Weekly News Recap (29 March-4 Apr 2021)




USA: Public Universities Cannot Force Professors to Respect Student Pronouns

On 29 March, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that public universities cannot force professors to respect student pronoun preferences. The court relies on the First Amendment, particularly if pronoun preferences run counter to the professor’s religious or philosophical beliefs. The case arose out of a dispute between Professor Nicholas Meriwether and a transgender student at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio. Jane Doe was a student of Meriweather and had asked Meriweather to use the pronouns she/her, but Meriweather refused stating that it would be contrary to his religious beliefs. The court stated that academic freedom in colleges is of the utmost importance, and introducing students to opposing views is an integral part of college education.



USA: Pre-Trial Detention for the Inability to Post Bail Held Unconstitutional

On 29 March, the California Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to hold people in jail based on their inability to post bail. The case concerned a 66-year-old man accused of robbery and burglary, who allegedly robbed another resident of a nursing home and was assigned a bail of $ 600,000. The court later reduced his bail to $ 350,000 but he still could not pay. While the purpose of bail is to protect the public interest and to assure that those who are released from jail will return to court, the court found that it was not serving this function because it “[did] not depend on a careful, individualized determination of the need to protect public safety”, but ”on the accused’s ability to post the sum provided in a county’s uniform bail schedule.” The Court held that “[d]etaining an arrestee [without regard for his ability to pay bail] accords insufficient respect to the arrestee’s crucial state and federal equal protection rights against wealth-based detention as well as the arrestee’s state and federal substantive due process rights to pretrial liberty”.



Occupied Crimea: Court Sentenced A Jehovah’s Witness for Violating Russian Anti-Extremist Laws

On 29 March, a court in Crimea sentenced a Jehovah’s Witness to 6,5 years of imprisonment for violating anti-extremist laws. Victor Stashevskiy was tried in the court for promoting ideas of Jehovah’s Witnesses and organizing religious performances. His sentence is one of the highest ever for organizing Jehovah’s Witness meetings. The Russian Supreme Court designated Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization in 2017. Stashevskiy could have avoided sentencing by publicly denouncing his faith, but he refused to do it.



IACHR: Extension of Precautionary Measures to Two People Associated with the San Isidro Movement in Cuba

On 30 March, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) informed about its Resolution 29/2021 of 24 March. The resolution granted precautionary measures in favor of Aminta D’Cárdenas Soroa and Carlos Manuel Álvarez, both associated with the San Isidro Movement (MSI) upon considering that they are at serious and urgent risk of irreparable harm to their rights to life and personal integrity in Cuba. These precautionary measures are related to those granted on 11 February 2021 in favor of 20 identified members of the MSI. It was identified that these individuals were also subjected to intense police control, which was not limited to surveillance but also sought to prevent them from performing activities related to the Movement. In this sense, the IACHR noted that state agents were closely monitoring the beneficiaries’ actions and even tracking their movements between provinces in the country. In the case of Carlos Manuel Alvarez, after being detained, he was reportedly subject to acts of aggression after having been summoned to the police station.


ECtHR: Lawyers of a World-Famous Russian Historian Lodged an Application for Violations of the European Convention

On 30 March, the lawyers of Yuri Dmitriev, who is a world-famous Russian historian and head of the Karelian branch of Memorial, lodged an application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). They cited four article violations of the European Convention, including the prohibition of politically motivated persecution. Yuri Dmitriev was sentenced to 13 years in prison. His case is widely known and his arrest and imprisonment are seen as relating to his work over the decades of uncovering the crimes of the Soviet regime, including the mass graves of victims in Sandarmokh, and the names of the criminals.




ECtHR: Violation of the Right to Life in the Case of Gasangusenov v. Russia

On 30 March, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued a judgment in the case concerning the killing of the applicant’s two sons, who worked as shepherds, during a special operation carried out by State agents in August 2016 in Goor-Khindakh, Dagestan (Russia). It also concerned the ensuing investigation. The Court found that the applicant’s sons had been killed as a result of the unjustified use of lethal force, in breach of Article 2 of the Convention. There was no evidence that serious consideration had been devoted to the planning and carrying out of the operation. In that light, the Court found that it had not been demonstrated that the lethal force used, which had brought about the applicant’s sons’ deaths, had been absolutely necessary.It also found that no effective investigation had been conducted into their killing.


