CANVAS produces a weekly report on several countries where nonviolent resistance can play an important role in confronting challenges to democracy.
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After a long week of violence, the presidents of Turkey and Russia came together Thursday, announcing an immediate cease-fire in the Syrian region of Idlib. The deal freezes the conflict lines where there are, not requiring the Syrian government to give back the land that they have won in recent months. The skies were clear Friday, but with no specified way to enforce the truce, whether Assad’s forces will respect the ceasefire is still unclear.
The Syrian government’s efforts to take back the last rebel stronghold escalated into a barrage of airstrikes during the past weeks, drawing in Russia and Turkey to protect their allies. Some residents of Idlib have reacted positively to Turkey’s military operations, hoping that they can relieve the Syrian people of their suffering, while others are worried about the high humanitarian cost of the invasion.
As thousands of migrants stream across the Turkish-Greek border, they have faced violence from border police instead of the smooth crossing that President Erdogan promised. Greek riot police have used tear gas and water cannons to keep refugees from entering their country that they insist is still closed. EU member nations are worried that this new spat will revive the debates surrounding immigration that rocked the continent five years ago. The group pledged €700m in aid to Greece, calling the country “Europe’s shield.”
The United States
Representatives from the US and the Taliban signed a deal aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan. The agreement, coming after months of negotiations, sets up a way for American and NATO troops to gradually leave the country over the next 14 months in return for a “permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.” The deal also sets up intra-Afghan negotiations on the future of the country. Despite its passing, the deal has not had any impact on the current violence. On Monday, the Taliban resumed its normal military action against Afghan forces, prompting the US to launch an airstrike to defend its allies.
A new report has found that Sudan security forces “systematically planned and coordinated” the attacks on protesters last June that have become known as the Khartoum massacre. Sudanese authorities are being accused of purposefully arming police officers and targeting medical facilities in the month before the protest that left 241 dead. This contradicts the government’s previous statement that the attack was the work of rogue military personnel acting spontaneously.
As the number of people affected by the new coronavirus nears 100.000, all parts of the world and sectors of the economy are feeling the effects. Mainland China is now no longer the main focus of the outbreak, with countries such as South Korea, Iran, and Italy seeing surges in cases. Still, China is struggling to rebound. Canceled exams are making it hard for university students to study abroad and sporting events are having to be played to empty stadiums.
Because of the ongoing economic crisis, experts are unsure if Lebanon is properly equipped to handle the spread of COVID-19. The country must pay more than $1.2 billion worth of Eurobonds on March 9th. However, a new report showed that the majority of Members of Parliament oppose making the payment, even if it will result in default. The cabinet is set to meet on Saturday to make the final decision on repayment.
A UN-sponsored report revealed that Iran has tripled its stockpile of enriched uranium since November, directly violating the 2015 nuclear deal. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action capped its stockpile at just over 200 kilograms of uranium, but the country currently has over 1,000kg, enough to make a nuclear weapon. Iran has been slowly violating various parts of the deal ever since the US pulled out of the agreement two years ago, likely in an attempt to have the global community reconsider its sanctions.
North Korea’s military ?launched two short-range missiles? Monday, completing its first weapons test since last November. Much of the international community has condemned the attack, including members of the Security Council, for violating denuclearization treaties. The test also served as a rare public appearance for Kim Jong-un as he locked down the country in light of the coronavirus. There have still been no confirmed cases of the virus in China’s neighbor, but experts are still debating the likelihood of that being true.
Prime Minister candidate Mohammid Allawi has officially withdrawn from the upcoming election after Parliament rejected his cabinet once again. His withdrawal has “deepened a political crisis in the oil producer, where mass protests and deadlock between lawmakers are delaying the country’s recovery from years of war.”
Protestors took to the streets on Thursday to block intersections and roads “to denounce the mechanism of choosing a candidate to form the next government.” The demonstrators were demanding that their needs be met, which includes” expediting the nomination of an independent candidate to form the next government.”
Maduro supporters brandished weapons at a march led by Juan Guiadó on Saturday, the latest spat between the two men who both think that they are the rightful leader of Venezuela. A 16-year-old demonstrator was injured.
Houthi rebels took control of Hazm on Sunday “in a major blow to the internationally recognized government and the Saudi-led coalition that backs it.” As the rebels gain more ground, they are imposing draconian rules to police women; they are controlling where women can go and what they can wear. They have also started to carry around scissors to ensure that men’s haircuts are appropriate.
