April 29, 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, fighting in Sudan, and protests in Lebanon.
As of April 27, the OHCHR has recorded 5,939 civilian casualties in Ukraine, including 2,787 killed and 3,152 injured. Over 5 million Ukrainians have now left the country, and the UNHCR now projects that the number of refugees leaving Ukraine will reach 8.3 million. 7.7 million people are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine, and 13 million are estimated to be trapped in affected areas without an ability to leave due to security risks. 90% of the people forced to flee their homes have been women and children. UN Secretary-General António Guterres met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, ending in an agreement to arrange evacuations from the Azovstal steel complex, which is the last area of organized Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. An estimated 2,000 soldiers and 1,000 civilians are in fortified positions underneath the wrecked structure of the steel mill. Guterres also visited Ukraine on Thursday for the first time since the invasion, touring towns around Kyiv before meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Thursday to join nationwide mass walkouts demanding that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government quit amidst the country’s worst financial crisis in decades. Due to the pandemic, rising oil prices, populist tax cuts, and dwindling foreign currency reserves, Sri Lanka does not have enough money to pay for vital imports of fuel, food, and medicine. If the president and government do not resign, trade union leaders have threatened an ongoing strike beginning on May 6. Two opposition parties, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya and the Tamil National Alliance have begun proceedings to bring no-confidence motions to parliament against the president and prime minister.
Osman Kavala, an activist and philanthropist, was sentenced to life in prison by a Turkish court. Kavala has already spent over four years in prison without a conviction, and was found guilty on charges relating to nationwide protests in 2013 and the failed coup attempt of 2016. Kavala denied the charges. Representatives of the United States and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) criticized the conviction. The ECHR stated that the conviction was made to “silence him and dissuade other human rights defenders,” and that there was insufficient evidence that Kavala committed an offense.
Just Stop Oil protesters blocked access to the Kingsbury Oil Terminal in Warwickshire, England, and at least 16 people were detained. A new High Court injunction gives police in the area “enhanced powers to prevent and disrupt any unlawful activity,” and a breach of that injunction carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. The activists demand an end to new oil and gas projects, and 200 activists have been arrested in related demonstrations over recent weeks.
Residents of the indigenous Fuerabamba community in Peru were removed from a camp they had set up in a pit owned by MMG’s Las Bambas copper mine. The camp was created in protest of the Chinese-owned company, and protesters demanded to take back their ancestral lands. The Fuerabamba community was removed from the land a decade ago to make room for Las Bambas. The Peruvian government announced a state of emergency for the area on Wednesday, which suspends the right to assembly and protest. Three people were reportedly injured as protesters were removed from the pit on Wednesday.
Afghanistan’s defense minister said that it would not tolerate invasions from neighbors after protesting airstrikes that the Taliban say were carried out by Pakistan. The Taliban administration blames Pakistan for airstrikes carried out in the Kunar and Khost provinces that have killed dozens. Taliban officials say military helicopters have killed 36 people, with 20 being children, Pakistan has not confirmed any involvement in these strikes, calling the two countries “brotherly”.
A Pakistan army post was attacked by fighters in Afghanistan and three Pakistani troops were killed. A fight then ensued with several of the attackers also being killed. It is unclear which of the many armed groups in Afghanistan was responsible for this attack. The increase in attacks highlights the challenge that the Taliban face from multiple groups over keeping control of the country. Regardless of the Taliban’s promises not to let Afghanistan be used as a base to attack another country, many militant groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), remain, and Kabul has yet to arrest or hand them over.
Iran and Saudi Arabia held a fifth round of talks in Baghdad last Thursday on normalizing bilateral relations. The two regional powerhouses started direct talks last year. Predominantly Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have been locked in proxy conflicts across the Middle East and these talks were meant to calm tensions. However, after Saudi Arabia held the largest mass execution in decades, killing 81 men, 41 being Shiite, Iran suspended the talks in March. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh said that this fifth round of talks is going positively, and that Baghdad would host another round soon. Both sides hope that this communication will lead to a re-establishment of ties but have downplayed expectations of a major breakthrough.
Gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying a general from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Brigadier-General Hossein Almassi managed to survive the attack without injury, but a bodyguard was killed. A report by the state news agency, IRNA, said that criminals opened fire at a checkpoint in Iran’s southeastern province and security forces had arrested those behind the attack. This attack came on the night typically marking the anniversary of the Revolutionary Guard’s establishment.
Last week, Turkey launched a military operation in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the Iraqi government was supportive of the operation, a claim which they have refuted. In addition, they strongly condemn this operation, and have summoned the Turkish ambassador to register their opposition. Iraqi foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed al-Sahef has said that Turkey is carrying out constant violations of Iraq’s sovereignty.
Israeli tanks fired into Lebanon on Monday in response to a rocket fired from Lebanon. The Israeli military said that the rocket had landed in an open area, causing no damages or injuries, and the tanks were meant to fire back at the sources of the launched projectile. No one claimed the rocket attack, but the military spokesman said that it was assumed the rocket was launched by Palestinian militants. Lebanon’s military reported that at least 50 artillery shells and 40 flare bombs were launched early Monday. No damages or injuries were reported.
As Parliament discusses a capital controls law, protesters gather weekly against it. After the financial crash in 2019, Lebanese banks imposed capital controls by setting withdrawal and transfer limits in order to minimize damage. Withdrawals could only be done in US dollars at an inflated rate, meaning people would lose money to the bank. Many citizens believe that the government cannot be trusted with these laws as many members are heavily involved as shareholders in these banks. Hundreds of protestors gather each week in front of parliament, obstructing lawmakers from passing taking the law forward.
“Fighting” or attacks have erupted again in Sudan’s Darfur region. Al Jazeera reports at least 168 dead with further 98 wounded as of April 24. The Guardian reports at least 160 dead. The Janjaweed and the Rapid Support Forces, who were born out of the Janjaweed militia, are being blamed for the violence. The clashes between the government backed Rapid Support Forces and locals began on Thursday when 2 people were killed about 30 kilometers outside the capital of West Darfur. Later, in Geneina, armed forces attacked wounded people waiting for treatment outside the city’s main hospital. The International Committee of the Red Cross called on authorities to ensure the safe arrival of wounded to treatment centers.
Rwanda’s leader visited Uganda for the first time since 2018. The border between the two nations was only reopened in January of this year after having been closed in 2019. Rwandan President Kagame arrived to attend the 48th birthday party of Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Kainerugaba has been instrumental in repairing nations between the two nations and has even referred to Kagame as his family on social media. Uganda has also made it a point to crack down on Rwandan rebels that live on Ugandan territory as tensions ease between the two nations.
The annual independence address of the Zimbabwe leader to the people was held on Monday. However, for the first time since independence in 1980 the event was held outdoors to be accessible to the public. Zimbabwe faces many challenges, including owning up to wrongdoing and tragedy in the past and an under-performing economy. The economy is lowering morale in the young population and drug use is extremely prevalent. On February 21st a National Anti-Drug and Substance Abuse Campaign was announced but experts say that the campaign as well as the strict warnings about law catching up to drug abusers is not keeping up with trends and is thus ineffective.
On Monday, Cuba’s foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, accused the USA of pressuring regional government to block Cuba from participating in the Ninth Summit of the Americas taking place in June. This comes one week after high levels in Cuba and the USA came together for talks on migration.
Nicaragua announced it was closing its offices of the Organization of the American States (OAS). This new comes following the continued expulsion and jailing carried out by President Ortega. The OAS, which seeks to build cooperation among states to advance a common regional agenda focused on democracy, security, and human rights, has voted to condemn the 2021 Nicaraguan elections for their lack of transparency and legitimacy. The Foreign Minister Denis Moncada called the OAS a “diabolical instrument of intervention and domination by the United States.”
