Weekly News Recap (27 December 2021-2 January 2022)

©Photo by Oglaigh na hEireann via Flickr




Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi’s Walkie Talkie Verdict Postponed Again

On 27 December 2021, a court in military-ruled Myanmar again postponed the verdict in Aung San Suu Kyi’s case. The case involves illegal import and possession of walkie-talkies by the leader. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been detained since the army staged a coup against her government on 1 February, ending the country’s brief period of democracy. This has led to a nationwide protest, with more than 1,300 people killed and some 11,000 arrested, according to a local monitoring group. The judge adjourned the verdict until 10 January 2022, without giving any reasoning behind the postponement. She would face three years in prison if found guilty on the walkie-talkie charges. In December 2021, Suu Kyi was jailed for four years for incitement against the military and breaching COVID-19 restrictions. Military ruler General Min Aung Hlaing later commuted the term to two years and said she would serve her sentence under house arrest. She has also been charged with multiple counts of corruption each of which is punishable by 15 years in jail and for violating the Official Secrets Act.


Niger: Masterminds of 1994 Tutsi Genocide Expelled from the Country

According to a statement released on 27 December 2021 by the Niger Ministry of Interior and Decentralization, the Republic of Niger expelled for diplomatic reasons eight Rwandans who were transferred by the UN Court which tried them for genocide related crimes. The men were convicted of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis and had completed their sentences or were acquitted. The Niger Ministry of Interior and Decentralization ordered the men to leave the country within seven days. They were among the masterminds of the genocide against Tutsis. Out of the eight names listed, four were reportedly convicted of crimes by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The order of expulsion came after the government of Rwanda made an inquiry to the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) where it sought clarification about circumstances under which the eight were transferred to Niger. On 15 November, Niger signed an agreement with the UN to host nine Rwandans, the eight expelled as well as former Rwandan foreign minister Jerome Clement Bicamumpaka, who was also acquitted by the ICTR.



IACHR: Precautionary Measures to Glenda Carolina Ayala Mejía and Her Family in Honduras

On 28 December 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued Resolution 107/2021, granting precautionary measures to Glenda Carolina Ayala Mejía and her family. The IACHR considered that she is in a serious and urgent situation presenting a risk of irreparable harm to her rights as a result of her work as President Commissioner of the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (MNP – CONAPREV) in Honduras. The applicants reported that Glenda Carolina Ayala Mejía, Presiding Commissioner of the MNP-CONAPREV, has been subjected to threats against her and obstacles to her work, between the years 2017 and 2021, in Honduras. Recently, an alleged plan to assassinate Ms. Glenda Ayala was reported. Honduras informed that on 5 February and 29 October 2021, respectively, the Protection Mechanism assessed that the legal requirements to grant protection measures to Ms. Glenda Ayala were not met. Additionally, Honduras reported that there are police protection measures in force for Ms. Glenda Ayala and her children. The IACHR requested that the State of Honduras adopts the necessary measures, with a gender perspective, to protect the rights to life and personal integrity of Glenda Carolina Ayala Mejía and her family and adopts the necessary measures so that the proposed beneficiary can carry out her activities as Presiding Commissioner of the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, without being subjected to threats, harassment, and other acts of violence in the exercise of her duties.


ECtHR: Interim Measures Indicated Concerning the Forced Dissolution of Memorial in Russian Federation

On 28 and 29 December 2021 respectively, the International Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Centre reiterated their request to the European Court of Human Rights under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court to apply an interim measure to prevent their forced dissolution following the adoption of the judgments of 28 and 29 December 2021 by the Supreme Court of Russia and by the Moscow City Court, respectively. The Court has decided to indicate to the Government of Russia, under Rule 39, that in the interests of the parties and the proper conduct of the proceedings before it, the enforcement of the decisions to dissolve the applicant organisations should be suspended for a period that would be necessary for the Court to consider the application. International condemnation of Russia increased on 29 December 2021 following the shutdown of Memorial, a human rights group which drew international acclaim for its studies of political repression in the former Soviet Union.



