Weekly News Recap (4–10 Jan 2021)




Australia: Investigation into Afghanistan war crimes starting

On 4 January, Mark Weinberg, a special investigator tasked with examining allegations of war crimes by Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan began his work. He is tasked with investigating allegations raised in a report authored by Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force Paul Brereton, which recommended 19 current and former ADF members be prosecuted for 39 unlawful killings and torture of two prisoners. His report was the result of a four-year investigation into allegations of crimes committed by ADF members. Defence intelligence expert Clive Williams said there were unlikely to be more than a few convictions stemming from the investigations, mainly because of the time elapsed and the lack of Afghan witnesses.


USA: Trump Administration ordered not to enforce Executive Order 13928

On 4 January, a Federal Judge in the Southern District of New York ordered the Trump administration not to enforce an executive order that prevented human rights lawyers from collaborating with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Judge granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction based on freedom of speech. The Judge prohibited the government from enforcing civil or criminal penalties. The lawsuit was filed in October 2020 against President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Andrea Gacki, Attorney General William Barr, and the respective U.S. Departments. The suit argued that the executive order violates constitutional rights, including the plaintiffs’ freedom of speech, and prevents them from carrying out work in support of international justice.


UK: Refusal to extradite Assange

On 4 January, a court in London ruled that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the United States due to concerns of his mental health and risk of suicide in the oppressive conditions of US prisons. Assange is currently being held in prolonged solitary confinement at London’s Belmarsh Prison under a US extradition request for espionage and computer fraud. If extradited, he faces multiple life sentences which could add up to 175 years in inhumane conditions of near total isolation. UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer welcomed the decision but pointed out that the ruling sets an alarming precedent by denying journalists freedom of the press protection and paving the way for their prosecution on espionage charges. In 2010, Assange published sensitive military documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States has announced that it will appeal the judgment but welcomed the judge’s dismissal of all arguments in defense of Assange based on freedom of the press, public interest in exposing government misconduct, prohibition of extraditions for political offenses and the inability of the US to provide fair trials to national security defendants.



France: Roger Lumbala arrested for crimes against humanity

It was reported on 4 January, that France had arrested the former Congolese warlord Roger Lumbala in Paris on 29 December 2020. Mr Lumbala is charged with “complicity in crimes against humanity”. Mr Lumbala is a former opposition lawmaker who led the Rassemblement Congolais pour la démocratie-National (RCD-N) party, an armed group suspected by UN investigators of carrying out extrajudicial killings, rapes and cannibalism during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war between 1998 and 2002. France will prosecute Mr Lumbala under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of suspects in cases of crimes against humanity committed abroad.



Iran & Iraq: Interpol notice for US President Trump and other officials

On 5 January, Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili announced that Iran has requested the international police organisation (INTERPOL) to arrest Trump and 47 other American officials identified as playing a role in the assassination of top general Qassem Soleimani last year. Soleimani, who led the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was assassinated on 3 January 2020, in a US drone strike in Baghdad ordered by Trump. The assassination was deemed to be violation of international laws by Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. It was the second Iranian request for an international arrest warrant for Trump and dozens of US officials in the Pentagon and US Central Command, among other organisations. Similary, a court in Baghdad has issued on 7 January a warrant for Trump’s arrest as part of their investigation into the same drone attack that also killed a top Iraqi paramilitary commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.



IACHR: Nicaragua Law restricting political rights rejected

On 6 January, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rejected the approval of the “Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty, and Self-determination for Peace” by the National Assembly and urged the State of Nicaragua to repeal it. This initiative should, in effect, prohibit Nicaraguans who, in the opinion of the authorities, lead or finance a coup, promote terrorist acts, incite foreign interference in internal affairs and organize financing from foreign powers to carry out acts of terrorism and destabilization, among others. In this regard, the Commission is concerned that the law would disproportionately limit the political rights enshrined in the American Convention.


IACHR: Increased harassment in Nicaragua condemned

On 6 January, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the intensification of acts of harassment in Nicaragua against persons identified as opponents of the Government, human rights defenders, and victims of human rights violations and their families and further urged the State to cease these acts immediately. These acts have been committed by both police teams and civilians in the outskirts of towns throughout the day. These acts are meant to prevent the departure of these people or their families, and to identify and register any person who enters or leaves the place. In some incidents they have been subjected to monitoring, arrests, threats, and house searches. The IACHR observed that this intensification of acts of harassment occurs at a time when civil society began the campaign called “Christmas without political prisoners” in which the release of all persons deprived of liberty is being demanded.


