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International Legal News - 18 December 2023

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

 The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 12 December to 18 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 nenadv@guernica37.com for consideration.



India – 15 December


The India Supreme Court has suspended the conviction of Afjal Ansari, a member of India’s Parliament from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), in a case filed under the Uttar Pradesh Gangster Act 2007 in a split verdict. This opens the door for his return and highlights the inadequacy of India's judicial system when dealing with accused persons. This case was only overturned when it reached the Supreme Court, with all other courts relying on decisions from lower Courts. It is thought that convictions against him lacked cogent evidence to establish guilt, and the process for bringing charges against him remains outdated. The repercussions of this split verdict may well have further political and legal ramifications regarding the factors needed in exceptional circumstances to overturn decisions that would restore due process and public trust in the justice system.



The journalist and newspaper editor João Fernando Chamusse (editor of Ponto por Ponto and a commentator on TV Sucesso) was murdered at his house in Maputo on 14 December. There has been a trend in recent years where journalists have been threatened and intimidated to silence dissent ahead of a general election next year. The Mozambique government has done little to prevent this breach of human rights and give greater reassurances for the protection of journalists.



Brazil – 15 December


Members of the UN International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement have been travelling around Brazil to gather evidence regarding police brutality. This was triggered after the George Floyd Incident in America. It is thought that Brazilian police kill more than 6000 people per year, with approximately 83% of the victims being black. A national public security plan which includes measures to curb killings by police and addresses systematic racism has been called for. A report based on the findings of this UN team to present to the UN Human Rights Council is expected at the end of next year; it is thought that they will ask Brazil to ground public security in human rights standards.



UAE – 14 December


UAE authorities have brought charges against 87 defendants in counterterrorism law in reaction to a pro-human rights advocacy group formed in 2010. The prominent activists and dissidents are currently serving prison sentences or have faced sham trials and arbitrary detention. The sentences are disproportionately harsh as a deliberate attempt to scare anti-government sentiment from rising again. Considering the UAE's promise to meet its human rights obligations at the COP28 conference, this comes as a surprise. Some of those arrested on this occasion have been previously detained in other sham trials where they have been accused of undertaking illegal action against the government. This raises concerns that UAE authorities are violating the principle of double jeopardy, and those convicted were not allowed to contact the outside world to seek help or explain they were facing new charges; prisoners were held in solitary confinement and made to sign documents confessing to committing terrorist acts.



Greece – 14 December


An official investigation has begun but has made little progress into the actions and omissions of the Hellenic Coast Guard, which contributed to the loss of life in the shipwreck off Pylos (Greece) six months ago. The event took place when an overcrowded fishing trawler capsized on June 14th, leading to the death of more than 600 people. It had started its journey from Libya with 750 migrants and asylum seekers on board who came from Syria, Pakistan, and Egypt. It is thought that more than 15 hours elapsed from the SOS call being made and received to the search and rescue fleet being launched. The coast guards have also suggested that people on the vessel did not want to be rescued. Despite these claims, the Coast Guard had an obligation to take all measures necessary to save the survivors. Independent investigations for newspapers have substantiated these claims. The criminal and naval courts are undertaking investigations, as well as the Greek ombudsman.


 

Tunisia – 13 December


The Tunis Military Court of First Instance has decided to convict leading opposition figure Chaima Issa of inciting the army to disobey orders, spreading false news, and committing an offensive act against the president. The court has sentenced her to a 12-month suspended prison sentence after a comment she made about the military's role in legislative elections. These baseless investigations and reactions to her exercising fundamental human rights are thought to be used to weaponise public opinion against her. She was convicted of spreading “false rumours” “under Article 24 of Decree-Law 54, as well as “inciting the military to disobey orders” under Article 81 of the Code of Military Justice and “committing an offensive act against the President” under Article 67 of the Penal Code. This comes after growing concern that Tunisia's military courts are being used to prosecute civilians critical of the recent power grab by President Saied. Under fundamental human rights, the military courts should only be used for Armed Services members. Other political activists are also facing additional bogus charges in civilian courts for similar confected charges.

