May 13, 2022
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Back to our regularly scheduled programming!
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
In this issue, we cover the latest updates on food shortages around the world, protesting elections in the Philippines, and arrests of foreigners in Iran.
The head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Matilda Boger, gave a press briefing on Tuesday regarding the situation of civilians in Ukraine. Boger reported that the UN has corroborated 7,061 civilian casualties, including 3,381 killed and 3,680 injured, though the actual figures are expected to be much higher. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) European chief said that at least 3,000 people in Ukraine had died due to a lack of access for treatments of chronic diseases. The WHO has documented 200 attacks on Ukrainian health facilities, leaving few functioning hospitals. People seeking treatment for HIV/AIDS and cancer have been particularly impacted.
Ongoing protests in Sri Lanka over the government’s failed response to the country’s largest economic crisis since independence have led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa is Sri Lanka’s former president and older brother of the current president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Protesters have held demonstrations for weeks, demanding the resignation of the Rajapaksa family, which has ruled on and off for decades. Police used tear gas and water cannons on Monday to disrupt violence outside the offices of the president and vice president, and ruling party supporters attacked anti-government supporters using sticks and poles. Local health authorities report that 217 people were injured as a result of Monday’s clashes and eight were killed. The defense ministry gave orders to shoot at anyone damaging public property or threatening lives, and President Rajapaksa announced broad powers for the military and police that allow them to detain and question people without arrest warrants.
Approximately 400 protesters, mostly students, gathered outside of the Commission on Elections in Manila on Tuesday following an unofficial tally that showed candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on track to win the presidency. Marcos is the son of the dictator that ruled the Philippines for twenty years before being ousted by a “people power” uprising in 1986. Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of incumbent President Rogrigo Duterte, is Marcos’s vice presidential running mate. Though official results of the May 9 election are expected at the end of the month, initial tallies show Marcos winning in a landslide victory that experts say could pose a significant challenge to democracy in the Philippines. The rule of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was marked by martial law and the torture of political opponents, though the Marcos family has spent decades whitewashing these crimes. Election observers have received thousands of reports of anomalies related to the elections, including malfunctioning voting machines.
Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist, was killed while covering Israeli raids in Jenin, a city in the north of the occupied West Bank. Al Jazeera said in a statement that Abu Akleh was “assassinated in cold blood.” The journalist was wearing her blue flak jacket marked clearly with the word “press” when she was shot in the head. Around 200 Palestinians gathered in protest in Haifa and Nazareth, holding signs that read: “Shireen Abu Akleh’s message will not fall.” Journalists and citizens gathered to mourn Akleh as her body, draped in a Palestinian flag and covered by her press flak jacket, was carried through the streets of Jenin. Akleh was a household name in Palestine and was one of the most well-known faces in the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On Saturday, the Taliban government decreed that all women should cover themselves from head to toe and suggested the burqa as the preferred garment. However, it stopped short of mandating it as long as women covered themselves with a hijab. Since the Taliban have come back in power, women have been subjected to an increasing number of demands restricting their involvement in public life. It has been expected for some time that the return of a burqa style covering was the next step. Many women and activists have condemned this degree strongly. On Sunday, women were seen in Kabul in conservative dress, but most were in a traditional hijab, not covering their faces. The ones dressed in burqas were in the minority.
Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani visited Iran on Thursday to meet President Ebrahim Raisi. This visit included talks on bilateral, regional, and international issues and that after this trip, President Raisi will travel to a Gulf country. Qatar is a strong ally of the United States and is seeking to play a behind-the-scenes role to mediate the nuclear dispute between Iran and the US. The Emir will be traveling to other European states afterwards in order to discuss the nuclear deal with Iran. The purpose of this trip is quoted to be bringing parties involved in the nuclear deal to “a new middle ground”.
As tensions between Sweden and Iran worsen, a Swedish citizen traveling as a tourist has been detained in Iran. Sweden’s foreign ministry said that the embassy in Tehran “was seeking information and is in contact with the local authorities”. Iranian authorities haven’t acknowledged the arrest. Prosecutors in Sweden have arrested and are seeking life imprisonment for Hamid Nouri, a former high ranking Iranian official. Nouri will be held in custody until his trial in June. The arrest this week, as well as the announcement last week of a possible execution of an Iranian-Swedish researcher are believed to be connected to the Nouri trial.
