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International Legal News - 20 November 2023

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

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

Syria - 16 November

The ICJ has made an order directing Syria to prevent acts of torture and other abuses. This came because the Netherlands and Canada filed a case against Syria on June 8th, 2023, saying they had violated the International Convention Against Torture and sought a legal determination of state responsibility for torture. These "provisional measures" will stop ongoing violations and improve future proceedings. The ICJ considered various UN reports and thought there were "reasonable grounds where there had been active torture and ill-treatment". The ICJ will work towards a full hearing on the case’s merits, which the provisional measures will not pre-judge against. Syria chose not to participate in legal proceedings and maintains its innocence in the face of accusations of human rights abuses.

Despite arrest warrants against Syrian president Basha Al-Assad by French Judges, other Arab countries such as the UAE and Jordan have normalised relations with Syria. The Arab League readmitted Syria after its suspension in 2011. Syria has even participated in talks on neutralising the growing situation in Gaza. Russia - 16 November An anti-war activisthas been sentenced to 7 yearsin prison, having been convicted of "disseminating knowingly false information about the Russianarmed forces” accordingto article 207.3 of Russia's criminal code. Aleksandra Skochilenko replaced price tags with anti-war messages in supermarkets, trying to educate Russianson the Ukrainian situation. Skochilenko has been held in appalling prison conditions for 19 months. Her health has sharply deteriorated as she suffers from coeliac.

This is the second time after Vladimir Zavyalov, another anti-war activist, also replaced price tags with political messages and was found guilty under the same penal code in October 2022 but was able to flee Russia before the verdict. Since the passing of article 207.3, more than 750 people have faced criminal charges for similar behaviour in the "discrediting of armed forces", with the number of severely penalised being over 8.000.

Yemen - 16 November

The Yemeni government and the Southern Translational Council (STC) are failing to provide Basic utilities for Aden residents (the largest city in southern Yemeni), which has affected health, education, and other essential rights for an adequate standard of living, including housing, safety, and sanitation. Yemen is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world; the conflict, which started nine years ago, has made the situation worse for its citizens, with some citizens only receiving water every two days. Protests occurred over lack of water and electricity; however, violence often suppressed these. The lack of these essential utilities has disproportionately affected women and children more than others, as they are often responsible for collecting and carrying water. The United Nations has also reported outbreaks of cholera and other waterborne illnesses and diseases. In a recent review of Yemen’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Yemen is a signatory, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) expressed concern regarding the conflict’s severe and long-term ramifications on economic, social, and cultural rights by the Yemeni population. The Committee said that the conflict in Yemen does not negate Yemen’s responsibility to fulfil its obligations under the Covenant.

Qatar has failed to help migrant workers and protect them from exploitation; this was highlighted in the building of the football stadium for the FIFA World Cup. Qatar has made little to no remedy to help these workers. A new briefing, "A Legacy in Jeopardy", feels that this will harm the reputation of international football.

Workers’ rights are still seriously at risk. It is now a year from the tournament, and FIFA and Qatar deflect and deny any responsibility for migrant workers’ rights. In 2017, the Qatari government and FIFA tried to introduce weekly enforced rules to try to prevent widespread abuse of migrant labour. Workers still require permission to undertake specific jobs, making changing jobs difficult if conditions are unpleasant. This means employers still effectively control workers’ presence in the country and their legal status. Wages remain low, and living costs have risen. Pseudo-tribunals have been set up, but these are lengthy and challenging processes for migrant workers who often have to accept settlements. It looks unlikely that remedies or compensation will be given despite calls from human rights organisations.

Global - 15 November

The World Meteorological Organization produced a report showing that greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is at their highest for 3 million years; Amnesty International believes that a full, fair, urgent, and forever phase-out of fossil fuels is needed and a just transition to renewable energy sources is essential at the COP28 climate summit toprevent worsening climatedamage, the knock- oneffect will be a deterioration in human rights.

The WMO report shows that allgreenhouse gases are rising, linked to human activities and are long-lasting. This will be serious food for thought for COP28, which begins this December.

UK - 15 November

The UK Supreme Court has found that Rwanda is not a safe Third World country for the government to send asylum seekers. It was a unanimous judgement where the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal that asylum seekers removed to Rwanda would face the real risk of being returned to their home country where they would face persecution, known as "refoulment”, putting the UK in breach of its obligations under international and domestic law.

Rwanda has been knownfor its extra judicial killings, debts, custody, enforced disappearances, torture and restrictions on media and political freedoms. The UN Commissioner for Refugees has highlighted the defects in Rwanda’s asylum systembefore and its lack of political and legal independence.

The Supreme Court also found that Rwanda did not have the practical ability to determine asylum claims appropriately. Rishi Sunak has now vowed to introduce emergency legislation to confirm that Rwanda is safe.

UAE - 15 November

There are concerns about digital surveillance at COP28. It is no secret that the UAE has used digital surveillance to crush descent and stifle freedom of expression. Human Rights Defender AhmedMansoor faceda string of cyber-attacks facilitated by mercenary surveillance companies.

Known as ‘the last human rights defender’ in the UAE, Mansoor, who openly criticised the authorities, has been languishing in an Emirati prison for over six years.

It is thought that the UAE may engage in unlawful electronic surveillance, violence and restrict certain digital liberties currently enjoyed through encryption. In March, it was exposed that the UAE was using a new spyware attack campaign. In 2021, the Pegasus Projectfound that journalists at publications including the Financial Times, The Economist and the Wall Street Journalwere selected for targeting, likely at the request of UAE authorities.

Uganda - 14 November

A new vehicle tracking system in Uganda allows the government to track the location of all vehicles in the countryin real time;this undermines privacyrights and createsrisks to the Rights of freedom of association and expression. The system is called the "intelligent transport monitoring system (ITMS).” The government says it is used to improve road safety, reduce vehicle theft, and computerise the identification of criminals.

The system works by identifying license plates; this is further complicated by a Russian-based company that manages the system. The constitution of the Republic of Uganda protects citizens’ rights to privacyunder Chapter 4, article 27.

Despite attempts at the Ugandan High Court to dismiss the technology, this was thrown out based on poor legal argument. This is another step in Ugandan’s “nine-point strategy", which includes fingerprinting on all firearms, banning hoodies, and creating a national DNA database.

Cambodia - 14 November

Cambodian authorities have moved thousands of families from Angkor, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in the name of conservation. The location is a sprawling temple park over 1000 years old; the reasoning behind this is to protect its UNESCO World Heritage status. However, it looks as though Cambodian authorities have failed to adequately inform people or engage in genuine consultations about the evictions.

There is also evidence that intimidation and threats were used. This comes after a history of violent forced evictions in the country. The conditions for residents who volunteered to be allocated are of poor quality and will likely become shantytowns without essential utilities.

UNESCO seems to be just as complicit in the evictions; while being used as a justification by Cambodian officials, they have not gone out of their way to do anything proactive to restrain the convictions. They are setting a dangerous precedent for other countries to follow.

Ukraine - 14 November

A court in Kyiv has ordered a 60-day detention of a Ukrainian lawmaker called Oleksandr Dubinsky on Tuesday on suspicion of treason. He has been critical of President Zelenskyyand has connections to the Republican party in the US. It is also thought he has criminal links to Russian military intelligence by cooperating with them.

He is accused of spreading anti-Ukrainian messages and disseminating misinformation. Oleksandr Dubinsky maintains his innocence and accuses the Ukrainian government of trying to besmirch his name becauseof his criticism of the Ukrainian war effort.


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