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International Legal News - 4 March 2024

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 27 February to 4 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 for consideration.

Iraq – 3 March

Religious leaders in Iraq conduct thousands of unregistered marriages each year, including child marriages, that violate Iraqi laws and are not officially registered. These marriages create a loophole around legal restrictions on child marriage and have disastrous effects on women and girls' ability to get government services, register their children's birth, and claim their rights.  

Human Rights Watch has called for Iraq to prosecute religious leaders who officiate at marriages in violation of Iraqi law, facilitate the legalisation of unregistered marriages, and ensure that all Iraqis have the full range of their rights.

Iraq's Birth and Death Registration Law of 1971 restricts parents from obtaining birth certificates for babies born in wedlock, putting children at risk of losing their legal identity or becoming stateless. The process to legalise unregistered marriages is lengthy, complicated, and bureaucratic and often leads to women foregoing legalisation and their rights.

Human Rights Watch warns that there are no provisions in Iraqi law that explicitly punish religious leaders who officiate unregistered marriages, including in cases where one spouse is a child. Prosecutions against religious leaders may be possible using Article 240 of the Iraqi penal code.


UK – 2 March

The UK is granting law enforcement new powers to seize and freeze cryptocurrencies linked to illicit activities, effective April 26, under the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023. The legislation introduces comprehensive measures, including crypto-asset confiscation orders, aiming to close loopholes and ensure a robust legal framework against the misuse of digital currencies in criminal activities.

The legislation's broad definition of crypto-related items underscores the UK government's commitment to a comprehensive approach to combating digital currencies in criminal activities. The impending activation of these provisions signals a significant shift in the regulatory landscape for cryptocurrencies in the UK, highlighting the importance of compliance and due diligence for individuals and businesses operating within the crypto space.

The legislative update serves as a reminder of the dual nature of cryptocurrencies as tools for innovation and potential vehicles for illicit activities, requiring close collaboration between the government, law enforcement, and the crypto industry to ensure a safer financial environment.

Australia - 2 March

Australian youth Yusuf Zahab, who was believed to have died while wrongfully detained by anti-ISIS forces, appears to be alive in a prison in northeast Syria. Zahab was taken to Syria in 2015 and detained in an overcrowded prison in al-Hasakeh, Syria.

The Australian government has failed to locate Zahab for two years, and his family members do not doubt that the young man in a video is him. The Australian government has been urged to confirm and repatriate Zahab's identity. He was taken by his relatives to Syria in 2015 and is believed to be currently detained. The Australian government is providing consular assistance to the family of Zahab, but they have not received any information.

Tens of thousands of Syrians and foreigners from nearly 60 countries are entering a sixth year of unlawful detention in dire conditions in camps and prisons for ISIS suspects and family members in northeast Syria.

Hong Kong – 1 March

Human Rights Organisations have urged Hong Kong authorities to clarify Lai Ke's pending immigration status and allow her to remain in Hong Kong or travel to another destination. Lai Ke, also known as Xiran, was convicted in Hong Kong for using forged documents to attempt to travel from China to Canada via the city last year.

She will complete her sentence on 2 March and faces imminent removal to mainland China. A vocal advocate for transgender rights in China, she faced harassment by police before leaving in May 2023. Amnesty International emphasised the importance of preventing Lai Ke from being unlawfully deported to mainland China, where she would face serious human rights violations.

Vietnam – 1 March

Vietnam's Ministry of Finance is considering prohibiting or regulating virtual assets by May 2025 as part of a 17-point action plan to boost anti-money laundering (AML) efforts. The plan aims to remove Vietnam from the Financial Action Task Force's "grey list" maintained by the G7 bloc.

Vietnam will develop a legal framework to prohibit or regulate virtual assets and virtual asset service providers and demonstrate enforcement of regulations. Vietnam has no legal framework for owning, trading or using virtual assets.

Vietnam placed third in the Chainalysis global crypto adoption index. The country has promised investment incentives for the semiconductor industry and other tech-related fields. The government has been urging action to regulate crypto for at least two years. Other items in the national AML plan include enhancing cooperation in extradition, developing outreach activities and private sector guidance, and demonstrating improved monitoring of local financial institutions.

EU/Denmark/Bahrain – 1 March

Maryam al-Khawaja, a Danish-Bahraini human rights defender, has been awaiting her father's release for 13 years while also fighting cancer. Last August, Abdelhadi al-Khawaja was among the Bahraini political prisoners who started a hunger strike to protest their inhumane treatment.

Maryam and a delegation of leading human rights figures were prevented from boarding a plane to Bahrain. Despite Bahrain being considered a "strategic partner" in the region, EU member states have been reluctant to support collective action against Bahrain and make al-Khawaja's case an "EU case."

The Danish government has also been too timid, rallying support within the EU and confronting Bahraini authorities. Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke spoke about Khawaja's case with Bahrain's foreign minister but was "not optimistic" about the outcome.

Thirteen years of "private diplomacy" and "human rights dialogues" have failed to reunite Maryam and her father. The EU needs to recognise it has failed them both and urgently change course.

Ghana - 29 February

Ghana's parliament passed the "Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill, 2024" on February 28, a move criticised by the International Community. The bill, one of the most draconian in Africa, seeks to criminalise LGBT people and punish those who support or advocate for them, including human rights defenders, medical professionals, journalists, teachers, and landlords.

The bill has already led to forced evictions, job losses, increased violence, and other violations of the rights guaranteed by the country's Constitution. Amnesty International has urged President Nana Akufo-Addo to respect the human rights of all persons and not to sign discrimination into law.

Syria/Turkey – 29 February

It has been suggested that Turkey bears responsibility for serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by its own forces and local armed groups in Turkish-occupied northern Syria. The report documents abductions, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, sexual violence, and torture by various factions of the armed groups, the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, and the Military Police.

