autonomous Movement of Women, stated that some of the women being held prisoners had been isolated for 9 months, had suffered severe health deterioration, and were being held alongside male prisoners as a way of disrespecting their gender status. Delgado also spoke about minors being held prisoner and not being allowed to contact their families, a severe violation of their rights and a threat to their development.


The United States:

On Thursday, President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “murderous dictator” and a “pure thug”when he spoke at the St Patrick’s Day lunch, among other criticisms from prominent political figure. President Biden also stated that President Putin was waging an “immoral war” against the people of Ukraine. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime, after Russian soldiers attacked a theater full of children in Mariupol.



US prosecutors have accused Chinese government agents of trying to spy and intimidate dissidents living in the US, Long Island’s candidate for Congress Yan Xiong, who was involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, San Francisco lawyer and political activist Arthur Liu, and employees of an unidentified human rights non-governmental organization based in Washington. At a news conference announcing three criminal cases against the Chinese agents, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said “Authoritarian states around the world feel emboldened to reach beyond their borders to intimidate or exact reprisals against individuals who dare to speak out against repression and corruption.”


Hong Kong:

Benedict Rogers, who runs Hong Kong Watch, a human rights charity, has been told that he faces charges of “collusion with foreign forces” if he ever returns to Hong Kong. Rogers said that his group would not be silenced and will “continue to be a voice for the people of Hong Kong”. This is one of the first times that Hong Kong authorities have attempted to apply legislation outside the territory.

Chief Executive Leader Carrie Lam has said that the Hong Kong government is reviewing Covid-19 measures, including flight bans, return to classroom lessons, social distancing rules, and the plans for compulsory testing. Hong Kong has some of the strictest Covid regulations in the world, but financial institutions and people are growing impatient over the stringency. These regulations re triggering an exodus of people with a net outflow of 45,000 people. Lam said that she would provide a comprehensive update as soon as Sunday.



Indonesia will host its first motorcycle grand prix in 25 years on a circuit that has faced criticism from riders and international actors. In February, riders complained that the track surface was dirty and dangerously breaking up, problems which the Mandalika Grand Prix Association said were fixed earlier this month. Environmentalists have also questioned the decision of holding the event on the island of Lombok, which is under threat from natural disasters and still recovering from a 2018 earthquake that killed 500 people. The UN has also expressed concern over practices that took place in the construction of the circuit, which involved “aggressive land grabs, forced evictions of Sasak indigenous peoples and threats against human rights defenders.”



For the first time since the February 2021 coup, the UN has released a comprehensive human rights report on the actions of the Tatmadaw since they seized power. The report is based on interviews with over 155 victims, witnesses, and advocates, and it finds that Myanmar’s military has shown “a flagrant disregard for human life.” Included are alleged crimes of sexual violence, mistreatment of detainees, and mass killings. The report found reasonable grounds to believe that the Tatmadaw has committed patterns of violence that may amount to crimes against humanity.

On Friday, the Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor was given final approval from Myanmar’s military junta to sell its operations in the country to a local company and a Lebanese investment firm. Telenor has been trying to pull out of Myanmar since the February 2021 coup, but has faced significant obstacles from the junta. Many Telenor employees were barred from leaving the country as negotiations took place. Civil rights groups are now calling for Telenor to delete the personal information of customers before the sale, as the deal could expose 18 million people’s data to the junta. Telenor has maintained that deleting this information would be a violation of local laws and would endanger its employees.



Sanctions on Myanmar and Russia are threatening Thailand’s supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as prices rise globally. Thailand imports nearly 75% of its electricity, crude oil, coal, and natural gas, and must now seek alternative suppliers. Thailand’s Energy Minister Supattangapong Punmeechaow told reporters that the government was doing what it could to conserve energy in “these uncertain times,” and have increased the regasification capacity of LNG so that it would be ready six months ahead of schedule.

Thousands of Russian tourists are currently stuck in Thailand as sanctions imposed on Russia have cut off their access to funds and canceled flights. The Thai government has allowed Russian and Ukrainian tourists to extend their visas by 30 days without fee and, and many local businesses are looking for different methods of payment to assist stranded tourists. Many Ukrainian and Russian tourists and expats have held demonstrations outside of the Russian embassy in Bangkok, and one interviewed Russian tourist expressed that she did not want to return to Russia because she is “strongly against this war.”



Belarusian president Lukashenko has been open in his support of Russian President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Previously, Lukashenko was trying to shift the EU policy condemning civil and human rights abuses in Belarus by pushing middle eastern refugees into the EU over the border in Poland. It seems that as the invasion in Ukraine drags on Lukashenko has decided to amp up these efforts. There was a camp of over 1000 refugees in Belarus near the border of Poland that were being sheltered there through the cold of the winter. However, only 10 days after the invasion of Ukraine began, armed Belarusian troops came in and started “emptying” the camp by telling people they must leave and choose either Poland or Ukraine. Charities and refugee centers in Poland are overwhelmed with people fleeing Ukraine and are struggling to keep track of refugees who are leaving Belarus among the confusion. Amidst Lukashenko’s support of Russia, the U.S. has issued more sanctions against Lukashenko and his estranged wife Halina.



Georgian President Zourabichvili said that Georgia is standing in solidarity with Ukraine and fully supports and admires the resistance against the Russian invasion, despite not joining sanctions against Russia. She said that Georgia cannot act as a NATO country as part of its territory is occupied by the Russian military and they do not have the protections of the Western alliances such as NATO and the EU. The Georgian people fear that their lands will be invaded next and the government has submitted an application for membership in the EU in hopes that it will be expedited in the face of Russian aggression. The president states that the nation is not trying to appease Russia and pointed out that there are no diplomatic relations with Russia.