Weekly News Recap (6-12 September 2021)

International Justice Section



France: Lafarge Loses Ruling In Syria Crime Against Humanity Case

On 7 September 2021, the top French court, Cour de Cassation, overturned a decision by the Paris Court of Appeal to dismiss charges brought against the cement giant Lafarge for complicity in crimes against humanity in Syria’s civil war. Lafarge is accused of paying nearly 13 million euros to armed groups including ISIL, to keep its cement factory in northern Syria running through the early years of the country’s war. Rights groups including the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and France’s Sherpa, brought claims against Lafarge, alleging that the group bought raw materials and oil from armed fighters and made payments for the safe passage of workers through checkpoints. Lafarge has acknowledged that its Syrian subsidiary paid middlemen to negotiate with armed groups to allow the movement of staff and goods inside the war zone, but it denies any responsibility for the money winding up in the hands of armed groups and has fought to have the case dropped. The ruling does not mean that Lafarge will automatically face a trial on crimes against humanity. The court referred the matter back to the investigating judge to reconsider the complicity charge.


UNITAD: New Special Adviser Appointed

On 7 September 2021, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of Christian Ritscher, of the Federal Republic of Germany, as the new head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD). In 2017, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2379, by which it requested the UN Secretary-General to establish an investigative team to support Iraqi efforts to hold ISIL accountable by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence of acts that might amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The first head of the team was Karim Asad Ahmad Khan who is currently the ICC Prosecutor. Mr Ritscher previously served as a Federal Public Prosecutor at the German Federal Court of Justice, with more than 30 years of professional experience in international and domestic criminal law prosecutions and investigations.  He was Head of the German War Crimes Unit S4, which is responsible for the prosecution and charging of individuals in Germany in relation to international crimes, that may have been committed elsewhere, including in Iraq and Syria. 


Kosovo: Activists Disrupt War Crimes Court Claiming It Tries To ‘Change History’

On 7 September 2021, Kosovar activists attempted to disrupt a meeting of war crimes court officials with civil society members in Pristina, accusing the court that is adjudicating cases from Kosovo’s war of independence of equating the victim with the aggressor. The incident happened as Kosovo Special Chamber (KSC) court President Ekaterina Trendafilova and her team were holding an outreach meeting in the capital, Pristina, with civil society officials and journalists. Two activists who claimed membership of the left-wing Social Democratic Party spoke out against the court, accusing it of trying to “change the history of Kosovo’s war” by portraying the war as a conflict “between two aggressors” and not a war of liberation and independence. Trendafilova said the court and prosecutors investigate and indict individuals, not organisations or groups.


EU: Daily Fines For Poland Over Its Controversial Judiciary Reforms Proposed

On 7 September 2021, the European Commission has taken its infringement procedure against Poland over judicial independence one step further by asking the EU’s Court of Justice to impose daily fines on the country. The Commission considers Poland, as having failed to abide by the Court’s interim measures, which relate to a controversial chamber of the Polish Supreme Court that was established to discipline judges and prosecutors. Brussels sees the disciplinary chamber as a threat to the country’s judicial independence, holding judges subject to political control. While the Polish government insists it’s an essential tool to eliminate the remains of the communist regime. The EU’s top court issued the injunction to suspend both the chamber and the effects of the decisions it had already taken on the lifting of judicial immunity. However, the Polish constitutional tribunal rejected it, arguing it was inconsistent and non-binding. The move was seen as a legal Polexit.


IACHR: Calls For Respect For Judicial Guarantees And Independence In El Salvador

On 7 September 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Magistrates and Lawyers rejected recent reforms to the Judicial Career Law and the Organic Law of the Attorney General’s Office in El Salvador and urged the State to respect the guarantees for judicial and prosecutorial independence. The Legislative Assembly of El Salvador approved, on 31 August 2021, Decree No. 144, which reforms the Law of the Judicial Career. According to the reform, the judicial career is reduced from 35 to 30 years, and the age of 60 is established as the limit for the exercise of the magistracy. In addition, through this decree, it is determined that the magistrates “shall immediately cease to exercise their functions in the judicial headquarters.” According to the public information available, this measure could result in the termination of the services of about 176 magistrates in the country.