It also found that Turkish Armed Forces and intelligence agencies were involved in carrying out and overseeing abuses. Turkey’s military operations in northern Syria since 2016 have led to its control of the predominantly Arab region north of Aleppo, Afrin, and a strip of land along Syria's northern border.

The Turkish government has declared its intention to establish "safe zones" in the areas under its occupation, claiming the Kurdish-led forces are affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). However, Turkey has failed to ensure the safety and well-being of the civilian population, leading to lawlessness and insecurity.

SNA factions and the Military Police have arbitrarily arrested, detained, tortured, and subjected to unfair military trials. Accountability for serious human rights abuses and possible war crimes in Turkish-occupied territories remains elusive.

Nigeria - 28 February

Two senior executives at Binance have been detained in Nigeria as the country cracks down on cryptocurrency exchanges. The executives flew to Nigeria following the ban of several cryptocurrency trading websites last week. They were detained by the country's national security adviser's office, and their passports were seized.

The crackdown follows several cryptocurrency websites emerging as platforms of choice for trading the Nigerian currency, which has suffered chronic dollar shortages. The naira's official exchange rate has been trading at levels close to the parallel market level after the currency was devalued last month, its second adjustment in less than a year.

Africa's largest economy has been experiencing crippling dollar shortages that have pushed its currency to record lows after foreign investors fled following a previous oil price collapse and the introduction of capital controls in 2015.

USA – 28 February

Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, is making a final plea for a lenient sentence from a federal judge. Bankman-Fried's new team of attorneys recommended Judge Lewis Kaplan, who oversaw the criminal trial last year, where a jury convicted him on seven fraud-related counts related to the November 2022 collapse of his crypto empire, FTX.

The attorneys argued that Bankman-Fried should only face 63 to 78 months in prison, a relative slap on the wrist compared to his maximum penalty of 115 years. The attorneys also argued that Bankman-Fried had been described as a sociopath,' 'an ice-cold manipulator, bully, and shameless liar,' and that they don't know the true Sam Bankman-Fried.

Bankman-Fried's trial in October 2023 saw prosecutors call top FTX executives as witnesses, and his conviction came soon after. He has been detained at the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn, where he will remain through his sentencing. The lawyers also argue that Bankman-Fried presents at times as a paradox, pointing to his "neurodiversity", which impacts how he is perceived.

Italy - 28 February

Support for dismissing charges against the Iuventa crew members in Italy is growing. The Trapani court prosecutor has requested the dismissal of the case against the crew and other human rights defenders who served on rescue ships operated by Médecins Sans Frontières and Save the Children.

The Iuventa crew has endured six and a half years of court proceedings with resilience and has saved over 14,000 lives, including children. Amnesty International has urged authorities to stop misusing criminal proceedings and charges of facilitation of irregular migration to obstruct life-saving activities. The Iuventa crew's solidarity with refugees and migrants should be championed. The hearing, part of legal proceedings that began in May 2022, continued on 28 February. The court in Trapani is expected to decide whether the Iuventa crew and other crew from Médecins Sans Frontières and Save the Children will be indicted.

China – 28 February

There has been international outcry for the immediate release of hundreds of Tibetan monks and villagers who were detained while peacefully protesting the construction of a hydroelectric dam in China's western Sichuan province. The dam will generate electricity for eastern China and submerge historic monasteries and numerous Tibetan villages.

The Chinese authorities have long been hostile to public protests, but their response is especially brutal when the protests are by Tibetans and other ethnic groups. Video footage obtained by Tibetan exile media and confirmed by Human Rights Watch shows villagers from Wontoe protesting the dam's construction.

The dam is the sixth in a proposed series of 13 on the Dri Chu River, known as Jinsha or the upper Yangtse River in Chinese. Since 2017, authorities have relocated over 11,000 people from 7 townships in Gonjo and Markham counties bordering the Jinsha River for "poverty alleviation" reasons.

However, such reports do not link the mass relocation to dam construction. The right to protection against forced eviction derives from the right to adequate housing as provided under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which China is a state party.

Hungary - 27 February

The 2021 Propaganda Law in Hungary has significantly impacted LGBTI individuals and groups, creating negative stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes. The law has limited access to information about sexual orientation and gender identity, particularly for young people.

The law has also contributed to negative stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes towards LGBTI people. The Hungarian government and state-backed media have conducted a campaign against LGBTI rights using stigmatising rhetoric and targeting those in civil society who stand up for equality. Some media service providers and bookshops in Hungary are exercising self-censorship to avoid legal sanctions.

At the same time, authors, creative agencies, and civil society organisations struggle to navigate the law's vague provisions. Amnesty International's findings indicate that the law unduly restricts people's freedom of expression, including children's right to access information.

Burkina Faso – 27 February

The Burkina Faso military junta has been accused of abducting civil society activists and political opponents as part of its crackdown on peaceful dissent. Since late November 2023, unidentified men have abducted at least six activists and opposition party members in Ouagadougou, raising concerns about enforced disappearances.

The authorities face pressure to urgently investigate all abductions, enforced disappearances, and abusive conscriptions and release those wrongfully detained. One group has filed a complaint with the police but has not received follow-up action.

Burkina Faso's transitional military authorities have issued conscription orders under the April 13, 2023, "general mobilisation" plan to recapture territory lost to Islamist armed groups. However, civil society, media, trade unions, and international human rights groups have condemned the decree, arguing it has been used to silence peaceful dissent.

A court in Ouagadougou ruled that the conscriptions were unlawful, violated freedom of expression, and caused a risk to physical integrity. Human rights activists and journalists fear being conscripted, and the military junta's crackdown on dissent and media has weakened civic space.                       


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