April 1, 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, a nationwide strike in India, and Zimbabwean opposition wins majority seats in by-elections.
War in Ukraine has become one of the most pressing conflicts of today. There are several actions we can take to support the people of Ukraine and the peaceful resolution of conflict, including learning others personal and cultural values, supporting local initiatives and organizations, and expanding our media bubble.
Tuesday saw the beginning of a new round of peace talks between representatives of Ukraine and Russia. This time, negotiations are taking place in Istanbul and were opened by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that Ukraine’s neutrality is now on the table, and they are willing to compromise over the status of the eastern Donbas region. Ukrainian forces have reportedly been able to reoccupy territory around Kyiv, causing Russia to reframe its goals in Ukraine amidst low morale and weapons shortages amongst Russian troops. Russia announced that it would be scaling back operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv while peace talks took place, though this statement was met with skepticism from President Zelenskyy and Western leaders, and attacks on Chernihiv reportedly did not ease. As of Tuesday, the OHCHR recorded 3,039 civilian casualties since 24 February 2022, including 1,179 killed and 1,860 injured. The actual numbers are expected to be significantly higher, as hostilities have delayed recording and corroboration in many cities. On Wednesday, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet announced that there are credible reports indicating that Russian forces have used cluster munitions in populated areas of Ukraine at least 24 times, as well as reporting on other human rights issues currently facing Ukrainians. David Beasley, the executive director of the UN World Food Program, stated that the war in Ukraine will have an impact on food supply “beyond anything we’ve seen since World War II,” especially for countries such as Egypt and Lebanon that normally get over 80% of their grain from Ukraine.
As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge toured Central America and the Caribbean last week, they were met with protests from locals. Protesters in Jamaica demanded apologies and reparations for slavery, actions that Jamaicans have been seeking for decades. Protests in the Bahamas focused on similar issues, as well as calling for the Duke and Duchess to bring attention to issues facing Bahamian women. Bahamian leaders released a letter, writing “They […] must acknowledge that their diverse economy was built on the backs of our ancestors […] They must pay.” Following the tour, Prince William noted that future relationships between Caribbean countries and the UK are “for the people to decide.”
Monday saw the start of a two-day nationwide strike in India. Hundreds of workers chanted anti-government slogans and marched with red labor union flags in New Delhi, protesting economic policies under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The labor unions demanded universal social security coverage for workers in the unorganized sector, a raise in minimum wage under an employment guarantee program, the repeal of a new law that gives employers more freedom in setting wages and working hours, and a halt in plans to privatize some public-sector banks and the sale of public assets.
Haitian demonstrators burned a plane belonging to an American missionary group in protest against Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s lack of action against gang violence. Police fired tear gas at the protesters when they entered the airport in Les Cayes, but the protesters were able to push the plane onto the tarmac and set it on fire. This demonstration follows peaceful protests around the country, which are all pushing for Prime Minister Henry’s government to do more to combat gang violence and constant kidnappings. At least one person died and five were injured in the confrontation in Les Cayes.
Hours after girls’ schools opened for the first time in seven months, the Taliban administration announced that they will be closed until further notice. This means that female students above the sixth grade will not be able to attend school. The Ministry for Education said that schools would be closed until a plan was drawn up that would be in accordance with Islamic law and Afghan culture. One senior official said that more time was needed to decide on a uniform for teenage girls, but they would be allowed back in schools soon. While this order targets secondary and high schools, many primary schools for girls aren’t open either, with many provinces not having girls’ primary schools.
The international community has made education of girls a key demand for any recognition of the Taliban as the official Afghan government. The World Bank has suspended 4 projects worth $600 million USD in the country. The United States has also canceled meetings with Taliban officials in Doha on key economic issues over this decision.
The Taliban have banned BBC television news, in the three main languages of Afghanistan, from being broadcast. More than six million Afghans listen to the BBC’s news each week in the languages of Pashto, Persian, and Uzbek. Since the Taliban takeover in August, many rights groups and journalists have mentioned concerns about freedom of speech in the country. The UN mission in Afghanistan has condemned the removal of the BBC bulletins and the Head of Languages at BBC World Service is calling this removal a “worrying concern”.
President Ebrahim Raisi approved Iran’s budget on Tuesday but there was little elaboration by the government. Iran’s top budget official said that this budget was drawn up on the assumption that U.S. sanctions would continue.
