Weekly News Recap (15–21 Feb 2021)




Turkey: The High Criminal Court Sentenced Reporters from Kurdish Newspapers to Imprisonment on the Charges of Terrorism

On 15 February, the journalists of Özgür Gündem newspaper, who covered the conflict between the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (KWP) have been sentenced for producing Kurdish propaganda. Some of the journalists were sentenced to up to 6 years of imprisonment for “membership of an armed terrorist organization.” Amnesty International has condemned the sentences as examples of anti-terrorism laws being applied to criminalize legitimate and peaceful activities. 



ICC: Sudan Signed ICC Cooperation Agreement to Start Darfur Trial

A Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Sudan on 15 February, with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), on the trial of Ali Kushayb who is accused of committing war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan. It is unclear whether the memorandum included other former officials wanted by the Court in connection with the crimes committed in Darfur. That said, the Pre-Trial Chamber confirmation of charges hearing of Ali Kushayb is expected on 22 February 2021.


ECtHR: Germany Lawfully Investigated the Airstrike on Kunduz, Afghanistan

The case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was brought by Abdul Hanan, who lost his children in an airstrike near Kunduz, Afghanistan, claiming that Germany failed to properly investigate the incident. The airstrike was ordered by a German commander who had reasonable grounds to believe that trucks could be used by insurgents to carry out the attacks. The Court ruled on 16 February that Germany conducted an effective investigation and did not violate its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court highlighted that Germany ensured a high level of public scrutiny. The compensation claim of Hanan was also dismissed by the Court. 


Palestine: Court Restricted Travel for Unmarried Women and Children

It was reported on 16 February, that the Supreme Council of the Sharia Judiciary imposed restrictions of travel for unmarried persons in the Gaza Strip. The first article prohibits a father from traveling with his minor children who are in the mother’s custody without the consent of the custodian. The second article allows a father to travel with his minor children after a divorce and subsequent remarriage of the mother (to another man), as long as the father obtains permission from the court of the first instance. The third and fourth impose restrictions without the consent of an elder or guardian, on citizens above the age of 18, and specifically on unmarried woman. The guardian now can prevent a woman from traveling “if there is absolute harm in her travel.” The wording of the judgment is very vague and thus leaves room for arbitrary interpretation which would violate the rights of women. The Court is criticized for its abuse of power, as its role is to interpret and not to create the law.



ECtHR: Failure to Ensure the Fair Trial of Victims of Human Trafficking in the UK

In V.C.L. and A.N. v. the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found on 16 February that the United Kingdom (UK) had violated the European Convention of Human Rights for failure to ensure the fair trial of victims of human trafficking. The applicants were two Vietnamese youth, who had been discovered by the United Kingdom’s authorities while working on cannabis farms. They were charged with drug-related offenses. The Court found that despite the suspicion of trafficking neither the police nor the prosecution service had referred the case of Vietnamese nationals to a competent body for assessment. The Court found that the United Kingdom violated Articles 4 and 6 of the Convention.


ICC: The Prosecutor v. Yekatom and Ngaïssona Case Opened Before Trial Chamber V

On 16 February 2021, the case of Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona opened before Trial Chamber V of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic. Both accused denied charges on all counts. The trial is scheduled to resume on 15 March 2021, when the Prosecutor will begin to present its evidence and call witnesses before the judges.


Bangladesh: 5 People Received a Death Sentence for Killing a US Blogger

On 16 February, a special anti-terrorism tribunal in Bangladesh’s capital had sentenced five members of an Islamist militant group to death. Aviiit Roy, a Bangladesh-born US citizen, was a well-known atheist blogger who criticized religious extremism. He was murdered in Dhaka by the representatives of the Islamist militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT). The group is deemed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda and responsible for the killings of numerous secular bloggers in Bangladesh. The five men behind the death of Aviiit Roy were sentenced to death while the sixth, received a life-long prison sentence.  


ECtHR: Interim Measure to Release Alexey Navalny

Alexey Navalny was arrested by Russian authorities in January 2021 for his criticism of the Kremlin’s policies. On 17 February, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued an interim measure to release Navalny. ECtHR acted following Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, which entitles the Court to issue interim measure if the person may face “an imminent risk of irreparable harm.” However, Russia dismissed the order claiming that the ECtHR’s demand was “unfounded and unlawful.” Russia’s constitutional amendments allow the State to disregard international decisions which it deems violate its sovereignty. Russia called the Court’s decision “blatant interference in the judicial affairs of a sovereign state.” On 20 February, a court in Moscow rejected Alexei Navalny’s appeal of his prison sentence, despite the order from the ECtHR.




