June 17, 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, the earthquake in Afghanistan, and a healthcare workers’ strike in Zimbabwe
In the week before a EU leaders summit taking place in Brussels this week, Ukraine expects unanimous support for its bid to join the EU. The deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olga Stefanishyna “100%” expects acceptance.The destruction by the Russian army is continuing to intensify in the Luhansk region, which is now 95% under control by Russian forces. Despite this, the Ukrainian army is reinforcing their position in the region and keeping Russia from complete control. In response, Russia has increased the amount of troops and artillery strikes it is using in the region. Strikes in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Donetsk region have resulted in the destruction of schools, residential buildings, and a police station. There is also a chemical plant housing civilians that is facing increased shelling. Lastly, The U.S. attorney general met with a Ukrainian prosecutor at the Polish border to discuss prosecuting anyone involved in war crimes in Ukraine.
Over 200 people, mostly from the Amhara ethnic group, were killed in an attack in Ethiopia’s Oromia region on Sunday. The Oromo Liberation Army, a militant group rebelling against the central government, was blamed for the attack, but denies it, claiming a militia associated with the regional government in Oromia is to blame. This attack comes at a time of worsening ethnic tensions as a result of the conflict in Tigray, and is part of a larger string of attacks. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is facing discontent on multiple fronts, as ethnic nationalism within the regions increases and Ethiopians call for accountability for past attacks. The committee to hold peace negotiations with Tigray has been formed, though Tigrayan officials and aid groups have said that supplies are inadequate to address the humanitarian catastrophe in the region.
Ten days of demonstrations by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) have led to occasional violent incidents in the capital, Quito, and other cities. The Amazonian city of Puyo in particular experienced armed clashes between demonstrators and police, and a protester was killed there on Tuesday. Part of a national strike, the demonstrators are asking for agricultural price controls, a larger education budget, and gas prices to be cut. Both the government and demonstrators have expressed a willingness to negotiate, especially after large-scale, peaceful protests in Quito on Wednesday.
Afghanistan suffered from its deadliest earthquake in some 20 years. The 5.9 magnitude earthquake killed over 1,000 people, injured 1,600 others, and destroyed 3,000 homes. It struck a remote and mountainous region in the southeastern region of the country bordering Pakistan, 28 miles southwest of the provincial capital of Khost. The second quake of 4.5 magnitude occurred 30 miles southwest of Khost an hour later. The United Nations Emergency Response Agency continues search and rescue operations led by the Afghan Ministry of Foreign defense, but heavy rain and wind prevent helicopters from landing and poor roads have not fared well for any vehicle aid. The death toll is expected to rise.
In other news, five UK nationals hostage were released by the Taliban government this Monday after being detained for six months. Zabihulla Mujahid, the spokeman for the Taliban government, released the following statement: “A number of British nationals were released, who were arrested about six months ago, for violating the laws and traditions of the Afghan people.” The nation continues to contend with Taliban rule since its takeover in the summer of 2021.
On Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Iran to discuss “Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, boosting bilateral and energy cooperation, as well as international and regional issues.” Both possessing large oil and gas reserves and facing Western sanctions, the countries are aiming to expand “cooperation with the Eurasian region and the Caucasus.” The visit is one of many recent attempts by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to strengthen regional diplomacy, following visits in the past month by the presidents of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Syria, and Venezuela. These moves are occurring in conjunction with increasing tensions with the United States, as a result of the continually stalled nuclear deal negotiations.
After a walkout of 73 legislators who resigned collectively earlier this month, Iraq’s Parliament has sworn in newlamkers to replace the vacant seats. The walkout was led by one of Iraq’s most influential Shiite politicians, Muqtada Al-Sadr, after an eight month power struggle between his party and Iran-backed Shiite rivals had led to a political impasse. The leader of the Sadrist Movement emerged as the winner after the election, but his goal had been to hold out for a majoritarian coalition and shut out his Iranian-backed rivals, citing that “he will not participate in the next [election] if the corrupt participate.”
Iraq is also facing a drought crisis. The Iraqi Minister of Water Resources revealed Wednesday that a 50% reduction in planting area of the country has occurred due to water scarcity. The Director of National Center for Water Resources Management, Hatem Hamid, stated that access to water is being prioritzed to meet the needs of drinking water, orchards and river environment, and then to the agricultural sector. Such water scarcity has become normal in Iraq with this year being the third in a row where the country faces such a major water crisis. Moreover, with the current uncertain political situation in Iraq, the drought solution becomes increasingly complicated to solve.
