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International Legal News - 15 January 2024

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



North Korea – 14 January

North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile into the sea, escalating tensions between South Korea and Japan. The North has stepped up pressure on Seoul, declaring it the "principal enemy" and vowing to enhance its ability to deliver a nuclear strike on the US and America's allies in the Pacific.

The missile flew about 1,000 km off the country's east coast, and Japan's Defence Ministry criticised the launch as violating United Nations resolutions. North Korea has tested its newest intercontinental ballistic missile to gauge its war readiness against mounting US hostility. The US and its allies have condemned Russia's firing of North Korean missiles at Ukraine, calling it abhorrent.


Indonesia – 14 January

Indonesia's Merapi volcano erupted twice, rising 1,300 meters from its peak six weeks after a fatal eruption. The Geological Agency urged evacuating people within 4.5 km of the eruption centre, as lava flows could occur in rivers and valleys. Residents were advised to use masks in case of ash rain and to seek respiratory check-ups at health facilities.


 

Denmark – 14 January

Queen Margrethe II of Denmark announced her decision to abdicate after 52 years as Queen on December 31, 2023, becoming the first Danish Monarch in nearly 900 years to relinquish the throne voluntarily. The succession occurred on Sunday at around 1300 GMT, with people from all over Denmark converging on the capital.

The new King and Queen, Frederik X and Queen Mary of Denmark, will take the throne at a time of substantial public support and enthusiasm for the Monarchy.

 

Georgia – 13 January

A large protest in Tbilisi demanded harsh punishment for a woman accused of defacing a religious icon depicting Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. The icon was displayed in the city's Holy Trinity Cathedral, exposing deep divisions in Georgia over the former Soviet dictator's legacy. Pro-Russian ultra-conservative movement Alt-Info compared the "desecration" of the icon to the repression of religion under Stalin's regime.

Thousands of Orthodox believers and Alt-Info supporters gathered in front of the country's parliament before praying before the Stalin icon. Georgia's Orthodox Church Authorities have called for "appropriate changes" to the icon. However, some Orthodox Church activists and believers want the woman to be subjected to a criminal investigation and potentially jailed for insulting the icon and their beliefs.


 

Taiwan – 13 January


Taiwanese voters have swept the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Presidential Candidate, Lai Ching-te, into power, rejecting Chinese pressure to disregard him. Lai's party, which champions Taiwan's separate identity and rejects China's territorial claims, the incumbent

Party was seeking a third successive four-year term. However, they lost their majority in Parliament due to public frustration with domestic issues like housing costs and stagnating wages.

Lai also won only 40% of the vote in Taiwan's first-past-the-post system, unlike current President Tsai Ing-wen, re-elected four years ago with more than 50% of the vote. Despite this, Lai praised his victory and emphasised the need for cooperation and dialogue with Beijing on an equal basis to "replace confrontation". China denounced Lai as a dangerous separatist and called on the people of Taiwan to make the right choice.


 

Guatemala – 13 January


Guatemala's President-elect, Bernardo Arevalo, met with Taiwan's foreign minister to discuss strengthening commercial ties. Guatemala is one of only 13 nations maintaining diplomatic ties with Chinese-claimed Taiwan. The two discussed expanding trade relations and increasing Guatemalan product exports in Taiwan. Guatemalan Vice President-elect Karin Herrera is set to take office on Sunday.


 

USA/Britain/Iran - 12 January


The US and UK have launched defensive strikes against Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen, aiming to preserve freedom of navigation in the world's most vital waterways. NATO, which was not involved in the strikes.


 

Myanmar – 12 January


Myanmar's Military Court has sentenced the award-winning documentary filmmaker Shin Daewe to life in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges. The Junta has used drones illegally in Myanmar as a tool of oppression. Daewe was arrested on October 15 after finding her with an aerial drone.

She was charged under Myanmar's Counter-terrorism Law of 2014 for “financing and abetting terrorism”. She was held in Insein Prison for almost two weeks, with reports suggesting she was severely beaten. The Junta has repeatedly attacked the media for independent or critical reporting, and the Junta continues to detain at least 61 journalists wrongfully.


 

China - 12 January


Rescue operations are underway in Pingdingshan after an accident involving a coal mine. Eight people have died, and 15 are missing, while the remaining 22 were rescued. The accident occurred around 14:55 due to a coal and gas outburst; further investigations are ongoing.


 

Papa New Guinea – 11 January                                     

Amnesty International has called for restraint in response to rioting and looting in Port Moresby and Lae, resulting in at least 16 deaths and a State of Emergency. The Authorities should respond to the violence in a way that protects Human Rights and avoids further loss of life. The use of unnecessary or excessive force by law enforcement officers will only escalate tensions. Amnesty International has noted that an existing police directive authorises the use of lethal force in violation of Human Rights standards.

The authorities will establish a prompt, effective, and independent investigation into all deaths and ensure accountability following the right to a fair trial. The government deployed a military response and suspended Police Commissioner David Manning and several other senior public officials. The United Nations recommends a police-to-population ratio of one police officer for every 220 people. However, the current ratio in Papua New Guinea is 1:1145, making police understaffed and ill-equipped to fulfil their law enforcement role effectively.

 

Finland/Russia – 11 January

Finland's Interior Minister, Mari Rantanen, has extended the closure of its border crossing points with Russia beyond January 15 due to concerns over "instrumentalised migration". The move comes after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which led to Finland abandoning its policy of non-alignment and joining NATO in April 2023.

