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International Legal News - 20 May 2024

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 14 May to 20 May 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

Japan – 16 May                   

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is facing pressure to publicly call on Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to respect human rights during his visit to Tokyo from May 20-23, 2024. As the Japanese government increases its engagement with Saudi Arabia, it should seek improvements in the country's human rights situation.

This can be a healthy and productive relationship, urging Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to respect the rights of women, human rights defenders, and migrant workers. Since Mohammed bin Salman came to power in 2017, Saudi Arabia has experienced a period of repression. Kishida should press Mohammed bin Salman to end the arbitrary travel bans on women's rights activists, end the abusive kafala system, and enforce labour reforms to improve protections for workers.

Turkey – 16 May                                      

A Turkish court has convicted 24 Kurdish politicians on bogus charges of crimes against the state, including former party co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ. The ruling confirms that Turkish authorities used the criminal justice system to secure the politicians' prolonged arbitrary detention on baseless charges and remove them from political life as elected representatives.

The evidence against them, as confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights. The core accusation in the 3,530-page indictment, which names 108 defendants—of whom 36 stood trial—centres on four social media postings on October 6, 2014, from the HDP's Twitter account alongside politicians’ political speeches. The prosecution added to the case file several years after the events, making unsubstantiated and generalised assertions against the politicians.

Rwanda – 16 May

Rwandan immigration authorities denied Clémentine de Montjoye, a senior researcher in Human Rights Watch's Africa division, entry upon her arrival at Kigali International Airport on May 13, 2024. De Montjoye had travelled to Rwanda for meetings with foreign embassies but was told she was not welcome for undisclosed immigration reasons.

Kenya Airways was instructed to ensure her removal from the country. The treatment reserved for those who may investigate abuse exposes the government's deep-seated hostility to human rights monitoring and independent scrutiny. The denial of entry reflects the authorities' intensifying assault on human rights, months ahead of the country's 2024 general elections.

Human Rights Watch has conducted research on the human rights situation in Rwanda for over 30 years, since before the 1994 genocide. De Montjoye is the fourth Human Rights Watch researcher to be blocked from entering Rwanda, with previous staff facing similar treatment in 2008, 2010, and 2018. The UK government's plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda raise renewed questions about its persistence in its intention to send asylum seekers to a country that openly blocks scrutiny and is itself responsible for turning away human rights investigators.

Tunisia – 16 May

Tunisia has launched a repressive crackdown on civil society organisations, including NGOs, journalists, and migrants, following months of escalating violence against migrants and refugees. Authorities have arrested and investigated at least 12 organisations, including a Tunisian organisation that works with the UN Refugee Agency. The crackdown has led to the arrest of human rights defenders and journalists and has escalated unlawful deportations, forced evictions, and landlord evictions.

Tunisia has been urged to end this campaign and review its cooperation agreements with the country, following President Kais Saied's inflammatory remarks about civil society organisations, where he accused them of meddling in Tunisia's internal affairs and financing corruption. On 3 May, hundreds of migrants and refugees were evicted, with security forces using teargas and tasers. On 4 May, 15 migrants were forcibly evicted from a UN refugee camp in Marsa. Authorities have arrested several individuals, including a lawyer and media personality, and two journalists. The crackdown comes amid the country's economic crisis.

Tajikistan – 15 May                

Two years ago, Tajik authorities cracked down on protesters in an autonomous region, leading to the death of a local man and the killing of up to 40 people. The crackdown was a turning point for the area, as it resulted in the imprisonment of at least six civil society activists who stood up for the rights of the Pamiris, a culturally, religiously, and linguistically distinct ethnic minority living in the region.

The activists were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in what was seen as unfair trials. The international response to the crisis has been relatively muted, with the European Parliament and UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders calling on the Tajik authorities to investigate the clashes. There are signs of growing security cooperation between certain EU members and Turkey with Tajikistan. Tajikistan's international partners must remember the May 2022 events in Khorog and demand accountability from Tajik authorities.

Mozambique – 15 May

An armed group linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Mozambique used boys as young as 13 to raid and loot the town of Macomia in Cabo Delgado province on May 10, 2024. The group, known locally as Al-Shabab, attacked Macomia to loot shops and warehouses before targeting government forces' positions in the town, triggering heavy fighting. Witnesses, including relatives of the boys, said that among the Al-Shabab fighters who took part in the raid were dozens of boys carrying ammunition belts and AK-style assault rifles.

Two people from the same family said they recognised their 13-year-old nephew among the children. Al-Shabab have long used children in combat. In 2021, the group was kidnapping boys and using them to fight government forces in violation of the international prohibition on the use of child soldiers. The United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which Mozambique ratified in 2004, prohibits non-state armed groups from recruiting children under 18.

UK/USA – 15 May

Amnesty International's Legal Adviser, Simon Crowther, will attend Julian Assange's next High Court hearing on 20 May to monitor the proceedings as an expert legal observer. The hearing outcome will determine whether Assange will have further opportunities to argue his case before the UK courts or if he will have exhausted all appeals in the UK, leading to his extradition or an application to the European Court of Human Rights.