ICC: Final Judgment in the Bosco Ntaganda Case

On 30 March, a decision was rendered by the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Appeals Chambers, confirming by a majority vote the decision taken by the Trial Chamber VI in regards to the guilty verdict of Mr Bosco Ntaganda. Mr Ntaganda was found guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ituri, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2002-2003. The Appeals Chamber upheld the Trial Chamber’s decision of 7 November 2019, in which Mr. Ntaganda was sentenced to a total of 30 years in prison. On appeal, the Appeals Chamber dismissed Mr. Ntaganda’s challenges, including the challenge to the Trial Chamber’s assessment of his degree of participation in and knowledge of the crimes.


ECtHR: Decision in the Case of Ribcheva and Others v. Bulgaria

On 30 March, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued the judgment in the case of Ribcheva and others v. Bulgaria. The case concerns the questions whether the authorities were required by Article 2 of the Convention, and if so, in what form, to investigate whether they were responsible for not doing enough to protect the life of a police officer killed in the course of an operation by the person that he was trying to arrest. The case also concerns the question whether the authorities had an operational duty under the same provision to protect that officer’s life and, if so, the scope and content of that duty. The Court held that there had been a violation of Article 2 of the Convention, owing to the failure to investigate effectively, however, the Court held that there had been no violation in respect to the measures taken by the authorities to protect the officer’s life and that there is no need to examine the complaint under Article 13. The Court held that the authorities’ precautions were reasonable despite some mistakes in the planning and conduct of the operation.


ECtHR: The Court Declared the Application in the Case of Fenech v. Malta Partly Inadmissible

The case concerns the aftermath of the applicant’s arrest on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist. The applicant challenged the conditions and length of his pre-trial detention, especially in regards to Covid-19 and his state of health as a detainee with one kidney. The Court found on 30 March that the complaints under Article 5 § 1, 3, and 4 (right to liberty and security) and Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights were manifestly ill-founded and had to be rejected. The Court found that it could not determine the admissibility of the applicant’s complaints under Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) regarding his condition as a detainee, nor could they assess the State’s alleged failure to guarantee the right to health in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Court decided to adjourn the examination of the applicant’s complaint and gave notice to the Maltese Government of the defendant’s vulnerable status.


UK: General Guidance on Dealing with Domestic Violence in the Case of Re H-N and Others (children)

On 30 March, in the case Re H-N and Others (children), the UK Court of Appeals pronounced a landmark judgment on allegations of domestic abuse. The case concerned four appeals involving the welfare of children, where allegations of domestic abuse had been made by at least one parent against the other. The court provided general guidance on issues of fact hearing, controlling, and coercive behavior. The Court also found that The Scott Schedules, which are used by family courts are ineffective because they fail to identify whether there has been a pattern of coercive and controlling behavior. Moreover, the court found that courts should “avoid analyzing evidence of behavior by the direct application of the criminal law.”



ICC: The Appeals Chamber Confirmed the Acquittal of Gbagbo and Goudé

On 31 March, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed the decision of the Trial Chamber I, which acquitted Mr Gbagbo and Mr Goudé of all charges of crimes against humanity. The Appeals Chamber found that even if the verdict and reasons of the Court are not delivered concurrently, it does not necessarily invalidate the entire trial process. The Appeal Chamber also rejected the allegation that the Trial Chamber I had failed to articulate and apply the standard of proof. Two judges delivered dissenting opinions stating that the Trial Chamber I’s decision was materially affected by serious errors and would have granted the Prosecution’s appeal and ordered a new trial of Mr Gbagbo and Mr Goudé.


USA: Florida v. Georgia Dismissed

On 1 April, the US Supreme Court announced its decision to dismiss the case of Florida v. Georgia, ruling that Florida’s exceptions to the special master’s report were overturned. The dispute is over the ACF Basin, which provides water to both Florida and Georgia. Florida argued that Georgia was using too much water, causing a weak flow into the Apalachicola River resulting in damage to the river’s ecosystem and oyster fisheries. The evidence brought forth by Florida failed to prove that Georgia’s overconsumption caused the collapse and in fact, Florida revealed unprecedented levels of oyster harvesting in the years before the collapse. Moreover, the court found no evidence that the river’s ecosystem had been damaged.




