INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE SECTION
- CJEU: Possible Discrimination on Grounds of Disability
- Israel: Conviction of a Human Rights Defender
- ECtHR: Violation of the Prohibition of Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in Zličić v. Serbia
- CoE: Election of Judges of the ECtHR
- Sri Lanka: Government Obstructs Investigations and Trials Addressing Past Violations
- ICC: Code of Judicial Ethics Amended
- ECtHR: Hearing in the Case of Abdi Ibrahim v. Norway
- Germany: Foreign Soldiers Can Be Prosecuted for War Crimes Committed Outside of Germany
- Philippines: Murder Charge Against Indigenous Rights Defender
- ICC: Call on ICC Prosecutor to Investigate Crimes Against Humanity Committed in Greece
- South Sudan: Approval of the Establishment of the Hybrid Court
INTERNATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY SECTION
- OSCE: The Situation of Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina
- EU: The Council Adopted Conclusions on the Venezuelan Legislative Elections
- UNSC: UN Prepares to Support Palestinian Election
- US & Russia: The New START Treaty Updates
- UNSC: Full Support for the Peace Process in Colombia
- UNSC: Urging for Support for Libya
- UN: Escalating Hostilities in Yemen
- NATO & Russia: Black Sea Manoeuvres
- UNSC: Slow Peace Process in Syria
- UNSG: Rising Tensions in Myanmar
- UNHCR: 200,000 Displaced People in the CAR
INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE SECTION
CJEU: Possible Discrimination on Grounds of Disability
In VL v. Szpital Kliniczny im. Dra J. Babińskiego Samodzielny Publiczny Zaklad Opieki Zdrowotnej w Krakowie, the employer, a hospital in Kraków, Poland granted monthly allowances to employees who, following a meeting with the staff in 2013, submitted certificates attesting to their disabilities. On that basis, the allowance was granted to thirteen workers who submitted their paperwork following the meeting. VL and others were excluded as they had submitted their certificates earlier. The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) examined on 26 January whether a difference in treatment occurring within a group of persons who have disabilities may be covered under the ‘concept of discrimination’ referred to in Article 2 of Directive 2000/78. The Court held that the principle of equal treatment enshrined in such a Directive is intended to protect a worker who has a disability against any discrimination as compared to workers without disabilities and also those with disabilities. The employer treated workers less favourably than others in a comparable situation. Having regard to all the relevant circumstances of the case, that unfavourable treatment is based on the former worker’s disability. The Court held that in the present case, the employer did not seem to have permitted workers with disabilities who had already submitted their disability certificates before the date to resubmit them or to file new ones, so the practice made it impossible to identify groups of workers. As such, the Court held this practice may constitute direct discrimination, but it will be for the referring court to determine.
Israel: Conviction of a Human Rights Defender
On 26 January, UN experts said Israel must immediately stop using its array of military security tools to obstruct the legitimate and indispensable work of human rights defenders. Their comments come after an Israeli military court convicted Issa Amro, a Palestinian human rights defender and founder of Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based group that opposes settlement expansion through non-violent civil resistance. Amro was convicted of six charges on 6 January 2021, related to his human rights activities between 2010 and 2016. His convictions were related to his participation in demonstrations without a permit, along with obstructing security forces, and assault for allegedly pushing a settlement guard in 2010. Experts claim that his conviction appears to be politically motivated and illustrates a continual pattern in which Israeli military law is used to restrict and penalise Palestinians for exercising their inviolable political and civil rights.
ECtHR: Violation of the Prohibition of Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in Zličić v. Serbia
The case concerned the applicant’s alleged ill-treatment by the police, the investigation into his allegations, and the proceedings that followed. The applicant was also awarded prior damages in civil proceedings for police abuse. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found on 26 January that the decision of the domestic courts was sufficient to find the alleged ill-treatment. It noted however, that many other factors would have led to that conclusion, including the medical and witness evidence. The Court also found a violation of Article 3, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment because of the absence of an adequate investigation into the allegations. Concerning Article 6 section 1, the right to a fair hearing, the Court found no violation as the seizure certificate in question had no bearing on the outcome of the proceedings. Furthermore, the applicant had many opportunities to make his case in court.
CoE: Election of Judges of the ECtHR
On 26 January, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) elected two judges to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR): Ioannis Ktistakis, in respect of Greece and Andreas Zünd, in respect of Switzerland. Both, having obtained an absolute majority of votes cast. They will sit for a term of nine years, which shall commence no later than three months after their election.
