Weekly update: 6 December – 12 December 2021
The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 6 December to 12 December 2021.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
United Kingdom (UK) – 6 December 2021
Middle-class drug users are to be targeted as part of a 10-year strategy to be announced by Boris Johnson’s government with a heavy focus on war-on-drugs-era punishment. So-called “lifestyle” users of class A drugs face losing their passports or driving licences under proposals designed to target wealthy professionals who the government will argue are driving exploitative practices with their demand. The government said it will publish a white paper in due course which will look at new measures to reduce demand and deter people from illegal drug use through “more meaningful consequences”.
United Kingdom (UK) – 6 December 2021
A serving member of the Royal Navy, who took legal action against the Ministry of Defence after her rape case collapsed, has backed calls for serious offences to be investigated and tried through the civilian courts rather than the military system. The woman, known as Servicewoman A, has called on the government to accept an amendment to the Armed Forces Bill, which she says will “encourage more women to come forward” and protect them from the “appalling consequences” of reporting rape within their unit.
Myanmar – 6 December 2021
Ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been found guilty of inciting dissent and breaking Covid rules, in the first of a series of verdicts that could see her jailed for life. Her sentence has been reduced from four years to two years. Ms Suu Kyi faces 11 charges in total and denies them all. They have been widely condemned as unjust. She has been in detention since a military coup in February toppled her elected civilian government. Ms Suu Kyi was handed the four-year sentence by a court on Monday morning, but junta chief Min Aung Hlaing later reduced it to two years. It is not clear when or if Ms Suu Kyi will be placed in prison. She is being held at an undisclosed location.
Afghanistan – 7 December 2021
A whistleblower has said that the UK Foreign Office's handling of the Afghan evacuation after the Taliban seized Kabul was dysfunctional and chaotic. Raphael Marshall said the process of choosing who could get a flight out was arbitrary and thousands of emails with pleas for help went unread. The then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was slow to make decisions, he added. Mr Raab told the BBC lessons would be learned but the UK did a good job compared to other countries. After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, the UK airlifted 15,000 people out of the country, including 5,000 British nationals, 8,000 Afghans and 2,000 children. In written evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Marshall said up to 150,000 Afghans who were at risk because of their links to Britain applied to be evacuated - but fewer than 5% received any assistance.
United Kingdom (UK) – 7 December 2021
A coalition of women’s rights campaigners have voiced their disappointment and frustration after the Law Commission decided to reject a proposal to make misogyny a hate crime. The commission, an independent body that recommends legal changes for England and Wales, launched a consultation but concluded that the move would not solve the “real problem” of hostility or prejudice directed against women because of their sex or gender. A statement by 20 leading women’s rights and hate crime organisations and campaigners including the Fawcett Society, Citizens UK, Stella Creasy MP, Rights of Women and the former constable of Nottinghamshire police, Sue Fish, said the Law Commission had failed to address “widespread concerns about lack of action by the criminal justice system” and vowed to keep fighting.
Russia / Ukraine – 7 December 2021
Western powers have called on Russia to lower tensions with Ukraine, ahead of a video call between US President Joe Biden and Russia's Vladimir Putin. Responding to fears of a Russian invasion, Mr Biden agreed with leaders of the UK, France, Germany and Italy to use "all the tools at their disposal". Moscow denies it has plans to attack. But Russia has moved thousands of troops near Ukraine's eastern borders, and Ukraine says tanks have been moved to the front line inside its territory. In a conference call, the White House said the five Western leaders had formed a joint strategy "to impose significant and severe harm on the Russian economy" should Russia launch an invasion.
Saudi Arabia / France – 8 December 2021
Police said that a Saudi man suspected of involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been arrested in France. Khaled Aedh Alotaibi was arrested at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on Tuesday, a police source told the BBC. He is believed to be one of 26 Saudis wanted by Turkey over the killing. A Saudi official later said the arrest was a case of mistaken identity, and that those involved in the murder had been convicted in Saudi Arabia.
China – 8 December 2021
A new report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says China is "the world's biggest captor of journalists" with at least 127 reporters currently detained. It said China was conducting an "unprecedented campaign of repression" worldwide against journalism. China has justified the arrests of reporters and citizen journalists by accusing them of provoking trouble. RSF also noted that press restrictions had worsened with the pandemic. At least 10 journalists and online commentators have been detained for reporting about the Covid-19 crisis in Wuhan.
