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International Legal News - 25 March 2024

Updated: Apr 2

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 19 March to 25 March 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

Nigeria – 24 March

Nigerian pupils taken by gunmen in a mass abduction in the north-western town of Kuriga have been freed "unharmed", according to Kaduna state governor Uba Sani. The school authorities had reported that more than 280 children were taken, but the army said 137 hostages had been freed. The operation occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning, days before a ransom deadline.


The children aged eight to 15 and one teacher were abducted on 7 March. Kidnap gangs, known as bandits, have seized thousands of people in recent years, especially in the north-west. This month, six mass abductions have rocked parts of northern Nigeria. Those kidnapped are usually freed after a ransom is paid. This time, the kidnappers demanded $690,000 (£548,000), but the government said it would not pay any ransom.


Governor Sani praised Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu for ensuring the abducted Kuriga schoolchildren are released unharmed and commended the Nigerian Army for showing that with courage, determination, and commitment, criminal elements can be degraded, and security restored in communities.



Russia – 23 March


A Moscow concert by veteran band Picnic was filled with panic as gunmen broke into the auditorium and opened fire at random, killing and wounding members of the public as they walked in. The attack was the deadliest attack on civilians in Russia for years, with many from Krasnogorsk, Khimki, and nearby towns on Moscow's north-western fringe.


The attack left many in the audience running away in all directions, with some trying to find higher exits only to find some doors locked. A mass shooting at Moscow's Crocus City Hall concert venue in Krasnogorsk has left over 100 dead and 200 injured. The attack, which began with a petrol bomb, spread rapidly to the building's roof, causing it to collapse and gutted the top two floors.


The attackers used a car to escape, and the US intelligence account indicated that Islamic State was behind the attack. Ukraine denied any involvement, but Russia's FSB security service claimed the perpetrators had contacts in Ukraine. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, addressed the nation in grief, comparing the killers to the Nazis of World War Two and announcing a National Day of Mourning on Sunday.



Sudan – 22 March


The UN Human Rights Council has discussed the ongoing conflict in Sudan, which has led to the most significant internal displacement crisis in the world and a downward spiral of extreme hunger. Nearly 230,000 children, pregnant women, and new mothers could die due to starvation in the coming months.


Aid organisations have highlighted that Sudan armed forces (SAF) are obstructing their delivery of aid to Rapid Support Forces (RSF) controlled areas, which may constitute a war crime. Both parties have committed heinous abuses, including the devastating use of sexual violence in Darfur and Khartoum, particularly by the RSF.


The Council urges states to support the Fact-Finding Mission in holding perpetrators accountable, demand the release of all arbitrarily detained individuals, call for free and fair elections, and urge the Maduro government to comply with the Barbados Agreement. The Council also encourages re-establishing an OHCHR presence in Venezuela and the continued work of the Fact-Finding Mission.



EU – 22 March


The European Council's call for a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza is not sufficient to end civilian suffering, according to Amnesty International's Head of the European Institutions Office, Eve Geddie. The council's decision to call for a ceasefire is overdue but insufficient, given the horrific conditions Palestinian civilians have been experiencing over the past six months.


Over 32,000 people have been killed in Israel's ruthless military campaign, over a thousand children have become amputees, entire neighbourhoods and towns have been destroyed, the healthcare system has been almost destroyed, and an imminent Israeli-engineered famine is now looming. The crisis in Gaza is a man-made humanitarian catastrophe, and those responsible for all the crimes under international law must be held accountable.


The European Council's failure to attribute responsibility to Israel for its gross violations of international law is sending a message of impunity and contributing to the catastrophe in Gaza. The EU and member states must take concrete measures to prevent genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, including fully reinstating funding for UNRWA and ceasing all export of arms and ammunition to Israel.



Canada – 21 March      

       

Canada's provinces have committed to ending their immigration detention agreements with the Canada Border Services Agency, a significant victory for migrant and refugee rights. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Canada created the #WelcomeToCanada campaign in October 2021 to urge provinces to stop the practice. The federal government should follow the provinces and take meaningful steps to end immigration detention nationwide.