Sri Lanka: Government Obstructs Investigations and Trials Addressing Past Violations
A new UN report published on 27 January, warns that the failure of Sri Lanka to address past violations has significantly heightened the risk of human rights violations being repeated. It highlights worrying trends over the past year, such as deepening impunity, increasing militarization of governmental functions, ethno-nationalist rhetoric, and intimidation of civil society. Nearly 12 years after the armed conflict in Sri Lanka ended, impunity for grave human rights violations and abuses by all sides is more entrenched than ever, with the current Government proactively obstructing investigations and trials, and reversing the limited progress that had been previously made, states the report, mandated by UN Human Rights Council resolution 40/1. The report urges enhanced monitoring and strong preventive action by the international community, warning that “Sri Lanka’s current trajectory sets the scene for the recurrence of the policies and practices that gave rise to grave human rights violations.”
ICC: Code of Judicial Ethics Amended
On 27 January, a revised version of the Code of Judicial Ethics of the International Criminal Court (ICC) entered into force. The judges of the Court adopted amendments to the Code of Judicial Ethics in accordance with Regulation 126 of the Regulations of the Court, which entered force upon their publication on the ICC website. In revising the ICC Code of Judicial Ethics to reflect best practices, the judges of the Court reaffirm their strong commitment to the highest ethical standards. Key amendments have been made to Article 5 of the ICC Code of Judicial Ethics concerning integrity, with an express reference to judicial collegiality, an explicit prohibition on any form of discrimination, harassment and abuse of authority, etc. The judges have also adopted Guidelines on the Procedure for the Election of the Presidency, as referred to in the ICC Code of Judicial Ethics. Pursuant to Article 38(1) of the Rome Statute, the President and the First and Second Vice-Presidents shall be elected by an absolute majority of the judges for a term of three years.
ECtHR: Hearing in the Case of Abdi Ibrahim v. Norway
On 27 January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held a Grand Chamber hearing in the case of Abdi Ibrahim v. Norway. The applicant, Mariya Abdi Ibrahim, is a Somali national born in 1993. Her son, born in 2009 in Kenya, prior to their move to Norway where she was granted refugee status, was taken into emergency foster care in late 2010. He was subsequently placed with a Christian family. The applicant had argued that her son should go to either her cousins or to a Somali or Muslim family. In 2013, the authorities allowed the foster family to adopt the child causing the applicant to lose parental rights and contact with her son. She appealed, seeking to gain contact with her son- in order to maintain his cultural and religious roots. The High Court dismissed the applicant’s appeal and ruled to allow the adoption. She was refused leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in September 2015. She then lodged a complaint with the ECtHR on 17 March 2016. On 17 December 2019, the Court held that there had been a violation of Article 8, the right to respect for private and family life. On 11 May 2020 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the applicant’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.
Germany: Foreign Soldiers Can Be Prosecuted for War Crimes Committed Outside of Germany
On 27 January, Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled that courts in the country can continue to hear cases about abuses of international law committed outside of Germany. The court held that foreign soldiers are not protected from prosecution for war crimes in Germany and that they cannot invoke a right to immunity. The ruling could have an impact on other prosecutions of state officials in Germany, such as the trial of two ex-members of Syria’s secret police — the first high-profile case worldwide against former officials in that country’s long-running conflict. The decision stems from the trial of a former Afghan officer who was given a suspended sentence for dangerous bodily harm and a war crime, at a higher regional court in Munich. The defense appealed against the verdict, and the BGH was asked to decide whether the court could rule on acts “committed by a defendant in the exercise of foreign sovereign activity.” The Court ruled that the soldier’s claim of immunity was no longer valid, as his acts constituted a war crime. This is likely to have far-reaching repercussions in other proceedings.
Philippines: Murder Charge Against Indigenous Rights Defender
On 28 January, UN human rights experts called on Philippine authorities to drop a reportedly unwarranted murder charge against an indigenous rights defender, Mr Windel Bolinget, who submitted himself to police after a “shoot to kill” order had been issued if he resisted arrest, and to ensure his safety and well-being while in custody. Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, claimed that Mr Windel Bolinget had been falsely accused of being implicated in a murder of an indigenous leader in a province he has never even been to. “The practice of levying unfounded charges and accusations against human rights defenders for their peaceful and legitimate work is not only incredibly damaging to these individuals and their families, but also other human rights defenders and civil society actors in the Philippines,” the experts said.