France: Accused Salah Abdeslam’s ‘Provocations’ On First Day Of Trial

On 8 September 2021, the historic trial of 20 men charged in the 13 November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris opened. Nine gunmen and suicide bombers struck France’s national stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and Paris restaurants and cafes, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds more injured. The main defendant in the case is Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor of the extremist cell of the so-called Islamic State that carried out the attacks. They were the deadliest jihadist attacks in France’s history. Abdelslam said he wanted to testify that “there is no God apart from Allah and that Mohamed is his messenger.” He added that he had given up his profession to “become a fighter for the Islamic State.” One of his lawyers denounced his detention conditions and the “strip searches” he had to undergo upon his arrival at the courthouse, underlining his client’s “depressed state.” Abdelslam interrupted him to complain that they were “being treated like dogs…”. He is the only one charged with murder and has refused to speak with the prosecutors.


ICC: Prosecutor v. Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman Status Conference

On 8 September 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Trial Chamber I held a status conference in the case Prosecutor v. Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman. The Court scheduled the opening of the trial against Mr Abd-Al-Rahman for 5 April 2022. Mr Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman was transferred to the ICC’s custody on 9 June 2020, after surrendering himself voluntarily in the Central African Republic. The initial appearance of Mr Abd-Al-Rahman before the ICC took place on 15 June 2020. According to the Prosecution’s submission of the Document Containing the Charges, Mr Abd-Al-Rahman is suspected of 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed between August 2003 and at least April 2004 in Darfur, Sudan. The confirmation of charges hearing took place from 24 to 26 May 2021. 


KSC: Preparation Conference In Specialist Prosecutor v. Hysni Gucati And Nasim Haradinaj

On 8 September 2021, at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) held their preparation conference against defendant Nasim Haradinaj and Hysni Gucati. The trial is scheduled to commence on 7 October 2021. Mr Nasim Haradinaj was Deputy Chairman of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans’ Association and Hysni Gucati was Chairman of the Kosovo Liberation Army War Veterans Association. Both face charges of obstructing official persons in performing official duties, intimidation during criminal proceedings, retaliation and violating the secrecy of proceedings. Mr Gucati and Mr Haradinaj revealed, without authorisation, information protected under the law of the Specialist Chambers, including the identifying details of certain (potential) witnesses. They also made disparaging accusations and remarks against (potential) witnesses and repeatedly expressed their intention to undermine the Specialist Chambers.


IACHR: Calls On Venezuela To Guarantee The Human Rights Of LGBTI People

On 8 September 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights calls on the State of Venezuela to implement public policies to guarantee the Human Rights of LGBTI people and to eradicate discrimination, violence, and situations of vulnerability to which they are exposed. Additionally, the Commission received information from civil society about the lack of procedures that guarantee the right to gender identity of trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse people, which has consequences for the full enjoyment of their human rights.


ECtHR: Refused Request On Compulsory Vaccination Of Health-Sector Staff Against Covid-19

On 9 September 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) refused requests for interim measures submitted by two applications, lodged against Greece concerning the compulsory vaccination of health-sector professionals against Covid-19. The applicants, 30 health professionals working independently or in public health institutions, had requested, among other points, that implementation of Law no. 4820/2021 be immediately suspended. The Law in question provides for compulsory vaccination of health professionals against Covid-19 as a condition for being able to continue exercising their professions. These decisions on interim measures do not prejudge any subsequent decisions on the admissibility or merits of these cases, which are pending before the Court.


Sri Lanka: UN To Collect Evidence Of Alleged Crimes Against Humanity

On 10 September 2021, the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), a rights group documenting alleged abuses in Sri Lanka, on Friday gave details in its report of 15 members of the minority Tamil community, who said they were beaten, burned, suffocated and sexually assaulted by authorities over the past two years. The alleged victims, who fled Sri Lanka, are now seeking asylum in the United Kingdom, and took part in interviews over the course of several days with lawyers and human rights investigators. The UN has given its human rights boss, Michelle Bachelet, a mandate to collect evidence of crimes against humanity committed during the civil war. Sri Lanka will present its point of view at the upcoming United Nations Human Rights Council sessions later this month and show the progress that has been made in taking forward reconciliation.



