Weekly News Recap (25-31 October 2021)




Bosnia: Defence Challenges Involvement of Draskovic in Bosnian Serb Forces’ Attack

On 25 October 2021, the defence, on behalf of Mr Vukasin Draskovic, argued before the Bosnian State Court that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Draskovic was associated with the Bosnian Serb group responsible for the attack in July 1992. The attack led to the death of 67 civilians. Mr Petko Pavlovic, the lawyer for Mr Draskovic, argued that the testimony of one of the witnesses stated that Draskovic was seen accompanying the arrested people but had no weapons at the time of the attack. Pavlovic pointed to another witness’s testimony who said, that Draskovic was not carrying any weapons nor was he a member of the Lokanj Company of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Zvornik Brigade. Draskovic is on trial along with 7 others. The defence has argued that the prosecution did not meet their burden of proof that Draskovic had committed a crime against humanity nor did they prove that he was a member of the Lokanj Company of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Zvornik Brigade, which was allegedly involved in the attack. Thus, the defence lawyer argued for a verdict of acquittal of Vukasin Draskovic. The trial will continue on the first day of November.


Germany: Munich Court Jails IS Woman for the Death of a Yazidi Girl in Iraq

On 25 October 2021, a Munich court sentenced a German woman to 10 years of imprisonment for the death of a Yazidi girl in Iraq. The case was brought before the court by the mother of the Yazidi girl. The accused, a 30-year-old woman identified as Jennifer W joined the militant group in 2014. She was found guilty of supporting Islamic State militants in Iraq, aiding and abetting attempted murder, attempted war crimes and a crime against humanity. She was accused of letting a five-year-old enslaved girl die of thirst after her husband had chained her in the courtyard without protection from the desert heat, as a form of punishment for bedwetting. The Court noted the fact that the woman did not take any active steps to save the girl’s life. The Court sentenced the woman to 9 years in prison for the death of the child and two year and six months for membership in the terrorist group, making it a total of 10 years in prison. This verdict was significant as it found a person guilty of a crime committed several years ago outside of Germany. This case is the first to indict a crime committed by the IS members against the Yazidi community. The verdict on the husband, Taha al-Jumailly, is expected to be delivered next month.



KSC: Journalist Testifies in the Trial of  KLA War Veterans’ Organisation’s Leaders

On 26 October 2021, a Kosovo journalist, Halil Berisha, testified before the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague regarding how he received the allegedly leaked war crimes case files from the defendants. He said that he took 1000 pages of documents from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) War Veterans’ Organisation in September 2020. The KLA War Veterans’ Organisation leaders Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj are accused of obstruction of justice and witnesses intimidation, as they received documents holding confidential information about protected witnesses in cases against the Kosovo Liberation Army ex-guerrillas. Berisha was working for a news website when he attended a press conference organised by the KLA War Veterans’ Organisation in September 2020. It was during this conference that Berisha asked both the leaders whether he could take some of the documents. The documents were later seized by Kosovo Specialist Prosecution, the following day. The documents however had detailed information of potential witnesses in war crimes investigations at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers. The prosecution alleged that Gucati and Haradinaj organised three press conferences wherein they disclosed confidential information from the files. Gucati and Haradinaj have both pleaded not guilty.


KSC: Ex-President Hashim Thaci’s Plea for Conditional Release from Pre-trial Detention Rejected

On 27 October 2021, the appeals chamber at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in The Hague rejected the plea of ex-President Hashim Thaci for release as there is still a risk he might abscond. It was argued by Thaci that the pre-trial judge’s conclusion regarding his role and influence in Kosovo was erroneous. He claimed that he was now in the weakest position of his political career and he no longer had a significant role since his party did not perform well in this year’s elections. He further argued that his position as a former Kosovo Liberation Army member did not provide him with any position of authority after the end of the conflict. Thaci and 3 other co-defendants are charged with committing war crimes and crimes against humanity between March 1998 to September 1999. The pre-trial judge had argued that Thaci could abscond and obstruct the proceedings or could commit further crimes against those who were opposed to the Kosovo Liberation Army. The Appeals judge found that it was reasonable for the pre-trial judge to consider that Thaci could continue to influence his subordinates even after his resignation, being charged with war crimes and the recent political shift. The appeals chamber held that Thaci failed to establish that the length of his pre-detention was unreasonable and thus denied his appeal for conditional release.


