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International Legal News - 2 April 2024

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 26 March to 2 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 for consideration.

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

Iran – 1 April

Iran's systematic repression of Baha'is, the most significant unrecognised religious minority in the country, amounts to a crime against humanity, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. The report reveals that Iranian authorities arrest and imprison Baha'is arbitrarily, confiscate their property, restrict their education and employment opportunities, and even deny them dignified burials.

The report calls for UN member states to support national prosecutions under the principle of universal jurisdiction and renew the UN Fact-Finding Mission's mandate. The report also calls for increased international pressure on Iran to end this crime against humanity.


Mexico – 1 April

Human Rights Watch has released a documentary titled "Keys to My Freedom" in Mexico, highlighting the economic, medical, and labour discrimination faced by trans people in the state of Guanajuato. The documentary follows the stories of two transgender women, Ivanna Tovar and Kassandra Mendoza, who have fought to have their gender and names legally recognised.

The documentary also highlights the challenges trans people face in work and education due to the state's delay in recognising their gender identity. The state's governor and Congress wish to establish a legal gender recognition procedure to reduce discrimination. The documentary highlights the need for Mexico to follow the lead of other states that uphold the rights of their gender minorities by creating an administrative gender recognition procedure.

Japan – 29 March

Japan's Ministry of Justice has broadened a directive that bans restraints on imprisoned pregnant women inside delivery rooms. The new directive, issued on March 18, now includes an effective ban on handcuffing pregnant women during transportation to outside medical institutions and upon arrival at the medical institution and until entering the delivery room.

The revision comes after Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi admitted that prison authorities violated the 2014 directive six times between 2014 and 2022. Restraining imprisoned people during labour and childbirth contravenes international standards, such as the Mandela Rules and the Bangkok Rules. The Japanese government are facing pressure to further expand the ban by forbidding restraints on pregnant prisoners during health check-ups, gynaecological examinations, and immediately after giving birth.

Lebanon/Israel – 29 March  

The United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been urged to release the findings of its investigation into two Israeli strikes on a group of journalists in South Lebanon on October 13, 2023. The strikes killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and injured six other media workers. The UNIFIL found that an Israeli tank killed Abdallah by firing two 120 mm rounds at a group of “clearly identifiable journalists” in violation of international law.

The UNIFIL investigation corroborated the findings of investigations conducted by Reporters Without Borders, Reuters, AFP, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. The victims and survivors request that UNIFIL make its full investigation public under the UN’s commitment to transparency. If UNIFIL cannot make the entire report public, they ask for a public statement explaining why and providing a timeline for when publication will occur.

Somalia – 29 March

Somalia's Parliament is expected to vote on proposed constitutional amendments that could weaken rights protections for children, according to Human Rights Watch. The proposed amendments would increase the risk of child marriage, lower juvenile justice standards, and possibly permit certain forms of female genital mutilation.

The proposed amendments would place girls at greater risk of child marriage, affecting their reproductive health, access to education, and protection from other forms of abuse. The proposed amendments also include physical development to determine a person's maturity, contrary to international standards.

The amendments also raise concerns regarding other harmful practices, such as FGM, which has one of the highest rates in the world. The constitutional review should ensure a complete ban on all forms of FGM is enshrined in the constitution.

Nigeria – 28 March

The International Criminal Court (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has expressed its concern over the slow progress of investigating atrocities committed by Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces in northeast Nigeria. The OTP's visits to the country have mainly focused on meeting with national authorities rather than investigating the atrocities.

The OTP has yet to formally move to open an investigation despite its 2020 decision that an investigation was warranted. The OTP's statement confirms its disregard for its legal duty to investigate when states do not and its emptiness in its commitment to Nigerian victims. The OTP's statement also highlights the lack of progress in addressing the situation before the ICC. Since 2009, war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by Boko Haram and Nigerian security forces in the region.

Haiti – 28 March

Human Rights Watch has recommended six key measures to address the deteriorating situation in Haiti, urging United Nations Security Council members to restore basic security. The six measures include establishing a transitional government, providing humanitarian aid, supporting accountability efforts, stopping the flow of weapons and ammunition into Haiti, and ending forced returns of Haitians fleeing violence.

The council should ensure funding and resources for establishing a multinational security support mission, which it authorised in October 2023, with all necessary human rights safeguards.

Eswatini – 28 March

Amnesty International has called on Eswatini authorities to stop the harassment and intimidation of Tanele Maseko, the widow of the late human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. The arrest of Maseko and her relatives on 27 March at the Oshoek Border post in Eswatini was a clear violation of her human rights, including freedom of movement and expression.

The confiscation of her passport and mobile phone without proper authorisation breached her rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The organisation urged authorities to focus on investigating Thulani Maseko's murder and bringing those responsible to justice. Maseko has been vocal in campaigning for justice for her late husband.

Syria/Turkey – 28 March

Turkish authorities are deporting thousands of Syrians to Tel Abyad, a remote district in northern Syria, causing dire humanitarian conditions. Between January and June 2023, the Tel Abyad border crossing administration published monthly or daily numbers of Syrian returnees on its Facebook page, labelling all as voluntary.