OHCHR: Working Towards Conflict Prevention Through Protection Of Minority Rights

On 6 September 2021, it was announced that the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on conflict prevention and the protection of the human rights of minorities, convened by the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Mr Fernand de Varennes, will take place online on 7 and 9 September. The Forum is the third of four regional conferences that have convened in 2021 on preventing conflicts through justice and human rights for minorities. It will gather some 200 representatives from States, UN and regional organisations, civil society groups, as well as, minorities. Pursuant to the Human Rights Council Resolution 6/15 (passed on 28 September 2007) and renewed by resolution 19/3 (23 March 2012), a forum on minority issues has been established to provide a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, as well as, thematic contributions and expertise to the work of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues. Discussions will inform the work and recommendations of the 14th session of the global UN Forum on Minority Issues taking place in Geneva in December 2021, which also discusses the theme of “confliction prevention and the protection of human rights of minorities.” The Forum shall identify and analyse best practices, challenges, opportunities and initiatives for the further implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic Religious and Linguistic Minorities. 





UNSC: Open Debate On UN Transitions 

On 7 September 2021, it was announced the UN Security Council (UNSC) will hold a ministerial-level open debate on UN transitions under the agenda item “UN peacekeeping operations” on 8 September. This is one of the signature events of Ireland’s September presidency. Secretary-General António Guterres, former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and a civil society representative are expected to brief. The UNSC was expected to vote on a draft resolution proposed by Ireland on UN peace operation transitions on 9 September. The draft resolution is open for co-sponsorship by the wider UN membership. The draft text describes the transition of UN peace operations, which include peacekeeping missions and Special Political Missions, as a “strategic process which builds towards a reconfiguration of the strategy, footprint, and capacity of the UN in a way that supports peacebuilding objectives and the development of a sustainable peace in a manner that supports and reinforces national ownership.” In resolution 2378 (of 20 September 2017) the UNSC requested the UN Secretary-General to provide a comprehensive briefing to the UNSC on UN peacekeeping reform every 12 months, to be followed by a debate. Ireland chose to focus this year’s annual debate on UN transitions as part of the continuum of UN peace operations and has circulated a concept note ahead of the upcoming debate to help guide the discussion, which says that the meeting aims to highlight the UNSC’s central role in underscoring the importance of transitions within the wider peacekeeping and peacebuilding agenda. The meeting will also serve as an opportunity for members to consider the management of transitions and to reflect on recent experiences to draw lessons on how to effectively plan and implement transitions in line with the prevailing security conditions on the ground and in a manner that promotes local and national ownership of the process.




UNGA: Shared ‘Grief And Anxiety’ A Powerful Unifying Factor In COVID Fight 

On 7 September 2021, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) held a High-level Forum on the Culture of Peace, focused on building resilience and a fair recovery against the continued ravages of COVID-19. Opening the event, the President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, said “the global pandemic has arguably brought humanity closer together. Rarely have we been so united against a common challenge. We must build on this shared sense of grief and anxiety, and work together to not only tackle COVID-19 but all other challenges that stand in our path.” Mr Bozkir defined peace as well beyond ending the fighting, adding that “it is a conscious effort but each of us, each moment, to talk, to listen, and to engage. It is a sustained effort to understand and overcome difference.” He pleaded for the adoption of a culture of peace that requires more than rejecting violence; it must be “a deliberate effort to adjust our cultures and behaviours to avoid the occurrence of violence in the first place.” The president of the UNGA also pointed to the crisis in Afghanistan, saying the international community will have to draw on its “shared sense of humanity, of empathy, of compassion, to go the extra mile and provide necessary humanitarian support.” Mr Bozkir further stressed the importance of the UN’s role in supporting Member States in these efforts through well-developed tools such as early warning strategies against conflict escalation, fact-finding missions, early deployment of peacekeepers, and fast rollout of humanitarian assistance. He finally stated that these are “all vital to maintaining and supporting a culture of peace, particularly when combined with development efforts that empower communities and ease tensions.”  



WPF: ‘Unprecedented Funding Gap’ For 7 Million Facing Hunger In Ethiopia

On 7 September 2021, it was reported that the World Food Programme is facing an unprecedented funding gap of $426 million for its operation in Ethiopia, as the UN agency ramps up delivery to meet the needs of up to 12 million people this year. This month, WFP started delivering emergency assistance to communities in regions bordering war-torn Tigray. So far, the conflict has forced 300,000 people from their homes and 1.7 million into the neighbouring provinces of Afar and Amhara. In coordination with Ethiopia’s federal and regional government authorities, WFP hopes to reach 530,000 people in Afar and 250,000 people in Amhara. The operation will scale up as needs increase and funding is received. In Tigray, food security continues to worsen, and WFP and its partners are struggling to scale up and meet the urgent food needs of 5.2 million people. Until Monday, the food stocks were almost entirely depleted, when the first convoy for over two weeks entered the region. WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa, Michael Dunford, welcomed the collaboration from federal and local authorities but said that “much more is needed, and this momentum must be sustained otherwise we cannot hope to deliver enough food to save millions from falling deeper into hunger.” Across Ethiopia, over 13.6 million people are estimated to be food insecure due to the prolonged effects of drought, flooding, desert locust invasions, market disruptions, high food prices and the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding to the equation, recent conflict spreading across northern parts of the country, has only exacerbated the situation. 