President Vladimir has proposed an anti-gay marriage amendment in the new constitution. The amendments will be voted on publicly. The drafting of a new constitution is being looked at “as a move by Mr. Putin to keep a hold on power after his presidential term ends in 2024.”
Also: A new UN report has directly accused the Russian government of committing war crimes in Syria.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s High Court ruled that banning same-sex couples from public housing in the city is unlawful. Originally, the Housing Authority refused to house same-sex couples “because there is already insufficient accommodation for low-income Hong Kong residents, and that LGBT people could still apply for housing as individuals.”
After the International Monetary Fund failed to renew its loans to Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa made a passionate plea for support from international donors to save his country. After visiting last week, the IMF expressed concern, calling the country’s current policies “off-track.” They join the World Bank and African Development Bank in cutting off Zimbabwe’s aid. The country is not only facing $8 billion in foreign debts but also rising poverty and starvation levels.
On Thursday, the United States enacted “sanctions on the Nicaraguan National Police over accusations of human rights abuse.” The sanctions keep Americans from carrying out any business with the police and they also freeze all US assets the police hold.
Former President Evo Morales has expressed his confidence that his party will win the upcoming May elections. However, he is also fearful of a coup or fraud following the election. Morales will not be running in May, but he has endorsed his former economy minister, Luis Arce Catacora.
Santiago saw the worst night of anti-government protests on Monday as protesters clashed with the police. The police reported that they arrested 283 civilians. Since October, more than 30 protesters have been killed and some 180 minors have been held in preventive detention by the police.
After the country’s third elections in the past year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu beat out his opponent Gantz but fell three seats short of the majority he needed to form a new government. He faces bribery and corruption trial next week but remains popular among supporters. The Arab Joint List won 15 seats reaching a historical record.
33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike Friday, further escalating tensions between Turkey and the Russia-Assad alliance. In response, citizens gathered outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul, chanting “murderer Putin!” The attack was just one in a long week of violence, coming a day after Turkish-backed rebels re-captured Saraqib in Idlib, a strategic town and crossroad of highways M4 and M5.
The ongoing violence is becoming increasingly geopolitical as well. Turkey’s NATO membership is causing other member nations to hold emergency talks over intervention. The Turkish government also announced that they would no longer stop the passage of refugees from Turkey to the European Union. An estimated 3.6 million Syrians live in Turkey and had previously been banned from crossing the border into Greece and Bulgaria.
This week, India experienced some of its worst sectarian violence in years as mobs of Hindus and Muslims clashed over President Modi’s controversial citizenship bill.
At the same time that US President Trump visited the country, at least 38 people were killed and nearly 200 were wounded. On paper, the Citizenship Amendment Act gives citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants to India, but it has been widely seen as a way to discriminate against the country’s Muslim minority. President Modi, a nationalist, called for peace, but his police were criticized for both failing to stop the violence and for using tear gas, pellets, and smoke grenades.
The protests that came to define this fall and winter in Lebanon have died down in recent weeks, but many are worried that if the worsening economy is not fixed soon, tensions may flare up again.
Faith in the Lebanese currency is dwindling, and many citizens are resorting to bitcoin to move money in and out of the country. The country also owes billions to foreign nations in Eurobonds, foreign-currency deposits and certificates of deposit. The World Bank has warned of an “implosion.” Lebanon’s infant government is trying to piece together an emergency economic plan but is struggling to gain international support. France has voiced its support, but many former allies are refusing to provide aid until the country addresses underlying corruption.
As it fights the coronavirus, the Chinese government is desperately trying to promote its own image, but this time around many citizens are seeing the propaganda for what it is. The state-run media is promoting stories of heroic doctors and cured patients, deleting videos of residents being arrested and dragged from their homes to be quarantined.
But the propaganda is not working this time around. People online are sharing their stories of struggle that contradict the party’s official message. Public outrage skyrocketed after people learned of a slain doctor who tried to warn the public. This response is helping to slowly chip away at China’s robust propaganda machine.
After weeks of battling political instability and tensions with other foreign powers, Iran has a new enemy: COVID-19. The new virus has spread rapidly throughout the country, even infecting a number of officials trying to fight it. The officially announced numbers as of Friday were 388 cases and 34 deaths, although those totals could be higher. Friday prayer services were canceled and many schools and universities remain closed.