The agency has incarcerated thousands of people on immigration grounds in dozens of provincial jails across the country, with conditions from provincial prisons being abusive and punitive. The federal government should invest in rights-respecting, community-based programs operated by local non-profit organisations independently of the border agency. The campaign calls for the federal government to follow the provinces and take meaningful steps to end immigration detention.



Seychelles – 21 March


Human Rights Watch has called for the prosecution of a former presidential adviser and other defendants in a high-profile anticorruption case in Seychelles to be free, fair, and impartial. The ongoing trial of five defendants for alleged illegal possession of firearms and conspiracy to commit terrorism began in July 2023. The case started in November 2021 and involved the arrest of Mukesh Valabhji and his wife, Laura Valabhji, in connection with an allegedly missing US$50 million.


The case was reportedly opened in 2017, following President Danny Faure's instruction, but the Valabhjis' lawyers claim that no evidence of theft of the UAE funds has been found. The Attorney General's office is separately prosecuting the Valabhjis, along with three former senior Seychelles army officers, for the importation and unlawful possession of the arms and conspiracy to commit terrorism.


The Valabhjis' lawyers have petitioned the United Nations working group on arbitrary detention, alleging that the government of Seychelles is depriving them of their right to liberty and a fair hearing. The Supreme Court of Seychelles dismissed an application by the Valabhjis requesting Chief Justice Rony Govinden to recuse himself from both trials on several grounds.



Democratic Republic of Congo – 21 March


A court in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, convicted journalist Stanis Bujakera of sharing an article alleging that Congolese military intelligence killed a senior opposition official. Bujakera was released on March 19 after spending six months in pretrial detention. He was charged with fabricating and distributing a fake intelligence memo claiming Congolese military intelligence killed Chérubin Okende, a member of parliament and spokesman for the opposition party Ensemble pour la République.


The memo was published in Jeune Afrique and was found to be authentic. Reporters Without Borders and the Congo Hold-Up media consortium investigations confirmed the memo's authenticity. Bujakera was placed in pretrial detention and transferred to prison on September 14. The court denied provisional release, ignoring international bail standards. He was convicted on all charges.


Bujakera's six months behind bars and a fine of one million Congolese francs (US$400) serve as a reminder of the growing government crackdown on journalists, human rights activists, critics of the government, and opposition party members.



India – 20 March


Civil society organisations are calling for the immediate release of Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj and human rights defender Khurram Parvez, who have been arbitrarily detained by India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Srinagar. Mehraj, an independent journalist and researcher at the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, is facing multiple politically motivated charges, including sedition and 'funding terror activities'.


The detentions are part of a growing crackdown against journalists and human rights defenders in Indian-administered Kashmir. The organisations urge Indian authorities to repeal or amend the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and end the criminalisation of human rights defenders and journalists. They also urge the authorities to comply with their international human rights obligations and allow civil society and the media to operate freely in Indian-administered Kashmir and India.



Yemen – 20 March


Amnesty International has called on the Southern Transitional Council (STC) to release human rights lawyer Sami Yassin Ka’id Marsh, who has been arbitrarily detained without charge for four months for his work in Yemen. Yassin was physically assaulted and detained by STC security forces on 16 November 2023 and held for almost four months at an al-Nasr military camp. He was tortured and held in solitary confinement. He was transferred to Bir Ahmad prison in Aden in March, where he remains amid serious health concerns.


Amnesty International has called for his release, protection from torture and ill-treatment, access to adequate medical care, and regular access to his family and lawyer. The organisation has reviewed legal documents, including a complaint submitted by Yassin's lawyer, a lawsuit against the head of the Specialized Criminal Prosecution, and a letter from the Ta’iz branch of the Yemeni Bar Association.



Belarus – 20 March


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has released a report on the human rights situation in Belarus, revealing a "purge" of independent voices and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, opposition politicians, protesters, and activists. Hundreds remain behind bars on politically motivated charges and face ill-treatment in detention, with some being held in incommunicado detention.


Five human rights defenders from Viasna remain imprisoned, and authorities crack down on human rights lawyers in retaliation for representing clients in politically motivated cases. No rights organisation is currently allowed to operate legally in Belarus. Open data suggests that Belarusian authorities have facilitated the illegal forcible transfer of over 2,000 Ukrainian children from Russia-occupied territories to Belarus.