In addition, two French citizens have been arrested in what France calls a “baseless arrest” just before the EU envoy met Iran’s nuclear negotiator on Wednesday. The Iranian Intelligence Ministry says they were arrested on charges of planning to cause “chaos, social disorder, and instability”. Iran has been accused by many rights groups of trying to extract concessions from other countries by arresting their citizens and Western countries are calling them political prisoners.
Jim Fitton, a British national accused of stealing pottery shards in Iraq will be tried next week. Fitton was arrested in March after he was found in possession of pottery shards taken from an ancient site in Iraq. He is being charged based on Iraq’s antiquities laws and are potentially punishable by death. However, British officials and his legal team say that this is unlikely to happen. Fitton’s lawyer, Thair Soud had drafted a proposal to have this case closed before trials on the grounds that it could harm Iraq’s national interests by leading to a decline in tourism. Concerns over Fitton’s case grew after Shiite military groups published his passport details and accused the British government of intervening with Iraqi judicial procedures.
On Wednesday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shelled militant bases in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil. Local media reported that a shell landed in the village of Sidekan, nearly 60 miles away from Erbil. The Iraqi foreign ministry condemned the shelling, and a local official said that shells have occasionally hit this area in the past. According to Iranian state media, no casualties have been reported. In March, the Guards attacked “Israeli strategic centers” as revenge for Israeli air strikes that killed Iranian military personnel, but the Kurdish government said these attacks only targeted civilian areas and called for an investigation.
On Monday, the World Bank approved a $150 million loan to help Lebanon fund the importation of wheat and keep bread prices stable for the next nine months. Lebanon is reliant on food imports and subsidizes bread in order to make it more available to the population. Since the economy crashed in 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value and the price of food has increased more than 11-fold. With the war in Ukraine, and the lack of silos to store wheat after the Beirut explosion, the bread shortage has intensified. A World Bank spokesperson said that this loan was meant to “finance immediate wheat imports…and help secure affordable bread for poor and vulnerable households in Lebanon”. The program still needs approval from the cabinet and Parliament.
May 11 saw 15 Resistance Committees in Khartoum State endorse a political charter establishing a unified political platform for the groups that lead the anti-coup protests. The People’s Authority Charter reaffirms the signatory’s rejection of direct or indirect negotiation with coup leaders and their “determination to topple the putschists through peaceful resistance.” Additionally, the signatories will “repeal the Constitutional Document and [adopt] a temporary declaration based on the People’s Authority Charter” and “review all concluded agreements and decrees issued since April 11, 2019.” The charter requires the transitional period to last for two years and the term be extended by the Transitional Legislative Council. The legislators would also appoint the prime minister and their cabinet; these appointees would be held accountable by the council. The charter declares “The Transitional National Legislative Council is the supreme authority of the state.” The document further requires the formation of several commissions for transitional justice, peace and reform of the security and military entities, including limiting the powers of the National Intelligence Service and disbanding armed militias such as the Rapid Support Forces. Civil service and judicial positions will also be reformed. The resistance groups also recognized the at least 88 protesters who are detained despite the military’s pledge to release all political prisoners. The groups, human rights groups, and lawyers have called for the international community to put more pressure on the coup-leaders to release these “low-profile” detainees.
Uganda’s central bank is carefully considering digital currency and its implications for the general population. Cryptocurrencies have not been banned but service providers have been warned to progress slowly. Specifically the bank is worried about consumer protection for a population with low digital financial literacy, making them vulnerable to scams. Additionally, there are concerns about financial inclusion; there are low levels of internet infrastructure penetration. Necessary equipment like smart phones, computers and the internet has not widely penetrated rural Uganda and digital currencies could exclude those populations from participating in the economy. There are also concerns about how volatile cryptocurrencies can be which “undermines their ability to function as a store of value,” something extremely necessary for currency. The Bank is also considering if there is an issue being solved by rolling out a digital currency. There is no timeline for when the studies on these concerns will be concluded.
Zimbabwe is struggling with the massive inflation rate devaluing the domestic currency. On Saturday May 7, the government put a stop to all lending by banks with immediate effect indefinitely. The move is meant to stop the rapid devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollars on the black market. This comes as food insecurity rises in the area. Not only is there increased competition between animals and people for precious resources such as water and maize, but the invasion of Ukraine has also interrupted the supply of grain imports. The devaluation of the currency, coupled with limited imports of key food supplies, drought, and increased wildlife encroaching on small farms is shaping to be a crisis of monumental proportions. One third of Zimbabwe’s population was already food insecure and the U.N. World Food Program is anticipating this number rising as global food commodity prices increased 23% in the last year and continue to climb even higher.
