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International Legal News - 15 April 2024

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 09 April to 15 April 2024.


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 nenadv@guernica37.com for consideration.


Round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world
Guernica 37 International Legal News

Iran/Israel – 14 April

Iran has launched hundreds of drones and missiles towards Israel in an unprecedented attack following an Israeli raid on the Iranian consulate in Syria two weeks ago. The overnight escalation came more than six months into Israel's devastating war on the Gaza Strip, which has killed over 33,000 Palestinians and pushed the besieged territory to the brink of famine.

The war has driven up tensions in the region, spreading to fronts with Lebanon and Syria and drawing long-range fire at Israeli targets from as far away as Yemen and Iraq. The Israeli military said that the Iranian salvo consisted of more than 300 "killer drones, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles" but that 99% were intercepted with help from forces from France, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The launches, which the army said came from Iran, as well as from Iraq and Yemen, set off air raid sirens in cities across Israel, including Tel Aviv, with explosions heard as air defences intercepted the projectiles. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) confirmed the attack, saying it launched the drones and missiles under Operation True Promise as part of the punishment for “the Zionist entity’s crime of targeting the Iranian consulate in Syria” on April 1.

The raid in Damascus killed 12 people, including two senior generals in the IRGC’s elite Quds Force. Western countries condemned Iran’s missile and drone assault, including the US, the UK, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Norway. Egypt and Saudi Arabia called for restraint, while the UN Security Council scheduled an emergency session to discuss the matter at Israel’s request.

Poland – 12 April

Poland's parliament has approved four amendments to its abortion laws, marking a significant step towards ending the country's restrictions on access to abortion. Amnesty International emphasised the need for urgent amendments to the law, which endangers lives, jeopardises health, contravenes International and European human rights obligations, and flies in the face of the World Health Organization's abortion care guideline.

There is an emphasis on the importance of decriminalising abortion to ensure that all people needing abortion services, as well as abortion providers, activists, and advocates, are not threatened with criminal consequences for accessing, assisting someone in accessing or delivering abortion services. The amendments come after a ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal banned nearly all access to abortion by removing grounds of "severe and irreversible foetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus' life."

Previously, over 90% of the approximately 1,000 legal abortions performed in Poland were on this ground. Under the current law, healthcare providers can only provide abortions if a pregnant woman's health or life is at risk or if the pregnancy results from a crime.

Sudan – 12 April

Human Rights Watch has called for a new global approach to the ongoing conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The conflict has resulted in widespread atrocities, including intentional killings of civilians, unlawful attacks on civilian infrastructure, and deliberate looting of aid, which constitute war crimes.

The conflict has uprooted 8.5 million people, making Sudan the world's largest internal displacement crisis. The UN reports that around 25 million people, around half of the population, are now dependent on emergency food supplies, which SAF has deliberately restricted and RSF looted in violation of international law.

Both parties have sought to limit aid access to and through their control areas, putting Khartoum under a de facto blockade since late 2023. The conflict in Sudan has led to the deaths, injuries, and detention of aid workers and targeted humanitarian convoys.

Both sides have harassed and abused local responders, causing a humanitarian nightmare. The attacks on infrastructure, such as healthcare facilities and water treatment plants, have left civilian lives precarious and insecure. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has accused both sides of arbitrary detaining and enforced disappearances.

Germany – 12 April           

Germany's parliament has passed a landmark law that allows transgender and non-binary people to modify their legal documents to reflect their gender identity through an administrative procedure based on self-identification.

The new law replaces Germany's 1980 Transsexuals Law, which requires trans people to provide a local court with two "expert reports" attesting to a high degree of probability that the applicant will not want to revert to their previous legal gender.

The German Constitutional Court had previously struck down other aspects of the law, including surgical requirements for gender recognition. The new law sends a strong message that trans people exist and deserve recognition and protection without discrimination. The new law comes as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists warn of an uptick in anti-LGBT violence in Germany.

Ethiopia – 12 April   

Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation into the killings of civilians by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF) in Merawi town, Amhara region, following a conflict with Fano militias. The massacre, killing 22 people, occurred on the eve of the annual feast of St. Mary and is considered a war crime and extrajudicial execution.