A new report from the United Nations World Food Programme found that one-third of Venezuelans are unable to meet minimum nutritional requirements. As the country’s economic crisis continues to worsen, hyperinflation has rendered salaries worthless, meaning that many families simply cannot put enough nutritious food on the table. People have felt the impact of food insecurity, with 74% of families reducing the variety and quality of food they eat and 60% cutting portion sizes.
The Iraqi Parliament failed to form a new government, voting down a cabinet proposed by Prime Minister Mohammed Allawi. The country has been dealing with a massive protest movement that broke out in October and ousted the last PM. Opposition leaders, echoing the protesters’ anti-ruling elite sentiment, oppose Allawi. If Parliament is unable to approve a cabinet, Iraq’s Constitution says that President Barham Salih will need to appoint a new Prime Minister.
Opposition forces clashed with police this week amid protests calling for the release of 61 political prisoners. The country’s administration has outlawed all types of public demonstrations, protests, and marches since September 2018. The protests coincide with opponents of President Ortega from seven different parties signing an agreement to form a national coalition against the long-time leader.
Claims of Russian interference in American elections have once again risen to the surface. David Porter, a member of the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force, has stated that Russia has been “conducting brazen operations aimed at spreading disinformation, exploiting lines of division in society and sowing doubt about the integrity of U.S. elections and the ability of its leaders to govern effectively.” Porter strongly believes that Russia simply wants to watch the United States “tear [itself] apart.”
Anti-Beijing publisher Jimmy Lai and two other pro-democracy activists were arrested for illegal assembly Friday. Lai, who leads the media company Next Digital, has been a major donor to Hong Kong’s ongoing protests.
While protests have been relatively quiet in recent months, public anger is still high as Beijing seems to be tightening its grip on the city. Citizens are also angry over the newly announced 2020 budget, which is set to give HK$25.8 billion (~three billion Euros) to the city’s police force.
A new report coming out of the United States found “no evidence of fraud” in last October’s elections. Incumbent President Evo Morales won the election, but the Organization of American States accused the government of manipulating the results, causing Morales to step down. The report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Data and Science Lab found that the results were “very likely legitimate.” Whether Bolivians believe this new evidence could play a role when they select a new president in May.
On Sunday, a video circulated showing an Israeli bulldozer scooping up and moving the body of a killed Gazan. Israel accused the man, Mohammed Ali al-Naim, 27, a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), of trying to place a bomb near the fence. In response, PIJ launched about 30 rockets as a response to the murder of the Gazan. On Sunday night, Israel responded to the 30 rockets by bombing the Gaza Strip and Damascus. Israel has displaced more troops and armored cars near the separation fence as an effect of the rising tension.
The ongoing drought has resulted in more than half of the population living in fear of the looming threat of food shortages. According to the World Food Program, Zimbabwe needs “$103 million to meet urgent food assistance.” Citizens are being denied service at distribution centers.” Heavy rain has been slowly spreading through the nation, but “7.7 million people will require aid until the next harvest.”
The White House sent a funding bill to Congress, offering $2.5 billion to help address the coronavirus outbreak. The US Budget Office says that the money will be used on vaccines, treatments, and protective equipment. Democrats say that these funds are not enough, and they have also expressed concern over taking funds away from other projects like the one dedicated to fighting Ebola.
Residents on the islands of Lesbos and Chios have been on strike for the past two days, protesting against plans for new migrant camps. The eastern islands of Greece have been a major landing spot for refugees seeking entrance into the European Union.
President Salva Kiir swore in opposition leader Riek Machar as vice president, renewing a coalition that they have tried once before and ultimately abandoned. If the coalition is finally successful, the civil war that has raged on for six years may finally come to an end. The deal was announced hours after the UN released a report accusing both sides of starving civilians during their struggle for power.
Iranians head to the polls today to elect a new parliament, but recent tensions in the country will test what the citizens think of its leaders. Many citizens of Iran have little to no confidence in their leaders. Little has improved since the last elections four years ago, and recent embarrassments on the national scale does not help.
However, Iran’s religious government leaders hold a tight grip on who can run; disqualifying more than 7,000 candidates in favor of those loyal to the Supreme Leader. Hardline loyalists are thus expected to dominate the elections. It is likely that voter turnout will be low, despite Khamenei’s tweet that said that voting will “display our unity against the enemies.
As the number of COVID-19 cases passes 75,000, new sectors of the population are put at risk. Health care employees make up 4% of confirmed cases, with one hospital director passing away Tuesday morning. The widespread ramifications are being felt in new ways. One estimate has the virus costing the airline industry almost $30 billion. Similar declines are being felt in the automobile industry.