The Office's conclusion that grave human rights violations since 2020 in Belarus may amount to crimes against humanity requires a robust response from the international community, especially in a context where there is no meaningful avenue to justice at the national level and human rights work has effectively been outlawed.



Global – 20 March


Amnesty International's Climate Policy Advisor, Ann Harrison, has called for a focus on human rights at the COP29 climate summit in Azerbaijan. Harrison emphasised the need for a clear pathway to a whole, fast, fair, and funded fossil fuel phase-out.


This means COP29 must focus on scaling up targets for climate finance, primarily from states that have been the most significant historical emitters of greenhouse gases and others in a position to do so, particularly G20 and high-income fossil fuel-producing nations. Harrison called for the rapid delivery of trillions of dollars needed to quickly meet the challenges the climate crisis poses to the human rights of billions of people, especially the most marginalised.


Harrison also called on Azerbaijan to halt these violations and undertake meaningful reforms before and beyond COP29 to meet its human rights obligations. Harrison also called on COP29's organisers to fully enshrine and guarantee human rights in the Host Country Agreement and allow the full, accessible, and effective participation of civil society at the meeting.



Sri Lanka – 19 March


Eight Tamil Hindu worshippers were arrested by Sri Lankan police for over ten days while engaging in festival rituals. The eight were detained and allegedly abused but were released on March 19. The Sri Lankan government and nationalist Sinhala Buddhist monks have been targeting Hindu and Muslim religious sites in the country's north and east, violating the right to freedom of religion and belief. The eight were arrested at the Veddukkunaari temple near Vavuniya, a Hindu shrine claimed by Buddhist monks as an ancient Buddhist site.


The Vavuniya magistrates court had previously allowed the rituals for the Shivaratri festival to proceed. The Hindu worshippers consider the site to be an ancient Hindu shrine. The Sri Lankan government should publicly direct the Department of Archaeology to end its discriminatory interference in Hindu sites and order the police and other security forces to uphold the rights of Hindus and other minority communities.



Netherlands – 19 March


The Netherlands has passed a vote in the Senate to introduce a consent-based definition of rape into the country's Sexual Offences Act. This move is seen as a historic victory for survivors of sexual violence and a testament to years of campaigning by activists and survivor groups.


The Senate voted to remove the requirement that rape must involve physical force, threat, or coercion. The Netherlands will become the seventeenth country out of 31 European states analysed by Amnesty International to recognise that sex without consent is rape. The act will come into force on July 1st, 2024.


The vote passed with 73 votes in favour and two against. Amnesty International Netherlands, along with hundreds of activists and an action group of women who experienced sexual violence, has campaigned for a consent-based law for years.



Myanmar – 19 March


Over three years since the Myanmar military coup, the junta's struggle to consolidate power has led to a population ravage and a surge in humanitarian aid needs. The number of people in need has grown from 1 million before the coup to 18.6 million today, with the UN estimating that 10,000 children under age 5 died last year due to malnutrition.


The junta has only intensified its blocking of humanitarian aid as a collective punishment, sustaining its "four cuts" strategy to maintain control. The conflict now affects regional peace and security, spilling over into China, India, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia. The military's crimes against humanity and war crimes are fuelled by decades of impunity and meagre international efforts.


The 2022 Security Council resolution has become the peak of council activity in a country in crisis. UN member states should take more concrete action to pressure the military to stop its abuses, guided by the voices of the Myanmar people.



Hong Kong – 19 March


Amnesty International's China director, Sarah Brooks, has criticised the passing of Hong Kong's Safeguarding National Security Ordinance (Article 23) as a devastating blow to human rights. Brooks said the law sends a clear message that Hong Kong's government's desire to accommodate Beijing's will outstrip any past commitments to human rights.


She urged all those with influence in Hong Kong to ramp up pressure on the authorities to respect human rights and repeal all laws that violate them. The Ordinance contains troubling provisions, such as the vague crime of 'external interference', which could lead to activists being prosecuted for their exchanges with foreign actors.


Brooks also highlighted the increasing attack on the right to a fair trial, with new investigatory powers allowing detention without charge for 16 days and denying access to a lawyer.


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