UNSC: Protecting Women And Girls Of Afghanistan 

On 7 September 2021, the former President of Ireland, as well as, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, warned that the UN Security Council (UNSC) cannot fail the women and girls of Afghanistan, reminding its 15 members of the relentless work carried out over nearly 20 years to secure their rights through constitutional, legislative and policy changes. “Women’s rights are not Western rights,” she said, addressing the Council in her role as Chairperson of The Elders, a group of global leaders working for peace and justice across the world which was founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007. “They are fundamental human rights, which women had reclaimed in accordance with their cultural values.” She called, particularly on China and the Russian Federation to encourage the Taliban to recognise that the participation of women in society and the education of girls on an equal basis with boys, are non-negotiable and must be respected. Mrs Robinson further recalled UNSC members that “[c]ollectively, [they] have all been entrusted with a powerful mandate to act on behalf of the UN [… a] united, purposeful Council is needed now more than ever.” Lakhdar Brahimi, Elder Emeritus and former Foreign Minister of Algeria, echoed Mrs Robinson call and noted that the mandate of the UN is to protect the fundamental rights of all Afghans – including women and girls, those internally displaced, all minorities and human rights defenders – efforts that will require the Council’s support.  He pointed out that attempts by Afghanistan’s [former] Vice-President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, son of late commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, to resist in the Panjshir Valley appear to have been defeated on 5 September, and that now, the Taliban exercise near sole control over the country. Mr Brahimi stated that “Afghanistan today is not the Afghanistan [he] knew in the late 1990s and from 2001 to early January 2004. To say that the humanitarian situation is dire would be an understatement and the needs are most urgent.”



UN : Halt On Nuclear Tests Called For By UNGA President

On 8 September 2021, Volkan Bozkir, UNGA President stated that despite recent developments in advancing nuclear disarmament, more remains to be done, further urging countries that have yet to sign or ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) to do so without delay.  He also stated that more than 2,000 nuclear tests have been conducted since the advent of nuclear weapons. While the rate of testing has declined, they have not stopped, and these tests have long-lasting health and environmental consequences. Underlining the General Assembly’s commitment to nuclear disarmament, Mr Bozkir welcomed the progress achieved over the past year amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. He further stressed that more needs to be done, including arranging meetings to review the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which must be held no later than February 2022, and convening the Fourth Conference of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and Mongolia, postponed since April 2020. He also called for action towards advancing the CTBT (adopted in 1996) which bans all explosive nuclear weapons tests anywhere and by any nation. The treaty so far has been signed by 185 countries and ratified by 170, including three nuclear-weapon States and it must be signed and ratified by 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries before it can enter into force.


Yemen: ‘Climate Of Fear Grows’ States UN Group As Their Fourth Report On The Region Is Released 

On 8 September 2021, The UN Group of Eminent Experts released their new report “A nation abandoned: A call to humanity to end Yemen’s suffering” in which the panel condemned the war that has been waged over the last 12 months as “egregious” violations have been committed. These include airstrikes by the Saudi-led international coalition that supports the Yemeni Government, and “indiscriminate” shelling of civilians, “particularly by the Houthis but also by the Government of Yemen and the Coalition.” The report stressed that all parties to the conflict were responsible for violations, many of which may amount to international crimes. The Group of Eminent Experts also cited the Southern Transitional Council as being responsible for specific violations, adding that its power-sharing deal with the Government of Yemen, based in the southern city of Aden, “remains largely dysfunctional.” The UN-appointed panel of independent experts warned that everyday life in Yemen is now “unbearable for many” as, in addition to the conflict, people have to contend with disease outbreaks, the COVID-19 pandemic, flooding, import restrictions, an economic and fuel crisis, and limited humanitarian aid. The report urged the Council to ensure that the situation of human rights in Yemen remains on its agenda by renewing the Group’s mandate beyond one year; and by ensuring that the necessary human and financial resources are provided. Experts have reiterated that the Security Council should integrate the human rights dimensions of the conflict in Yemen more fully into its agenda and ensure that there is no impunity for the most serious crimes. This includes referring the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and expanding the list of persons subject to Security Council sanctions. 