After the fighting ended, ENDF soldiers conducted house-to-house searches and entered local shops. Witnesses reported seeing bullet wounds on the heads of victims. ENDF soldiers also set fire to 11 three-wheel vehicles and one motorbike in Merawi, leaving many residents without money or food to buy food. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Working Group have been called on to take urgent steps to investigate alleged crimes and facilitate country visits.

Mali – 12 April

Mali's transitional military government has been called on to reverse its suspension of political parties and associations, stating that it violates Malian law and the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly under international human rights law. The council of ministers adopted a decree suspending the activities of political parties and associations across the country, and the Malian communications regulatory body directed all media to stop broadcasting and publishing the activities of political parties and associations.

The action appeared to be in response to the March 31 call by more than 80 political parties and associations to return to constitutional order by holding presidential elections as soon as possible. The military junta, which seized power in a coup in May 2021, had announced in September that the elections scheduled for March 26 would be delayed indefinitely for technical reasons.

 Mali's junta has increasingly cracked down on peaceful dissent, political opposition, civil society, and the media, shrinking the country's civic space, Human Rights Watch said. The junta has also targeted dissidents and whistle-blowers, with the authorities forcibly disappearing gendarmerie Col. Alpha Yaya Sangaré on March 4.

Jordan - 11 April

Amnesty International has called on Jordanian authorities to cease their crackdown on pro-Gaza protests and release dozens of activists who have been illegally detained for peacefully criticising Israel's policies. Since October 2023, Jordan has arrested at least 1,500 people, including 500 detained since March.

 The organisation has also criticised Jordan's Cybercrimes Law for criminalising speech that may offend law enforcement officials. The government must ensure freedom for peaceful protests. Amnesty International has reviewed six individuals detained in Jordan on spurious charges related to their participation in pro-Palestine protests or social media posts.

Journalist Khair Eddine al-Jabri was questioned without his lawyer and transferred to the cybersecurity unit of the Criminal Investigations Department. He was charged with using social media platforms to "defame an official body" and "incite strife, sedition and hatred and threaten societal peace" under Articles 15 and 17 of the Cybercrimes Law.

He was released on bail but placed under a travel ban pending trial. Activists Ibrahim Shdeifat and Siraj Eddine Shdeifat were arrested while attending pro-Palestine protests outside the Israeli embassy in Amman. Ayman Sanduka was arrested after writing a Facebook post criticising Jordan's relationship with Israel.

Nigeria – 11 April    

Nigerian authorities have failed to implement crucial measures to provide a secure learning environment for every child ten years after the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok. Since 2014, more than 1,600 children have been abducted or kidnapped across northern Nigeria, with the armed conflict between Boko Haram and Nigerian armed forces continuing to take its toll.

In February and March 2024, bandits kidnapped over 200 children from their schools in Kaduna and Sokoto states. The Nigerian government endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and adopted a Safe School Initiative for Nigeria with the support of the global community and Nigerian business leaders. However, the multi-stakeholder initiative faced problems and little progress was made in fortifying schools.

With over 20 million children out of school in Nigeria, girls face double-edged challenges, including risk of rape and child marriage. The government must involve communities in designing and implementing initiatives to make schools safer, creating a sense of ownership and reducing inefficiency and corruption.

UK/USA - 11 April

Julian Assange, who has been detained in Belmarsh, a high-security prison in the UK, has been criticised by Amnesty International for his five-year imprisonment. Assange has been accused of exposing alleged war crimes committed by the USA, a move that is considered unacceptable.

The US authorities have not conducted a transparent investigation into their alleged war crimes but instead targeted Assange for publishing information leaked to him, even if it was of public interest. Assange's ongoing persecution makes a mockery of the USA's obligations under international law and its commitment to freedom of expression.

If extradited to the USA, Assange would face severe abuse, including prolonged solitary confinement, which would violate the prohibition on torture or other ill-treatment. The US must drop all charges against Assange, allowing for his prompt release from UK state custody.

