Weekly News Recap (30 August-5 September 2021)

International Justice Section



IRMCT: Prosecutor Discloses Expert Reports To Defense Counsel Of Félicien Kabuga

On 30 August, the Prosecution in the trial against Félicien Kabuga notified the Trial Chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) its disclosure to Mr Kabuga’s defence counsel. The disclosure of the reports and curriculum vitae of four expert witnesses was done pursuant to Mechanism Rule 116 in accordance with the Trial Chamber’s Pre-Trial Work Plan. The first expert witness is Evariste Ntakirutimana, Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of Rwanda. Her report concerns the meaning and use of certain lexical and syntagmatic units in Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) broadcast between October 1993 and July 1994. RTLM was a Rwandan radio station that broadcast and allegedly played a significant role in inciting the Rwandan genocide that took place from April to July 1994 and has been described by some scholars as having been a de facto arm of the Hutu government. The second expert witness is Jean-François Dupaquier, journalist and author/co-author of multiple publications on the genocide in Rwanda, including an expert report admitted before the ICTR in Prosecutor v. Nahimana et al. The third expert witness is Binaifer Nowrojee, Vice-President at Open Society Foundations, previously an expert witness in Prosecutor v. Bagosora et al., who will testify on sexual violence crimes during the Rwandan Genocide. The fourth expert report to be filed is from Alison des Forges, the late senior advisor at Human Rights Watch. The Prosecution intends to tender portions of testimony in Prosecutor v. Nahimana under Rule 112.


France: Paris Court Of Appeal Rejects Appeal Request By The Widow Of Former Rwandan President To End Investigation Into Her Role In The Genocide

On 30 August, the Paris Court of Appeal rejected an appeal request by Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of former Rwanda’s President, Juvenal Habyarimana, to end an investigation into claims that she played a role in the 1994 genocide. She has been under investigation since 2007 for “complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity.” She is suspected of being one of the “masterminds” of the genocide that claimed the lives of over 800,000 Tutsis in 1994. The request was deemed inadmissible on formal grounds. Her defence counsel, Philippe Meilhac, explains “it is not a question of the merits of the case but legal arguments.” Agathe Kanziga, the widow of Juvénal Habyarimana, the Hutu president whose assassination on April 6, 1994, triggered the massacres against the Tutsi minority, has been targeted since 2008 by an investigation in France on her role during the genocide, initiated by a complaint from the Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR). Her previous request for the French courts to dismiss the investigation was rejected in November 2020. Ms Habyarimana, who has lived in France since 1998, has no legal status because France refused to extradite her to Rwanda in 2011, but did not grant her asylum because of suspicions about the role she may have played in the Rwandan Genocide.


ECtHR: A Judge Visiting A Crime Scene Ruled A Violation Of The Right To A Fair Trial

On 31 August, the ECtHR ruled in the case of Karrar v. Belgium, that the circumstances surrounding a visit to a crime scene by the president of the Assize Court gave rise to doubts about his impartiality, thus constituting a violation of Article 6 (right to a fair trial) of the ECHR. The case concerned criminal proceedings instituted against Mr Karrar, following which he was convicted of the murder of his two children and sentenced to life imprisonment. The applicant complained of the lack of impartiality of the president of the Assize Court, particularly because the president and the children’s mother had met in the week before the trial. The Court found that the conduct of the president of the Assize Court could have prompted objectively justified doubts as to his objective impartiality, thereby calling into question the impartiality of the Assize Court itself in determining the criminal charge against Mr Karrar.


ECtHR: Conviction Of An Imam On The Grounds Of His Facebook Posts Ruled A Violation Of The Freedom Of Expression

On 31 August, the ECtHR ruled in the case of Üçdağ v. Turkey, that the criminal conviction of Mr Üçdağ, a public official working as an imam at a local mosque, who was convicted for disseminating propaganda in favour of a terrorist organization by posting two posts on his Facebook account. The court also found his application to the Constitutional Court constituted a violation of Article 6 (1) (right of access to a tribunal) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the ECHR. The two Facebook posts included two photographs of individuals in uniform similar to that of PKK members and a crowd demonstrating. The ECtHR considered that the domestic courts’ decisions failed to provide an adequate explanation for why the impugned contents had to be interpreted as condoning, praising and encouraging the methods [using] coercion, violence or threats implemented by the PKK in the context of their publication. The domestic courts were held to have failed to conduct an appropriate balancing exercise, in line with the criteria set out in its case-law, between the applicant’s right to freedom of expression and the legitimate aims pursued. The Court also ruled that the Constitutional Court’s very strict interpretation of the time limit on lodging an individual application had disproportionately interfered with the applicant’s right to an assessment of the merits of his application.