ICC: Call on ICC Prosecutor to Investigate Crimes Against Humanity Committed in Greece
On 28 January, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) called on the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open “an investigation into crimes against humanity, which may have been committed by Greece against refugees at the Greek-Turkish border and at reception and identification centers on the Aegean islands.” The SJAC is filing an Article 15 communiqué supported by witness testimony and video evidence to the court. Since 2016, Greece has instituted a series of practices aimed at stripping refugees of their rights, increasing their misery and likelihood of death. Refugees in Greek camps suffer from a lack of food and water and live in squalid tents exposed to the elements: including widespread flooding. This is in despite of the fact that Greece has received hundreds of millions of Euros from the EU to support the refugees. Refugees in camps are mistreated by guards under the command of Greece who have consistently used tear gas and stun grenades on them.
South Sudan: Approval of the Establishment of the Hybrid Court
It was reported on 30 January that the government of South Sudan has moved a step closer to the establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan by approving a plan of the Ministry of Justice to start setting up institutions for peace and reconciliation spelled out in chapter five of the peace agreement. The revitalized peace agreement stipulates that there shall be a hybrid court in South Sudan, aimed at holding war criminals accountable for the conflict which has killed nearly 400,000 people and forced 4 million South Sudanese to flee their homes. As per the peace accord, the African Union in collaboration with the government of South Sudan is to set up a hybrid court for South Sudan to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of committing crimes since the conflict began in December 2013.
INTERNATIONAL PEACE AND SECURITY SECTION
OSCE: The Situation of Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina
On 25 January, Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kathleen Kavalec met with representatives of several NGOs to hear first-hand accounts of border violence, and challenges faced by aid organisations- responding to the mixed migration crisis in the country. It was reported that migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers live in inhumane and dangerous conditions, particularly in and around Velika Kladusa, and Bihac. Kavalec expressed her concerns about reports of violent pushbacks and other human rights violations at the BiH border. The Mission reminded all authorities that they must uphold their obligations under international human rights treaties and domestic law and recalled the importance of democratic oversight in this respect. The OSCE Mission to BiH remains available to assist authorities in engaging in productive political dialogue to improve the situation.
EU: The Council Adopted Conclusions on the Venezuelan Legislative Elections
On 25 January, the Council adopted conclusions regarding the outcome of the legislative elections held on 6 December 2020 in Venezuela and EU policy towards it. The conclusions stressed that the elections were a missed opportunity for democracy, held without a national agreement on electoral conditions, and failed to comply with the international standards for a democratic process. The EU called for the guarantee of all political and civil rights, for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, and for the freedom and safety of all political opponents. The EU emphasized the necessity of resuming political negotiations that would lead to credible, inclusive, and transparent legislative and presidential elections.
UNSC: UN Prepares to Support Palestinian Election
On 26 January, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, reported to the UNSC that the forthcoming elections in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, will be a crucial step towards Palestinian unity, giving renewed legitimacy to national institutions, including a democratically-elected parliament and government in Palestine. This report came after the announcement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas concerning parliamentary and presidential elections which will be held starting in May. He expressed in the name of the UN the support for the Palestinian people to exercise their democratic rights which will be the first vote across the Occupied Territories in 15 years. He also reaffirmed that a two-state solution is still possible, and this election could help this process. He also noted the situation in Occupied Palestinian Territories concerning the pandemic.
US & Russia: The New START Treaty Updates
On 26 January, the US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first phone call in which they discussed pressing bilateral and international issues, including cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and other areas, such as, trade and the economy. The Russian and US leaders also welcomed the exchange of notes on extending New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the two countries. According to the White House, they discussed both countries’ willingness to extend New START for five years, agreeing to have their teams work urgently to complete the extension by February 5. They also agreed to explore strategic stability discussions on a range of arms control and emerging security issues.
UNSC: Full Support for the Peace Process in Colombia
On 28 January, the UN Security Council issued the statement, in which the Council reiterated their full support for the peace process in Colombia, underlining the important achievements made in the four years since the signing of the Final Peace Agreement while recognizing that significant challenges remained. The Council supported complementary efforts by the United Nations Verification Mission, working in coordination with the country team, recognizing the significant nationwide decrease in violence compared to the previous decade, reaffirmed its full support for the three components of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation, and Non-Repetition. The Council noted that ongoing violence in several departments was occurring in the context of limited State presence, illicit economies, and the presence of illegal armed groups. The Council also encouraged continued constructive dialogue between the parties to overcome challenges, including a more robust use of mechanisms established for this purpose, particularly the Commission for the Follow-up, Promotion and Verification of the Implementation of the Final Agreement.