Assange faces prosecution under the Espionage Act of 1917, a wartime law that never intended to target publishers’ and journalists' legitimate work. The UK High Court has adjourned to allow the USA to file fresh diplomatic assurances, and Assange's permission to appeal his extradition to the USA will be reconsidered on 20 May 2024.

France – 11 April    

Five French and international groups have filed a complaint with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) to address racial profiling by French police. The groups, including Community House for Solidarity Development, Pazapas, Reaji, Amnesty International France, and Human Rights Watch, argue that the French government has not taken any action to address the issue.

The groups have been working to eliminate racial profiling by French law enforcement since a landmark Court of Cassation ruling in 2016. The groups are asking the UN's expert body on racial discrimination to recognise the systemic nature of the problem and set out specific steps the French government should take to eliminate racial profiling.

The groups propose several measures to address the issue, including redefining and clarifying the legal framework for police identity checks, creating traceability for stops targeting children, strengthening victims' rights, and changing the institutional objectives, guidelines, and training for the police.

Sri Lanka - 10 April

Amnesty International has released a report highlighting the unlawful use of weapons during protests in Sri Lanka. The report, 'Ready to suppress any protest' in Sri Lanka: Unlawful use of firearms during protests, analyses the use of force during policing of 30 protests between March 2022 and June 2023. Amnesty International's research shows a pattern in the unlawful use of tear gas, water cannons, and the misuse of batons by Sri Lankan law enforcement officials.

Video evidence reveals that in at least 17 protests, more than half of those analysed, the conduct of law enforcement officials fell well short of international law and standards on the use of force. The report also highlights the lack of investigation and accountability for human rights violations by law enforcement agencies and security forces.

Under international law, the Sri Lankan state is responsible for investigating effectively, impartially, and promptly any allegations or reasonable suspicion of human rights violations by law enforcement officials.

EU – 10 April

Amnesty International has criticised the European Parliament's vote to adopt the Migration and Asylum Pact as a missed opportunity. The move would result in less protection for people escaping conflict, persecution, or economic insecurity and increase the risk of human rights violations across Europe. Amnesty International argued that the EU needs to take advantage of a crucial opportunity to build a migration and asylum system that prioritises human rights and unconditionally upholds the right to seek asylum, regardless of origin or arrival.

Amnesty International criticised the EU's failure to show global leadership in refugee protection and the lack of safe, fair, and dignified pathways for people to reach Europe. Amnesty International will continue to stand in solidarity with refugees and migrants affected by racism, discrimination, violence, and human rights abuses at European borders and beyond.

Greece – 10 April

The Greek Court of State has declared unconstitutional a 2021 amendment that barred the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE) from informing citizens of state surveillance on "national security" grounds. The ruling found that the change violated the Greek Constitution, the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The ruling marks a significant victory in Greece's ongoing surveillance scandal, which included revelations that the government surveyed independent journalists, business people, government officials, and opposition leader Nikos Androulakis. The Council of State found the blanket prohibition on informing individuals about their surveillance an "excessive restriction" on the right to privacy and a threat to the rule of law.

While the ruling doesn't extend to a separate December 2022 law restricting ADAE's powers, it is a significant step. Greece's government should listen to the court and enact reforms that fully guarantee citizens' right to privacy and access to information.

Global – 10 April

Amnesty International has urged Dow shareholders to withdraw their investment from the US-based chemicals company if it fails to meet its human rights responsibilities towards the over 500,000 people still suffering from the Bhopal disaster, one of the world's worst industrial incidents.

The letter, shared before Dow's annual general meeting, asks investors to address Dow's failure to adhere to international business and human rights standards since it purchased Union Carbide Corporation in 2001. The letter asks investors to ensure that Dow reports on its responsibilities regarding Bhopal based on the UN Guiding Principles and publicly discloses its findings without delay.