ECtHR: No Involvement Of Russia In Estemirova Assassination Although Failure To Properly Investigate

On 31 August, the ECtHR ruled in the case of Estemirova v. Russia by 5 votes to 2 that there had been no violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the ECHR in connection with the abduction and murder of a well-known human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova. However, the Court rules unanimously that Article 2 had been a violation in regard to the proper investigation and that the Government had failed to comply with their obligations under Article 38 (obligation to furnish necessary facilities for the examination of a case). The Court found that the Government’s failure to provide a full copy of the criminal case file had undermined its ability to assess the quality of the investigation. As a result, the Court was unable to conclude that the investigation had been carried out thoroughly. Taking into account that the criminal investigation is still open, the Court indicated that the authorities should, in so far as possible, attempt to ascertain the circumstances of Ms Estemirova’s abduction and murder, identifying the perpetrators and punishing those responsible, where appropriate. Lastly, the Court found that the applicant had not made out a case that Natalia Estemirova, had been abducted by State agents, and the evidence did not support the State involvement in her murder.


Guatemala: Two Former Generals In Guatemala To Stand Trial On Charges For Genocide And Crimes Against Humanity

On 31 August, Manuel Benedicto Lucas and Manuel Antonio Callejas were accused on charges in relation to the massacres in the northern Quiche region, home to many Indigenous Maya. A Guatemalan judge ordered the two former generals to stand trial on genocide charges from four decades ago, as Guatemala is coming to terms with past massacres of mostly Indigenous people during a brutal civil war. The judge authorized the trial on accusations that Manuel Benedicto Lucas and Manuel Antonio Callejas committed genocide, crimes against humanity and forced kidnapping from 1978 to 1982 in a case where more than 1,700 people were killed over 31 separate massacres. The killings took place in the country’s northern Quiche region, home to many Indigenous Maya. Lucas was the third-ranking army officer at the time of the alleged crimes, as well as, the brother of then-President Romeo Lucas, while Callejas was in charge of national intelligence. Both accused have been held since 2016 in a so-called preventative detention in a military medical facility in the Guatemalan capital.


ECtHR: New Rules On Summary Judgments And Updated Resolution On Judicial Ethics

As of 1 September, for a two-year trial period, cases falling within the competence of the Committees of three judges at the ECtHR will be drafted in a significantly more concise and focused manner. This new format of summary judgments and decisions are aimed at reducing the Court’s backlog and is in line with the Court’s impact case-processing strategy announced earlier this year. The Court adopted an updated resolution on judicial ethics which came into effect on 1 September 2021. This new text, which applies to serving members of the Court as well as, where relevant, former and ad hoc judges, sets down a series of principles that judges should observe. By articulating the principles that underlie the criteria for judicial office outlined in Article 21 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the relevant provisions of the Rules of Court, the resolution brings more transparency to the obligations inherent in judicial office, thereby sustaining and enhancing public confidence in the Court.


ICC: The Seventeenth Witness Called By The Prosecution In Yekatom And Ngaïssona Trial

On 1 September, the Prosecution at the ICC called on its 17th witness, “P-0965”, in the trial against Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, who are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Central African Republic (CAR).  Mr Yekatom is the former caporal-chef in the Forces Armées Centrafricaines and a member of parliament in the CAR. He allegedly commanded a group of around 3,000 members operating within the Anti-Balaka movement. Mr Ngaïssona is allegedly the most senior leader and the “National General Coordinator” of the Anti-Balaka in CAR. Witness “P-0965” was set to testify on the emergence of Anti-Balaka, their organization and leadership in 2013 and 2014, and the planning coordination and execution of the 5 December 2013 attack on Bangui. Mr Ngaïssona’s alleged funding of the Anti-balaka and role as Anti-Balaka national Coordinator relates to the targeting of the Muslim population, and the Bangui attack on 5 December 2013 along with alleged sexual violence crimes and use of child soldiers by the Anti-Balaka.