Kosovo: Supreme Court Orders Retrial of Ivan Todosijevic

On 28 December 2021, the Kosovo Supreme Court confirmed that it has ordered a retrial of Ivan Todosijevic, a Kosovo Serb MP sentenced to two years in jail for inciting ethnic, racial and religious intolerance with comments relating to a massacre of Albanian civilians in Kosovo in January 1999 by Serb forces. Todosijevic was elected as an MP with the Belgrade-backed Srpska Lista bloc in the February snap elections. The Supreme Court approved the request for protection of the convicted defense counsel, and has annulled the verdicts of Pristina Basic Court and Court of Appeals by ordering a retrial of the case in the first instance. He was sentenced by the Basic Court in December 2019 and the verdict was confirmed by the Court of Appeals in August 2021. Todosijevic was found guilty of making statements about Albanians and the Recak massacre. The Recak massacre led to the murder of 45 Kosovo Albanians.



Bosnia: Nine Serbs Indicted for Murder of 100 Muslim Bosnians

On 29 December 2021, nine Bosnian Serbs were indicted by a Bosnian war crime prosecutor for killing around 100 Muslim Bosniaks which included seven families early in the 1992-95 war. The accused, former members and commanders of the Bosnian Serb wartime army are accused of killing people from the area around the south-eastern Bosnian town of Nevesinje, including dozens of women, elderly people and small children. Even 26 years after the devastating war that resulted in the killing of about 100,000 people, Bosnia is still searching for people who went missing and seeking justice against the perpetrators. The remains of 49 people have been found while 47 people are still unaccounted for. Bosnia’s state court will need to confirm the indictment for the case to proceed.


ICC: Finland Signed a New Agreement to Support Survivors of Sexual and Gender Based Violence

On 29 December 2021, the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Government of Finland signed a new four-year agreement (2021 – 2025) with a total amount of EUR 1.2 million. This contribution is earmarked to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. In 2008, the TFV launched a donor appeal to support victim survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Finland was one of the first States Parties that responded to this appeal. Since then, Finland has consistently dedicated a significant portion of its voluntary contribution to the TFV for the benefit of sexual and gender-based violence victim survivors. On 30 December 2021, the TFV also announced that Finland is making an additional voluntary contribution to the TFV, earmarked to reparations. The amount of EUR 275,000 will go to the implementation of reparation measures in the Lubanga case, which concern harm suffered by child soldiers (2002-2003) in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).



USA: Ghislaine Maxwell Found Guilty of Aiding Sexual Abuse of Teenage Girls

On 29 December 2021, a jury in the United States has found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of aiding the late financier Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse teenage girls. Maxwell, 60, was accused of recruiting and grooming four teenagers between 1994 and 2004 for Epstein, her former boyfriend, who killed himself in 2019 in a Manhattan jail cell while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges of his own. Maxwell was convicted on five of six counts. The convictions included conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors. She was acquitted of enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts. Maxwell’s attorney said that the decision will be appealed. Maxwell, who was arrested by US authorities in July 2020, has remained behind bars after being denied bail ever since. No date has been set for her sentencing.



Bosnia: Two Ex-Commanders of Bosnian Serb Army Charged with War Crimes in Gorazde Area

On 30 December 2021, two persons, namely Branislav Lasica and Miroslav Milovic have been charged by Bosnia’s state prosecution for committing war crimes against the civilian population of the Gorazde area of eastern Bosnia, organising a group of people and incitement to the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as violation of the laws and customs of war in 1992. It is alleged that as commanders of the units of the Bosnian Serb Army, both Lasica and Milovic commanded and participated in an attack that killed around 30 people in Lozje. The civilians that became a victim of these attacks were women, children and the elderly. Several others were taken away and detained. Major property destruction was done in the area. It is intended by the prosecution to bring forth 139 witnesses and 251 pieces of evidence.


Bosnia: Three Bosnian Army Ex-Soldiers Charged with Crimes against Prisoners

On 31 December 2021, the Bosnian Army First Corps ex-servicemen, namely Senad Gadzo, Zaim Lalicic and Suljo Hebib have been charged with involvement in unlawful detention, murder, torture and abuse of Serb civilian detainees in the villages of Hrasnica, Butmir and Sokolovic Kolonija near Sarajevo in 1992 and 1993 by the Bosnian state prosecution. The prosecution says that the accused have committed torture and humiliation, including physical mutilation and other severe forms of abuse. The indictment includes charges of war crimes against the civilian population, which they allegedly committed during their service as guards. The indictment was sent to the state court for confirmation. The prosecutor’s office alleges that these crimes led to the death of six victims that died due to severe beating and further caused permanent mental and bodily abuse to the victims that still bear the consequences of those tortures.