Also: A new report shows exactly how and why the Chinese government has placed thousands of Uighur Muslims into detention camps. A whistleblower leaked a database that has confirmed that people are placed into camps strictly based on “their religion and their family ties,” contradicting the Chinese government’s claim that these camps are meant to curb political violence and have no relation to religion.
Nine people were killed in two shootings on Wednesday night. The far-right gunman targeted neighborhoods that have a large immigrant population, leading the police to believe that the motive is related to xenophobia. The gunman was found dead in his apartment with his mother on Thursday morning. This is another example of the dissemination of xenophobia throughout the country. Just last week, German authorities arrested 12 members of a far-right terrorist organization.
As pro-Assad forces continue to barrage the province of Idlib, domestic flights between Damascus and Aleppo have resumed. A symbolic flight carrying Syrian officials was completed Wednesday, demonstrating that Assad’s government has the upper hand in the region.
A Proxy War: On Thursday, Russia bombed Turkish troops in Idlib, which in turn targeted pro-Assad forces. This is the lowest point of the agreement between Russia and Turkey. Merkel and Macron are said to be ready to meet Putin and Erdogan to defuse tensions in the area.
Despite having reached an agreement last week, tensions are continuing to rise between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Because of Hamas’ inability to prevent the launching of balloons and rockets from the Gaza Strip, Israel has decided to renege on its promise of easing restrictions.
Trade between Palestine and Israel has returned to normal on Thursday after months of tensions and boycotts. The trade conflict started after the Palestinian Prime Minister announced the nation would no longer import beef from Israel. Israeli and Palestinian ranchers and farmers were negatively impacted by the ban.
An 8-year old Palestinian Jerusalemite lost an eye after Israeli police shot him “with a rubber-coated steel bullet.” Police stated that they were controlling a riot, but surveillance footage has shown that there were no signs of a riot breaking out. Eyewitnesses said that the attack was “unprovoked” and “deliberate.”
The International Monetary Fund began talks this week on how to help Lebanon out of its worst economic crisis in 50 years. Having met with newly appointed Prime Minister Hassan Diab, the delegation is working to tackle the slow economic growth, the high unemployment rates, and the widespread corruption that sparked months of ongoing protests.
Lebanon’s current debt of $87 billion is 150% more than the country’s GDP. Many financial experts are worried that they might default on their $1.2 billion Eurobond debt that is due March 9th.
The Libyan National Army bombed Tripoli’s main port Wednesday. Renegade commander Khalifa Haftar and his LNA have wanted to gain control of the port for years; they have tried to a Turkish vessel carrying weapons.
At the UN: Peace negotiations in Geneva were temporarily halted after the bombing but resumed on Friday. Diplomats remain divided on the prospect of peace in the country. Many agree that “there can be no peace under the bombing,” while most diplomats are worried that if a peace deal is not reached soon, the violence will only continue.
On the Ground: A rare look inside the country by The New York Times revealed a worsening humanitarian crisis. “Everyone is afraid, even afraid of their fellow citizens,” one Benghazi resident said. Residents complain of corruption by local militia leaders, as well as unexplained bombings, abductions and detentions without trial.
The United States levied new sanctions against Rosneft, a major Russian oil company directly tied to the Maduro administration. Venezuela uses Rosenef for about 70 percent of its oil exports, which the US Treasury Secretary denounced as “looting of Venezuela’s oil assets.” The impacts of these sanctions are unknown, whether this will weaken Maduro’s stronghold or plunge the country into further crisis.
Long Reads: Venezuela’s ongoing struggles are leaving millions without a means to support themselves. Some are fleeing to Colombia, putting stress on a country ill-equipped to handle the sudden influx, while others are putting their children under the care of friends and family members.
On Tuesday, North Korean refugees “launched a political party in South Korea… aiming to give a voice to the 33,500 defectors living in the South and oppose conciliation with Pyongyang.” The new South-North Unification Party is seeking to make amends between North and South Korea and will likely seek formal representation in April’s parliamentary elections. A former North Korean diplomat has already announced that he is running for a National Assembly seat but as a member of the established opposition party.
Bolivia’s electoral tribunal has officially disqualified former President Evo
Morales from running for Senate. Chairman Salvador Romero said that he did not meet the requirements for candidacy by not being a permanent resident of Bolivia. Morales was exiled to Argentina following his presidency, and he has yet to return to his home country. Morales responded via Twitter, calling the decision “a blow to democracy.”