Following his international tour during which he denounced the treatment of political prisoners in his home country, Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas was detained, with his travels being intercepted by state security agents. During his trip, he traveled to Spain, Belgium, and the USA to address dissidents living in exile and the European Parliament. In the past, the human rights campaigner has gone on dozens of hunger strikes and spent years in Cuban prisons. Fariñas claimed that there are currently over 1 000 political prisoners in Cuba at the moment, many of them having been arrested during the government’s latest crackdown that the government accused of being a US-backed attempt at overthrowing the government.
While tensions continue to rise over the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, food and medicine shortages, and overall price increases, another athlete has defected. The 30-year old Ismael Borrero abandoned his delegation in Mexico during the Pan-American Wrestling Championships. Recent months have seen an increase in defections, coinciding with the ongoing economic crisis. The government has arrested thousands during the protests that have taken place, and has stated that there is a sever indiscipline issue present in the Cuban sport system.
The Cuban government is working to enact a penal reform pre-emptaviely stop all displays of growing public discontent. Set to be approved on Saturday, this new code criminalizes the spread of “propaganda” and foreign fuding for activities that threatene the states’s security. Punishable by up to two years in prison, this law is being enacted to protect the system from all actions that might create a socially unstable climate. Unlike other draft laws, this one was drafted in secret and will not have a referendum or public consultation.
On Friday, Nicaragua enacted a new law that makes it more difficult for NGOs to register as it now requires them to obtain the government’s approval for their activities, and imposing new constraints such as providing detailed sources of funding, financial statement, and beneficiaries. The law also vaguely prohibits NGOs from “conducting political proselytizing and party politics”. This new legislation came into action the same week the National Assembly voted to take away the legal status of 50 civil society organizations for failing to comply with national legislation.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Daniel Ortega’s son, Laureano, reached out to the Biden administration to discuss sanction relief for his family. The Ortega family has largely avoided the imposed sanctions and in recent years, Laureano Ortega has helped his family consolidate power by fostering diplomatic relationships with high-level Russian and Chinese diplomats. A senior US State Department official was sent to Nicaragua to meet Laureano, but the meeting never took place as the Ortegas did not attend. As Russia can no longer give Nicaragua money, the Ortega regimes has had to turn to the USA to continue affording its lavish, authoritarian lifestyle.
On Monday, a tear gas grenade that was set off during a university assembly and triggered a stampeted resulted in the death of four student, as well as 50 injured. The crime took place at the Tomas Frias University where students had gathered to elect new student body leaders. The four victims of the grenade were women.
Bolivian President Luis Arcee claimed that he may not attend the Summit of the Americas in June if some countries of the region are not invited, following in Mexico’s footsteps of objecting to the exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. After a meeting with Venezuela’s foreign ministers, Arcee stated that a Summit of the Americas that excused American countries is not a complete one.
On Wednesday, Biden accused Putin and his war in Ukraine for the food supply shortage and food price increase. The President claimed that millions of tons of Ukrainian crops cannot be exported due to the invasion, and that American farmers are currently the “breadbasket of democracy.” He also promised to lower food costs in the USA and increase domestic food production, by means including a risky practice known as double-cropping.
For the first time since her detention at a Russian airport in February, the US Department of State has stated that the American basketball player Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained. A State Department official confirmed that envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens, will lead a team tasked with securing her release. Griner was detained after a search of her bags revealed vape cartridges with oil derived from cannabis. The shift to claiming she is wrongfully detained signifies a change in supervision of her case that now focuses on negotiations to release the hostage as well as other Americans deemed wrongfully detained.
Chinese social media have shut down the accounts of a market analyst that has shined light on the country’s slowing economy. After making negative forecasts on the Chinese stock market, Hong Hao, managing director and head of research at BOCOM International, saw his social media accounts frozen. The market analyst spoke to his 3 million followers about the effects of the government’s policies on the tech industry.
Earlier this week, Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the the World Health Organization, in consultation with Chinese experts, stated that China’s zero-Covid policy was unsustainable as it has important consequences on the population’s human rights.