Assange's safety and well-being are in question. Assange has already spent five years in prison in the UK. The authorities in the US are seen as wanting to make an example of Assange for exposing their alleged war crimes.

Peru – 15 May      

Peru's government has published a decree classifying trans identities as mental health conditions in the country's Essential Health Insurance Plan, which lists insurable health conditions for insurance policies. The decree, signed by President Dina Boluarte, the minister of health, and the minister of the economy, also refers to "ego-dystonic sexual orientation" as a mental health condition. The Ministry of Health stated the policy change was meant to facilitate coverage for transsexual people and people with gender identity disorders, particularly in private clinics.

The decree is seen as profoundly regressive, employing obsolete classifications related to gender identity and sexual orientation that the World Health Organization (WHO) replaced in the most recent International Classification of Diseases. The decree further calcifies prejudices against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Peru, which have led to violence and discrimination against this population.

The Peruvian government is facing pressure to discard this decree and aim to implement the WHO's updated classification of diseases concerning sexual orientation and gender identity and consult with Peru's LGBT organisations about how best to ensure their communities' rights to physical and mental health through rights-respecting and proportionate public policies.

Guinea – 15 May

According to a report by Amnesty International, Guinea's authorities have repeatedly violated human rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression since 2019. The report highlights ongoing obstacles to healthcare and justice faced by victims of unlawful use of force by defence and security forces during demonstrations against the Constitution amendment under President Alpha Conde. Over 113 people have been killed and hundreds seriously injured, including children, with insufficient access to adequate healthcare and deprived of justice and reparation.

The psychological trauma for those injured has caused many to drop out of school and work. Victims of serious injuries received delayed medical treatment, and some medical staff refused to treat them for fear of reprisals from authorities. The report calls for the Guinean authorities to uphold international law on the use of force and firearms and ensure that any person injured during demonstrations is promptly taken care of by medical services.

Gambia – 15 May

Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona has convicted former Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko for crimes against humanity, a significant achievement for Switzerland's efforts to hold accountable those responsible for grave crimes committed abroad. Sonko is the second person convicted in Europe for international crimes committed in Gambia under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Swiss law recognises universal jurisdiction over certain severe international crimes, allowing for the prosecution of these crimes no matter where they were committed and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or victims. The verdict is a landmark moment for Gambian victims of brutal crimes under Yahya Jammeh's rule. It should catalyse justice efforts in Gambia and further bolster Swiss prosecutors to continue to pursue international atrocity cases.

Dominican Republic – 14 May               

The Dominican Republic's presidential elections in May have raised concerns about the lack of a robust perspective on human rights in the country's political proposals. While some plans propose improvements in education, health, and social, economic, and cultural rights, few directly address human rights for LGBTIQ+ people, sex workers, people living with HIV, Haitians, and other racialised people.

The next president should establish migration policies that respect all people's dignity and human rights and ensure Haitians can access international protection. Government plans should also include measures for preventing and punishing human rights violations committed by authorities in immigration operations. The situation and rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent face a long legacy of racism and institutional barriers to restitution of their nationality and enjoyment of their human rights.

None of the candidates commit to governing without discrimination, guaranteeing the right to equality for all people before the law. Racism, a systemic problem in the country, requires a comprehensive and institutional response by the state. The protection of women and girls is still a critical area, especially in the context of gender violence.

Sri Lanka – 14 May                 

Sri Lanka's civil war, which ended in 2009, has left a lasting legacy of abuse, impunity, and misgovernance. The government has not held accountable for atrocities committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), including torture, rape, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and indiscriminate attacks. Over 100,000 people died in the decades of conflict, with up to 40,000 civilians killed in the final months of fighting.

The government used low estimates of civilians to restrict humanitarian supplies and used civilians as human shields. The unaddressed legacy of the war has led to practices of abuse, impunity, and misgovernance that still afflict the country and contribute to the economic crisis. The UN Human Rights Council has created a UN office to collect evidence of atrocities committed in Sri Lanka for future trials abroad.

Georgia – 14 May

the Georgian Parliament's adoption of a restrictive "foreign influence" bill has been condemned, arguing that the legislation violates Georgia's international obligations on freedom of expression and association and hinders civil society's ability to operate freely and effectively.

The bill, which requires all civil society organisations with over 20% of their budget coming from foreign sources to register as "conductors of the interests of a foreign power," is expected to lead to many prominent organisations ceasing their work to avoid smear, stigmatisation, and undue restrictions on their right to freedom of association. The bill is now awaiting presidential signature before becoming law. Activists gathered at the entrance to the Parliament in Tbilisi, where police forces clashed with demonstrators opposing the bill.

Maldives – 14 May

The Maldives' Presidential Commission on Deaths and Disappearances (DDCom) has been dissolved. The truth about the fate of the victims must be provided to over 20 families who have awaited justice through the DDCom. The DDCom has disregarded multiple requests by civil society representatives to clarify which clause in the Presidential Commissions Act prevents it from disclosing the findings to the victims' families.