Bosnia: Bosnian Serb Ex-Policeman Filed an Appeal Against his Conviction for Crime against Humanity

On 27 October 2021, in an appeal for overturning the verdict of former reservist policeman Simo Stupar, it was urged to either acquit Stupar or quash the verdict and order a new trial. Mr Stupar was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the first-instance verdict of crimes against humanity. Stupar was found guilty of participating in an attack on the Bosniak population in the Vlasenica area in 1992. The verdict held that Stupar was a part of the assault that took place on the village of Dzamdzici in the Vlasenica area. He was further found guilty of beating and treating Bosniak civilians inhumanely and for arresting two individuals in July 1992 who then disappeared- their bodies weren’t recovered until 2007. The defence argued that the first instance verdict should have provided more convincing evidence for the conviction and that the judgment was exclusively based on the testimonies of the victims which were not supported by any other evidence. Concerning the two men arrested, the defence argued that being a reservist police officer, Stupar had no authority to interrogate the men and that the testimonies provided were not enough to convict him. The defence asked the Bosnian state court to overturn the conviction.


UK: US Appeals for Julian Assange’s Extradition for Exposing War Crimes in Afghanistan

In an extradition hearing on 27 October 2021, the US appealed against a verdict that obstructed Assange’s extradition. Assange’s extradition was denied after considering his mental state and the risk of suicide he faced in US prisons. Assange is found guilty under the US Espionage Act for leaking documents that exposed US war crimes in Iraq. On the first day of the two-day hearing, US lawyers argued against the suicide risk and assured good treatment once Assange was extradited. They also assured that he would not be held in a top security prison and could serve his sentence in his native country, Australia. Assange’s lawyer contended that his client was too mentally ill to be extradited and that US assurance did not remove the risk of being detained in extreme isolation. There are strong grounds against the US authorities assurances, as they included in their admissions that they reserve the right to reverse those guarantees. Furthermore, in another report, a CIA official was found discussing his plans to harm. The US government’s indictment also poses a grave threat to the freedom of the press in the US and abroad. If Assange were extradited, it would set a dangerous precedent that would effectively criminalise common journalistic practices. Assange is currently being held in Belmarsh Prison.



ICC: 17-years of Preliminary Examination into Colombia for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Closed

On 28 October 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague said that it would close a preliminary probe into crimes committed during Colombia’s nearly six-decade civil war and that it would leave the investigations to the domestic authorities. In 2004, the Court had opened a preliminary investigation, and now the current ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, reported that Colombia was functioning as per international obligations and could investigate and prosecute the crimes itself. Thousands of people are under investigation by the Colombian authorities. Further, Mr Khan reiterated that if a country is putting in genuine efforts to end impunity, the ICC does not have the right to superimpose the national system. If the situation requires, the ICC’s preliminary investigation could be reopened under a “cooperation agreement” with Colombia. President Ivan Duque said that this decision signifies the solidity of Colombia’s institutions. Colombia has established the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a tribunal to try the worst atrocities committed during the conflict. The ICC further stated that closure of preliminary examination does not detract from the reality that significant work is still required.


USA: CIA Abuse Described by a Guantanamo Bay Prisoner to a Military Jury for the First Time

On 28 October 2021, for the first time a Guantanamo Bay prisoner openly described the techniques used by the CIA towards the prisoners. Majid Khan pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and for planning several crimes with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has portrayed himself as the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks. On the first day of the two-day hearing at the US base in Cuba, he told the jurors about the abuse he was subjected to during his 2003 to 2006 detention in the C.I.A.’s overseas prison network. He became the first prisoner of the Black Sites to describe the torturous techniques used during the process of interrogation by the agents to extract information from suspects. He further stated that the more he cooperated, the more he was tortured. The intelligence agency declined to comment on the descriptions but stated that such detention and interrogation programs ceased to exist in 2009. Khan has been cooperative with the authorities and along with his lawyer has reached a secret deal with a senior Pentagon official in which his actual sentence could end as early as February and no later than February 2025 due to his cooperation with the government after pleading guilty.