Peace talks between rebel groups and the Sudanese government failed to wrap up by the agreed-upon date of February 15th, so the groups decided to extend the talks for another three weeks. The peace negotiations have been taking place since October, and the groups have “agreed on a cease-fire, humanitarian access, land issues and the resettlement of those displaced by the conflicts.”
Human Rights Violations: Anastasia Shevchenko, a political activist, has been living under house arrest for over a year. She has been “accused of links to a pro-democracy group Open Russia UK, which has been banned from Russia as ‘undesirable’ and a ‘threat to state security.’” If she is found guilty, Shevchenko could spend six years in prison.
Peaceful protester Konstantin Kotov has been behind bars for more than six months. He has been charged with having connections with peaceful protests in Moscow last summer “over the exclusion of opposition candidates from the city and council elections.”
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq recently released a study concerning education in Iraq and how children in ISIL-controlled areas are unable to attend school. They are unable to “move freely in and out of the camps.” The ISIL-induced crisis in Iraq has resulted in the displacement of 1.4 million people; 658,000 are children. Only half of those children have access to education.
Coronavirus: Iraq has closed its border with Iran after two Iranians died from the coronavirus on Wednesday. Iraq will continue to import goods from Iran and Iraqi citizens returning from Iran will be allowed to enter the country.
Airstrikes: A United Nations report confirmed that more than 32 Yemenis were killed in a Saudi airstrike. The airstrike is a direct defiance of international humanitarian law. The United States backed the airstrike and has provided Saudi Arabia with weapons priced at hundreds of billions of dollars.
Airstrikes that occurred on Saturday injured 18 children and claimed the lives of 19 more. Houthi rebels have stated that “Saudi-led Arab coalition aircraft targeted Al-Jawf’s Al-Masloub district with several raids, killing 35 civilians and wounding others.” The United Nations has since denounced the attack
Other: Houthi rebels have blocked half of the aid delivery systems that were implemented by the United Nations, directly affecting more than two million people. The population is on the brink of starvation. In the past, the Houthis have attempted to convince the United Nations to give them 2% of the aid budget. Last week the Houthis withdrew this demand..
HSBC announced its plans to cut 35,000 jobs over the next three years following its coronavirus-instituted economic slump. The UK-based bank with strong ties to Hong Kong saw a 33% decrease in profits in 2019, prompting the largest restructuring and simplification in the bank’s history. The bank gains most of its profit from the Asian region, so until stability is reached, profits will continue to shrink.
The Trump administration announced that the country’s five largest newspapers will be treated as Chinese operatives rather than objective sources. The day after this announcement was made, China announced that it will expel three journalists who are affiliated with the Wall Street Journal as media relations between the two nations continue to sour. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was revoking their press credentials over a Wall Street Journal opinion piece titled “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia.”
Mexico City was rocked with protests this week following the murder of a seven-year-old girl. After the body of Fatima Cecilia Aldrighetti was found over the weekend, protesters took to the streets to speak out against the waves of violence against women. On Wednesday, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced that police arrested several suspects. Despite the fact that President López Obrador has brushed the protests to the side, Mexico’s legislature has proposed toughening the prison sentences for inmates convicted of femicide.
The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is worsening; the government has implemented “severe humanitarian restrictions and a sweeping internet blackout.” Tens of thousands of people have been displaced as the conflict between the military and civilian armies grows more intense. Last week, more than 17 students were injured after the shelling of a school. The military has been accused of war crimes, but information regarding these crimes is limited as an effect of the internet blackout in nine townships.
On Monday, the European Union renewed its arms embargo on Zimbabwe and instituted a targeted asset freeze against Zimbabwe Defence Industries. The EU Council said that its decision is a response to “the yet to be investigated alleged role of the armed and security forces in human rights abuses.” Zimbabwe has said that the sanctions have heavily stifled its economic growth, especially because they have been in place since 2002.
Ukraine: Violence in Eastern Ukraine has led to the death of a Ukrainian soldier and the injuring of several others. Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainians are assigning the blame to one another. This is some of the worst violence Ukraine has seen since the Paris summit in December.
Turkey: A few hours after being acquitted for his alleged role in the 2013 Gezi Park protests, Osman Kavala, Turkish businessman, prominent philanthropist, and human rights activist was detained by the police on charges of his alleged links with a failed coup d’etat in 2016.