Colombia: Special Jurisdiction for Peace Established the Colombian Army Killing of Civilians

On 18 February, Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) established that the Colombian army killed at least 6,402 civilians between 2002 and 2008 and falsely presented the killings as combat casualties. This case is known as “false positives” and the JEP is investigating the killings by a “bottom up” approach. Those that are responsible at the local level will be identified first with factual and legal steps involved. The investigation will then move on to the regional and national level. The government and the FARC signed a Peace Agreement that created the JEP to administer transitional justice and deal with crimes of armed conflict on both sides prior to 1 December 2016.



Haiti: Judges Arrested or Forced to Retire

On 19 February, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, released a press statement in which she expressed concerns about judicial independence in the context of recent developments in Haiti, where several judges, among them a judge of the Supreme Court, were arrested or forced to retire and were later replaced, apparently through an irregular procedure in the last few weeks. In response, justice system personnel started an indefinite strike on Monday 15 February. She called on the authorities to ensure respect for the established legal and institutional framework and to comply with their obligations under the Haitian Constitution and international human rights treaties noting that, respecting the rule of law and the system of checks and balances at all times is paramount, but it is even more crucial now given the growing political tensions and the increased expression of dissent in demonstrations.



UN & NATO: Situation in Afghanistan

On 15 February, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report in which the Mission informed that 65 journalists, media professionals, and human rights defenders were killed in Afghanistan between 1 January 2018 and 31 January 2021, with 11 losing their lives since the start of peace negotiations last September. The UNAMA stated that this trend, combined with the absence of any claims of responsibility has generated a climate of fear among the population. However, the report documented changing patterns of attacks, which consist of anonymity of perpetrators. Among the report’s recommendations is the creation of an adequate preventive framework, including special protective and proactive security measures for those in needs; calling on the Taliban to adopt, publicize, and enforce policies that prohibit the killings; calling on the international community to continue to engage in the protection and assistance of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers at risk.

Meanwhile, on 18 February, the Defence Ministers of NATO countries reiterated their commitment to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission with training and funding for the Afghan security forces.




UNSG: Situation in Sahel Region & Attack in Nigeria

On 16 February, during the summit of the Group of Five for the Sahel, the UN Secretary-General expressed his concern for the Sahel region, where deteriorating security and violence are aggravating an already difficult humanitarian situation that is unfolding amid the COVID-19 pandemic and climate emergency. The G5 Sahel comprises of: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. The UN Secretary-General noted that despite recent promising developments, including the peaceful holding of elections, civilians continue to pay the price for ongoing insecurity in the region, which has displaced more than two million people.

Meanwhile, on 18 February, the UN Secretary-General has strongly condemned Wednesday’s attack on a boarding school in north-central Nigeria in which one student was killed and overall 40 people (among them 26 students) abducted. According to reports, gunmen kidnapped the students from Government Science College Kagara, in the Niger state of Nigeria. Concerning that, UNICEF Nigeria representative said that the attacks on schools were a violation of children’s rights. Schools have become regular targets for militant groups in Nigeria as well as criminal gangs seeking ransom money.




UNSC: Briefing on the Situation in Iraq

On 16 February, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported to the UN Security Council about the cooperation between Iraq and the Kurdish Region in the north. She condemned the rocket attacks on 15 February in Erbil (Kurdistan) noting that “such reckless attempts to inflame tensions pose grave threats.” Noting that despite many opportunities for profound positive change much remains to be done since the impact of multiple, interlinked crises will be lasting she cautioned, pointing out that Iraq continues to experience acute financial and economic difficulties, as reflected by the exceptional currency devaluation. Mentioning the forthcoming election in Iraq on 10 October she urged all parties to proceed with the election without further delays. She also briefed about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. She also pointed out, that transparency, justice, and accountability remain largely absent. The Members of the Council unanimously expressed their full support to Iraq´s reconciliation process.



Astana Format, WFP & HRC: Peace Process Amid Starvation in Syria

On 16 February, the Astana format, consisting of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, held the International Meeting on Syria in Sochi to discuss the work of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, which is aimed at drawing up the Arab Republic’s new Constitution. In joint statements, the Format reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, condemned the increasing terrorist activities in various parts of Syria, agreed to continue cooperation to ultimately eliminate DAESH/ISIL, Al-Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaeda or DAESH/ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the UN Security Council. The Format also condemned continuing Israeli military attacks in Syria in violation of international law and emphasized the important role of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva.

Meanwhile, on 17 February, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that the number of Syrians who lack access to sufficient food has reached a record 12.4 million, or nearly 60 percent of the population. According to WFP Representative and Country Director in Syria, after 10 years of conflict, the situation has never been worse. On 18 February, Human Rights Council (HRC)-appointed investigators said that families need justice to help rebuild their lives. The head of the Commission of Inquiry added that, opportunistic foreign funding, arms, and other support to the warring parties has poured fuel on this fire, and the world has been content to watch burn.