UN: Call for New Year’s Ceasefire in Myanmar made by UN Special Envoy

On 27 December 2021, Noeleen Heyzer, UN Special Envoy on Myanmar issued a statement saying that she was deeply concerned by the increased violence in Kayin state and other areas, which has displaced thousands of civilians and many of whom have fled the country for protection and assistance. She further stated that the people of Myanmar are already suffering tremendously and the socio-economic and humanitarian situation has already been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to media reports some opponents of the junta have taken up arms, some of whom have linked up with ethnic minority groups fighting for self-determination. The UN Special Envoy also stated that those who are inflicting suffering on their own people need to silence their guns and protect people in times of great need. She further echoed the UN Security Council’s call for all parties to exercise utmost restraint and seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people and she also urged all parties to act in the greater interest of the nation and to fully respect their obligations under international law to protect civilians, ensuring free movement towards safety and allowing humanitarian access to those in need. Since the beginning of her assignment this month, she has been continuously consulting all stakeholders to support a Myanmar led process.


France: Impacts of “Racialised Gatekeeping” on  Development

On 27 December 2021, Dominique Day, chairperson of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council stated in wake of the group’s visit to Paris from 13 to 16 December that France should consider the economic and development benefits of partnership with people of African descent while speaking. Country visits by UN rights experts take place at the invitation of the host government and focus on fact-finding, diagnosis and recommendations; however, the Working Group’s mission was different, as members examined opportunities and obstacles to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) specific to people of African descent. These issues include invisibility or disregard of present-day experiences that may stem from the legacies of colonialism and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Ms. Day stated that despite a narrative of meritocracy, people of African descent at varying stages of their educational and professional development, including those with significant success have reported that benediction by institutional gatekeepers was indispensable to access and recognition, even in the presence of significant skill and talent. She further stated that racialized gatekeeping is contrary to human rights and imposes severe development costs to people of African descent individually, as well as, a whole and deprive France of a proven economic driver in multiple fields. The delegation also welcomed ongoing efforts in some areas to shed light on key barriers and to build networks to ensure people of African descent may access the formal and informal mechanisms necessary to their hiring and professional development. The visit was also an opportunity for the Working group to offer specific “drivers of development” that French authorities could use to promote improvements and the mission was guided by the Working Group’s Operational Guidelines on inclusion of people of African descent in the 2030 Agenda.


UN: Escalation In Yemen Labelled as ‘Worst In Years’

On 28 December 2021, Hans Grundberg, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, issued a statement saying that the recent military escalation in the country was “among the worst” in years and has increasingly put civilians in crosshairs. According to his statement, airstrikes on Sana´a have resulted in the loss of civilian lives, and damage to non-combatant infrastructure and residential areas while a continued offensive on Ma´rib, where at least 35,000 people have been forced to flee since September, and unabated missile attacks on the governorate are causing civilian casualties, damage to civilian objects and mass displacement. He also raised concerns over certain attacks against Saudi Arabia, which have yielded in civilian casualties and have destroyed infrastructure. According to Mr. Grundberg escalation undermines the prospects of a sustainable political settlement. He further emphasised the fact that violations of international humanitarian and human rights law cannot continue with impunity and pointed out the grim impact on an already deteriorating humanitarian situation stating that 2021 is ending on a tragic note for Yemenis, millions of whom are struggling with poverty, hunger and severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. He further reiterated the United Nations’ call for opening Sana’a airport and removing obstacles hindering the ability of Yemenis to move within or between governorates.


UNHCR: Three Shipwrecks Leave Dozens of Migrants and Refugees Dead and Missing

On 28 December 2021, the UNHCR reported that between 21 and 24 December more than 160 people were rescued by Greece’s Hellenic Coast Guard with support from the navy and air force, as well as, merchant and private vessels. The UNHCR reported that at least 31 people have lost their lives in three separate shipwrecks over four days last week in the Aegean Sea and an unknown number are still missing. Maria-Clara Martin, UNHCR’s representative in Greece, while commending those efforts stated that it was “heart-rending that, out of despair and in the absence of safe pathways, refugees and migrants feel compelled to entrust their lives to ruthless smugglers.” She further stated that “more resolute action is needed to curb people smuggling and stop those who exploit human misery and despair as it is disheartening to see preventable tragedies like these repeating themselves. We should not get used to seeing bodies being recovered from the sea.” On 21 December the first shipwreck took place off Folegandros island with 13 people being rescued and three male bodies being recovered, while one survivor told the Hellenic Coast Guard that as many as 50 people may have been onboard the boat that carried them without any safety equipment. The second shipwreck, north of Antikythera Island, resulted in the loss of 11 lives, while 88 people were rescued, and on Christmas Eve, a boat carrying at least 80 passengers capsized off the island of Paros, claiming the lives of 17 people, including a baby. There were 63 survivors who were rescued and brought to Paros, where the local authorities and island residents rushed to assist them with blankets, food and clothes. The refugee agency has estimated that from January until the end of November this year, more than 2,500 people have died or gone missing at sea in their attempt to reach Europe, through the Mediterranean and the north-western African maritime route. 