KSC: Pre-Trial Judge Rejects Thaci’s Challenge To Kosovo War Crimes Charges

On 1 September, a pre-trial judge at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in The Hague rejected a legal challenge by Kosovo’s former President Hashim Thaçi, on the indictment charging him with war crimes and crimes against humanity. The judge dismissed an attempt by former Kosovo president and wartime Kosovo Liberation Army political leader and two of his co-defendants, Kadri Veseli and Rexhep Selimi, to have the charges against them thrown out. The judge found there to be “no violation of the accused’s constitutional rights” and that “Mr Thaçi’s right to be presumed innocent has not been violated.” In his legal challenge, Mr Thaçi claimed that the mandate of the KSC had expired and that the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office no longer had a constitutional and legal basis to conduct additional investigations. He alleged that the Specialist Chambers had explicitly endorsed a Council of Europe report which “contains words and statements which clearly reflect the opinion that he was guilty before it had been proved according to law.” The report, published in 2011, contained grave allegations against senior Kosovo Liberation Army figures including Thaçi, which eventually led to the establishment of the Specialist Chambers. However, the judge held that the report “has not been used to underpin any of the criminal charges with which Mr Thaçi has ultimately been charged. On the contrary, the present charges stem from an independent and impartial criminal investigation.” The indictment in the case alleges that Mr Thaçi and his three co-defendants committed war crimes and crimes against humanity when they were senior figures in the Kosovo Liberation Army in the late 1990s. They are accused of having been part of a “joint criminal enterprise” during the war “by means including unlawfully intimidating, mistreating, committing that aimed to take violence against, and removing those deemed to be opponents.” They have all pleaded not guilty.


ECtHR: Fines For Politician Failing To Delete Comments From Facebook Account Inciting Hatred Do Not Violate The Freedom Of Expression

On 2 September, the ECtHR ruled in the case of Sanchez v. France that a politician being fined in criminal proceedings for failing to act promptly by deleting comments from his public Facebook account, inciting hatred did not constitute a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the ECHR.  The case concerned the criminal conviction of the applicant, who at the time was a local councillor standing for election to Parliament. The Court reiterated that tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings constituted the foundations of a democratic, pluralistic society. As a result, it could in principle be considered necessary to punish or even prevent all forms of expression which spread, incited, promoted or justified hatred based on intolerance. In the specific circumstances of the case, the Court found that the domestic courts’ decision to convict the applicant on account of his failure to take prompt action in deleting the unlawful comments posted by others on the wall of his Facebook account, which was used in connection with his election campaign, had been based on relevant and sufficient reasons linked to his lack of vigilance and responsiveness. The interference in question could thus be seen as “necessary in a democratic society” and there had been no violation of Article 10 of the Convention.


Bosnia And Herzegovina: Serb Ex-Officer Srecko Acimovic Sentenced To Seven Years In Prison For Aiding The Srebrenica Genocide

On 2 September, the Bosnian State Court announced its appeals chamber has sentenced Srecko Acimovic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army Zvornik Brigade’s Second Battalion, to seven years in prison for aiding and abetting the genocide of Bosniak men from Srebrenica in July 1995. Mr Acimovic was found guilty of helping to imprison Bosniak men from the Srebrenica area at a school in the village of Rocevic, not far from Zvornik, and then helping to kill them on the banks of the River Drina near Kozluk. The Court found that a total of 818 Bosniaks were killed in the massacre on 15 July 1999. In its original verdict in October 2020, the state court sentenced Mr Acimovic to nine years in prison. The appeal verdict in the case was handed down on 7 June 2021 but was not made public until 2 September.



