April 22, 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, planned Earth Day protests, IS attacks in Afghanistan, and a surge of gun-violence in the United States.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a victory in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which he claims Russian forces have “liberated.” However, Putin announced that forces would not be taking the Azovstal steel complex as planned, which some take as a sign that Russian forces have been weakened. Mariupol has seen some of the most intense violence and the worst humanitarian situations of the war, where hundreds of thousands of civilians were trapped and cut off for two months of Russian bombardment. The civilian toll in Mariupol is currently unknown, though Ukraine estimates that the number lies in the tens of thousands. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for a four-day humanitarian pause during the weekend of Orthodox Easter in order to allow civilians to flee and to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered. As of April 20, the OHCHR recorded 5,121 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 2,224 killed and 2,897 injured. The actual numbers are expected to be significantly higher, as there are delays in reports and corroboration due to continued intense hostilities.
Friday, April 22, 2022 is Earth Day, a day often filled with climate demonstrations as activists raise awareness about the issues facing the planet. Some protests this Friday are planned to focus specifically on the links between climate change and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Activists in Berlin, Warsaw, Brussels, and other cities are planning to gather outside German embassies or government buildings to hand out red-stained roubles that will symbolize blood soaking a currency that is both supporting climate change and Russia’s invasion. Some activists will be joining from Lviv in Ukraine.
South Africa’s third-largest political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led peaceful protests along the borders of Eswatini to raise awareness about repression against pro-democracy protests occurring in Eswatini. The largest opposition party in Eswatini, the People’s United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) joined the EFF in the protests. Eswatini has experienced political unrest since May 2021 when Thabani Nkomonye, a 25-year-old law student, was killed by the kingdom’s police. Activists in Eswatini have since been demonstrating against the rule of King Mswati III and welcomed the show of solidarity from their South African neighbors. A 2021 Amnesty International report stated that, since Nkomonye’s death, 1,000 pro-democracy protesters have been arbitrarily jailed, 80 have been killed, and over 200 others have been hospitalized.
One man died and fourteen more people were injured in Sri Lanka when police fired live bullets at protesters. Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets as the prices of essential commodities rose sharply and caused shortages in food, medicine, and electricity. The protesters blame the policies of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and demand his resignation, though he has refused to quit. Authorities have stated that protesters were burning tires and throwing stones and other objects at police, and the Inspector General of Police C.D. Wickramaratne issued a statement claiming that protesters had been about to set fire to a truck containing 30,000 liters of fuel. Protesters and people on social media have denied the claim, pointing to a video of the incident that does not show the truck being threatened.
The Islamic State has carried out a series of attacks on Thursday that have left the country in a state of fear. While the Taliban claim to have defeated the IS, the group still poses significant security threats to the new leaders. The IS says that these attacks are part of an ongoing global campaign to avenge the deaths of former leaders. The first attack was through a Shia Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif where at least 31 people were killed and 87 were wounded. The second attack was a blown up vehicle near a police station in Kunduz that killed 4 and injured 18. There are also reports of a Taliban vehicle being hit in the province of Nangarhar, which killed four Taliban members and wounded a fifth. The fourth blast was in Kabul and wounded two children.
These blasts come two days after explosions outside an education center and a high school in Kabul on Tuesday that led to six casualties and wounded over 20 more people, most students. The explosions on Tuesday increased fears among the Shiite population over violence targeted towards them, despite repeated pledges by the Taliban to end bloodshed.
A group of government officials and leading nonproliferation experts have urged President Biden to complete negotiations with Iran over the nuclear deal, warning that the country is a week or two away from producing enough uranium to power a bomb. In a statement, this group of experts said that if this deal wasn’t reached, it would significantly “increase the danger that Iran would become a threshold nuclear-weapon state.” All sides are expressing pessimism in the deal being reached as neither is willing to give up on what it considers important sticking points. Currently, the biggest remaining issue is over an Iranian demand that the United States lifts the foreign terrorist designation against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US is unwilling to do. The negotiations haven’t formally been broken off, but they have been suspended for a month.