ECtHR: A Ban on Contact Between a Nigerian Refugee and Her Children Breached the Right to Respect for Private Life

On 1 April, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of A.I. v. Italy concerning the inability of the applicant, a Nigerian refugee the mother of two children who had been a victim of trafficking and was in a vulnerable position, to enjoy access rights owing to a court-ordered prohibition on contact, in a situation where the proceedings concerning the children’s eligibility for adoption had remained pending for over three years. The Court found in particular that the appeal court, as a specialised court composed of two professional judges and two lay judges, had not taken into account the expert conclusions recommending that ties be maintained between the applicant and the children, and had not explained why it had chosen not to do so. Given the seriousness of the interests at stake, the authorities ought to have carried out a more detailed assessment of the applicant’s vulnerability during the proceedings. The Court considered that insufficient weight had been attached to the importance of a family life for the applicant and her children in the proceedings which resulted in the cessation of contact between them.


USA: Presidential Decree on the End of Sanctions and Visa Restrictions against the ICC personnel

On 2 April, President Biden overturned Executive Order 13928 titled “Freezing the Property of Certain Persons Associated with the International Criminal Court (ICC).” This will end the economic sanctions and visa restrictions associated with the Court. The decree lifted sanctions imposed by the previous administration against ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, the Head of the Jurisdiction, Complementary and Cooperation Division of the Office of the Prosecutor. This decision reflects an assessment that the previous measures were inappropriate and ineffective. The White House during its press statement made it clear though, that they strongly disagree with the ICC’s actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations. On 3 April, the ICC welcomed the the decision by the US Government ending sanctions and visa restrictions against ICC personnel.





UNSC: Emergency Relief Coordinator for Syria Called for Respite

On 29 March, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock described to the UN Security Council (UNSC) the Syrian situation as a ‘decade of death, destruction, displacement, disease, dread and despair.’ During a videoconference meeting, he highlighted how the dramatic consequences of a 10-years long conflict have been further exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In his statement, he listed several high-priority concerns including, the violent and deadly escalation in northern Syria, the consequent hindering of humanitarian services due to security operations by de-facto authorities in the region or the destruction of numerous UN convoys supplying humanitarian aid caused by an airstrike next to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing. In this regard, the UN official underlined how the basic needs of 75% of the people in the north-west region depend on humanitarian assistance and that the current logistic issues, and donors’ fears that terrorists might benefit from those supplies, or other matters must not impede the delivery of humanitarian aid. Afterwards, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Henrietta Fore, and Amani Ballour, Founder of the NGO Al Amar Fund, stressed the dramatic circumstances in which millions of children and young people are living both in Syria and in neighbouring countries.


NATO: Unusual Levels of Air Activity by Russian Aircraft Near Alliance Airspace

On 29 March, NATO forces intercepted six different groups of Russian military aircraft over North Atlantic, North Sea, Black Sea, and Baltic Sea. The air policing mission involved aircraft from Norway, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, and took place in a safe and routine manner. Brigadier General Andrew Hansen, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at Allied Air Command, Ramstein, Germany said, intercepting multiple groups of Russian aircraft demonstrates NATO forces’ readiness and capability to guard Allied skies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.”


NATO: Medical Supplies and IT Equipment Delivered to the Republic of Moldova

On 29 March, as part of two distinct operations, the Republic of Moldova received 100,000 face masks (FFP2) from NATO’s Pandemic Response Trust Fund and information technology (IT) equipment for the modernisation of the country’s Ministry of Defence. Whilst the first donation was coordinated by the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) in relation to Moldova’s request for international assistance, the second was part of the Defence and related security Capacity Building (DCB) Initiative. In fact, the country’s Ministry of Defence is pushing for transformation and innovation. Both operations took place in full respect of the country’s constitutional neutrality, territorial integrity and sovereignty.



UNSC: Secretary-General’s Special Representative in DRC Reported on MONUSCO

On 30 March, the Secretary-General Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Organisations Stabilisation Mission (MONUSCO) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bintou Keita reported to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on her first meeting with President Félix Tshisekedi and Prime Minister-designate Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge and presented MONUSCO’s latest report. During the institutional meeting, she perceived ‘a momentum for change’ but stressed the importance of taking prompt and adequate actions in several priority areas like the reform of the security sector and the strengthening of the judiciary; the protection of civilians; the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of combatants; and the preparations for the 2023 elections. Afterwards, the Executive Coordinator of the civil society group Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integral Development Sandrine Lusumba expressed her concerns regarding the human rights violations, impunity and lack of adequate civilians’ protection and reconciliation initiatives. The States’ representatives of France, Norway, China, Niger, Mexico, Ireland, Estonia, India, Russia, Vietnam, US and DRC took the floor. On 31 March, UNSC President Linda Thomas-Greenfield issued a press statement on the situation in the country.



