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International Legal News - 8 January 2024

Updated: Jan 14

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 04 January to 08 January 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 for consideration.

Japan – 7 January

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to provide ceaseless support to areas devastated by the New Year's Day earthquake, which has claimed at least 126 lives. The adverse weather on the Noto peninsula has left over 30,000 homeless, cutting power to tens of thousands of residences and businesses.

At least 222 people are still missing, and more heavy snow or rain is forecasted overnight for the region. The governor of Ishikawa Prefecture declared a state of emergency, calling the quake an unprecedented disaster for the area. Prefectural governments have sent trailers with flushable toilets to evacuation centres in disaster-struck cities.

France – 7 January

France's Court of Accounts has criticised the UK for not cooperating enough with France to reduce irregular crossings in the English Channel. The report claims that the UK does not communicate "usable intelligence" regarding small boat crossings and has not been counterchecked.

Despite agreements, the relationship between France and the UK must be more balanced regarding information and intelligence exchanges. The report evokes the Touquet Agreement 2003, which allowed UK authorities to control immigration in France. Both countries have seen an increase in undocumented migrants and controversial immigration laws.

Bangladesh – 7 January

A fire has destroyed about 800 shelters and left thousands homeless in a Rohingya refugee camp in south-eastern Bangladesh. The fire, which broke out in the camp, damaged around 120 facilities, including mosques and healthcare centres.

Nearly 7,000 refugees were made homeless, and an investigation into the cause is underway. The camp, which houses almost a million members of the Muslim minority from Myanmar, is in Bangladesh's border district of Cox's Bazar. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Democratic Republic of Congo – 6 January

Due to alleged fraud and other issues, Congo's election commission has cancelled votes for 82 of the 101,000 legislative candidates in the disputed December general election. The disqualified candidates include contenders for national, provincial, and municipal assemblies.

The election results are yet to be published, and the fallout from the Dec. 20 poll threatens to destabilise the Democratic Republic of Congo further. The opposition has contested the result amid claims of widespread electoral irregularities.

After the elections, the commission launched an inquiry to investigate acts of violence, vandalism, and sabotage perpetrated by specific ill-intentioned candidates against voters, their staff, assets, and electoral materials. Four acting provincial governors and three government ministers were among the 82 excluded.

Nigeria – 6 January

Nigeria's Supreme Court has ruled that Shell should be granted a hearing over its alleged involvement in an oil spill in the Niger Delta. The ruling overturned a Court of Appeal judgment that halted the company's sale and ordered payment of a judgment claim before hearing its appeal.

Shell has been involved in multiple lawsuits over alleged oil spills since 1995. The case began in November 2020, and Shell was ordered to pay NGN 800 billion (approximately USD 878 million) as compensation to the communities of Egbalor Ebubu.

The Dutch Court of Appeal reaffirmed the lower court ruling favouring Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth. Shell agreed to pay EUR 15 million to affected Nigerians in December 2022.

Amnesty International has condemned Nigeria's poor regulatory system and the ongoing oil spills, stating that there would have been swift and severe consequences and legal redress if these spills occurred in Europe or North America.

Iran – 6 January

Iran's Revolutionary Guards commander Hossein Salami vowed to "attack the enemy" as tensions rise on shipping routes where Tehran's allies are attacking vessels. The Guards' navy unveiled a new ship and 100 missile launchers, "Abu Mahdi."

Twenty-two nations have agreed to participate in a U.S.-led coalition to safeguard commercial traffic in the Red Sea from Houthi attacks. Major shipping companies have switched to the longer route around Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

Cyprus – 5 January

Amnesty International's Cyprus Researcher, Kondylia Gogou, has expressed concerns over the safety of human rights defenders in Cyprus following a violent attack on the anti-racist NGO KISA. The attack, which left the organisation's premises severely damaged, was part of a broader trend of racist violence in the country.