UNSC: Urging for Support for Libya
On 28 January, The Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Libya and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Stephanie Williams briefed the UN Security Council about the situation in Libya. She said that intra-Libyan dialogues, that were facilitated by the Mission, have produced “tangible results” which include a signed ceasefire in October, a roadmap to the election in December 2021, and economic reforms. The results, however, do not include a decision for the exit of foreign fighters and mercenaries- with an estimated total of 20 thousand fighters. Despite progress on the political front, Ms. Williams expressed concern at ongoing fortifications and defensive positions created by General Haftar’s forces at the Gardabiya airbase in the strategic oil port city of Sirte.
UN: Escalating Hostilities in Yemen
On 28 January, the UN’s senior humanitarian official in the country, Auke Lootsma reported about rising tensions and fighting in Al Hudaydah Governorate, that could threaten thousands of civilians. In the last three months of 2020, 153 civilian casualties were reported in the western Governorate, the highest number reported across the country. Describing Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, Mr. Lootsma said that nearly 80 percent of the population (more than 24 million people) require some form of humanitarian assistance and protection. Only 56 percent of the $3.38 billion needed for the humanitarian response in 2020 has been received.
In a related development, the long-awaited inspection of a rusting oil tanker off the coast of Yemen has also been delayed until early March. The 44-year-old Safer supertanker holds 1.1 million barrels of oil. It was abandoned in 2015 and is under the control of the Houthi militant. Houthi rebels, formally known as the Ansar Allah movement, have been fighting for control of the impoverished Arab nation against Government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, since early 2015.
NATO & Russia: Black Sea Manoeuvres
On 28 January, the US navy destroyer USS Porter entered the Black Sea to conduct routine maritime security operations and to train with Allies and partners in the region. Porter is the third US Navy ship that entered the Black Sea in recent days. According to NATO spokesperson, the Alliance has increased its defensive presence in the region and remains strongly committed to Black Sea security as a response to Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. As a response to these actions, Russia deployed a mobile coastal defence anti-ship system Bastion in the Crimea peninsula as a part of the military exercises.
UNSC: Slow Peace Process in Syria
On 29 January, Geir Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria expressed his disappointment with the slow progress of the peace following a meeting involving members of the UN-facilitated Syrian Constitution Committee, in Geneva. He tasked the Small Body of the Committee (45 delegates) to draft a new Syrian constitution, but the Committee did not fulfil this task. Mr. Pedersen previously signalled his low expectations for the Committee´s meeting, warning that the political process is not delivering real change and that free and fair elections “seem far into the future.” Given the current state of the talks, Mr. Pedersen said that he was not able to announce a date for a sixth session. He also planned to discuss with the representatives of the Syrian Government, as well as with the Turkey-based Syrian National Council. Meanwhile, the UN humanitarian office, OCHA, estimated that around 80 percent of the Syrian population lives in poverty, and civilians face a range of dangers: from instability, arbitrary detention and abduction, to criminality, and the activities of terrorist groups.
UNSG: Rising Tensions in Myanmar
On 29 January, the UN Secretary-General expressed his concerns about new development in Myanmar. He called on all actors to desist from any form of incitement or provocation, demonstrate leadership, and adhere to democratic norms. Tensions have been rising following the outcomes of the November 2020 general elections, in which the leader of the party National League for Democracy (NLD) claimed an overwhelming victory. According to media reports, other political parties disputed the results, alleging the polls were marred by irregularities. The military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) contend that there was widespread voter fraud and have been ramping up pressure on electoral authorities to investigate. The UN Secretary-General added that all electoral disputes should be resolved through established legal mechanisms and expressed the UN´s support to the people Government of Myanmar.
UNHCR: 200,000 Displaced People in the CAR
On 29 January, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported that more than 200,000 people were forced to flee their homes due to continued violence and insecurity in the country. Half of those people fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Cameroon, Chad, and the Republic of the Congo. UNHCR also added that continuing volatility has hampered humanitarian response, making it more difficult to access people displaced inside the Central African Republic (CAR).
Meanwhile, on 24 January, the CAR authorities handed over a former CAR militia leader Mahamat Said Abdel Kani to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Mahamat Said is suspected of being responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity: including torture, persecution, and enforced disappearance which were allegedly committed in the capital, Bangui, in 2013. UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the CAR commented the handover as a strong message and a warning signal to rebel groups, political actors, and others who thrive on impunity.