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International Legal News - 27 May 2024

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 21 May to 27 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

Turkey – 24 May


Turkish authorities are being urged to permanently remove the unlawful restrictions on Istanbul's iconic Galatasaray Square and permit the Saturday Mothers/People to convene there. The Saturday Mothers/People initiated their peaceful sit-ins in Galatasaray Square 29 years ago, urging the authorities to investigate the fate and whereabouts of hundreds of individuals who forcibly disappeared in detention and were killed following Turkey's military coup in the 1980s and the state of emergency in the 1990s.


Since August 2018, Galatasaray Square has been enclosed by metal barriers that prevent access and are patrolled by armed police. Attempts by the Saturday Mothers/People to gather there have been met with a heavy-handed security response. Two Constitutional Court rulings in 2022 and 2023 found that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of the applicants from Saturday Mothers/People had been violated and ordered the violation not to be repeated. In November 2023, some easing of restrictions allowed up to ten people to hold a vigil in Galatasaray Square and read out a statement each week remembering one of the victims of enforced disappearances.



Libya – 24 May


An independent investigation has been called for into the death of political analyst Siraj Dughman, who was arbitrarily detained in eastern Libya for nearly seven months. Dughman, along with five others, were arrested in October 2023 and accused of planning to overthrow the army. They had not been charged any of them with a recognisable offence. The family of Dughman's brother, Saleh al-Ghazal, has called for a transparent and impartial investigation into the circumstances of his death.


Libyan authorities arrested four men, including Dughman, Al-Baaja, al-Bishari, Eldaessi, and al-Oreibi, after a symposium on the aftermath of the collapse of the Derna dam. The men were arrested after a complaint by someone who attended the seminar. The Libyan General Prosecutor's Office opened a domestic investigation, while Libyan nongovernmental groups and Human Rights Watch have called for an independent international investigation.



Europe – 24 May


The European Union (EU) has passed the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), a law requiring big businesses to identify and address adverse human rights and environmental impacts—a significant advance in international business and human rights legislation. The legislation will oblige large companies to assess human rights and environmental risks linked to their operations and supply chain, including those outside Europe, and take steps to address them.


The legislation is a step change in protecting people from abuses, ensuring greater access to judicial redress through European courts. If robustly implemented, it could prevent the use of child or forced labour and the abuse of workers involved in making products for sale in the EU. The CSDDD is supported by many European companies, who recognise that protecting human rights is not just their responsibility but also good for the sustainability of their business.



Thailand – 23 May


Thai authorities are facing pressure to investigate the death of anti-monarchy activist Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom in Bangkok. Prime Minister Srettha Tavisin promised an inquiry into her death, raising concerns about possible negligence by prison officials in referring her for life-saving medical treatment. Netiporn, 28, suffered cardiac arrest at the Central Women's Correctional Institution in Bangkok and was pronounced dead at 11:20 a.m. She had been one of about 270 activists charged with lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) after pro-democracy demonstrations broke out in Thailand in 2020.


She had been jailed in January for contempt of court, and her custody was extended after her bail was revoked in a lese majeste case. The Thai government are facing criticism for arbitrarily detaining critics of the government and imposing excessive restrictions on the legitimate exercise of freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. Thailand seeks a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2025–2027 term. But has taken no steps to reform the lese majeste law or adopt a moratorium on the prosecution or pretrial detention of critics of the monarchy.



Sudan – 23 May


The International Community is calling for urgent action to prevent mass atrocities in El Fasher, Sudan's North Darfur region. The city is home to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) who fled violence from other parts of Darfur. The conflict is causing a devastating toll on civilians, with the shelling of residential areas and the Abu Shouk IDP camp resulting in civilian casualties.


The African Union and the United Nations should protect civilians and hold perpetrators accountable. All parties to the conflict must end all deliberate attacks on civilians, allow unhindered and safe access to humanitarian aid, and ensure safe passage for civilians trying to flee the violence. The year-long conflict in Sudan continues to spread across the country, and the RSF and allied militias surround El Fasher City in North Darfur.



ICC/USA – 23 May


Human rights and civil society groups have urged US President Joe Biden to oppose threats and calls for punitive actions against the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC's prosecutor has announced arrest warrants for Hamas leaders and Israeli officials, and some US Congress members have threatened retaliation against the ICC, including imposing sanctions against court officers.


Although the US is not a member of the ICC, Republican and Democratic administrations have supported the court in specific cases and assisted with the arrest of suspects wanted by the court. The Biden administration has recognised the court's essential role in addressing severe international crimes in Ukraine and Darfur, Sudan.