On Thursday, President Biden’s administration announced a new programme to facilitate the immigration process for Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country. The Department of Homeland Security stated that Ukrainians can apply for humanitarian parole. This does not provide a pathway to gain residency of citizenship, but to stay and work in the USA for two years. Also called “Uniting for Ukraine”, individuals must have been residents in Ukraine as of February 11, have a sponsor in the USA, have complete COVID-19 vaccination, and pass a security check. However, the USA will no longer be granting entry to Ukrainian refugees who enter the USA through the Mexican border.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden asked Congress for $33 billion USD to support Ukraine as President Zelenskyy pleads the US for support. This funding will include $20 billion for weapons, $8.5 billion in military assistance, and $3 billion in humanitarian aid. It is meant to cover war efforts until September of this year. This proposal would also let US officials seize more assets from Russian oligarchs and give that cash to Ukraine. However, this measure may face opposition from Congress as a $22.5 billion measure is being debated for the Covid-19 response.
On Monday, US officials attended a two-day summit on migration in Panama to discuss bilateral and regional cooperation on irregular migration. The USA spoke on growing economic opportunities, increasing security, fighting corruption, and improving democratic governance in Latin American countries to avoid irregular migration towards its country.
On Wednesday, China accused the USA of undermining regional security and peace as it sent a naval destroyer in the Strait of Taiwan in the context of a routine freedom of navigation exercise. While China claims the South China Sea waterway as sovereign territory, the USA regards it as international waters and Taiwan has confirmed the destroyer’s path as a routine one.
Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club has suspended the annual human rights press awards days before it was due to announce winners due to fear of violating the national security law. These awards have run for over 25 years and are some of the most prestigious in Asia. FCC President Keith Richburg has said that the FCC is suspending these awards due to a significant grey area in Hong Kong over where journalists could operate. Allegedly, some board members have been given legal advice that the club and the individuals awarded would risk being investigated by the police if these awards went on. This decision led to the resignations of several board members and public criticism from journalists and former award winners.
Hong Kong will allow international travelers to enter the city starting from May, for the first time in over two years. Foreign travelers will be subject to the same rules as residents, and rules on airlines carrying infected travelers will be eased. This announcement comes as daily infections have come under 1,000 infected. In addition, gyms, beauty parlors, theme parks, and cinemas have also been opened inside the city.
On Friday, Indonesia announced plans to ban the export of palm oil, which is the most widely used vegetable oil. As the world’s top palm oil producer, this could have a significant impact on already surging global food inflation. The move was made to ensure the availability of food products domestically, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has already caused major disruptions in global edible oil markets. In recent days, Indonesian students led demonstrations over high cooking oil prices. Economists around the world have criticized the ban as being detrimental to Indonesia and contributing to global food insecurity.
Ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to five more years in jail for corruption, adding to previous convictions for a current total of 11 years in prison. In December, she was convicted on Covid violation and inciting dissent against the military. She was convicted of more Covid violations, as well as having contraband walkie-talkie radios in her house in January. On Wednesday, she was found guilty of taking a $600,000 bribe from the former head of Yangon. After this, Suu Kyi still faces 10 other corruption charges, which could total to more than 190 years in prison. She has denied all accusations and the trials have widely been criticized as a sham. The UN, as well as many civil rights and democracy groups, have denounced the legal proceedings. Human Rights Watch called the process a “courtroom circus of secret proceedings on bogus charges.”
Human Rights Watch is urging Japan to stop accepting Myanmar military personnel for training at Japan’s defense facilities. While Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi claimed, “cultivating even one person who understands civilian control and democracy will hopefully contribute to Myanmar’s future,” Human Rights Watch argues that this could lead to Japan being complicit in the Myanmar junta’s human rights abuses.
On the Global Soft Power Index 2022, Thailand is ranked 35th out of 120 countries, which is a decline from being 33rd last year. The ranking is based on several different factors, as well as the seven pillars of soft power: business and trade, governance, international relations, culture and heritage, media and communications, education and science, and people and values. Dr. Charika Channuntapipat from the Thailand Development Research Institute stated that in order to make a substantial increase in soft power, the government needs to create an environment that supports the creative economy through policies and resources.