UNSC: Statement of the President Following Terrorist Attacks in Indonesia

On 30 March, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) President Linda Thomas-Greenfield released a press statement on behalf of the UNSC following the terrorist attack of 28 March at Makassar Church, Indonesia. She expressed the UNSC’s condolences to the victims’ families, the Indonesian Government and hoped for a ‘speedy and full recovery to those who were injured.’ On behalf of the Council, she stressed the necessity of bringing perpetrators, organisers, financiers and sponsors of such acts to justice and invited States to act according to the relevant obligations under international law and UNSC resolutions. Also, President Thomas-Greenfield reiterated the UNSC strong condemnation for any acts of terrorism and the need to combat threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.


UN: MINUSMA Concluded Investigations on January French Airstrike in Mali

On 30 March, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) released a statement following the investigations started on 4 January after a French military airstrike resulted in the death of several people. Following numerous face-to-face and telephonic interviews, group meetings and other investigations, the fact-finding team of 15 human rights officers, concluded that the air raid of 3 January killed at least 22 people gathered for a wedding celebration close to the Malian village of Bounty. Whilst on 7 January the French Government declared to have killed through that airstrike around 30 armed Islamist fighters, according to the UN investigations, just three of the victims were suspected to be Katiba Serma affiliates. MINUSMA encourages ‘an independent, credible and transparent investigation’ to ascertain possible violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. On 2 April, 4 peacekeepers serving with MINUSMA lost their lives due to an armed attack in the Kidal region in the northeast of the country.



UN: Several Officials Urge Immediate Action Following the Situation in Myanmar

During this week, several UN Officials and Representatives expressed significant concerns stemming from the situation in Myanmar. On 31 March, the UN Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener recalled that since the start of the coup of 1 February 2021 more than 520 civilians have been killed, thus ‘the urgency for a solution to this crisis could not be clearer.’ On 1 April, the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called on Myanmar’s neighbouring countries’ overture and protection for refugees fleeing violence and persecution. On 2 April, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children Najat Maalla M’jid released a joint statement following the death of at least 44 children since the coup started. Also, they called on the military to respect the Convention on the Rights of the Child and stop the arbitrary detention of children and young protestors.




CoE: CoM Adopted CDCT Guidelines on Preventing Terrorism

On 1 April, the Council of Europe (CoE) Committee of Ministers (CoM) adopted certain guidelines to strengthen the Member States capacities to prevent and fight terrorism by ‘understanding […] the links between organised crime groups and terrorist organisations who are increasingly co-operating to reach their own objectives and profit from one another.’ The document was originally developed by the Council of Europe Committee on Counterterrorism (CDCT) in order to address several factors which potentially enhance the “opportunistic co-operation” between terrorist groups and transnational organised crime, for instance, in fields such as recruitment and radicalisation, financing, and arms trafficking.


Mozambique: ICRC Emergency Response to Recent Attacks

As reported on 2 April, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is organising an emergency response in coordination with Mozambican authorities, the Red Cross Society of Mozambique and other humanitarian agencies following the recent escalation of violence which started on 24 March 2021. The mission includes mobile health facilities in critical sites, essential support to newly displaced people, and contact points to facilitate communication with family members.


Ukraine: Russian Military Manoeuvres Along Borders

As reported on 3 April, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declared that Russia would take ‘additional measures’ if NATO were to take any action following the recent Russian military build-up. According to Ukraine’s Army Commander Gen Ruslan Khomchak, Russia has lately deployed 28 battalion tactical groups near the eastern border and in Crimea, which approximately amount to 20000-25000 units. Russian officials did not give any data about such deployments and Mr Peskov stated that ‘the Russian Federation moves its armed forces within its territory at its discretion‘. He added that ‘it should not worry anyone and does not pose a threat to anyone’. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba declared that ‘Ukraine is not looking for any escalation – we do not need war.’ Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said ‘military exercises and possible provocations along the border are traditional Russian games.’ A NATO official commented saying ‘Allies share their concerns about Russia’s recent large-scale military activities in and around Ukraine.


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