UN & AU: Urging Somalia to Overcome Political Impasse

On 16 February, the heads of the UN and African Union released a joint statement in which they commended the people and leaders of Somalia for progress achieved in recent years towards the stabilization of the country. They urged the Somali leaders to resume dialogue and work in a spirit of compromise “to overcome the last political hurdles to inclusive elections as soon as possible” and respect the agreement they reached on 17 September 2020. As per the September 2020 agreement, parliamentary elections were scheduled for December 2020 and presidential elections on 8 February 2021. While the parliamentary elections were postponed, the presidential elections did not take place. New dates for the elections have not yet been set. On 19 February, it was reported that the gunfire erupted between Somali Government troops and opposition supporters during a protest march against delayed elections that turned violent. Demonstrators said that the Government forces had attacked them first and residents reported sporadic shooting and rocket-propelled grenades had been fired according to news sources.



UN: Updates on the Situation in Myanmar

On 16 February, Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener called on the country’s military leadership to refrain from violence and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. In a conversation with the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar Soe Win, she reinforced that “the right of peaceful assembly must fully be respected and that demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals.” She has conveyed to the Myanmar military that the world is watching closely, and any form of heavy-handed response is likely to have severe consequences. On 17 February, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar has warned of the potential for a sharp uptick in violence on Wednesday, as protests continue against the military takeover of the government. On 18 February, it was also reported that protesters try to block the movement of security forces by cars and hackers targeted the military online by disrupting websites including the central bank, the military-run propaganda agency True News Information Team and the state-run broadcaster MRTV. Protests across Myanmar have grown steadily since the military takeover and arrest of top political leaders, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. 




UNSG: Report on CAR

On 16 February, the UN Secretary-General issued a report on the updates of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) in which he informed about the recent developments in the country and activities of MINUSCA since 12 October 2020. In the report, he stated that the recent development in the country was marked by the presidential and legislative elections held on 27 December 2020 which resulted in political tensions across the Central African Republic (CAR). Despite the situation, some progress was made in disarmament and demobilization. Concerning the humanitarian situation, he reported that over half the population (2.8 million people) require humanitarian assistance and protection and it is estimated that 240,000 people were newly displaced. The report also informed about developments in the sphere of extension of state authority and the rule of law in the country; human rights and the fight against impunity; socioeconomic situation and MINUSCA activities and statistics.


OSCE: Statement After Meeting of Trilateral Group in Ukraine

On 17 February, the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine and the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), Heidi Grau released a statement in which she stated the recent developments in eastern Ukraine and the aims of each Working Groups (WG). Security WG focused its discussion on the repair and reconstruction of civilian infrastructure. The Political WG addressed issues related to the implementation of the tasking given by the TCG to develop a draft action plan in full compliance with the Minsk agreements. The Humanitarian WG focused on removing obstacles to the opening and proper functioning of the entry-exit crossing points. The Economic WG focused on questions of water supplies across the contact line, as well as, the provision of mobile communications. Heidi Grau noted the 6th anniversary of the signing of the Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements, which, together with the Minsk Protocol and the Minsk Memorandum, constitute the single political framework for the peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It was stated that additional efforts and the political will of the sides are still required for the implementation of the Minsk agreements, especially given the recent increase in the number of ceasefire violations.


UN: Treaty Ratifications

On 19 February, it was reported that the Philippines ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons signed on 7 July 2017, making it the 53rd state in the world. It was also reported that Mongolia ratified the Amendment on the Crime of Aggression to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and Amendment to Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted in June 2010. Mongolia is the 39th State to ratify the Amendment to Article 8 and the 41st nation to ratify the Amendment on the crime of aggression.




OHCHR: Appeal for De-Escalation Amid the Starvation in Yemen

On 19 February, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) appealed for a de-escalation in hostilities in Marib Governorate in northern Yemen as Houthi forces, also known as Ansar Allah, attempt to seize the area from Government control. Marib, relatively unaffected by the conflict until now, is the governorate with the biggest number of internally displaced people in Yemen. It was reported that Ansar Allah forces launched an offensive on several fronts. Forces affiliated with the Government of Yemen have fought back with the support of the Saudi-led Coalition, which has carried out more than 100 airstrikes since 10 February. OHCHR is also concerned about reports of drones and missiles allegedly launched by Ansar Allah striking civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. On 18 February, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator told the UN Security Council that malnutrition rates in Yemen are at “record highs” and the country is “speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades” adding that “we are running out of time.”




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