USA: Majid Khan Sentenced to 26 years in Prison by the Military Jury

On 29 October 2021, in the case of a former Maryland man, Majid Khan, the military jury sentenced him to 26 years of imprisonment. He could be released as soon as next year though, through a secret plea deal which US authorities. Khan’s sentencing is the culmination of the first trial by military commission for one of the 14 so-called high-value detainees who were sent to the US naval base in Cuba in 2006. The jury of eight military officers was required to sentence Khan between 25 to 40 years. Seven out of eight jurors wrote a letter to the Pentagon legal authorities recommending leniency for the defendant who had been cooperative with the US authorities. Jurors were not informed about the pre-trial agreement which requires the Pentagon legal officials to cut his sentence to not more than 11-years including the time he has already spent in custody. He cannot return to Pakistan and thus would be sent to a third country along with his family.




Sudan: Ongoing Military Coup  

On 25 October 2021, the UN Secretary-General (UNSG), António Guterres condemned the call for the immediate release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and all other officials. The UNSG also urged for the “immediate reconstitution” of the Government which is due to guide Sudan towards democratic elections. News agencies have reported the dissolution of civilian rule by the Sudanese military, as well as, arrests of political leaders and the declaration of a state of emergency. In response, the Sudanese people have repeatedly protested in the streets of Khartoum; protests violently repressed by armed forces as there have been reports of gunfire against unarmed protesters. In April 2019, following popular protests, Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by the military and a transitional government was set. Formed of both military and civilian leadership, the transitional government was based on a power-sharing agreement and was supposed to lead to democratic elections in 2023. The UNSG said that “there must be full respect for the constitutional charter to protect the hard-won political transition.” He further expressed deep concerns about the security threat posed by this new military coup and urged “Sudanese stakeholders […] to return to dialogue,  and engage in good faith to restore the constitutional order and Sudan’s transitional process.” Both the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission Sudan (UNITAMS) and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michell Bachelet joined the UNSG in his call for military authorities to abide by constitutional order and international law. Mr Guterres reiterated his call for detained leaders’ release, as well as, the UN continued support “to stand with the people of Sudan as they strive to fulfil their aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future.”




Syria: CoI Warns the UNGA that War Against the Syrian People Continues

On 25 October 2021, addressing the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Chair of the UN Syria Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on the Syrian Arab Republic, Paulo Pinheiro warned the international community that while some might be thinking the conflict is ending, the facts on the ground paint another picture.  “This is not a time for anyone to be thinking that Syria is safe, for its refugees to return home.  Instead, we are seeing an upsurge in fighting and violence.” Mr. Pinheiro further added that “[a]s we speak, millions of civilians continue to be condemned to war, terror, and grief. Many of those displaced have seen their properties destroyed or seized by the Government, armed groups or terrorist groups – they have little left to return to and little prospects for their livelihoods.” The Commission of Inquiry highlighted a general pattern of escalation in recent months across the country, described in its latest report to the Human Rights Council. Among the most worrying trends, Commission of Inquiry reports points out aerial bombardments of objects protected under the rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) such as medical facilities and residential areas. Terrorist attacks are another major concern, forming part of the broader escalation scheme depicted by the Commission. The designated terrorist organization Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham continues to abuse the fundamental rights of the Syrian people in total impunity, including by arbitrarily detaining media activists and journalists. Adding to the equation, Da´esh is also active in the northeast of Syria. The Commission also drew attention to the devastating impact of armed violence on children, including unlawful deprivation of liberty in Al Hawl and other displacement-turned-detention camps across northeast Syria. Finally the overwhelming of missing and disappeared persons – tens of thousands – was recalled by Commissioner Hanny Megally who qualified it as “a national trauma.” Mr. Pinheiro ended his speech by interrogating members of the UNGA: “will we keep them waiting or will Member States act now in response to their plea?”