Kazakhstan – 9 December 2021
Amnesty International said that its Security Lab has confirmed that at least four Kazakhstani civil society activists have had their mobile devices infected with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware. A forensic analysis shows that all four activists had been targeted and their devices infected from as early as June 2021. Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said that “this case adds to an already mounting pile of evidence that NSO’s spyware is the weapon of choice for governments seeking to silence social movements and crush dissent. States across the globe must immediately implement a moratorium on the export, sale and use of surveillance equipment until a human rights-compliant regulatory framework is in place”.
Bangladesh – 9 December 2021
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on International Human Rights Day that Bangladesh authorities should stop tormenting families and provide information on the whereabouts of their loved ones disappeared by security forces. HRW has documented 86 cases of victims in Bangladesh who were forcibly disappeared since 2009 when the Sheikh Hasina-led government took office, and who remain missing. The Bangladesh government has repeatedly denied that security forces routinely commit enforced disappearances. Senior UN officials, donors, and trade partners should step up measures to support holding senior members of Bangladesh security forces accountable and prevent future abuses. The government has demonstrated over the last decade that it has no interest in taking seriously concerns repeatedly expressed by United Nations experts and international partners.
United States (US) / Iraq – 9 December 2021
The US-led global coalition against Islamic State (IS) has ended its combat mission in Iraq, four years after it helped defeat the jihadist group there. The 2,500 troops currently in the country will remain to "advise, assist and enable" Iraqi security forces, at the government's invitation. The coalition expressed confidence that the partnership would ensure IS did not reconstitute and threaten Iraqis. The US had agreed in July to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year.
Russia / Ukraine – 10 December 2021
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been hardening his rhetoric over the situation in Ukraine, saying the war in the country's east looks like genocide. Russian-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian troops there since 2014, and tensions have been growing as Russia amasses troops on the border. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden discussed recent talks with Mr Putin in a call to his Ukrainian counterpart. There are fears that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine, which Russia denies. Biden-Putin video call was seen as an attempt to ease tensions. Washington and its allies have warned the Kremlin of tough sanctions if it again attacks its neighbour. Russia has accused Ukraine of provocation, and sought guarantees against eastward Nato expansion and deployment of weapons close to Russia. Ukrainian authorities have said Moscow could be planning a military offensive at the end of January, although US officials say it is not yet clear whether President Putin has made a decision.
Brazil – 10 December 2021
Nearly a year after three young boys vanished near their homes in Rio de Janeiro’s rundown northern sprawl, police have accused members of the city’s largest drug faction of murdering the children in reprisal for stealing an ornamental bird. The boys – aged nine, 11 and 12 – disappeared on the afternoon of 27 December 2020 after leaving their homes in the Morro do Castelar favela to play. They were last seen in eerie security footage showing them walking towards a local street market. What became of those children – Lucas, Alexandre and Fernando – has remained a mystery despite a nationwide outcry and a major police investigation. On Thursday, however, investigators claimed they had finally cracked the case, having discovered that the boys had been abducted by members of the Red Command (CV) faction that controlled their community.
Iran / United Kingdom (UK) – 10 December 2021
UK government officials were in Tehran last week discussing legal ways to pay Britain’s historical £400m debt to Iran, the Iranian ambassador to London has said. Mohsen Baharvand added that he was in live discussions with the Foreign Office, and said the issues were not insurmountable. The UK Foreign Office has refused to discuss any details of the payment to Iran, or what has been holding up the settling of the £400m debt dating back to an arms sale to Iran in the mid-1970s. Families of the UK dual nationals detained in Iran have repeatedly said they believe their family members are being held hostage until the debt is paid.
United Kingdom (UK) / United States (US) – 10 December 2021
Responding to the High Court’s decision to accept the US’s appeal against the decision not to extradite Julian Assange Amnesty International’s Europe Director Nils Muižnieks said: “This is a travesty of justice. By allowing this appeal, the High Court has chosen to accept the deeply flawed diplomatic assurances given by the US that Assange would not be held in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison. The fact that the US has reserved the right to change its mind at any time means that these assurances are not worth the paper they are written on. If extradited to the US, Julian Assange could not only face trial on charges under the Espionage Act but also a real risk of serious human rights violations due to detention conditions that could amount to torture or other ill-treatment.”