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International Legal News 19 February 2024

Updated: Mar 4

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 13 January to 19 February 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 for consideration.

Russia – 17 February

Aleksei Navalny, a prisoner of conscience in Russia, has died after 37 months in prison for speaking out against a repressive government. Navalny was sent to one of Russia's most remote and harshest prisons, where he was denied health care, kept in solitary confinement, and forcibly disappeared.

Amnesty International's Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, called for the international community to take concrete actions to hold those responsible accountable and urgently call upon the United Nations to employ its special procedures and mechanisms to address the death of Navalny. Navalny was a critical voice and champion of freedom of expression.

EU – 17 February

The Digital Services Act (DSA) in the European Union (EU) requires online platforms and search engines to ensure respect for human rights. Amnesty Tech Researcher and Advisor Alia Al Ghussain emphasised the need for robust enforcement to prevent the DSA from becoming a paper tiger.

EU member states, and the EU Commission are responsible for monitoring and enforcing additional obligations for Big Tech companies under the DSA. Al Ghussain urged the EU to tackle the addictive and harmful design of social media platforms, including changes to recommender systems and user profiling by default.

USA – 16 February

Sam Bankman-Fried, former FTX boss, may face a lighter sentence than expected due to the potential for a bounce in crypto markets and the buoyancy of the estate's investments. The crypto market has risen significantly during the bankruptcy process, meaning thousands of hapless creditors will receive all the funds they had locked in, albeit at November 2022 prices.

The jump in crypto markets matters because restitution can be considered when sentencing. Guidelines suggest a range of 24-30 months for low losses, while a high-loss amount could lead to 20 years imprisonment or even life. However, the U.S. sentencing guidelines that credit defendants for amounts returned to victims apply only when the return occurred before the offence was detected. In this case, it's clear that SBF is not giving the money back, and payments come well after discovering the offence.

Judges in the Southern District of New York often impose sentences below the guideline range in white-collar cases. Still, when the court views the conduct as particularly egregious, there is equal latitude to impose a higher sentence than the guidelines suggest.

DR Congo – 16 February

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has seen a rise in repression against peaceful activists, reminiscent of President Kabila's government. On 3 February 2024, four activists from Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA) were arrested in Kinshasa, resembling an abduction.

Two activists were released the next day, but prominent activists Fred Bauma and Bienvenu Matumo remained detained. The activists were arrested while peacefully protesting the Rwandan-backed M23 armed group's occupation of Bunagana. The National Intelligence Agency (ANR) denied detaining them, and they were later released after being forced to justify their arbitrary detention.

This is not the first-time activists have been detained in recent years, with dozens facing arbitrary arrests following the imposition of the "state of siege" in North Kivu and Ituri provinces since May 2021. The context and manner of these latest detentions signal that Congolese authorities do not intend to uphold the country's international human rights obligations and open civic space.

USA – 16 January

During a House Financial Services Committee oversight hearing, the Treasury Department's Terrorism and Financial Intelligence office debunked Sen. Elizabeth Warren's claims that cryptocurrency is responsible for funding Middle Eastern terrorist outfits.

Brian Nelson, the undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, told the committee that terrorists' use of digital assets for funding purposes is not as prevalent as previous media reports suggest.

This contradicts Warren's main argument for pushing legislation that could have a big effect on the future of crypto in the U.S. The Treasury Department is culpable for failing to provide the correct data when the erroneous report began gaining traction.

Crypto industry insiders are fighting against Warren's attempt to regulate the disruptive industry, with crypto trade groups lobbying Congress to block the Bill.

Global – 15 February

The climate crisis's impacts are most pronounced in low - and middle-income countries, disproportionately vulnerable to rising sea levels, severe storms, and extreme heat. Poorly designed policies can widen inequalities, increasing energy costs without adequate redistribution mechanisms.

The Just Transition Work Programme (JTWP) was established at COP27 to address this issue. The JTWP calls for two annual dialogues, focusing on key topics such as the socioeconomic dimension of transition, sustainable development, poverty elimination, social protection, labour rights, and international cooperation.

The Climate Action Network, including Human Rights Watch, urges the JTWP to focus on inclusive and participatory approaches, mobilising resources to support those impacted by the transition and addressing agricultural and food systems. Aligning climate policies with human rights can lead to environmentally sustainable and fairer economies, avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.


Zimbabwe – 15 February

Amnesty International has condemned the conviction and sentencing of former opposition legislator Job Sikhala in Zimbabwe for posting a video claiming a police officer killed a baby. The conviction is based on a law that no longer exists in the country and has been used to silence peaceful dissent.