IAEA: UN Agency Deeply Troubled By DPRK’s Nuclear Reactor Development

On 30 August, the International Atomic Energy Agency stated its concerns regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea restarting of Yongbyon Nuclear reactor. The 5-megawatt reactor is widely believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons and is at the heart of North Korea’s nuclear programme, the agency said. Stéphane Dujarric, UN Spokesperson while responding to journalists questions responded that the Secretary-General was aware of the reports “and concerned by the latest developments.” The Secretary-General called for the DPRK to refrain from any nuclear weapons-related activities and to resume talks with the other parties concerned, as diplomatic engagement remains the only pathway to sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The UN-convened atomic energy watchdog, in its annual report, stated that the nuclear reactor has been discharging cooling water since July, which suggests that it is operational. The UN agency has had no access to North Korea and now monitors North Korea from afar, largely through satellite imagery, to get an idea of how many weapons the regime is capable of producing. This latest observation was the first sign of operational activity at the Yongbyon reactor since December 2018, months after former US President Donald Trump met North Korea leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, according to the IAEA.  The agency has called upon North Korea to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UN Security Council resolutions and to cooperate promptly with the Agency in the full and effective implementation of its global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement.


UNHCR: Ensuring The Right To A Nationality And Eradicating Statelessness More Pressing Than Ever

On 30 August, marking the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the 1961 UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness, UNHCR stated that ensuring the right nationality and eradicating statelessness is more pressing than ever. Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees stated that new global challenges, such as COVID-19 and the effects of climate change, on top of persistent ones like rising forced displacement, showcase just how critical the right to a nationality is. Further stating that having a nationality and the protection of a government that nationality affords can make a life-saving difference, even more so in times of crisis, whether it’s vaccination, evacuation or providing a social safety net that is needed. Globally, 4.2 million people are known to be stateless; however, the UNHCR estimates that the true number of persons not recognized as citizens by any country is likely to be much higher, given gaps in data collection. The Agency on the anniversary of the 1961 Convention is reminding States that applying the treaty would help ensure that no child is born without a nationality and would ultimately aid in the eradication of statelessness over time. In total, 77 States have joined the 1961 Convention as of August 2021, with increasing numbers signing in the last decade. The Global Action Plan to End Statelessness provides a framework for States to achieve their goals and introduced the #IBelong Campaign, which was launched by UNHCR and partners in 2014. Its goal is to end statelessness within 10 years.


Israel & Palestine: Waste No Opportunity For ‘Serious’ Political Negotiation, UN Envoy Urges

On 30 August, Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator  welcomed Qatar’s contribution of $40 million to provide cash assistance to needy families in the Hamas-controlled enclave but warned of continued violence across the whole Occupied Palestinian Territory. He also told ambassadors that tensions along the Gaza perimeter fence reached a peak on 21 August, when hundreds of Palestinians attended a rally, in which stones and improvised explosive devices were thrown towards Israeli security personnel. He also voiced concerns about Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians, stating that measures must be taken to ensure that Israel fulfils its obligation to better protect Palestinian civilians and called upon the Israeli security forces to exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. On 21 August, the Palestinian security forces arrested 23 persons which included well-known human rights defenders and lawyers in Ramallah for their participation in a planned demonstration, the Special Coordinator called on the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, to immediately stop arrests of human rights defenders on charges that violate their right to freedom of expression and he also pointed to the recent seizures of Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem and urged Israeli authorities to desist.  He also stated that Gaza requires political solutions that will see a full lifting of Israeli closures, the return of a legitimate Palestinian Government and the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian State while also commenting upon the militant group, Hamas, takeover of a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school. He also called for serious political efforts to commence the negotiations addressing status issues, and achieve an end to the occupation, and the vision of two States living side-by-side. 


UN: First International Day For People Of African Descent

On 31 August, the UN celebrated the first International Day for People of African Descent and the enormous contributions the African diaspora has made in every field of human endeavour. António Guterres, UN Secretary-General called for a greater commitment to advance the promise of equality, justice and dignity for all.  Last December, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing the International Day for People of African Descent, with the objective “to promote greater recognition and respect for the diverse heritage, culture and contribution of people of African descent to the development of societies, and to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent.” The resolution also recalled two related UN initiatives: the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, held in Durban, South Africa, and the declaration of the International Decade for People of African Descent, which runs through 2024. The UN Secretary-General also stated that an unprecedented momentum towards ending the global scourge of racism is being experienced twenty years after the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and more than halfway into the International Decade for People of African Descent. Costa Rica spearheaded efforts to create the International Day and the Central American country changed its political constitution in 2015, defining itself as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation. The UN Secretary-General further stated that this has been a long-overdue recognition of the profound injustices and systemic discrimination that people of African descent have endured for centuries, and continues to confront today. Furthermore, it is an urgent call to action for everyone, everywhere, to commit to rooting out the evil of racism.