John Lee was named Hong Kong’s new leader after a closed voting process in which he was the only candidate. Lee replaces Carrie Lam as Chief Executive, who had served in the role since 2017. The Beijing backed candidate has overseen the crackdowns against the pro-democracy protests in 2019. Hong Kong’s leaders are selected by a closed committee of around 1,500 members, although this time, there was only one contender for them to choose. Lee is incredibly unpopular in this role due to his support for the national security law, and has come under intense criticism for sanctioning police violence during the 2019 protests. According to many political analysts, his promotion from Chief Secretary is a sign that China intends to increase its influence in Hong Kong and focus on security. His role in the implementation of the national security law has led to sanctions against him by the US, and a YouTube block on his election channel. Before the polls opened, the League of Social Democrats, one of the few remaining pro-democracy groups, held a three-person protest against him.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s national security police arrested Joseph Zen, a 90 year old Cardinal, who is an outspoken critic about China’s Communist Party. Zen was one of four pro-democracy activists arrested by the police, under charges of collusion with foreign forces. The other three are Cantopop star Denise Ho, former lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng, and academic Hui Po-keung. If the four are convicted, they could face maximum life sentences in prison. The police alleged that these four had endangered national security by asking foreign governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong. All four were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund which provided financial aid for activists during the 2019 protests. Their arrests are part of a probe into this fund over whether operations involved violations of the national security law. The Vatican has said they are “concerned” over the arrest of Zen and are following this situation closely.
At the end of April, it was announced that Indonesia would ban the export of palm oil in an effort to protect domestic supply. However, Indonesians continue to experience un-affordable prices of cooking oil and other resources, which do not show any change since the ban. The price of palm oil has been rising since October 2021, and the two main reasons for the jump in prices are the impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, acting president of the National Unity Government (NUG) Duwa Lashi La claimed that his People’s Defence Force combined with ethnic resistance groups control “almost 50 percent” of Myanmar.
Amnesty International is urging ASEAN leaders to put special focus on violence and human rights violations in Myanmar when they meet in the United States for a two-day summit in May. Human rights violations in Myanmar are a regional concern due to the deterioration of the country’s economy and forced migration into Thailand and Malaysia. As host, the Biden administration should center these discussions so that ASEAN Member States can create a more detailed blueprint for holding Myanmar’s military accountable and addressing urgent needs.
The Thai government is making plans to distribute one million free cannabis plants to households across the country in June. This effort will mark a new rule that allows people to grow cannabis at home after notifying their local government. The plants must be medical grade and used only for medicinal purposes. Recreational use of cannabis will remain illegal, and commercial use will require further licenses. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said that the intention was for cannabis plants to be grown like “household crops” as local laws around cannabis have been loosened in recent years.
Sixty-five not-for-profit organizations signed a joint letter to US President Joe Biden in regards to Thailand’s Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations. The Draft Act, which the Thai Cabinet approved in principle in January 2022, would limit the operations of non-profit organizations operating in Thailand. If the law is passed, many of the signing organizations would face penalties, such as investigations, public threats, and orders to shut down. The broad language used in the law would implement virtually no limits on what kinds of groups may be impacted. The letter asks President Biden to press the Thai government to withdraw the Draft Act and to ensure that other laws the Thai government proposes related to non-profit organizations adhere to international human rights law and standards.
Belarus’s opposition leader, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, recognized Belarus’ role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and stated that the people of Belarus are doing everything they can to counteract those forces. She also stated that without a free Ukraine there can be no free Belarus, explaining that if Ukraine wins in the fight against Russian occupation then the Kremlin will be weak thereby weakening the Belarusian Lukashenko’s regime and creating a space for protests and strikes in Belarus.
The couple arrested after Minsk forced their flight to land in Belarus in May 2021 is being sentenced. Sofia Sapega and her dissident boyfriend Roman Protasevich were aboard a flight from Greece to Lithuania when they were forced to reroute to Minsk due to a “bomb threat” much of Europe condemned as piracy by the Belarusian government. Sapega has now been sentenced to 6 years in prison. However, she is a Russian citizen and her lawyer says they will appeal to Russian President Putin for aid.
Former President Saakashvili’s health continues to deteriorate; on May 10, Georgian Justice Minister Rati Bregadze proposed transfering Saakashvili to a civilian hospital for observation and treatment as needed, though Saakashvili supporters have demanded he be allowed to be treated abroad. On May 12th, Saakashvili was transferred to medical center Vivamedi, a civilian clinic in Tbilisi for examination to prevent any “possible complications.” Saakashvili agreed to go to the clinic if his conditions would be met. It is not known whether authorities met these conditions, however, the Justice Ministry “slammed” Saakashvili for the “ultimatums,” saying that he should accept the examination without conditions. Saakashvili was previously treated in Gori Military Hospital after his hunger-strike for treatment. At the end of April, doctors said that his condition had worsened since they last saw him in January, and that he was suffering from protein starvation, losing weight at the expense of muscle.