Lebanon re-installed Prime Minister Najib Mikati for a fourth term this Thursday. The incumbent garnered the support of 54 out 128 lawmakers in Parliament, including those aligned with Hezbollah, the allied Amal party, and Sunni Muslim groups. Mikati is facing economic and political crises as Lebanon attempts to push through a $3 billion loan agreement with the IMF.
In its third year of financial meltdown, Lebanon’s currency has “sunk the currency by more than 90 per cent, spread poverty, [and] paralyzed the financial system.” The IMF support agreement is contingent on Lebanon enacting reforms for financial restructuring and auditing 14 of their biggest banks. The agreement has been criticized by the Lebanon Banks Association, who just this Tuesday issued a letter calling the agreement “unlawful” and “unconstitutional”, as it will shift more loss onto commercial banks.
On Wednesday, the African Union denounced the inter-Sudanese dialogue meant to reestablish the transition government that existed prior to the military coup in 2021. The AU announced that these negotiations were opaque, and excluded several significant segments of Sudan’s civilian actors. While some civilians attended the first meeting, the Umma Party, the Resistance Committees and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FLC) boycotted the talks. Now, the negotiations have been postponed indefinitely. The negotiations were prompted by foreign donors cutting off aid to Sudan post-coup, thus forcing General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to pursue negotiations with civilian players.
On June 23rd President Musevini agreed to lift a ban on the Democratic Governance Facility, a civil society funding body, whose activities were suspended last year. It has been almost two years since he accused it of operating on a multi-billion dollar doner fund without the government being represented in its decision making structures. Musevini extends an invitation to speak with Danish investors who express interest in Ugandan Government representation. Additionally, after implementing one of Africa’s most strict lockdowns during Covid-19, Uganda’s economy is seen expanding between 3.8% to 4.5% by the end of June, as the easing of restrictions have helped the entertainment and education sectors to resume.
Zimbabwe public health workers have been on strike since monday, with the demand that they are paid $540 US dollars a month. In 2009, the local currency was decimated by hyperinflation, but was reintroduced in 2019 and has struggled to hold value against the US dollar ever since. Before 2018, healthcare workers were making $540 USD, and they are calling for this reinstatement. While the leader of government business in Parliament Ziyambi denied claims that the strike has crippled the country’s healthcare sector, and continues to refuse to pay salaries in USD, local healthcare professionals state the strike has been extremely successful. With a current unemployment rate of 90% and the continued rise of hyperinflation, a series of negotiations between Ziyambi and the strikers is yet to come.
Amid a growing economic crisis, Cubans are seeking to leave the country, yet, they are facing diplomatic and bureaucratic bottlenecks both at home and abroad. Since October, the United States has encountered more than 140 000 Cubans at its shared border with Mexico. In Colombia, Mexico, and Panama, to name a few, embassies are incapable of meeting the demand of Cubans attempting to secure travel visas. While Cuba blames the USA for priming the pump of illegal migration through its economic embargo, it has been cutting off consular services for its population. During the latest Summit of the Americas, of which Cuban representatives were excluded, the USA agreed to facilitate legal pathways for migrants, aiming to issue 20 000 visas to Cubans in Havan in the following year.
This week in Nicaragua, the repressive regime of President Daniel Ortega continues to drive people out of the country. Nicaraguans constantly fear the government as the opposition is silenced, people are forcefully removed from their jobs, newspapers and media outlets are highly controlled, and the rising economic state makes it harder for people to find employment. The harsh terrain, sweltering heat, and lack of necessities like food and water have caused over 30 known Nicaraguans to die. The dire situation of Nicaragua does not appear to be stopping anything soon, 111,000 people have been stopped at the US border this year, with numbers climbing every week. However, there might be hope for international aid as the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet pleads to have access to the country to help manage the crisis.
This week Diego Garcia Sayan, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council, visited Bolivia. UNHCR has expressed concerns regarding the trial and conviction of ex-President Jeanine Áñez Chávez, saying that there were procedural issues and potential political interference. His report mentioned an alarming amount of corruption in the country’s judicial system. According to his report, the judges and lawyers sometimes take bribes, illegally interfere with cases, and face threats. The courts are very limited in their outreach, only concentrated in urban areas, leaving rural citizens ignored. Also, during the political crisis of Bolivia between 2019-2020 and even today, women faced violence, sexual assault, and femicide. These women and families have yet to receive justice. Sayan calls on the Bolivian government to reform its judicial system through new policies and enforcement.