In a letter to the White House, the groups urged Biden to reject attacks on the court, calling the previous US administration's sanctions against the prosecutor's predecessor an affront to justice. They urged Biden to oppose legislative efforts to undermine the ICC and to make clear that the US continues to support independent international justice mechanisms, regardless of its views on specific ICC investigations.



Zambia – 23 May


Zambia's President Hakainde Hichilema has been accused of using the criminal offence of defamation of the president to silence critics. Raphael Nakacinda, secretary general of the main opposition party, Patriotic Front, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his 2021 remarks. The law, abolished in 2022, has been used for decades to prosecute critics of the government and journalists.


However, the Chapter One Foundation, which promotes constitutionalism and the rule of law in Zambia, has expressed concern about the country's deteriorating civil and political rights situation. The UN Human Rights Committee states that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation, and all public figures are legitimately subject to criticism. The organisation urges Zambian authorities to stop harassing and prosecuting people to deprive them of their right to free speech and other fundamental liberties.



Democratic Republic of the Congo – 23 May


An urgent investigation and public reporting of the whereabouts of prominent opposition and civil society activist Gloria Sengha in the Democratic Republic of Congo is needed. Sengha and two of her colleagues were abducted on May 17, 2024, in Kinshasa, the capital of the country. The assailants, including some wearing balaclavas and police uniforms, were forced into a black SUV with no license plate and drove away.


The three had just attended a Tolembi Pasi meeting. Sengha, a former member of the Struggle for Change activist movement, had previously faced abuse from police agents when the government arrested pro-democracy activists ahead of the 2018 presidential elections. The authorities have increasingly cracked down on opposition members, civil society activists, critics, and journalists throughout the 2023 presidential election period and ever since—the abduction of Sangha just months after President Félix Tshisekedi was sworn in for a second term.



Sri Lanka – 23 May


Sri Lankan authorities have threatened and detained Tamils commemorating those who died or went missing during the country's civil war. The UN Human Rights Office issued a report on May 17, 2024, calling for international prosecutions and other accountability measures to address the thousands of unresolved cases of enforced disappearances in the war, which ended on May 18, 2009.


The Sri Lankan government is in denial about atrocities committed during the civil war, and the organisation is calling for more international action to bring relief to victims and prevent a recurrence of abuses. The UN Sri Lanka Accountability Project published a report on enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, finding that in 15 years, there has been no tangible progress in realising victims' rights. The report also calls for investigations and prosecution in foreign courts using universal jurisdiction and targeted sanctions.



Bosnia – 23 May


The UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution establishing 11 July as an official International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica. This resolution is an essential public recognition of the victims and their families. It pays tribute to survivors who have fought for nearly 30 years to keep the memory of the harrowing events in Srebrenica alive. Emphasising that authorities in some parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region continue to deny the crimes and engage in dangerous glorification of those convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity.


The resolution underscores the collective commitment to justice, truth, and reparation and the determination to learn from past atrocities to prevent similar crimes in the future. It must encourage the global community to confront and counteract genocide denial and invest in education and public information programs to safeguard historical facts and prevent genocide before it occurs. The resolution was jointly proposed by Germany and Rwanda and co-sponsored by the United States, France, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.



Argentina – 23 May


Argentina's President Javier Milei is facing pressure to reconsider his Supreme Court nominations to ensure qualifications, experience, diversity, and integrity are considered. On April 15, 2024, President Milei nominated Ariel Lijo, a federal judge, and Manuel García-Mansilla, a scholar, to the Supreme Court. Several rights groups, citizens, business associations, and scholars have expressed concern over the nominations, particularly regarding Lijo's record as a federal judge.


If confirmed, there would be no women on the five-member court. A vote of two-thirds of the Senate must approve Supreme Court nominations. Argentina must strengthen its judicial independence, rule of law, and efforts to combat corruption. The Supreme Court has been functioning with only four members since 2021, and the current members are facing a politically motivated impeachment process in Congress initiated in 2023 by former President Alberto Fernández. The nomination of two men for the vacancies is also contrary to a 2003 presidential decree calling on authorities to consider "gender diversity" in the selection process.



Guatemala – 23 May


There are accusations of systematic criminalisation of justice operators and human rights defenders in Guatemala, highlighting the ongoing harassment by officials from the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Judiciary. The report "The Entire System Against Us" reveals that officials have adopted a perverse strategy of unfounded criminal persecution and intimidation, allowing gender-based violence and discrimination against these individuals to go unchecked.


The report focuses on the stories of former judge Erika Aifán, prisoner of conscience Virginia Laparra, former assistant prosecutors Paola Escobar and Aliss Morán, and Claudia González, who were subjected to unfair trials for performing legitimate duties within the criminal justice system. The report also highlights the high number of simultaneous lawsuits against public participation, known as SLAPPs. Guatemalan authorities have failed to prevent and punish discrimination and violence against women justice operators and human rights defenders. The report found that authorities have not stopped such practices during criminal proceedings and have not adequately investigated complaints related to online violence.