Iran has said that they will not give up on plans to avenge the US assassination of Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, despite offers from the United States to lift sanctions and provide other concessions in return. Revolutionary Guards Commander Alireza Tangsiri calls these concessions a pure fantasy, saying the US will not provide them and Iran should focus on revenge. There was no response from Washington on these comments.
Turkey has launched a new offensive against Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq. Special forces and commando units backed by aerial vehicles are targeting Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) hideouts in Iraq, according to defense minister Hulusi Akar. He said this operation started on Sunday after Turkey found out that the PKK was planning a large-scale attack against Turkey. Turkey routinely carries out attacks in this region, with the last one being in 2020. However, these attacks have strained Turkish relations with Iraq, which accuses Turkey of not respecting its territorial integrity.
Over the three year economic crisis plaguing Lebanon, the number of women dying from pregnancy-related complications has nearly tripled. This crisis not only impacts children born in Lebanon but also Syrian refugees that have fled over the border. A third of children were unable to access healthcare and the number of children who die within the first month after birth has increased dramatically within the refugee population, according to UNICEF. Around 40% of doctors and 30% of midwives have left the country, significantly lowering access to healthcare. Lebanon had significant success in lowering maternal deaths in the years preceding the crisis but numbers have risen after 2019.
While ex-president Omar al-Bashir is on trial for the coup in 1989, his lawyers are continuing the racist culture Bashir centralized during his “reign.” The trial is being broadcasted live, and Bashir’s defense team began chatting among each other without realizing their microphones were still on. As such, one of them was heard saying “This ‘slave’ with his ugly nose irritates me.” The Arabic word for slave is used as a slur in Sudan to refer to people who are thought to be African, not Arab, or a derogatory term to refer to black people. The lawyer was referring to journalist Lukman Ahmed who has recently stepped down from the directorial position of the state-owned broadcaster. Ahmed, a former BBC correspondent from Darfur, was appointed to the role during the transition period after the ousting of Bashir. After six months staying in the post after the October military coup, he was sacked for failing to “honor” the military head of state. The broadcast reminded the public of one of the slogans used to oust Bashir in the first place: “Oh you arrogant racist, the whole country is Darfur.” Sudan has no law criminalizing racism.
Sulima Ishaq, head of the Combating Violence Against Women Unit under the Ministry of Social Affairs, was interrogated by security services and is accused of “leaking state secrets” to the United Nations (UN). The UN envoy reported to the UN Security Council that he was working with said unit and had uncovered that Sudanese government forces had raped 16 female protestors since the anti-coup protests in December. However, Ishaq says, “the information I gave to the [UN] had already been broadcasted on television channels and media outlets, but because the information was presented to the Security Council and the [coup forces] are afraid of getting sanctioned, they are [targeting] me now.” Ishaq is worried she will go to prison on false charges as experts believe the coup government is making an example out of Ishaq. The government is particularly upset that Ishaq is a civil servant, which gives her allegations more credibility on the international stage. Further, targeting Ishaq, a high profile person, points to the government’s discomfort with scrutiny as the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Central Reserve Police last month after citing excessive force against protestors. Ishaq is upset the UN envoy was not more subtle in his report and should not have mentioned her unit at the Security Council meeting, saying , “I feel that the way [the information] was stated was a little bit insensitive.” The spokesperson for the envoy responded, “the special representative to the secretary-general did not name any individual in the Security Council as a source.” However, Ishaq believes she “will be scapegoated” to remove the envoy from Sudan and will be charged with jeopardizing national security.
A government deal signed between the Finance Ministry and Uganda Vinci Coffee Company Ltd gives the company exclusive rights to buy Uganda’s coffee and is seen as unfair to local exporters. Abed Bwanika, a lawmaker, said that the deal prohibits anyone from buying the nation’s harvest until “this company gets the quota they want.” The company also determines the price of the commodity, and is exempt from all taxes. The finance ministry reports Uganda Vinci will create the first final product processing plant in Uganda worth $80 million and is key to government efforts to more than double coffee production by 2030. The ministry also reports “Uganda Vinci will pay for superior quality coffee beans at a premium price, which will be determined transparently and not lower than the price approved by Uganda Coffee Development Authority.” Also, green coffee will continue to be exported according to market forces. Before this agreement, the coffee trade in Uganda was liberalized and farmers received approximately 80% of the export price of the beans, according to the country’s coffee regulator. The ministry did not announce when the agreement will go into effect.