ICC: The Trial Chamber referred the case of the Defence Counsel’s tweet to the Disciplinary Commissioner

On 6 January, the defence for Mr. Al Hassan requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to reconsider its “Submission to the Registry pursuant to Article 34(1)(a) of the Code of Professional Conduct for counsel,” which was issued publicly on 31 December 2020. In that decision, the Trial Chamber made various findings concerning Counsel’s obligations under the Code of Conduct and decided to refer the matter to the Registry for submission to the Disciplinary Commissioner. The case concerned a tweet posted on 24 December 2020 by the Defence Lead Counsel’s Twitter account referring to two recent decisions of the Chamber: a decision on Mr Al Hassan’s request for a custodial visit rendered on 23 December 2020 and a decision on a third party request for leave to submit amicus curiae observations rendered on 24 December 2020. The Defence pointed out that the right to be heard was not respected and that the Chamber based its Submission on erroneous factual conclusions and interpretation, stating that the Submission has a ‘chilling effect’ on internationally recognised human rights of the Defence to use media.


South Korea: Japan ordered to compensate WWII Comfort Women

On 8 January, the Seoul Central District Court ordered Tokyo to make financial reparations to South Korean victims of wartime sexual enslavement. The Court ordered reparations of 100 million won (US $91,300) each to 12 “comfort women“ who were forced to work in front-line military brothels for Japanese soldiers during WWII. The Court rejected Japan’s claim of sovereign immunity, siding instead with the victims that the rule should not apply to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba, following the ruling summoned Nam Gwanpyo, South Korea’s top envoy in Tokyo to lodge a protest over the court decision. Tokyo maintains that the issue of comfort women was permanently resolved through a bilateral agreement in 2015 with the then South Korean government. The victims called the agreement inadequate, without a sincere apology or their voices in the negotiation process. The ruling is lauded for finally bringing justice to the victims, although only 5 of the 12 plaintiffs are still alive.


USA: 3 Sri Lankan nationals charged with terrorism offense for the Easter attacks

On 9 January , the US Department of Justice announced that 3 Sri Lankan nationals: Mohamad Naufer, Mohamed Anwer and Ahmed Milhan, will be charged with a series of terrorism offenses including the charge of Conspiring to Provide Material Support to ISIS. The men were allegedly members of a group of ISIS (“ISIS in Sri Lanka”) responsible for the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Day that killed 268 people, including 5 US citizens. The complaint outlines the defendants’ role in the conspiracy that led to near-simultaneous suicide bombings in cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa on 21 April 2019. Assistant Attorney General for National Security, John C. Demers has said that, “these charges reflect that the US justice system remains a powerful tool to bring to bear against those who harm our citizens abroad.” The criminal case was filed on 11 December 2020 in the US District Court of Los Angeles.



UNSG & UNHCR: Boko Haram attacks in Niger

On 2 January, Boko Haram attacked the villages of Tchombangou and Zaroumbareye in western Niger. Up to 100 people were killed and at least 75 people wounded. On 4 January, the UN Secretary-General has strongly condemned these attacks and hoped for the state authorities to bring perpetrators to justice. He also reaffirmed the solidarity and support of the UN for the Government and people of Niger in their fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said, that after the attacks at least 1 thousand people fled their homes trying to reach Ouallam, where UNHCR and its partners are already providing humanitarian assistance to refugees.



UN & UNHCR: Post-election violence in the CAR

On 4 January, the National Elections Authority of the CAR stated that the incumbent President, Faustin Archange Touadera won the elections. Before the announcement, armed elements allied with former president François Bozizé attacked the towns of Damara and Bangassou. On 5 January, concerning that, senior officials from the UN, EU, African Union and Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) said in a joint statement, that “It will be up to the Constitutional Court of the Central African Republic to proclaim the final results and to all political actors to respect the decisions of the Court”. The country suffers from a steady increase in human rights and humanitarian law violations accompanied by the humanitarian crisis which has been further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. UNHCR reported, that violence and insecurity surrounding the 27 December general election has forced over 30 thousand people to flee into neighbouring countries.