U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, said that he wasn’t confident that a nuclear deal with Iran and the US was imminent after 11 months of talks in Vienna. The failure to restore these accords would risk raising political tensions in the Middle East and raise world oil prices further. Malley said that he “can’t be confident that a deal is imminent” as there have been multiple issues that have been hard to bridge. This assessment comes as Iranian senior advisor, Kamal Kharrazi says that a deal would be coming soon, but depends on the political will of the United States. Kharrazi states that in order for the deal to be revived, the US needs to remove the foreign terrorist organization designation from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Corps Guard. Iran also wants guarantees that future U.S. presidents would not withdraw from this agreement.
Iran’s missile strikes into Iraq last week were revealed to have hit the villa of a Kurdish businessman involved in the autonomous Kurdistan’s energy sector. There have been two meetings recently at this villa to discuss shipping Kurdish gas. Iraqi and Turkish officials speaking anonymously said that a major trigger for these strikes was a plan to pump Kurdish gas into Turkey and Europe with the help of Israel. This gas export plan could threaten Iran’s place as a major energy supplier in the region, especially as it’s economy is dealing with US sanctions.
Due to a lack of quorum, Iraqi lawmakers failed to elect a new president for the country. This election pitted incumbent Barham Saleh of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, against Rebar Ahmed, a member of the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party. A quorum of two thirds of the house’s 329 members is needed but only 202 members showed up. The first vote on February 7th was boycotted amidst legal troubles with one of the presidential candidates, Hoshyar Zebari. Zebari was previously backed by Shiite cleric , and leader of the largest majority bloc, Moqtada al-Sadr, but Sadr has now thrown his support behind Ahmed. This most recent election was boycotted by Iran-backed groups in a setback to Sadr who has pledged to form a government free of Iranian influence.
Following the freezing of assets of six major banks last week, Lebanon’s central bank governor Riad Salameh and brother Raja Salameh have been charged with illegal enrichment and money laundering during the economic meltdown last year. Judge Ghada Aoun said that Salameh brothers had created three companies in France in order to buy properties worth millions of dollars. Riad Salameh denied any accusations of wrongdoing and did not show up to his trial on Monday to face questioning. He is also a suspect in an embezzlement case in the European Union that has led to the freezing of 120 million euros of assets. He is suspected of embezzling 330 million euros in France, Germany, Luxembourg, and Monaco, with four other people.
A Lebanese military court has charged Christian politician Samir Geagea over clashes in Beirut that led to the deadliest street violence in a decade. Judge Fadi Akiki said that he had charged Geagea based on new evidence relating to the Tayouneh events. These clashes killed seven people, all part of the Shia Muslim group Hezbollah. Geagea has denied the any accusations made against him.
Protests against the military coup in October 2021 continue even as those in power begin to fracture. Another protestor was killed on Thursday bringing the count of civilian deaths in relation to the protests to 93. The day before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a delegation headed by Mohamad Hamdan Daglo, or Hemeti, was in Moscow under the banner of strengthening economic and security ties. After Hemeti’s trip, al-Burhan went on a trip to the UAE to strengthen “economic and military” relations. Analysts believe that both leaders are vying for international support to prop up their own individual power outside of Sudan. Al-Burhan is also reportedly consolidating military forces in Sudan.
Uganda’s military has killed 309 people in an eight-month-old operation against cattle rustling in a northeast region rich in minerals including gold, limestone and potentially oil, the armed forces said. In 2020, Uganda began conducting a mineral survey and mapping exercise in Karamoja, thought to hold substantial reserves of gold, copper, limestone, oil and other minerals. A recent increase in violence in the region though has posed threats to the exercise, including the killing of a team this month that included a veteran geologist, a student intern, an interpreter and two soldiers.
The delayed parliamentary by-elections finally took place on Saturday and of the 28 seats up for grabs, the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), the opposition party won 19 seats. The Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) still holds the majority in the parliament but these elections are seen as a forecast of the presidential elections scheduled for 2023. This win comes despite accusations of ZANU-PF intimidating opposition supporters, the death of a CCC supporter while going to a CCC rally, and the arrests of 37 CCC supporters in February.
On Wednesday, the Agriculture Minister announced that Zimbabwe has begun repossessing unused land from black farmers who benefitted from controversial land reforms two decades ago. Those who own multiple farms, with unused areas will lose land. The land will then be given to farmers on the waiting list from earlier rounds of land reform. The land that is being repossessed from Black people is being allocated to Black people as well, in an effort to continue to redress the effects of British colonialism. An even more pressing issue now that the war in Ukraine is limiting Zimbabwe’s wheat imports, more than half of which comes from Russia. The increase in price of fuel is also worrying as inflation rises rapidly, eroding people’s purchasing power and putting a strain on civil society.
