The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 05 December to 11 December 2023.
Guernica 37 will provide weekly media updates from the International Criminal Court, European Court of Human Rights, United Nations, European Union and other sources. Should you wish to contribute or submit a media summary, opinion piece or blog, please send to Ned Vucijak at email@example.com for consideration.
UK, USA & Canada - 9 December
To mark the 75th anniversary of ratifying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UK, the US and Canada have announced a series of coordinated sanctions against organisations and individuals linked to Human Rights abuses.
The UK has imposed 46 asset freezes on individuals who are thought to be responsible for forced labour in the large-scale online scams in Southeast Asia and travel bans against authorities who repressed citizens for exercising fundamental freedom rights. The US has imposed 37 sanctions across 13 countries in cases where there has been a restriction of access to secondary education for females, arbitrary detentions, and degrading punishment of anti-war protesters. The US has focused on countries with forced labour and repression of human rights. Finally, Canada has imposed 7 sanctions against citizens who have been involved in LGBTQI+ purges, the killing of journalists and mass attacks on civilians.
The 3 countries hope their actions will promote accountability for human rights violations in the future.
Sri Lanka – 9 December
An “Independent Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation” is planning to be set up by the Sri Lankan government with the aim of “ensuring an inclusive process in developing legislation that strengthens and safeguards national unity through truth, transitional justice, reconciliation, reparation and social cohesion” in addition it will also aim to prevent further conflicts between ethnic groups such as the Tamils.
As a pre-emptive step, Sri Lanka has created the “Secretariat for the Truth and Reconciliation Mechanism” to ensure the Commission is finally established. This has been met with scepticism by Human Rights groups who have had “grave reservations” about Sri Lanka’s previous track record on human rights violations. In a case of the government marking its homework, previous investigations have found that the military has not harmed civilians when outside sources have reported otherwise.
Pakistan – 8 December
Pakistan is gearing up for Parliamentary elections this coming February. Still, it has been highlighted that there may be some discriminatory devices in Pakistan's electoral law, particularly in the Ahmadiyyah community because of their religious beliefs, where they must renounce their faith or be categorised as “non-Muslim” to be granted a vote.
In 2002, Pakistan abolished separate voting systems for Muslims and non-Muslims. The Ahmadis still have no mechanism by which they can vote in elections at any level. The documenting of the Ahmadis also opens them up for attacks and violence because of their registration and opens the door for further persecution. The fact that this is written into the penal code highlights the difficulties that this minority faces in terms of discrimination. This casts serious doubt on the legitimacy of the upcoming national Pakistani elections.
Kenya – 8 December
A Nairobi judge has ruled that Meta Platforms Inc (Facebook) is not in contempt of court for failure to pay content moderators, who claim that they were unfairly dismissed because of union organising efforts; they also felt they were blacklisted from applying for similar jobs.
Evidence has suggested that this form of work has a more significant mental strain on those undertaking it than was first thought. As a result, those who undertake this work demand that employers have a duty of care if their employees undertake such work. This is not the first time Meta has been accused of not treating its employees sufficiently well.
Nigeria – 7 December
An Islamic religious celebration in north-western Kaduna state on December 3 was hit by an Army Airstrike, which killed 85 people and severely injured many others. This is not the first time this has happened. Previously, people have been hit when gathered for Maulud, a Muslim religious event, in the Tundun Biri community in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna state.
These airstrikes require much scrutiny to protect civilian lives. Since 2017, 300 people have been killed by security force air strikes; the security forces have responded by saying that their targets were bandits or members of the Boko Haram terror group. The government has given little explanation or shown accountability; it is thought that this is a breach of international humanitarian law as it may amount to a non-international armed conflict where civilian casualties have not been minimised.
On December 5, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu called for an investigation into the incident in Kaduna, but this could be seen as a whitewash to appease Human Rights organisations.
New Zealand – 7 December
Protests have taken place in New Zealand after the government released plans for a policy change regarding Maori (indigenous people) rights; the protests were triggered after the Te Pati Maori (The Maori Party) called upon its members and other sympathetic parties to protest the new parliament being sworn in.
The centre-right coalition has opposed legislation removing co-governance systems, reducing government agencies' use of the Maori language and a treaty redefinition in a “more modern” setting. The Treaty of Waitangi is threatened to be tampered with; it was created by the British Crown and Maori and promised certain rights and privileges to the Maori people. While the treaty in its original form is less relevant in modern times, it was codified in the Treaty of Waitangi Act of 1975, which states what parts of the treaty must be adhered to. (“Protests break out in New Zealand over changes in government policy ...”)
The new Prime Minister, Christopher Luxton, defended the decision to change the treaty, saying that the government was endeavouring to discuss what the treaty means to New Zealanders today. King Tūheitia has called a “National Hui” (meeting) between Iwi (tribes) to discuss the united stance the Maori should take.
Iran – 6 December
Security forces in Iran are being accused of using rape and sexual violence of both men and women for torture purposes to intimidate and punish peaceful protests during a “woman life freedom” March in 2022.
An Amnesty International report has spoken to 45 survivors who have made these accusations. Iranian authorities have not charged or prosecuted anybody as a result. It is thought that the legal system in Iran is complicit in this cover-up. Despite being approached with this report and information as to the sexual violence, the Iranian government has yet to comment.
Bahrain – 6 December
13 people have been sentenced to prison by a Bahraini court after a trial which has been seen as unfair because of issues with due process and torture allegations to elicit confessions.
A string of free expression, assembly and due process violations has marred Bahrain for some time. The case is scheduled for review at the Appellant court. The 13 were carrying out a peaceful demonstration which took place in April 2021 in response to the death of a prison inmate who, in turn, was imprisoned for attending a pro-democracy protest. "In 2021, Bahrain’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU) and the Interior Ministry Ombudsman initiated separate investigations into the incidents surrounding the protest and the response by the prison authorities." (“Bahrain Unjustly Convicts 13 in Mass Trial | Mirage News”) However, the first report has yet to be submitted and cannot be tracked, and the second report explained in its findings that nothing untoward had happened.
Various Human Rights organisations have held both reports to be unsubstantiated in their approach and likely seen as a whitewash. Defendants were not allowed to attend their hearings regarding the trial and denied the defence lawyer's requests.
El Salvador – 5 December
Amnesty International has produced a report suggesting that El Salvador has been complacent in their human rights provisions for its citizens.
The organisation believes that the country has a deepening punitive and repressive focus on public security, systematic use of torture against prisoners and the deployment of a series of governmental actions that restrict civic space; it is also thought that El Salvador is trying to weaken the independence of its judicial branch and brutalising its criminal justice system as well as concealing public information, accountability, regulatory and investigatory mechanisms when these have been investigated.
The report highlights the dangers of permanent legal reforms under the pretext of facilitating the implementation of the state of emergency that El Salvador claims to be in.
Ukraine – 5 December
As the war in Ukraine continues, the European Commission has emphasised the plight of people with disabilities as a priority over the next 12 months as part of the EU accession process. The Commission's report calls on Ukraine to guarantee the rights of people with disabilities and ensure that rebuilt infrastructure is accessible. The Commission feels this is an excellent opportunity for people with disabilities in Ukraine to be offered a better quality of life.
The “UN Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities” " which Ukraine joined in 2010, it needs to keep up to date with some of the parameters necessary to guarantee human rights to its disabled population, especially with the deinstitutionalisation of many of those living with disabilities in Ukraine. A generous financial package from the EU can help this.