WHO: Rich Countries Should Donate At Least 1 Billion Vaccine Doses

On 31 August, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, expressed deep concern over the slow pace of vaccine redistribution from high-income to low-income countries. The two former leaders served as co-chairs of the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR), launched by WHO in July 2020. Its final report was published in May. They declared that the Independent Panel report has recommended that high-income countries ensure that at least one billion doses of the vaccine are made available, and to redistributed them to the 92 low to middle-income countries by 1 September, with a further one billion doses by mid-2022. In doing so, this would further ensure that all those around the world most vulnerable to the impact of the virus, including healthcare workers, older people and those with significant co-morbidities, can be vaccinated quickly. This is a critical step towards curbing the pandemic. The two experts further recommend that the manufacturing capacity is increased and knowledge and technology are shared, in order to scale up production quickly, as low and middle-income countries must be able to produce more vaccines and thereby help increase in general the amount of vaccine available to the world. They also welcomed the establishment of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology hub in South Africa.


WMO: Climate And Weather Related Disaster Surge Five Fold In 50 Years, But Early Warnings May Save Lives

On 1 September, the World Metrological Organisation and UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction released a report ‘Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes’ which stated that from 1970 to 2019, these natural hazards accounted for 50 per cent of all disasters, 45 per cent of all reported deaths and 74 per cent of all reported economic losses. More than 11,000 reported disasters that occurred were attributed to these hazards globally, with over two million deaths & $3.64 million in losses, and more than 91 per cent of deaths occurred in developing countries. The report explains that with improved early warning systems and disaster management, the number of deaths decreased almost threefold between 1970 and 2019 – falling from 50,000 in the 1970s to less than 20,000 in the 2010s. The statistics in the report state that out of the top 10 disasters, droughts proved to be the deadliest hazard during that period, causing 650,000 deaths, followed by storms that led to 577,232 deaths (floods claimed 58.700 lives and extreme temperature events claimed another 55,736). The report stating that climate change has also increased extreme sea-level events associated with some tropical cyclones, increasing the intensity of other extreme events such as flooding and associated impacts. It recommends that countries should review hazard exposure and vulnerability, and consider that the changing climate may contribute to tropical cyclones taking different tracks, intensity and speed than they had previously. Mami Mizutori, UNDRR chief warned that the failure to reduce disasters losses as set out in the 2015 Sendai Framework is putting at risk the ability of developing countries to eradicate poverty and to achieve other important Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report also calls for the development of integrated and proactive policies on slow-onset disasters such as droughts.


UNHCR: Unprecedented Displacement In Central America And Mexico

On 2 September, Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, after her two-week mission to Mexico stated that she had seen the tremendous strain the region is under because of the increasing flows of refugees and migrants, and also the extraordinary efforts being made by governments and civil society to address these challenges. The Assistant High Commissioner also helped launch an initiative in Guatemala led by UNHCR and the Guatemalan government’s secretariat, on sexual violence, exploitation and trafficking. This new initiative features mobile units that will take information about rights and services to where people need them the most, in an attempt to prevent these crimes from happening. A UNHCR official also visited Mexico, which may top 100,000 new asylum claims this year, breaking a new record, as in recent years the country went from being predominantly a nation of transit to a destination country for thousands of asylum seekers.  The refugee agency has continued to support governments in strengthening their asylum and protection systems, and overall aid people integrating into their countries of asylum with employment, education and psycho-social aid. In Mexico, more than 12,000 people have benefitted from these initiatives. Ms Triggs highlighted the need for states to protect refugees, but also to offer regular migration pathways through education, labour mobility, family unification and other immigration processes. The refugee agency has appealed to the United States Government to end their Title 42 public health-related asylum restrictions under which these expulsions are occurring and has asked the country to restore the right to claim asylum.  