The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern over the treatment of human rights activists and journalists in Bolivia in a report. According to the report, activists and journalists were intimidated, victims of excessive and disproportionate use of force, arbitrary detentions, torture, and censorship. Bolivian prisons are at 148% of their capacity and almost 2/3 of the people detained being held in preventive prison.
The trial against Jeanine Anez was suspended again after another failed attempt on Monday. The trial against the former president and six former military chiefs was suspended after a nervous crisis and technological difficulties resulted in the trial being postponed until April 4th.
President Joe Biden is considering releasing about 1 million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to alleviate persistent high gas prices. The US price of a gallon of regular gasoline spiked after Russia invaded Ukraine, hitting a record high of $4.33 earlier this month. The invasion has also snarled global supply chains that were supposed to be recovering from pandemic-related woes.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed the controversial piece of state legislation, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, that bans certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. The new law will go into effect in July, and it is another in a long line of measures to further silence and marginalize LGBTQ individuals. DeSantis has a history of supporting anti-LGBTQ legislation, including an anti-trans sports ban last year.
Australian journalist Cheng Lei was tried behind closed doors on Thursday in Beijing, more than 19 months after she was detained by Chinese authorities. Cheng, who was a leading business news presenter on Chinese state broadcaster CGTN when she was detained in August 2020, was formally arrested a year ago on suspicion of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas“ and could face a sentence of up to life in prison if found guilty.
Solomon Islands has announced it is pushing ahead with a security agreement with China, despite concerns from Australia, New Zealand and the US. The Solomon Islands government said officials from both countries had on Thursday “initialled” elements of the proposed security agreement with China which would be signed at a later date. The deal has contributed to worsening Chinese-Australian relations.
Hong Kong eases travel rules in a shift from zero-Covid policy. A ban on flights from nine countries will be lifted and hotel quarantine times will be reduced. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that circuit breaker flights were no longer necessary as the situation in those nine countries was not worse than in Hong Kong. In addition, Lam also announced that social restrictions on gathering limits, mask wearing, and business and venue operations would slowly lift in three phases. Schools will resume classes from 19th April and plans for a mass testing operation were suspended.
After a major investor in the project to relocate the country’s capital pulled out, it was announced that the Indonesian government may use crowdfunding to raise funds for the new capital. The head of the Mining Advocacy Network in East Kalimantan, Pradarma Rupang, expressed concern about the possibility, noting that it is unreasonable to expect the public to pay, there will be no compensation for donors, and the crowdfunding effort would likely be dominated by businesses that want to make a profit. The head of an advocacy group for the Paser Balik Indigenous people, Jubain, called the idea ridiculous. He also expressed concerns that the government is planning to build the capital on the ancestral lands of the Paser Balik, noting that the idea of crowdfunding is only one more example of the government not paying attention to the needs of local communities. About 20% of the estimated $32 billion needed for the relocation will come from state coffers, leaving the private sector and other governments to make up the rest.
During a speech on Armed Forces Day, Myanmar’s junta chief promised to “annihilate” opposition forces, claiming that the military would not negotiate with “the terrorist group.” On the same day, anti-coup protesters carried signs in the streets that read “uproot the fascist military.” The junta also used this opportunity to demonstrate their continued military relationship with Russia as both countries face sanctions and isolation from abroad, including the attendance of Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin and the demonstration of new fighter jets by Russian pilots.
New research published last week by Fortify Rights and the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School shows that Myanmar’s military junta and police deliberately killed civilians who opposed the rule of the Tatmadaw in the six months following the February 2021 coup. The report found “reasonable grounds” that the junta had committed crimes against humanity. It describes the military’s use of murder, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, forced population transfer, and persecution of civilians.
Thai policymakers are facing obstacles in striking a balance “between managing risks to economic growth and price stability,” according to the chief economist at Bank of Ayudhya, Somprawin Manprasert. Inflation rose to a record high in February, driven by higher energy prices. Thailand’s economy is largely tourism-dependent and has been significantly impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Economic growth has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. Thailand’s central bank has decided not to raise interest rates for more than a year in an effort to support the economy struggling to recover from the pandemic, and economists are split in expectations for changes in future rates.
It’s been reported that Belarusian dissidents are going to Ukraine to join the fight against Russia. They say that without a free Ukraine there is no free Belarus and the fate of the two nations are deeply interconnected. The Belarusian government is taking steps against Ukraine in the diplomatic sphere. After having withdrawn all diplomats from Ukraine, Belarus expelled the majority of Ukrainian diplomats on the basis of “unfriendly” actions, accusing Kyiv of “interfering” in state affairs.