UNSC: Questions over the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria

On 5 January, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, said that the declaration that Syria had submitted on its chemical weapons status “cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention”. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has continued with its mandated activities in Syria. The review of all the information and other materials gathered by the Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) since 2014, indicates that production and(or) weaponisation of chemical warfare nerve agents took place at the particular facility. Therefore, Ms. Nakamitsu added, that “until these outstanding issues are closed, the international community cannot have full confidence that the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme has been eliminated”.



UNSG: Gulf Cooperation Council normalised relations with Qatar

On 5 January, the UN Secretary-General has welcomed the al Ula declaration on “solidarity and stability”, announced at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit aimed at strengthening peace and prosperity in the region. The al Ula declaration recognizes the importance of unity among the GCC states and aims to strengthen regional security, peace, stability and prosperity. The declaration resulted in the opening of the airspace, land and sea borders between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Qatar. The political situation in the region had soured in 2017, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severing diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, alleging that it supported groups that they viewed as terrorist organizations. Qatar denied the allegations.



EU: Statement on Venezuela parliamentary election

The EU expressed its regret that the Venezuelan National Assembly had assumed its mandate on 5 January on the basis of non-democratic elections. According to the EU, the elections failed to comply with the international standards for a credible process and to mobilise the Venezuelan people to participate. The lack of political pluralism and the way the elections were planned and executed do not allow the EU to recognise this electoral process as credible. In that context, the EU will maintain its engagement with all political and civil society actors striving to bring back democracy to Venezuela, including in particular Juan Guaidó and other representatives of the outgoing National Assembly elected in 2015. However, it was reported that the EU can no longer legally recognise Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate head of state after he lost his position as head of parliament.



OSCE & EU: Humanitarian situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 6 January, the chairs of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s (OSCE PA) General Committees said that political leaders at all levels must overcome their differences and find a joint humane and durable solution to the humanitarian crisis in and around Lipa in Bosnia and Herzegovina. OSCE PA stressed the need for state and local leaders to work together with aid agencies and non-governmental organizations on the ground to meet the need of migrants. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates there are currently close to 3 thousand migrants and refugees in northern Bosnia who are facing harsh winter weather without adequate shelter. Therefore, the European Commission has announced an additional €3.5 million in humanitarian aid to help vulnerable refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina facing a humanitarian disaster.




USA: Violence in Washington Capitol

On 7 January, top UN officials have expressed sadness over the violence that erupted when supporters of President Trump stormed the US Capitol building, temporarily bringing to a halt the disputed certification of November’s presidential election result. The leaders of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s (OSCE PA) recent election observation mission in the United States and OSCE PA President Peter Lord Bowness also condemned the violence and urged respect for democratic processes. The OAS General Secretariat condemned and repudiated the attack against institutions being carried out in the United States by protesters who disavow recent electoral results. As a result of mob violence, 5 people were killed and dozens of police officers were reportedly injured.






UN: Situation in Mozambique

It was reported on 7 January, that despite increased insecurity and limited funding, the UN food relief agency is continuing to supply food for hundreds of thousands of people affected by the conflict in northern Mozambique. The World Food Programme (WFP) is currently assisting up to 400 thousand people in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces, with a monthly family food basket of cereals, oil, dried beans and lentils. UN agency noted that over the next three months, it may be forced to reduce or halt vital assistance to conflict-affected people, raising concerns over food and health supplies, as well as tensions within host communities. Since 2017, some half a million people have fled the province of Cabo Delgado, affected by the cyclone, violence and COVID-19.



UNSG: Condemnation of massacre of civilians in DRC

On 7 January, the UN Secretary-General has expressed shock at the massacre of civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and called on the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. It was reported, that at least 25 villagers have been killed in recent attacks attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia in North Kivu province. He also stressed the determination of the UN peacekeeping mission in the country MONUSCO to continue to do its utmost to ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with its mandate and to support national efforts to consolidate peace and stability in the country. ADF is one of several armed groups in the region, that has been active since the 1990’s and is responsible for several attacks including attacks on UN peacekeepers.


OHCHR: Deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda

On 8 January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, expressed her concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Uganda before forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 14 January. Numerous human rights violations, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and participation, as well as arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary arrest and detention and torture have been reported. Such developments increase concern that the COVID-19 measures are being used as a ground to restrict public freedoms and political participation during the electoral process. OHCHR called on the Ugandan authorities to protect the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and to ensure a free and peaceful election process.


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