OCHA: Situation In Tigray Worsening By The Day

On 2 September, the UN aid coordination office OCHA noted that since 12 July, less than 10 per cent of the trucks that should have reached desperate populations affected by months of fighting, have managed to get through; further noting that the only access route to Tigray is via the Afar region, using the Semera-Abala corridor, which has been inaccessible since the 22 August. The humanitarian partners estimate that 100 trucks of food, non-food items, and fuel need to enter Tigray every day to sustain an adequate response.  OCHA also highlighted that in addition to food, a minimum of 200,000 litres of fuel is required for the humanitarian response every week, but since 12 July only 282,000 litres have reached Tigray and none since August 16. Currently, 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions while UNICEF warned that 100,000 face severe acute malnutrition within a year. OCHA urged all parties to the conflict to allow and facilitate timely, unfettered, safe and sustained access to all people affected by the crisis, adding to the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate end to hostilities and the negotiation of a lasting ceasefire. Grant Leaity, acting Humanitarian Coordinator in Tigray stated that in accordance with international humanitarian law all parties to the conflict must allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian relief to avert this looming catastrophe, further urging the government to restore essential services including electricity, communications, and banking services, as well as, the flow of essential commercial commodities into Tigray.  About 5.2 million people, 90 per cent of Tigray’s population, urgently need humanitarian assistance, including 400,000 people facing famine-like conditions. Millions of people are also on the brink of hunger, including 1.7 million in the bordering areas of Afar and Amhara.




UN: Food Supply For Millions Could Run Out This Month In Afghanistan

On 2 September, Ramiz Alakbarov, Deputy Special Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan, stressed that while the UN remains “determined to deliver”, more funding is needed to reach millions who depend on aid to survive. He further reported that more than half of all children under-five, are suffering from extreme malnutrition, and more than one-third of citizens are not getting enough to eat.  Mr Alakbrov stated that WFP could run out of stocks by the end of September, and to keep the current demand at least $200 million is needed for the food sector alone. The UN is set to issue a flash appeal for Afghanistan in the coming days. He further mentioned that while two “major” UN Member States have signalled their financial support, this will not be enough, as even before the current upheaval, some 18 million people, or half the population, depending on emergency aid to meet their basic needs. A $1.3 billion funding request from earlier in the year has so far netted less than $400 million, while humanitarian partners can access most of the country, and are working in 394 out of the 403 districts. 


WMO & UNEP: Improved Air Quality Confirmed From COVID Lockdowns

On 3 September, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released its ‘Air Quality and Climate Bulletin’ which stated that South East Asia saw a 40 per cent reduction in the levels of harmful airborne particles caused by traffic and energy production in 2020. The bulletin, issued by WMO highlights the main factors that influence air quality patterns in 2020. In comparison to other years, there were episodes of both improvement and deterioration of air quality in different parts of the world. China, Europe and North America also saw emissions reductions and improved air quality during the pandemic’s first year while countries such as Sweden saw less dramatic improvements because existing air quality contained comparatively lower micro-particle levels (PM2.5) of harmful sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3). On 2 September, UNEP released their Global Assessment of Air Pollution Legislation (GAAPL) which stated that improved quality is the key to tackling the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and waste. The report examines legal measures for determining whether air quality standards are being met and what procedures exist if they are not, by using Air Quality Guidelines developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the study, 43 per cent of countries lack a legal definition for air pollution and 31 per cent have yet to adopt legally mandated ambient air quality standards (AAQS). Moreover, 37 per cent of States do not legally require national air quality monitoring mechanisms, which are critical to understanding how air quality affects national populations. While the GAAPL provides recommendations to strengthen air quality governance, as well as, guide countries to effectively address air pollution and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and unprecedented improvements occurred in some parts of the world due to COVID lockdowns according to the WMO report. Climate and environmental changes have fuelled weather extremes, triggering unprecedented sand storms including the June 2020 “Godzilla” dust cloud, the largest African dust storm on record – and wildfires from Australia to Siberia which has worsened air quality significantly.




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