The situation at the eastern border has stayed the same since December, and there are still immigrants waiting for the borders to open. The decision to extend the border closure is subject to regular assessment and can be revoked if the situation changes.

 

Belarus – 11 January

Belarusian Authorities have carried out a systematic crackdown on dissent and the spread of information about civic abuses during 2023, according to Human Rights Watch. The Belarusian government targeted Human Rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, opposition politicians, culture workers, trade unionists, activists, and others who disagreed with the official agenda. In early November, at least 1,462 people were behind bars on politically motivated charges.

Belarusian authorities are accused of creating an information vacuum around repressions by cutting political prisoners off from the outside world and bullying their lawyers and families into silence. Human Rights work remained illegal in Belarus, and no Human Rights group could officially register.

In July, legislative amendments to the citizenship law allowed authorities to strip Belarusians abroad of citizenship if they had been convicted of "participation in an extremist organisation" or "grave harm to the interests of Belarus." Belarus remained the last country in Europe and Central Asia to carry out the death penalty, with new amendments introducing capital punishment for "high treason" by state officials and servicemen.

 

South Africa/Israel/Palestine – 10 January

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is hearing a South African legal case alleging that Israel is violating its obligations under the UN Genocide Convention. The South African application claims that Israel's actions and failure to act in relation to Palestinians in Gaza are genocidal.

The application urges the court to order provisional measures to protect the Palestinian people in Gaza, including calling upon Israel to immediately halt military attacks that "constitute or give rise to violations of the Genocide Convention" and to rescind related measures amounting to collective punishment and forced displacement.

Amnesty International has not decided that the situation in Gaza amounts to genocide, despite the alarming warning signs given the scale of death and destruction, with more than 23,000 Palestinians killed in just over three months and a further 10,000 missing under the rubble, presumed dead.

The imposition of an illegal siege in Gaza, which has cut off or severely restricted the civilian population's access to water, food, medical assistance, and fuel, is inflicting unfathomable levels of suffering and putting the survival of those within Gaza at risk.

All states have an international legal obligation to act to prevent genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 and, as determined by the ICJ previously, under customary law.

South Africa's ICJ application cites evidence gathered by Amnesty International documenting damning evidence of war crimes and other violations of international law by Israeli forces in their intense bombardment of Gaza.

 

Spain/Equatorial Guinea – 10 January

Spain's National High Court has closed a probe into three people, including the son of Equatorial Guinea's president, Carmelo Ovono Obiang. Obiang, his security director Isaac Nguema Endo, and Equatoguinean Security Minister Nicolas Obama Nchama were accused of kidnapping four members of the Movement for the “Liberation of Equatorial Guinea” (MLGE3R) in 2019.

The Court stated there was no basis to conclude that the acts were partially committed in Spain. The court transferred jurisdiction to Equatorial Guinea's Second Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice, as a trial is underway for the same offences. The European Union condemned Obiang's dictatorial reign and urged Guinea to release the remaining members of MLGE3R.

 

Belgium/China – 10 January

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib have urged China to end its atrocity crimes and repression during their visit to China, such as forced labour and inhumane acts against Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims.

The deepening Human Rights crisis will have profound implications for European countries doing business with China, as unchecked bilateral trade and business carry a risk of complicity in those crimes. De Croo and Lahbib intend to clarify to their Chinese counterparts that there can be no business as usual when crimes against humanity are committed and publicly call out Beijing's grave Human Rights violations.


Nigeria – 9 January

Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu has suspended the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, over allegations of transferring funds from the government's social welfare program into a private bank account.

The suspension comes after a leaked memo revealed Edu requested the Accountant General of the Federation to transfer public funds of about N985 million from the National Social Investment office account to Bridget Oniyelu, the accountant of a federal government poverty intervention project called “Grants for Vulnerable Groups”.

Edu denied the allegations, stating that it was a plan to "tarnish the image of administration" and that no one would embezzle government funds under her watch. The arrest follows the EFCC investigation of the suspended National Coordinator of the National Social Investment Programme Agency, Halima Shehu, and Edu's predecessor, Sadiya Umar Farouq.


Tunisia – 9 January

Tunisian journalist Zied El-Heni, who has been arbitrarily detained since December 2023 for "insulting" a Tunisian government minister on a radio show, has been convicted of a six-month suspended prison sentence. Amnesty International's Fida Hammami called for the immediate release of El-Heni and the dropping of all charges against him, as they stem solely from exercising his Human Right of free speech.

El-Heni was summoned by the police on December 28, 2023, shortly after criticising the Minister of Commerce's performance on air. He was charged under Article 86 of the Telecommunications Code for "using the telecommunications network to insult others", punishable by up to two years of imprisonment and a fine.

Amnesty International has documented the deterioration of the Human Rights situation in Tunisia since President Kais Saied's power grab in July 2021, with at least 40 people investigated or prosecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

 

Australia – 9 January

Australia has introduced Federal Legislation criminalising the public display or sale of Nazi and terrorist group symbols, including the Nazi salute and the Nazi double sig rune "Schutzstaggel" and the Nazi Hakenkreuz.


The legislation, introduced in June and passed in December 2023, aims to strengthen Australia's counter-terrorism framework and protect the rights of the Australian community. Exemptions exist for educational, academic, and sacred religious purposes.


The legislation also outlaws the sale and trade of goods associated with the prohibited symbols. The legislation has gained significance amid the Israel-Gaza war and the rise in Islamophobic and anti-semitic incidents in Australia.


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