On April 15 around 10pm local time, 35 people died after a bus carrying 106 members of a church crashed in a gorge in eastern Zimbabwe. 71 people were injured. According to official figures, road traffic crashes and fatal accidents are rising from an average of 1,836 in 2016 to an average of 2,000 fatalities per year between 2017 and 2019. The World Health Organization estimates the true number is as much as three times higher. In 2017, Zimbabwe reported the nation loses an average of 3% of its gross domestic product every year to road crashes.
On Monday, the NGO Prisoners Defenders released a report directed to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The report documents systemic violations of children’s rights in Cuba, particularly the imprisonment of minors after the July 11 protests and the forced separation of thousands of minors from their parents for a period of 8 years.
On Thursday, American and Cuban officials met in Washington for talks about migration for the first time in four years. The meeting comes at a time when Biden’s administration is grappling with rising numbers of migrants attempting to cross the U.S. border from Mexico, with Cubans making up a growing portion of them.
On Monday, Daniel Ortega’s regime ordered the closure of 25 NGOs, bringing the number to at least 112 banned NGOs since December of 2018. The closed NGOs worked in different fields, including education, medical services, environmental advocacy, human rights, women’s rights, indigenous population’s rights, and free speech, as well as different universities. According to the government, the NGOs failed to register as foreign actors.
A surge in gun violence has been plaguing the US in recent weeks, with more than 140 mass shootings occurring this year alone. In Pittsburgh yesterday, two 17-year-olds were killed and several other people were injured after about 90 shots were fired at a large party. Investigators are searching for multiple suspects in the shooting, which occurred at a property that was rented through short-term rental company Airbnb. This weekend also saw two mass shootings in South Carolina, with no fatalities as of yesterday afternoon. In one of the incidents, nine people were shot at an Easter bash at a lounge in Furman. In the other incident, 14 people were injured in a shooting at the Columbiana Centre mall in Columbia on Saturday.
China announced the signing of a security agreement with the Solomon Islands. Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told parliament the agreement with Beijing was necessary to deal with the Solomon Islands’s “internal security situation.” The Pacific island nation has long struggled with political unrest, most recently in November 2021 when protesters targeted Honiara’s Chinatown and tried to storm the prime minister’s residence. Beijing said the pact complemented existing security cooperation, while Washington said it would destabilize the Pacific Island region. U.S. officials will visit the Solomon Islands this week.
YouTube has taken down the campaign channel of John Lee, Hong Kong’s only candidate for Chief Executive, citing U.S. sanctions imposed on him. These sanctions were placed over what the U.S. says were the roles of John Lee and other Hong Kong officials in eroding Hong Kong’s territorial freedoms under the National Security Law. In addition, Facebook’s owner, Meta, has said Lee could maintain a demonetized presence on Facebook and Instagram and is not allowed to use any payment services.
A Hong Kong court has charged former DJ Tam Tak-chi with seditious verbal crimes and 40 months in jail. Last month he was arrested for “uttering seditious words.” Tam is the first person to be charged with sedition in Hong Kong since 1997. Prosecutors alleged that he used anti-police slogans as well as phrases commonly heard at the 2019 pro-democracy protests. Human Rights Watch says that this trial “exemplifies the dizzying speed at which Hong Kong’s freedoms are being eroded.”
All three branches of Indonesia’s military have put an end to “virginity testing” previously used when recruiting women. The process involved the insertion of two fingers into the vagina in order to test if the woman had previously had sex. The World Health Organization wrote in 2014 that “there is no place for virginity (or ‘two-finger’) testing; it has no scientific validity.” Human Rights Watch urges the Indonesian government to investigate the trauma caused over decades of this policy being in effect and to provide support to those impacted.