Amnesty International is asking investors to request that Dow meets specific recommendations, including providing additional compensation to Bhopal survivors, providing compensation for the adverse health, economic, and social impacts caused by the ongoing contamination at the plant site and groundwater, contributing an appropriate and fair financial sum towards clean-up works at the contaminated plant site and surrounding areas, and disclosing all information about the leaked Methyl Isocyanate gas and other chemicals released, including their toxicity, long-term impact on people's health, and the most appropriate medical treatment.

Thailand – 10 April

Thailand's Constitutional Court is set to rule on a petition to dissolve the country's main opposition party, the Move Forward Party (MFP). The MFP, which won the most seats in the May 2023 general elections, faces allegations of high treason. The court's ruling could significantly affect Thailand's return to genuine democratic rule.

The Thai Election Commission's petition against the MFP was a politicised battering ram, and the court must issue its ruling free from political pressure. The MFP's campaign to amend Penal Code section 112 on lèse-majesté amounted to an attempt to abolish Thailand's constitutional democracy with the king as head of state, contravening the constitution.

The court ordered the MFP to cease its actions in pursuit of amending section 112. Disbanding the MFP would violate the rights of its members to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and democratic participation guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Eliminating the MFP would also undermine Thailand's efforts to restore democratic rule after years of military dictatorship. Thailand's allies and relevant UN agencies should publicly make clear that dissolving the party would severely affect Thailand's standing as a generally rights-respecting country.

Myanmar – 9 April

Myanmar's military has forced over 1,000 Rohingya Muslim men and boys from Rakhine State since February 2024, violating the country's conscription law. The Rohingya have long been denied citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law. The military has been sending Rohingya to abusive training for two weeks before deploying them.

Many have been sent to the front lines in the fighting between the junta and the Arakan Army armed group, which broke out in Rakhine State in November 2023. Human Rights Watch documented 11 cases of forced recruitment, drawing on interviews with 25 Rohingya from Sittwe, Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Pauktaw, and Kyauktaw townships in Rakhine State and Bangladesh. An estimated 630,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine State under a system of apartheid and persecution, including about 150,000 held in open-air detention camps. 

Myanmar's military has forced 100 Rohingya from Sittwe camps to fight in armed conflict, resulting in five deaths and ten injuries. The remaining 43 recruits have not been returned, and their whereabouts remain unknown. The forced recruitment violates international human rights law, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits forced recruitment, conscription, or use of anyone under 18.

ECtHR - 9 April

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has set a landmark precedent by ruling in three climate cases involving older Swiss women, six young Portuguese people, and a former French mayor and member of the European Parliament.

The Swiss women's case found that the Swiss government needed to comply with its duties under the European Convention concerning climate change, including failing to set clear limits on greenhouse gas emissions and meet its past emission reduction targets. Amnesty International praised the determination and tenacity of the applicants in all three cases seeking climate justice through courts.

The ruling sends a powerful message to policymakers in European countries that states must intensify their efforts to combat climate change. The ECtHR's decision to dismiss the other two climate-related cases was based on procedural considerations rather than on the respective merits of each case. Strategic litigation can help deliver climate justice and protect the rights of billions of people, especially the most marginalised, from global warming.

It will yield benefits, as seen today with the Swiss case. The right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment was universally recognised by the UN General Assembly in 2022. Amnesty International is part of a coalition calling for adopting an additional protocol on the right to the European Convention on Human Rights.

North Korea – 9 April

The Human Rights Watch and Transitional Justice Working Group submitted a joint submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), revealing a deteriorating human rights situation due to the country's stringent measures to protect health and reduce Covid-19 transmission.

The DPRK has not engaged with international human rights mechanisms and adopted new repressive laws, further deteriorating its conditions. The submission calls for accountability for crimes against humanity, including the dismantling of political prison camps and the recognition of political prison camps. The submission also calls for access to UN officials, international human rights monitors, and humanitarian organisations in areas where Kwanliso is located.

North Korea has rejected nine recommendations on enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest, and detention and continues to detain at least seven South Korean citizens. Recommendations include relaxing travel requirements, recognising citizens' rights to leave, enter, and return, reopening borders, reviewing COVID-19-related measures, and decriminalising individuals returning to the country.

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