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International Legal News - 27 November 2023

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

Uganda – 24 November

The ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II has allowed Prosecutors to move forward with their request to hold a confirmation of charges hearing in the absence of Joseph Kony, a fugitive Ugandan militant who founded the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). A previous court filing has sought to continue the case in his absence and allow victims to put forward their views and concerns. He cannot be found despite an arrest warrant being issued for Kony in 2005. He is charged with insurgency against the government of Uganda and directed attacks against civilian populations. As the founder and leader of the LRA, he is accused of 33 counts of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. His arrest warrant remains unexecuted. The Chamber has ordered the ICC registrar to submit a plan for pursuing and informing Kony. The current hearing will then be considered as having been compliant with the legislation of the Rome statute.

South Korea – 24 November

A decision in the Seoul High Court Has ordered the Japanese government to pay reparations to former "comfort women", which overturns an earlier decision from the district court to award considerable damages. These comfort women were used as sexually enslaved people during World War II operated by the Japanese military, with thousands of girls from Asian countries being abducted and forced to work in brothels, many of whom are now dead, and only a handful in their late 90s still survive. The difficulty in reaching this decision was because of Japan’s sovereign immunity under customary international law.

The High Court felt that forced sexual slavery violated various international treaties to which Japan had signed up already. The compensation stands at ¥200 million to each of the individuals. Japan has resisted this judgement, saying that an agreement between the two countries has been settled ultimately. A settlement was reached in 1965, and an agreement was reached in 2015. Since then, many Japanese prime ministers have sent letters of apology and remorse. Japan seeks for these lawsuits to be dismissed based on sovereign immunity. When Japan did not participate in earlier court rulings, the plaintiff’s attempt to seize assets held by Japan was difficult, as this would result in an international law violation.

Egypt – 23 November

Egyptian authorities have been accused of voter suppression, repression of political opponents and squashing peaceful protests in the run-up to the upcoming presidential elections expected in December. Given the country's increasing financial and economic turmoil, the government is worried about losing the election. Those who are dissenting have been arrested and interrogated; at the beginning of the month, the prominent political opposition leader Ahmed Altantawy had criminal proceedings brought against him for apparently conspiring and inciting others to disseminate election-related material without authorisation, which is in breach of Egyptian law, when in fact he had urged supporters to complete endorsement forms online, those who have supported him have been sought out and punished.

Those protesting in favour of Palestine were oppressed at Tahrir Square on 20 October after security forces cordoned off the area and ordered crowds to disperse amid chaotic scenes of men in plainclothes beating protesters with batons and sticks. On 27 October, after Friday prayers at Al-Azhar Mosque, men in plainclothes also beat protesters after they refused to heed orders by security forces to disperse. Those who shared videos of the protest were also arrested and remain in pre-trial detention pending investigations into terrorism-related charges.

Venezuela – 23 November

A Union leader, Guillermo Zárraga, has been arbitrarily detained by military counterintelligence, who have levelled various accusations, including treason, leading to his incarceration because of his opposition to Nicholas Maduro’s government. He currently sits in a prison with appalling conditions while he waits for trial. He has so far lost over 20 kg in weight, suffered a cardiac arrest and several fainting spells due to malnutrition despite numerous attempts for him to see medical professionals. His family have been left to try and keep him alive in prison. More than 25% of Venezuela’s population has fled the country due to violations of social rights and a defunct economy.

The Judiciary is under Maduro’s Control, meaning there is little chance that his political opponents will ever be released from incarceration; another political prisoner, Emirlendris Benítez, is also in a critical state after being unjustly detained, in part because of the torture she suffered. There is now a long list of political prisoners, including the human rights defender Javier Tarazona and the university student John Álvarez, among the hundreds of people whose lives have been unjustly brought to a standstill because of government repression. The office of the prosecutor of the ICC is currently investigating crimes against humanity, the first time this has been undertaken in South America.

Sudan – 22 November

Rapid support forces (RSF) and Allied Arab militia carried out a series of ethnically motivated attacks in West Darfur earlier this month, killing many civilians. The attack began in Ardamata town at a Sudanese Armed Forces Military Base, with the Masalit community targeted; innocent women and children were slaughtered. This escalation results from tensions between the RSF and the SAF over Security Force reform for a new transitional government. Many people are now seeking refuge in Chad because of the relentless violence. Survivors of the violence have come forward to substantiate claims and evidence collected. Amnesty International has recently published a report called “Death Came To Our Home’: War Crimes and Civilian Suffering In Sudan” to highlight the ongoing atrocities.