Since March, Myanmar’s military junta has stripped 33 critics of their citizenship. Those targeted include diplomats and members of the National Unity Government, which is made up of politicians elected in the November 2020 polls. Notices in state media claim that the citizenship of these individuals was terminated because they committed “acts that could harm the interests of Myanmar,” though many experts, including the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, note that this is the latest effort of the military to use citizenship as a weapon. In 2017, the Rohingya of Myanmar were stripped of their citizenships as well, and this tactic has been used in other countries in the region, including Cambodia and Thailand. The deputy regional director for research at Amnesty International, Emerlynne Gil, said that terminating citizenship in a way that leaves the victims stateless is “inconsistent with international law.”
The New York-based group Physicians for Human Rights has called Myanmar one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a health worker. Since the February 2021 coup, at least 30 doctors have been killed and 140 have been arrested for participating in the nationwide protest movement. 89 doctors remain behind bars. Thousands of doctors refused to work for the junta after the coup and began offering their services for free at underground clinics and private hospitals. Doctors have been targeted by the junta because doctors are among the wealthiest of Myanmar citizens. During arrests, soldiers have seized cash and expensive items and demanded thousands of dollars to not shut down private hospitals. The shortage of doctors has caused an ongoing health crisis as people are unable to seek treatment, leaving children without immunizations and highly increasing the chance of death due to injury or chronic conditions.
Crisis Group released a new briefing on Tuesday regarding the peace dialogue between the Thai government and Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN), the main insurgency in Thailand’s southernmost provinces. Talks have resumed after two years of COVID-19 precautions, leading to an agreement between the two sides to cease hostilities during the month of Ramadan. The briefing urges the Thai government and BRN to build on this momentum in an effort to end violence that in 2021 saw its first annual rise in casualties since 2012. Since the insurgency reignited in 2004, 7,300 people have been killed and over 13,500 have been wounded.
Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from participating in the Wimbledon lawn tennis tournament this summer. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) last set forth such drastic measures in World War II when athletes from Germany and Japan were not allowed to participate. Banning athletes is a step further than most athletic organizations have taken; Belarusian and Russian athletes were being allowed to compete elsewhere, like in the French Open this spring, just not representing their national flag or country. On Wednesday, the chair of AELTC said: “We recognise that this is hard on the individuals affected, and it is with sadness that they will suffer for the actions of the leaders of the Russian regime.”
The Belarusian Interior Ministry was unable to respond to reporters when asked to comment on the arrest of journalist Aksana Kolb. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Kolb was detained on April 20th for “preliminary custody” for 10 ten days, and has called on the authorities to release her immediately. There are fears that Kolb is detained in the Akrestsina detention center, which is notorious for its cruel guards. Kolb is the editor of the independent weekly Novy Chas, which was forced to go online last August after it became too dangerous to print the paper. In October, the website was blocked after the Novy Chas office and Kolb’s house were raided and Kolb was questioned and made to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Since then, Novy Chas procured a new Internet domain and began covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Following the April 11 declaration of Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers’ Union as an extremist group, by Belarusian authorities, April 18 and 19 saw the arbitrary detention of 16 independent trade union leaders. Four of them are being held in a KGB pre-trial detention center and seven are being held without communication in an unknown location. Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia released the following statement: “…It is high time that the authorities end their crackdown on peaceful dissent. By detaining these trade union leaders, the Belarusian authorities continue their strategy of reducing the nation’s civil society to ashes. The independent trade unions have already been targeted during the state’s brutal crackdown on the protest movement that erupted following the disputed 2020 presidential election. Civic activism and defense of workers’ rights should be welcomed, not criminalized.”
The Prime Minister of Georgia emphasized the role of Georgia’s humanitarian aid in Ukraine in a meeting with the U.S. ambassador on Thursday. The PM stated that Georgia stands “firmly” supporting the international community in the conflict in Ukraine and will continue to provide political and practical support. Additionally, he pitched co-sponsoring international resolutions in support of Ukraine as Georgian diplomatic missions are still in Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv.
Ex-President Saakashvili’s lawyers asked the city court to allow doctors from a local nonprofit to pay systematic visits to the former president in prison to assess his condition and treat him. The Judge denied this request but did order the Director of Special Penitentiary Service to ensure appropriate medical services are provided.