The report also highlighted the lack of protection for women in their gender and caregiving roles. Authorities are being urged to dismiss unfounded criminal complaints, investigate judicial harassment, and implement policies to identify, prevent, and punish gender-based violence and discrimination against these individuals. The report also recommended reinstating staff from the Public Prosecutor's Office and transparent selection procedures for judges.



Yemen – 23 May


Houthi forces in Yemen continue to use antipersonnel landmines, causing severe injuries and killing civilians in areas where active hostilities have ceased. The landmines have disproportionately affected residents of al-Shaqb, a village in Sabir Al-Mawadim district, where 28 residents have been injured and six killed since the 2015 siege of Taizz. The presence of uncleared landmines has led to the displacement of over 257 families and the death of many civilians, many of whom have permanent disabilities.


According to mine clearance organisations, Yemen's al-Shaqb governorate has been contaminated by antipersonnel mines since 2018. Residents have reported that Houthi forces have been entering their land at night to place mines in and around their homes and farmland. As of February 2024, 64% of Taizz governorate's population does not have sufficient food, and Taizz is one of four governorates in Yemen facing "high risk and deteriorating" food insecurity.


Landmines have also exacerbated extreme food insecurity, as agricultural lands on the front lines are contaminated. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous incidents of Houthi use of antipersonnel mines in Taizz and other governorates, including in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2019. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported that at least 582 people were killed or wounded by landmines or other explosive remnants of war in Yemen in 2022, up from 528 in 2021. More significant international assistance is urgently needed to equip and assist clearance personnel to survey systematically and clear mines and explosive remnants of war from Yemen.



Singapore – 22 May


Singapore has issued at least four execution notices to individuals convicted of drug-related offences since mid-April, among 36 death row prisoners taking part in a legal action relating to their constitutional right to legal aid following appeal. The executions of these prisoners have been put on hold, awaiting the outcome of the court application. However, the Singaporean government remains determined to use the death penalty, even as the global trend is towards abolition. On May 8, Singapore's home minister, K. Shanmugam, announced that the Post-Appeal in Capital Cases Act (PACC) would imminently come into force, which will severely curtail prisoners' ability to appeal their convictions and further undermine fair trial and due process rights in capital cases in Singapore.


The home minister publicly named five anti-death penalty advocates, including a media outlet, who have previously been subject to orders under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA). The Singaporean government has a track record of silencing and intimidating opponents of the death penalty, with United Nations experts and governments repeatedly calling on Singapore to abolish or impose a moratorium on the death penalty and halt the targeting and silencing of anti-death penalty activists.



Italy – 22 May


Italian authorities are targeting small aeroplanes used by rescue organisations like Sea-Watch and Pilotes Volontaires, adding to existing policies designed to obstruct ships operated by nongovernmental organisations. The first fine imposed on Sea-Watch was €2,064 (about US $2,240), following a warning from the Italian Civil Aviation Authority that any use of air surveillance outside existing regulatory frameworks would incur penalties, including grounding the aircraft.


Rescue groups fly planes over the central Mediterranean to spot boats in distress and alert authorities and rescue boats in the vicinity in hopes of preventing drownings. The Italian government's zeal for detaining rescue ships could soon signal similar challenges for these planes. In the last ten years, more than 23,000 people have died or gone missing in the central Mediterranean.


 

Greece/Egypt – 22 May


Nine Egyptians who survived a shipwreck off the coast of Pylos, Greece, were acquitted of people smuggling and unlawful entry, almost a year after they were hastily arrested. The Greek criminal court dismissed charges of causing the shipwreck and forming a criminal organisation, stating it did not have jurisdiction over the case. The Naval Court, which is investigating the actions of the Hellenic Coast Guard, has jurisdiction over the ship.


There has been a catalogue of failures by Greek authorities, from the moment they first learned about the boat to when hundreds of people were thrown from the ship into the Mediterranean Sea. The Naval Court's parallel investigation, which opened almost immediately after the shipwreck, remains in the preliminary stages.



Ecuador – 22 May


Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa's decision to declare an "internal armed conflict" has led to severe human rights violations by security forces. The violations include at least one extrajudicial killing and multiple cases of arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment. The announcement of the conflict on January 9, 2024, following a surge in violence, including the takeover of a state-owned TV channel, has led to a decrease in overall killings in Ecuador but a rise in extortions and kidnappings.