The families have advocated for transparency in the DDCom and swift justice in all cases assigned to the Commission. The DDCom has used public resources and international aid for over five years, spending close to 5.5 million MVR (approximately US$357,000) between 2018 and 2021 alone. The organisations call on President Muizzu to follow through on his electoral promises of a transparent and accountable government and ensure the findings of the DDCom are shared with the public.

Thailand – 14 May                                             

Thailand has reported the tragic death of Netiporn 'Bung' Sanesangkhom, a Thai pro-democracy activist who died after a prolonged hunger strike in detention. Many activists are currently detained, with their right to temporary release on bail denied. The incident should serve as a wake-up call for Thai authorities to drop charges against and release all unjustly detained individuals, comply with UN human rights experts' recommendations, and end arbitrary detention.

Netiporn had been on a 110-day hunger strike since January 2024 in protest at her and others' arbitrary detention. She had previously been detained between May and August 2022, during which time she went on a hunger strike for 64 days. Authorities returned her to detention after withdrawing her temporary release on bail on January 26, 2024. United Nations human rights experts have called on the Thai government to stop arbitrarily detaining individuals and imposing excessive restrictions on the legitimate exercise of human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Morocco – 14 May                  

Morocco's criminalisation of abortion is having severe consequences for women and girls, including those resulting from rape. The Moroccan state is failing to provide accessible, affordable, and quality sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion. Women and girls face threats of imprisonment, coercion, and additional risks of prosecution under laws criminalising sexual relations outside of marriage.

The report, launched alongside a campaign to demand the decriminalisation of abortion, highlights the need for a public health system that provides affordable and accessible services, especially for those with low incomes or living in poverty. Morocco's insufficient response to violence against women has led to women resorting to unsafe and expensive abortions in secret. Women often resort to dangerous methods such as misusing pharmaceuticals, ingesting hazardous chemicals, and physical violence.

In some cases, women even attempt to end their own lives. Morocco's Penal Code penalties for sexual relations between unmarried individuals exacerbate social and economic exclusion for women forced to carry pregnancies to term. Women who have been imprisoned for such offences face additional barriers and stigma seeking employment and often face social isolation. The children of unmarried women forced to carry their pregnancy to term are denied legal identity due to laws that only recognise paternal filiation within legal marriages.

Vietnam – 14 May

Vietnam experienced a devastating environmental disaster in April 2016 when Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a subsidiary of Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, discharged toxic chemical waste off the coast of Ha Tinh province, killing millions of fish and destroying fishing communities' livelihoods. After admitting responsibility and offering US$500 million in compensation, the Vietnamese government has been accused of a lack of transparency in the payment of compensation.

Protests against the disaster have been repressed, with at least 41 activists sentenced to many years in prison. Some victims took their cases to Taiwan in 2019, but the Vietnamese government continues to retaliate against them. Taiwan's courts should consider alternative methods of notarisation and extend the deadline for submission.

Argentina – 14 May

Three lesbian women have died, and one is in critical condition in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after a man set them on fire with a Molotov cocktail. Pamela Fabiana Cobas was severely burned and died almost immediately, while her partner, Mercedes Roxana Figueroa, died of organ failure two days later. Andrea Amarante died in the hospital on May 12. Police arrested a 62-year-old male suspect but have not announced a motive for the attack. Local human rights defenders have expressed concern that disparaging comments about LGBT people and their rights made by prominent politicians contribute to high levels of violence against queer communities.

In Argentina, where 41.7% of the population lives in poverty, lesbian couples face heightened barriers to secure housing. Authorities in Argentina should conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the killings and ensure proper medical care and housing for the surviving woman. Government officials should cease and condemn rhetoric that stigmatises queer women and may contribute to a climate in which they are seen as deserving of violence.

Somalia – 14 May

Amnesty International has called for an investigation into two strikes that killed 23 civilians during Somali military operations supported by Turkish drones. The strikes on 18 March 2024 targeted the Jaffey farm in the Lower Shabelle region. The attacks were conducted with MAM-L glide bombs, which are dropped from TB-2 drones manufactured by Turkey. The attacks were conducted following heavy ground fighting between the armed group Al-Shabaab and Somali security forces.

The attacks were indiscriminate and may amount to war crimes. The two countries signed a Defence and Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement in February 2024, and Amnesty International has requested details on the 18 March operation. Both Somalia and Turkey must take action to prevent such attacks. Amnesty International has documented two strikes on a Jaffey farm in Somalia, resulting in the deaths of five families belonging to the Gorgaarte clan.

The attacks resulted in the deaths of Maalim Adan Hussein Hassan Adow, his wife, three children, and two nephews. The Somali government has a history of not providing reparations for civilian casualties of military actions and ignoring violations against marginalised communities, such as the Gorgaarte clan. The conflict between Somalia and Al-Shabaab continues to have a devastating impact on the country's civilian population, with all parties committing severe violations of international humanitarian law.

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