WHO: Acute Stage of COVID-19 to End in 2022

On 29 December 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, expressed optimism that the acute stage of COVID-19 may end in 2022. He recalled that this global threat that emerged two years ago has led to the death of 5.3 million people between 2020 and 2021 with millions of others still suffering the consequences. With the widespread of Omicron and Delta variants and the resultant spike in hospitalizations and deaths, there is fear that the spread of these two variants will lead to a “tsunami of cases.”  WHO challenged leaders of the world biggest economies earlier in the year to vaccinate 40% of their populations by the end of 2021 and 70% by 2022. Only 92 member States missed the target. This was attributed to certain factors like the late arrival of vaccines for low-income countries. Mr Tedros warned that boosters in rich countries could cause low-income countries to fall short of the target again and called on leaders of rich countries and manufacturers to work together in order to reach the target. Tedros while stating that populism, narrow nationalism and hoarding of health tools by a few countries undermines equity, with misinformation and disinformation creating “a constant distraction, undermining science and trust in lifesaving health tools.” He highlighted how the waves of infections have swept Europe and many other countries causing the death of many unvaccinated. Looking into the future, new variants could become fully resistant to current vaccines and past infections necessitating vaccine adaptations. Tedros noted that new vaccines could lead to new supply shortages adding that it is important to build up local manufacturing supply. He finally called for the development of a new accord between countries as this would be the pillar of a world better prepared to deal with the next disease.


UNHCR: Urgent Efforts Needed to Save Rohingyans in Indonesian Sea

On 29 December 2021, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called for the immediate life-saving disembarkation of a group of Rohingya refugees in distress at the sea of Indonesia. He was deeply concerned about the safety of those on board. Reports from local fishermen have it that women and children were overwhelmingly the passengers in the packed boat and that the boat was leaking, had a damaged engine and were floating in the open sea in the harsh weather. Local officials, supported by the police and navy, provided food, medicine, a new boat engine and a technician to help repair the Rohingya craft, and would push it back to international waters once it was fixed. The Agency called on the Indonesian government to allow the passengers to disembark in order to prevent the loss of lives. Thousands of Rohingya fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to camps in Bangladesh when the Myanmar military launched a clearance operation in response to attacks by a rebel group since 2017. Myanmar security forces on the other hand have been accused of heinous crimes, including mass rapes and burning thousands of homes. The UNHCR reported that the 2016 Presidential Regulation number 125 on refugee protection includes provisions for the Government to rescue refugees on boats in distress near Indonesia and to help them disembark. The agency recounted several instances wherein the government stepped in the past to rescue refugees, as well as, the very recent rescue of Rohingya refugees off the coast of East Aceh last year. The agency while hoping to see the same humanitarian spirit said that “Rohingya have faced violence, prosecution and forced displacement for decades.” As such, all those seeking international protection must be allowed safe harbour and granted access to asylum procedures and humanitarian aid. With the agency’s staff currently on the ground working closely with local authorities to assist the government and local community to provide immediate life-saving assistance for the group, the UNHCR is coordinating with humanitarian partners in praising a comprehensive response in line with international standards and public health protocols.