 


Nepal – 13 December


An earthquake in Nepal’s remote Karnali province has left entire communities without shelter or resources in sub-zero conditions. 1000s of families are sheltering in tents and tarps, and the government has failed to meet the basic needs of survivors. Nepal and its international partners have done little to mitigate the situation. The 6.4 magnitude shock on November 3 killed 154 people; the area worst hit has been chronically underfunded and neglected by the government in terms of infrastructure and improvement for years. Since the earthquake, 32 people, including four children, have died of pneumonia due to a cold. There have also been warnings of a possible cholera outbreak. The government is breaching its constitutional and international human rights obligations to ensure that its people's needs are met and to provide relief. Relief workers are complaining that there has been political interference. This comes less than a year since Nepal suffered a devastating earthquake that killed 9000 people and left millions homeless in 2015. Three years after the earthquake, only 16% of the $4.2 billion pledged in international aid got to the people who needed it; little has been learned since then.



Japan – 12 December


3 former soldiers have been found guilty of sexually assaulting a female colleague (Rina Gonoi). This case became particularly noteworthy when Miss Gonoi posted her story on YouTube in 2022; it has been seen as a landmark ruling as Japan begins to introduce legal reforms on sex crimes, such as Penal Code reform in June recognising non-consensual sexual intercourse as rape for the first time and raising the age of sexual consent from 13 to 16 and the limitation period for reporting rape was extended from 10 to 15 years. Japan still has a long way to go to combat a defunct criminal justice system and culture of victim blaming, which undermines the credibility of survivors. Sexual assault survivors are scared to speak out on top of low rates of prosecution and high rates of dropped cases. Ms Gonoi Has also submitted a civil lawsuit against 5 former soldiers and the government for failing to prevent or adequately investigate the assaults. A subsequent investigation published by the Ministry of Defence has found that an entrenched culture of harassment exists in the military.



France – 12 December


The French National Assembly rejected France’s Immigration Control and Integration Bill on Monday at the first reading. The rejection motion was passed by 270 votes in favour and 265 against. The motion was submitted by the National Assembly group “Les Écologistes”. The Bill means to improve deterrence measures for foreigners who are a threat to public order, sanction migrant exploitation and improve border control. The bill also aims to facilitate the regularisation process regarding the entry, residence, and deportation of undocumented migrants. The French independent administrative authority “les Défenseurs des droits” warned against the plan, stating the Bill's objectives may constitute grave human rights breaches. Défenseure des droits, Claire Hédon, alerted against the conditions and the methods with which the Bill was introduced, underscoring the decline of foreigners’ fundamental rights. France’s Immigration Bill is not unique, as other European countries have taken similar measures to deter undocumented migrants and restrict immigration. The French government has since convened a joint commission composed of 7 Deputies and 7 Senators to reach an agreement on the Bill.


 

Ghana – 12 December


Ghana's Human Rights and LGBT groups have come under attack, with the police and officials placing these groups under greater scrutiny with a Bill before parliament proposes heavier criminal penalties for same-sex activities, increasing the maximum penalty from 3 years in prison to 5 and expanding criminalisation for anyone who identifies as LGBT, or as queer, as pansexual, an ally, or any other non-conventional gender identity.  It would also punish anyone providing support or funding or publicly advocating for sexual and gender minorities' rights.  Ghana has also faced a problem with the under-representation of women in politics and an assault on human rights defenders and civil society organisations in recent years.  It is thought that The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021 has heightened attacks against LGBT people. Some politicians have exploited the anti-LGBT sentiment for political gains, and it is hoped that it may go the same way of other African countries like Mozambique, Botswana, Angola, Gabon, and Mauritius in overturning colonial-era laws criminalising same-sex relations and perhaps adopt South Africa's approach of incorporating anti-discrimination laws and embedding human rights standards. If this legislation is passed, it is thought it will imperil fundamental human rights enshrined in Ghana’s 1992 constitution and, at the same time, violate international human rights obligations and principles of non-discrimination and equality in the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights.


 

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