Human Rights Watch has found that Turkish forces have arrested, detained, and summarily deported thousands of Syrian refugees since at least 2017, often coercing them into signing "voluntary" return forms and forcing them to cross into northern Syria. Between January and December 2023, Turkish authorities deported 57,519 Syrians and others over its border crossings, including 16,652 through the Tel Abyad crossing. The Al Bir Society for Social Services in Tel Abyad hosts about 40 deportees daily and shelters 1,500 between June and December.

Saudi Arabia – 27 March

Saudi Arabia has arrested 12 football fans for reciting a folkloric chant commemorating the birth of Imam Ali, a figure revered by Shia Muslims, at a football match in January 2024 and publishing a video of it on social media. If convicted, the fans, members of the Al Safa Football Club supporters' association, could face up to five years in jail.

The Saudi authorities have charged the fans under the Kingdom's Anti-Cybercime Law, which prohibits the production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, morals, and privacy. The Al Safa Football Club was fined 200,000 Saudi Arabia Riyals (around US$53,000) and is now obliged to play the next five matches in its home base without a fan presence.

Yemen – 27 March

A Houthi court in Yemen has sentenced 32 men to death and flogging, citing "sodomy" as the basis for the sentences. Human Rights Watch has found severe due process violations, including police officers failing to provide arrest warrants and unlawfully searching and confiscating the men's phones. The Houthi armed group took over Yemen's capital in 2014, causing the internationally recognised Yemeni government to flee.

The Houthi courts have repeatedly arrested people who have been critical of their policies under the guise of "committing immoral acts." The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the defendants were sentenced to death in a judicial process that violated their constitutional rights and did not comply with fair trial standards under international law.

El Salvador – 27 March

El Salvador's government has been ignoring its international human rights obligations by maintaining a state of emergency and implementing amendments to criminal law that undermine the presumption of innocence and the right to defence. This decision has led to numerous allegations of serious human rights violations and calls for attention and concern from regional and universal bodies.

As of February 2024, victims' movements, local human rights organisations, and media reports have registered 327 cases of enforced disappearances, over 78,000 arbitrary detentions, a prison overcrowding of approximately 148%, and at least 235 deaths in state custody. The situation has also increased the risk faced by human rights defenders and any dissident or critical voice, as they are criminalised under the state of emergency.

Hong Kong – 26 March

Hong Kong has enacted a draconian security law, Article 23, which criminalises vague behaviour such as possessing information that is "directly or indirectly useful to an external force." The city was once known for its freewheeling energy and rule of law, with a semi-democratic Legislature that kept the powerful in check.

The people of Hong Kong had taken precautions, disposing of dangerous books, T-shirts, film footage, computer files, and other documents from the heady days when the international financial centre was also known for its residents' passionate desire for freedom. The Chinese government has couched this repression in terms like "rule of law," leaving the rest of the world detached from the reality on the ground.

Lesotho – 26 March

Amnesty International has called for an investigation into the torture of detainees at Maseru Correctional Centre Institution (MCCI) in Lesotho. The Lesotho Ombudsman's report revealed a pattern of human rights violations, including torture, excessive use of force, and denial of medical care. The report confirmed the extent of unacceptable abuse suffered by inmates, with correctional officers colluding to justify their actions.

Senior officers disregarded the misconduct, indicating a deeply ingrained culture of impunity within the institution. Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Vongai Chikwanda, urged authorities to initiate a prompt, independent, impartial, transparent, and effective investigation into the alleged acts of torture and abuse.

Brazil – 26 March

Brazil's administration should work with Congress to approve the Escazú Agreement. This regional treaty protects the rights of access to information, justice, and public participation in decision-making processes on environmental matters and includes provisions for protecting environmental human rights defenders. The letter's signatories include organisations working with communities affected by environmental destruction and violence, groups working on the environment, Indigenous rights, transparency, access to information, human rights, and academic institutions.

The Escazú Agreement, adopted in 2018 by 24 Latin American and Caribbean states, guarantees everyone's right to access environmental information, participate in decision-making processes, and ensure adequate access to justice when rights are violated. It also requires countries to provide a safe environment for ecological defenders and hold accountable those who threaten or commit acts of violence and intimidation against them.

The agreement is particularly relevant to countries like Brazil, where environmental and land defenders face threats and attacks. Human Rights Watch has documented the plight of communities in the Amazon trying to protect their land and environment from criminal networks involved in illegal logging, mining, and land grabs.

UK – 26 March

The UK High Court has adjourned Julian Assange's permission to appeal his extradition to the United States, leaving him and all media workers in limbo. Simon Crowther, Legal Adviser at Amnesty International, criticised the decision, stating that the UK remains intent on extraditing Assange despite the risk of torture or ill-treatment in the US.

He argued that the US has allegedly assured the UK that it will not violate Assange's rights, but this assurance needs to be revised and filled with loopholes. The court rejected some Assange's arguments, notably that the extradition was political. The court paused proceedings on other grounds to allow the US to make diplomatic assurances, which it will then reconsider.

Crowther urged the US to stop its politically motivated prosecution of Assange, which puts Assange and media freedom at risk worldwide. The court will now adjourn and allow the US to file fresh diplomatic assurances following a 20-21 February hearing. The court will reconsider on 20 May.


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