Myanmar: Killing of Dozens Condemned in Strong Terms

On 29 December 2021, the UN Security Council condemned the killing of at least 35 people including humanitarian workers in Myanmar’s Kayah State on 24 December. The Ambassador called for accountability and immediate cessation of all violence. Two workers of Save the Children (NGO), who confirmed the death of four kids and others, were later killed on their way back to their Loikaw office after responding to humanitarian needs in the nearby community. The Council members underscored the need for “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all people in need, and for full protection, safety and security of humanitarian and medical personnel.” The Ambassadors consequently reaffirmed their support for the people of Myanmar and the country’s democratic transition along with their strong commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity and unity of Myanmar. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) condemned the killings earlier the week and expressed shock at the reported killings and burning of victims during a time when many were preparing food for the Christmas celebration. UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific reminded in her statement that the protection of civilians must remain a priority during times of armed conflict in accordance with international humanitarian law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Myanmar is a signatory. She further added that UNICEF called for urgent actions to investigate the incident and hold the perpetrators accountable.


WFP: Operations in North Darfur Suspended Following Attack on WFP Warehouses

On 30 December 2021, the World Food Program (WFP) suspended operations across the state of North Darfur in Sudan following attacks on all three of its warehouses in the capital. The suspension would affect millions of people in the area in the coming year. The attack began in the late hours of 28 December with looting continuing till the early hours of 30 December with 5 000 metric tons of food being carted away and the warehouse structures being dismantled.  The Executive Director of WFP, David Beasley said that the WPF is outraged at the attack which he described as “senseless” and condemns the continued looting of assistance and the destruction of its assets which has caused the suspension of the WFP activities in the area. He added that nearly two million people who desperately need food have been robbed by the theft and that this is a tremendous setback to their operations in the country, as well as, endangering their staff and jeopardising their ability to meet the needs of the most vulnerable families. The WFP called on the government of Sudan to restore security in the area and to provide a guarantee so that WFP can begin operations in the area as soon as possible. It was noted that with millions of people needing livelihood assistance in 2022, the losses in the region cannot be replenished without compromising assistance meant for other vulnerable people in other parts of the country.


UNICEF: Grave Violations Against Children’s Rights During Conflicts on the Rise

On 31 December 2021, UNICEF denounced grave violations against youngsters in both protracted and new conflicts from Afghanistan to Yemen, and Syria or Northern Ethiopia. In the past week, four children were reportedly among the victims of an attack that killed at least 35 people, including two Save the Children staff in Kayah State in Eastern Myanmar. Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director said that year after year parties to the conflict continue to demonstrate a dreadful disregard for the rights and well-being of children. Data is not yet available for this year, but the UN verified 26 425 grave violations against children in 2020 and the first three months of 2021 there was a slight decrease in the overall number of these grave violations but there have been verified cases of abduction and sexual violence at alarming rates, by more than 50 and 10 per cent, respectively. Verified abductions were highest in Somalia, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the countries of the Lake Chad Basin (Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger), while on the other hand-verified instances of sexual violence were highest in the DRC, Somalia and the Central African Republic (CAR). Over the past 16 years, the UN has verified 266 000 cases of grave violations against children in more than 30 conflict situations across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. While these cases were verified through the 2005 UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, the actual figures are most likely much higher, according to UNICEF. The UNICEF is calling for all conflict parties to commit to formal action plans. Since 2005, only 37 of such plans have been signed by parties to the conflict, which UNICEF called “a shockingly low number given the stakes for children.” The UNICEF Executive Director underscored that ultimately, children living through war will only be safe when parties to the conflict take concrete action to protect them and stop committing grave violations. 


OHCHR: Refrain from Excessive Use of Force Against Protesters in Sudan

On 31 December 2021, OHCHR, the human rights office expressed deep concern over the reported killings and injuries during peaceful demonstrations in Sudan and stated that it was a cause for deep concern. The OHCHR highlighted attacks that reportedly took place against a hospital and media office, during which rights activists were arrested. The human rights office urged the authorities to refrain from unnecessary and disproportionate use of force. The protests have marked the eleventh round of major demonstrations in the country since 25 October when the military was first removed from office, but then later reinstated the Prime Minister in a coup, ending a transitional civilian power-sharing agreement. According to news reports, the protesters are calling for the military to cease playing any role in government, in the run-up to fresh democratic elections. Volker Perthes, the UN Special Representative for Sudan, stated that he was “deeply disturbed” by the initial reports of civilian deaths, describing the incidents as “assaults on press freedom,” further underscoring that credible investigations into these violations are necessary and stated that all people have a rights to express themselves peacefully; media have to report freely. The death toll from a police crackdown on the latest nationwide protests rose to five, according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, which align themselves with the protest movement. According to news reports, security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades as protesters marched through Khartoum and the neighbouring cities of Omdurman and Bahri towards the presidential palace.



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