UN: Protecting The Future Through Education

On 9 September 2021, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General on the commemoration of the International Day to Protect Education From Attacks stated that schools must be places of learning, safety and peace, further lauding education as not only providing knowledge and skills but also transforming lives and driving development for people, communities and societies. He also added that this fundamental right to education keeps coming under attack year after year. The Secretary-General cited the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack which revealed that between 2015 and 2020, over 13,000 reports of strikes on education, or the military use of educational facilities had been recorded around the world, further reminding that the loss is incalculable as these numbers are not in just pages but thousands of individual lives and individual futures. In May 2020, an unanimous decision was taken in the UNGA to establish this day, with UNESCO and UNICEF being called upon to raise awareness of the plight of millions of children living in countries affected by conflict. The resolution affirms that the Governments have the primary responsibility to provide protection and ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels to all learners, especially those in vulnerable situations,” further emphasising the need to intensify efforts and increase funding to promote safe and protective school environments in humanitarian emergencies.  The UN called upon all countries who have not yet endorsed The Safe Schools Declaration – an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities, from the worst effects of armed conflict. It has currently been endorsed by 111 States and outlines concrete steps for governments to protect schools and learning. The UN called upon countries that have not endorsed the Declaration and urged Member States to go beyond their commitments under international law and put in place national policies and laws that protect schools and learners. Finally, the UN chief called for increased global support for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who are “working around the clock” to protect education, students, teachers and schools in some of the most dangerous places around the world. 



UNICEF: Research Shows Repeated School Closures In South Asia Led To Loss In Learning And Widening Inequities

On 9 September 2021, UNICEF reported that according to its new research, repeated school closures due to COVID-19 in South Asia are leading to learning loss and widening inequities. Furthermore, according to the research, a substantial proportion of students and their parents reported that students learned significantly less compared to pre-pandemic levels, with 80 per cent of children aged 14-18 years reporting lower levels of learning than when physically at school in India and similarly, in Sri Lanka, 69 per cent of parents of primary school children reported that their children were learning “less” or “a lot less.” Girls, children from the most disadvantaged households and children with disabilities faced the biggest challenges while learning remotely. George Laryea-Adjei, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia stated that school closures in South Asian region have forced hundreds of millions of children and their teachers to remote learning in a region with low connectivity and device affordability, with children suffering enormous setbacks in their learning journey. The UNICEF’s research also indicates that even when devices are available, they are often underutilised and that children’s access to them is often limited. For instance in Pakistan, among children with access to devices, only about 24 per cent could use them the way they wanted to. The UNICEF Regional Director further state that the safe reopening of schools must be considered as an utmost priority for all governments, and that teachers are trained, equipped and supported for distant and blended learning, as that they will be able to reach all their students. He further added that this is a critical investment that needs to be made for children as the region gears up for future waves of COVID-19.


DRC: Millions Need Urgent Humanitarian Aid In The Region

On 10 September 2021, Boris Cheshirkov, UNHCR Spokesperson stated that the agency is alarmed by the violence that is being committed against civilians by armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which has continued to cost lives and drive people from their homes. The agency and its partners recorded more than 1,200 civilian deaths and 1,100 rapes this year in the two most affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. A further 25,000 human rights abuses have also been recorded this year, with more than a million Congolese being internally displaced in the east of the country since the start of 2021. Attacks attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group have increased in brutality since late 2020, and the frequency of civilian killings has not abated despite the state of siege declared in early May 2021 to counter the activities of these armed groups. On 3 September, armed men identified as members of the ADF raided a village in Irumu territory, killed 15 civilians, set fire to 10 houses and kidnapped two women.  On 6 September, an armed group reportedly raped 10 displaced women in Djugu territory, Ituri province. North Kivu & Ituri provinces are now led by military governments following the state of siege and the national army has ramped up its operations and military tribunals have replaced civil courts. UNHCR reiterates its call for urgent measures to protect civilians and it fully supports local authorities and civil society groups who respond repeatedly to recurrent forced displacement, and continue to provide lifesaving aid, psychosocial and other support to people in need. The funding for this humanitarian crisis in the region remains critically low, with UNHCR only able to respond to a small fraction of the population in urgent need. The agency further called upon the international community for more support.


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