Azerbaijan – 22 November

Azerbaijani authorities have arrested Ulvi Hasanli, Sevinc Vagifgizi and Mahammad Kekalov, top leaders of an independent media outlet known for investigating and exposing corruption; they have faced oppressive measures such as detention for 4 months and spurious charges, which could see them sentenced for up to 8 years in prison. Investigations into the 3 potential perpetrators have suggested that fake information and evidence have been planted. There is also evidence that there has been violence during incarceration.

These breach the European Convention of Human Rights with unlawful detention. The reasons for their continued incarceration have been seen as fanciful purely to deny bail. It has also been revealed that the 3 have been under surveillance with spyware. Sadly, this is not the first time that those criticising the government have been incarcerated with the arrest of a renowned scholar and activist, Gubad Ibadoghlu, in July on ridiculous charges of production, acquisition or sale of counterfeit money and extremism.

EU – 21 November

The EU Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) has been held up to scrutiny by the European Commission, which has exposed severe abuses by beneficiary governments. The scheme exchanges certain human and labour rights law obligations for tariff-free access across the EU market. It is thought that the GSP needs to do its job correctly and is allowing countries with potential human rights violations to benefit from tariff-free access. The GSP has conditions that countries must abide by. Countries must ratify and abide by 27 international conventions, including core human and labour rights treaties. Countries like Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan continue to benefit from the GSP+ System, and countries like Cambodia, Myanmar and Bangladesh continue to benefit from the less stringent EBA arrangement.

This highlights the EU Commission’s flexibility and sometimes bizarre decisions regarding which countries qualify, having breached the GSP obligations; non-governmental groups have called for greater transparency in this decision-making. Serious reform is needed for the GSP to allow for greater accountability and cooperation with local civil society groups speaking up. Currently, the European Parliament and Council are at loggerheads regarding the mechanism required to suspend membership. The current GSP regulation is set to expire on December 31. This has been extended by mutual consent between Parliament and the Council, but this only delays the inevitable migration controls that will likely follow.

Guatemala – 21 November

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Permanent Council of The Organisation of American States (OAS) have suggested that Guatemala's Supreme Court, Congress, and Attorney General’s Office are trying to undermine the Rule of Law in attempting to overturn the results of the 2023 Presidential elections and persecuting opposition leaders and human rights protesters. 27 arrest warrants have been made against those not supportive of the government. A new Supreme Court has been appointed by fastrack under dubious circumstances by politicians destined to lose their seats in the election.

Evidence suggests that there have been legal manoeuvres to suppress voting, with the arrest of anybody critical of the government; this has all been linked to the Attorney General’s Office, which has brought forward apparently fictional charges. Various attempts to remove diplomatic immunity from multiple officials who are not supportive of the government would allow investigations to undermine their credibility. Foreign governments have publicly called on President Alejandro Giammattei to condemn the Attorney General’s Office and leaders from Business communities to speak up in favour of democracy and the Rule of Law.

South Africa – 20 November

South Africa is struggling with uncontrolled immigration; it has been suggested that they may turn their back on the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention and a put forward a host of immigration reforms by the Department of Affairs (DHA) to combat this issue; recent immigrants have suffered xenophobic attacks and been blamed for South Africa's economic woes. A press conference held on November 12 claimed that South Africa "does not have the resources to grant the socio-economic rights envisaged in the 1951 convention".

This means education and work rights could be removed from immigrants. South Africa would likely propose a "safe first country" rule, denying asylum to those passing through other safe countries. This is a far cry from South Africa’s endorsement of the "Global Compact on Refugees”, which builds on a comprehensive refugee response framework and a constitution that proclaims it is founded on human dignity. It is thought that immigration will play a big part in the upcoming 2024 elections, where it is hoped that refugee rights will not be undermined.

UK - 20 November

The long sentences handed to the "Just Stop Oil” protesters Marcus Decker and Morgan Trowland after they scaled the M25At the Queen Elizabeth II Suspension bridge in Dartford, which caused over 40-hour delays, might be in breach of international law. The UN rapporteur for Climate Change and Human Rights has expressed concern at the severity of the sentences compared to earlier offences of a similar nature. Both men were convicted of a public nuisance offence in the most significant sentences for nonviolent protests the UK had ever seen.

The UN feels that the sentences contravene The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The UN believes that Human Rights defenders should be allowed to carry out their peaceful work free from the threat of violence, harassment, or retaliation. The government has yet to respond to how it has reconciled the recent Public Order Act with International Human Rights Law.


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