This past Tuesday, the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack held its fourth public hearing to investigate the 2021 Capitol attack and Former President Donald Trump’s involvement. Tuesday’s hearings focused on Trump’s attempts to pressure local elected officials during the 2020 election, and the committee brought in Republican witnesses Rusty Bowers, Brad Raffensperger, and Gabriel Sterling to testify. The outcomes of these hearings and the implications they will have on U.S. democracy remain to be unseen, but for now, the committee has expanded its case on potential criminal charges against Trump.
After two recent mass shootings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Uvalde, Texas, the US Senate took its first steps in decades to pass a bipartisan bill on gun control. Though the bill does not fulfill the demands of the Democratic Party, it proposes stricter background checks for individuals younger than 21.
On Tuesday, severe floods forced thousands of individuals to evacuate their homes in southern China. Though the area is accustomed to heavy rainfall during its rainy season, state officials have reported that provinces in south China are experiencing their “highest rainfall since 1961.” The unrelenting rain and concerning floodwater levels have led to substantial economic damages, especially in the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangxi. According to the Vice Minister of Emergency Management, Zhou Xuewen, over 200 people are either missing or dead and 54,000 homes have been destroyed in the summer floods. This natural disaster comes as Chinese residents continue to struggle with the economic and social implications of China’s strict COVID-19 protocols.
Chris Patten, last British governor of Hong Kong, called the city’s transformation under Chinese rule “heartbreaking”, as the 25th anniversary of its handover approaches. Referencing the crackdown against the 2019 pro-democracy protests, Patten was reportedly distressed about the extent to which Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government disregarded the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which was meant to ensure the preservation of Hong Kong’s rule of law and civil liberties for another 25 years. The former governor joked about authorities’ “ludicrous” attempts to deny Hong Kong’s colonial history in new textbooks, saying “I do exist and I’m not a figment of my imagination.”
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) will meet leaders in Moscow and Kyiv following next week’s G7 summit in Germany. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that the president will “keep pushing for the spirit of peace” as the war in Ukraine continues. Jokowi has condemned the war, though he denied Ukraine’s request for arms. The president appears to be concerned about the international impacts of the war and hopes to “…contribute to dealing with the food crisis caused by the war,”. Before the war, Ukraine was one of Indonesia’s biggest sources of wheat, so Jokowi, who is also this year’s G20 chairman, has invited both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and – despite resistance from Western states – Russian President Vladimir Putin to the November summit in Bali.
On Thursday, it was announced that the former Nobel Laureate, and Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was moved to solitary confinement in Nay Pyi Taw. Earlier, she was under house arrest. She has been sentenced to eleven years in jail already, and has been known to deny the charges levied against her by the military junta. She will be attending trial hearings from a special court inside the prison. Human rights groups continue to condemn and criticize the trials, which continue to be held behind closed doors. Both the media and the public do not have access to the trials, and Suu Kyi’s lawyers have been barred from speaking to the journalists.
On Monday, prominent opposition leader Piyabutr Saengkanokkul was charged under Thailand’s royal defamation law after issuing calls for reforms to the monarchy, making him the second former leader of the disbanded Future Forward Party to be charged under this law. Also known as the lese majeste law, it criminalizes all criticism of the royal family and carries a punishment of up to 15 years in prison. The Future Forward Party was disbanded in 2020 for 10 years after a technicality, which was one of the causes for the wave of youth-led protests that began the same year.
Two activists were sentenced to 18 months and eight years in prison respectively after their involvement in protesting against President Alexander Lukashenko. Activist Lyudmila Ramanovich was found guilty of insulting Lukashenko for calling him a “usurper” in a letter to Belarus’ Investigative Committee, and criticizing Belarussian involvement in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yauhen Lyulkovich was found guilty of inciting hatred and disrupting public order when participating in large street protests against Lukashenko’s electoral victory in August of 2020. Lukashenko’s suppression of opposition activists and evidence of election rigging have drawn condemnation and sanctions from the United States and European Union.
About 60,000 demonstrators gathered in Tbilisi on Monday calling for Georgia’s integration into the EU. The demonstration happened in parallel with EU leaders gathering in Belgium this week to discuss Georgia’s candidacy for EU membership, as well as for Moldova and Ukraine. While many Georgians want EU integration, the European Commission declared that it needed proof of political reforms before Georgia could be seriously considered as a candidate, as concerns about freedom of expression and human rights in Georgia remain a factor. Vocal pro-integration organizers highlighted similarities they saw between Georgians and EU citizens, saying “Freedom, peace, sustainable economic development, protection of human rights and justice are values that unite us all,” in a clear response to the Commission’s concerns.