UN: Israeli Occupation of Palestine calls for a New Approach

On 25 October 2021, while presenting his annual report to the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, urged the international community to take meaningful actions in adopting a “rights-based approach” coupled with “imaginative and brave diplomacy that is willing to ask the honest questions as to how this five-decade-old occupation has turned into a de facto annexation and worse.” Mr. Lynk argued that “[y]esterday’s playbook … has only led to repeated diplomatic cul-de-sacs while enabling the patterns of human rights abuses and an endless occupation to continue largely unimpeded.” The Special Rapporteur’s report focuses on the influence of four main international actors involved in the Middle East process, i.e., the United States of America (USA), the European Union (EU), the World Bank and Quartet (i.e., the UN, the EU, the USA and Russia). Elaborating on the role of those influential international actors, Mr. Lynk said that “[b]y not imposing a meaningful cost on Israel for its endless occupation, the policies of these four actors – inadvertently or not – have been contributing to the consolidation of Israeli control over the occupied Palestinian territory.” Mr. Lynk accordingly urged the international community to follow five principles toward the achievement of peace, security and justice goals: 1) as the vast asymmetry in power between Israel and the Palestinians, active international intervention is indispensable; 2) The framework for fully ending the occupation must employ a rights-based approach anchored in international law and human rights; 3) The end goal must be the realization of Palestinian self-determination; 4) Israel has been a bad-faith occupier, and 5) The occupation must end with all deliberate speed.” The Special Rapporteur finally emphasised that “[w]e cannot continue to tolerate the intolerable: the imposition of a colonial reality in Palestine in the 21st century.” 


Palestine: Israel’s ‘Terrorism’ Designation is An Unjustified Attack on Palestinian Civil Society  

On 26 October 2021, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, qualified Israel’s decision to designate six Palestinian civil society organizations as “terrorist organizations” as an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and the right to public participation. She consequently urged for its immediate revocation. It is worth noting that the organisations concerned – i.e., Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Al Haq; Defense for Children International – Palestine; Union of Agricultural Work Committees; Bisan Center for Research and Development; and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees – are among the most reputable human rights and humanitarian organisations in the occupied Palestinian territory and have for decades worked with the UN.  As Ms Bachelet recalled it, “[c]laiming rights before a UN or other international body is not an act of terrorism, advocating for the rights of women in the occupied Palestinian territory is not terrorism, and providing legal aid to detained Palestinians is not terrorism.” The terrorist designation is based on the criticised 2016 Israeli Counter-Terrorism Law which provides for extremely vague reasons such as “promoting steps against Israel in the international arena.” According to Ms. Bachelet, “Israel must ensure that human rights defenders are not detained, charged and convicted in relation to their legitimate work to protect and promote human rights.” She thus called “on the Israeli authorities to revoke their designations against Palestinian human rights and humanitarian organisations as terrorist organizations, as well as their declarations against those they deem to be ‘unlawful.’”


UNGA: Human Trafficking Victims Being ‘Punished And Stigmatized’ 

On 27 October 2021, Siobhán Mullally, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, stated that States fail to identify and protect victims, often because of their alleged association with terrorist groups and related stigma, discrimination, and racism. She also reiterated that States have an obligation without exception to identify and protect the victims of human trafficking and must also become more attuned to the needs of people trafficked by terrorist groups due to conflicts. While presenting a report to the General Assembly about the continued failures to identify and assist victims of trafficking and protect their human rights, the UNGA was also informed that vulnerable children are disappearing from refugee and internally displaced people camps. Young people are also being targeted online by terrorist groups and recruited into lives of exploitation, a problem that has become even more severe during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also mentioned that the Palermo Protocol states that all humanitarian actors have an obligation to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking of people; and that the obligation of non-discrimination is a core norm of international human rights law and applies to States’ obligations to protect the human rights of all the victims of trafficking. She concluded by calling upon peacekeeping operations to do more to prevent human trafficking and to identify and protect victims, especially in countries in transition from conflict to peace.


UNSC: ‘Warming’ Relations between Sudan and South Sudan over Abyei Encouraging

On 27 October 2021, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations while briefing Security Council Members, stated that the warming of relations between South Sudan and Sudan regarding Abyei was visible, as most of the threats to the community were of a criminal, not military nature. The area was accorded special administrative status in 2004, and a UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), operates there to provide support for local policing, and the deployment of armed forces per a 2011 Agreement. While referring to the recent military coup in Sudan he stated that it is quite early to know what the impact of this week’s developments in Khartoum will have on the region and the Interim Security Force. Earlier this year UNSC asked for a possible drawdown and exit strategy for UNISFA, and following that request the UN envoy presented a strategic review which indicated that UNISFA was successfully continuing its work to protect the people of Abyei through its military and mine action presence. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Secretary-General Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa also briefed the UNSC Members on the region and relations between Sudan and South Sudan while noting that most of what he was reporting “may sound a bit remove from the infolding situation in Sudan which could potentially negatively impact the bilateral relations.” However, he expressed hope that “the recent positive trend will not be derailed.” With regards to Abyei, the Special Envoy stated that the “long-standing deadlock has hindered any progress besides leaving the area with a clearly defined status that has continued to stoke instability.” The Special Representative also highlighted that the high-level committees established in both countries had informed them that they were currently reviewing all past agreements to have negotiations facilitated by a third party, leading to the settlement of the final status of the region.