KISA and its volunteers have been targeted by threats, verbal attacks, and smear campaigns related to their work supporting refugees and migrants. Gogou urges authorities to communicate clearly that attacks on NGOs will not be tolerated and conduct an independent investigation. The attacks are part of a broader trend of xenophobic public discourse in Cyprus. KISA was removed from the Registry of Associations in December 2020 due to an amendment to its association law.

Iraq – 5 January

Iraq's Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, announced that the Iraqi government is preparing to remove the U.S.-led international military coalition from the country. The U.S. has 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq, advising and assisting local forces in preventing a resurgence of Islamic State.

The move comes after a U.S. strike killed a militia leader in Baghdad, prompting anger among Iran-aligned groups demanding the government end the coalition's presence in Iraq. The Iraqi government is setting a date for the start of a bilateral committee to end the international coalition forces' presence in Iraq permanently.

The committee would include representatives of the military coalition. The U.S. military launched the strike in retaliation against recent attacks on U.S. personnel. The Iraqi government claims the killed commander was part of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a group of Shi'ite Muslim armed groups formed in 2014 to fight Islamic State. The Pentagon declined to respond to Iraqi government comments suggesting he was part of its security forces.

Switzerland/Gambia – 5 January

The opening of a Swiss trial for serious crimes committed in The Gambia, involving former Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko, is a significant step towards justice for victims of abuses under then-President Yahya Jammeh's rule.

Sonko is charged with crimes against humanity relating to torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, and unlawful killings between 2000 and 2016. The trial is expected to last about three weeks and is possible because Swiss law recognises universal jurisdiction over certain severe international crimes.

The trial is the second person to be tried in Switzerland before a non-military court for serious crimes committed abroad, the second person to be tried in Europe for crimes committed in The Gambia, and the highest-ranked official to be prosecuted in Europe based on universal jurisdiction.

The Gambia has moved forward with only two prosecutions for Jammeh-era crimes since Jammeh's fall. The Gambia and ECOWAS have created a joint technical committee to develop a hybrid court accessible to Gambians, victims, and non-victims alike.

Chile – 4 January

Amnesty International has welcomed an indictment against three current and former senior commanders of Carabineros de Chile for their alleged role in the disproportionate and contrary international law response to mass protests in Chile in late 2019.

The indictment targets current Director General Ricardo Yáñez, former Director General Mario Rozas, and retired General Diego Olate for their alleged responsibility as senior commanders. Amnesty International believes this development is a step towards justice for the grave and widespread human rights violations committed during the response to the protests.

The report Chile: Eyes on Chile: Police Violence and Command Responsibility during Social Unrest documented how different Carabineros commanders, including the current General Director and then Director of Order and Security, implemented a strategy to silence the protests, including the improper use of shotguns loaded with dangerous ammunition, leaving thousands of people wounded and more than 400 with eye injuries.

EU/Russia – 4 January

The European Union (EU) has imposed sanctions on PJSC Alrosa and its CEO, Pavel Alekseevich Marinychev, in its attempt to support Ukraine's independence and condemnation of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.

The sanctions are part of the EU's 12th sanction package since February 2022, which includes a complete prohibition on diamond trade from Russia, a "No Russia" clause, and expanded import-export controls for Russian military systems.

The package also introduces a strengthened information-sharing mechanism to enforce the oil price cap. The EU has applied sanctions to almost 1950 individuals and entities, including asset freezes and travel restrictions for sanctioned natural persons.

North/South Korea – 4 January

North Korea is changing its approach to South Korea, implementing changes to its policy and government organisations that could potentially justify the use of nuclear weapons against Seoul in a future war.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a stalemate, both nations have had policies that treat each other differently. However, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, has stated that peaceful reunification is impossible and that the government will make a "decisive policy change" in relations with the "enemy". Some observers believe that North Korea's declarations reflect the reality of deep divisions and disparities between the two countries.

The United Front Department (UFD) of the Workers' Party of Korea has traditionally been tasked with relations with the South, including intelligence gathering and propaganda efforts. However, the announcement likely means that Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, a seasoned diplomat, will oversee relations with the South. The foreign ministry could also cut the South out entirely and only deal with the United States.

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