The legal provision applied to convict Sikhala was declared void by the Constitutional Court in 2014 and confirmed in another case in 2021. Amnesty International urges Zimbabwean authorities to quash the conviction and sentence and stop weaponising the criminal justice system to target and harass political opponents and individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression.


Cameroon – 14 February

The Ngarbuh massacre in Cameroon, a brutal attack on civilians by Cameroonian soldiers and armed ethnic Fulani, occurred in February 2020. The attack was a reprisal against the local community suspected of harbouring separatist fighters.

The government initially denied its security forces were responsible. Still, after national and international pressure, a commission of inquiry found that the military attempted to cover up their actions and identified three security force members as responsible.

In December 2020, a trial opened before a military court in Yaoundé, marking a step towards accountability. However, the trial has been marred by irregularities, with hearings postponed multiple times and key evidence refused.

The trial is scheduled to restart this week, providing a rare opportunity for justice for Ngarbuh's victims and all those who have suffered from military abuse during the crisis in Cameroon's Anglophone regions.


Libya – 14 February                   

Amnesty International has reported that the Tripoli-based Internal Security Agency (ISA) has been subjecting dozens of individuals to abuses, including enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and torture, with some facing the death penalty.

The agency's crackdown on freedom of thought, expression, and belief is a response to a May 2023 decree issued by the General Authority for Endowments and Islamic Affairs (Awqaf) to combat religious, intellectual, and moral deviations.

ISA's campaign, praised by senior Awqaf officials, has targeted mainly Libyan youths, particularly from the Amazigh community, as well as foreign nationals under the pretext of "safeguarding virtue and purifying society." The Libyan government's inaction towards ISA's crimes under international law has emboldened them to commit further abuses.

The Libyan authorities must ensure the immediate release of all those detained solely for exercising their human rights and cease the persecution of individuals for expressing their beliefs.


Hungary – 13 February

According to Human Rights Watch, the Hungarian government's interference with media freedom and pluralism is a systematic attack on the rule of law. The government's increased control over the media market is linked to its broader assault on the rule of law in Hungary, including undermining judicial independence.

Independent and investigative journalists face major obstacles in their work, including surveillance, threats, limited or no access to decision-makers and public information, and smear campaigns against them in pro-government media. The European Commission looks to urgently consider triggering infringement proceedings on Hungary based on the Media Freedom Act.

The EU Council should move its scrutiny forward under Article 7 over the threat that the Hungarian government’s actions pose to EU values, adopting specific and time-bound rule-of-law recommendations and holding a vote to determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach of EU values in Hungary.


Senegal – 13 February

Senegal has been hit by a violent crackdown on protesters, killing three people, including a 16-year-old boy, and arresting hundreds. Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the lethal use of force against protestors.

The authorities must ensure that those suspected of the violence are brought to justice in fair trials and provide access to justice and effective remedies for victims and their families. The country has also been accused of stifling human rights and media freedom, with police officers using excessive force against journalists and journalists of Leral TV.

The crackdown on protests, internet blackouts, and threats against the media have become frequent in Senegal since March 2021. Amnesty International estimates that at least 60 people have died in the context of protests, but no one has been prosecuted.

The country has obligations to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the human rights of everyone, including the rights to freedom of expression, information, and peaceful assembly under articles 9 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


Pakistan – 12 February

According to Human Rights Watch, Pakistani authorities should ensure a peaceful transition of power following the national parliamentary elections on February 8, 2024.

The Election Commission should promptly announce the official results, and all political parties and stakeholders should commit to upholding democratic norms and cooperating with an independent investigation into alleged election irregularities.

The elections were marred by widespread clampdowns on freedom of expression and association, resulting in mass detentions and harassment of supporters of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) party.

The incoming parliament should adopt electoral reforms to remove structural barriers to political participation and guard against improper interference in the electoral process.


EU/Greece – 12 February

Amnesty International's Migration Researcher Adriana Tidona has called for Greek authorities to address responsibilities for the Pylos shipwreck and the ongoing violence at the Greek Sea borders. She argues that the Greek authorities and the Hellenic Coast Guard were responsible for the tragic loss of over 600 lives.

Tidona also calls for European institutions to intensify efforts to prevent human rights violations and ensure independent monitoring mechanisms are in place in border search and rescue operations. The shipwreck occurred on 14 June 2023, resulting in the death of over 600 people from Syria, Pakistan, and Egypt.


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