UNICEF: 200 Million Children in 31 Countries Missing on Remote Learning

On 28 October 2021, UNICEF released a study titled “Remote Learning Readiness Index” according to which more than half, 102 million students in 14 countries, either fully or partially closed their classrooms for at least half of the COVID-19 pandemic with another 200 million boys and girls, in 31 countries not having the resources to deal with remote learning during any future emergency school closures. Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director stated that even amid an ongoing emergency whether it’s another pandemic, enough progress isn’t being made to ensure that when the next time comes students who are forced out of the classroom have better options. The report also measured countries’ readiness to provide remote learning when in-person education is disrupted. The report covers nearly 90 per cent of students in low and middle-income countries and examines the limitations of remote learning and inequalities in access, warning that the situation is likely far worse than available data shows. The report found pre-primary education to be the most neglected level, as many countries did not deploy a corresponding policy during the pandemic; therefore the youngest learners were left behind during their most critical years of development. According to the report countries that need the most significant improvements within the education sector include Benin, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger and Togo. However, UNICEF cautioned that even among nations with higher scores on the index, disparities within their territories mean poorer children, or those in rural areas, are far more likely to miss out during school closures. The report stated that while there is no replacement for in-person learning, schools that have a “robust” remote learning system, especially digital learning can provide a certain degree of education when emergencies force classrooms to shut, and these systems can also help students to catch up once schools eventually re-opens. Although the past 19 months have been disruptive, the UNICEF chief said they have given a glimpse of what is possible during and after the pandemic, further adding that together with partners, the agency has been hard at work to leverage the power of technology and to provide learning opportunities for children and young people everywhere. Through the Reimagine Education initiative, UNICEF and partners are striving to give children and young people equal access to quality digital learning, intending to reach 3.5 billion learners by 2030. 



OHCHR: Boycott of the Durban Declaration Criticised by UN Human Rights Expert

On 28 October 2021, Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, presented a report to the UNGA highlighting the contributions of the Durban Declaration, including the recommendations for fighting intolerance and structural inequality. She strongly criticised the countries which continue to boycott the 20-year-old Durban Declaration against racism and called upon them to recommit to combating discrimination and intolerance, in line with the landmark conference which took place in South African city in 2001. She stated that the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), agreed upon two decades ago, offers a principled and practical blueprint for undoing discriminatory structures and achieving equality and justice for marginalized and exploited groups and individuals. She also noted that despite two decades of dedicated advocacy and grass-roots mobilisation, just as the world “stood at crossroads in Durban” 20 years ago, it still “stands at a similar crossroads” further urging countries to reaffirm their commitment to the transnational fight against racism. The UN expert also criticised countries that announced their non-participation in a recent UNGA commemoration of the Durban Conference and the Declaration. She called upon States participating in any form of DDPA boycott to instead demonstrate their genuine commitment to racial justice and equality by implementing the DDPA and engaging in its follow-up mechanisms.



UN: Climate Action is the Only Way to Protect Humanity

On 28 October 2021, ahead of the UN Climate Conference COP26, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights stated that it was time now to act and put “empty speeches, broken promises, and unfulfilled pledges behind us.” She further stated that laws need to be passed, programmes need to be implemented and investments need to be funded swiftly and properly without further delay.  An urgent action according to her “can mitigate or avert disasters that will have huge and in some cases lethal impacts on everyone.” She mentioned that the people most at risk from the adverse effects of climate change, including poor and marginalised communities, should be the first recipients of those resources and those directly affected should have a seat at the table as their meaningful participation is the key to effective and equitable action. States also need to agree to environmental and social safeguards and should also ensure that those harmed when climate action is taken, under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, have access to effective remedies. Last month the Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution which recognises for the first time that every human being has a right to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment and for the High Commissioner “this was a major step forward” but those “declarations of principles have to be turned into concrete action backed by resources.” She argued that the triple threat of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss constitutes the single greatest challenge to human rights in our era.


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