The escalation of violence and increased organised crime in Ecuador jeopardises Ecuadorians' lives and institutions; the government needs to respond with a practical and rights-respecting security policy that protects Ecuadorians. Between January and April, the number of homicides in Ecuador dropped by 27%. Still, extortions and kidnappings have risen, and the recent killings of three mayors and the director of a prison show that the situation remains serious. The militarization of Ecuador's streets and prisons has led to severe human rights violations by security forces. Many people reported arrested appear never to have been taken before a prosecutor or judge, and the military has held detainees incommunicado, hampering their right to consult with lawyers or obtain medical assistance.



Global – 21 May


The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has issued a groundbreaking advisory opinion, stating that anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions constitute marine environment pollution that states have a specific duty to prevent, reduce, and control. Based on 21 elected judges from all world regions, the decision is expected to inform future climate justice cases in national, regional, and international courts.


The tribunal's seminal opinion requires action by the 169 states that are parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, including anticipating risks related to climate change and conserving living marine resources it threatens. The decision is likely to inform advisory opinions from the International Court of Justice, following a campaign spearheaded by students from the Pacific and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Small island nations, which have contributed only a tiny fraction to global GHG emissions, are among the states most at risk from climate change.



Japan/Myanmar – 21 May


Despite Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's pledge to handle the flow of government aid to Myanmar's abusive military, Yokogawa Bridge Corp. will continue to make payments to the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) for an aid project. A MEC-owned steel mill supplied steel for Japan's Bago River Bridge Construction Project and profited enormously. Financial transactions show that from July 2022 to January 2023, Yokogawa Bridge Corp. transferred around $2 million to MEC for the project, with US government approval.


Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa said that the MEC's participation ended in December and that Yokogawa Bridge Corp.'s "progress payments" to the MEC had finished. The MEC generates vast revenue through businesses in sectors including manufacturing, mining, and telecommunications. The US, UK, European Union, Canada, and Australia have sanctioned the MEC and Myanmar's other military conglomerate, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited, for their role in generating significant revenues that help fund military abuses.



ICC/Israel – 21 May


The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant, and Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif, and Ismail Haniyeh for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) since October 7, 2023.


The ICC Prosecutor's application sends a message to all parties involved in the conflict, ensuring they face trial and accountability. Amnesty International has called for the ICC's Prosecutor to expedite the investigation into potential crimes committed since June 2014 in Gaza and the West Bank. The ICC Prosecutor's ongoing investigation will cover acts committed by all sides in Israel and the OPT on and after October 7, 2023.



USA – 21 May


The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is set to end in June, putting one in six US households at risk of losing internet access. The program, which reduces low-income households' monthly internet bill by $30, is expected to be extended through the end of the year, with a budget of between $6 and $7 billion. This would increase the digital divide, potentially disqualifying 7.4 million eligible households.


The ACP, which was introduced in 2022, is meant to help people of colour, older people, and people with disabilities. However, some legislators have proposed extending the program through the end of the year, with a budget of between $6 and $7 billion, which would further restrict household income eligibility. This could disqualify 7.4 million currently eligible households. The ACP is essential for realising a broad range of rights in the US. Congress should commit to permanently funding the ACP or implementing effective policies to ensure underserved people, including older adults, can access the Internet.



Mexico – 21 May         


Mexico's SEIDO, now FEMDO, conducted an unlawful judicial investigation and surveillance of three women human rights defenders in 2016. The investigation and surveillance were authorised at the highest levels of the PGR, and no official has been prosecuted or punished. The Mexican state uses the criminal justice system to persecute, intimidate, and criminalise human rights defenders, instilling fear in those who contribute to the protection of human rights.


The Specialized Prosecutor's Office on Organized Crime (FEMDO) in Mexico has been accused of criminalising three women human rights defenders, Ana Lorena, Marcela, and Mercedes, for alleged human rights violations. The SEIDO used legislation on kidnapping and organised crime to improperly request communications records and obtain personal data without complying with legal requirements. The investigation and surveillance violated their rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and due process.


The National Human Rights Commission closed the complaint without a detailed analysis of the human rights violations. Amnesty International Mexico recommends the Public Prosecutor's Office refrain from criminal prosecution, stop any investigation, remove confidential information, conduct an impartial inquiry, provide reparation, and apologise for the surveillance.



Tibet – 21 May       

           

Chinese government officials are using extreme pressure to coerce Tibetans to relocate their long-established villages. Since 2016, officials in the Tibet Autonomous Region have relocated or are currently relocating 500 villages with over 140,000 residents to new locations, often hundreds of kilometres away.


A report reveals that participation in "whole-village relocation" programs in Tibet amounts to forced eviction in violation of international law. Officials claim that relocation will improve people's livelihoods and protect the environment. However, the government prevents relocated people from returning to their former homes by requiring them to demolish their homes within a year of relocating.


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