Weekly News Recap (3-9 January 2022)

©Photo by DFID – UK Department for International Development’s photostream via Flickr




Bosnia: Former General of Bosnian Serb Army Charged for Attack on Srebrenica

On 4 January 2022, Milenko Zivanovic, a former general and commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Drina Corps was charged by the Bosnian state prosecution for planning and directing the activities of the Drina Corps units in a widespread and systematic attack on Bosniak civilians in the Srebrenica and Zepa regions in 1995. He is accused of being a participant in a  joint criminal enterprise. The prosecution has alleged that he repeatedly blockaded the United Nations protected zone of Srebrenica, prevented it from receiving supplies and ordered artillery attacks on the civilian population and targets in the Srebrenica area in order to create unbearable living conditions and force the population to leave their homes and property. Further, he is also charged with artillery and infantry attacks that caused several deaths and attacks on people fleeting Srebrenica and on the positions of United Nations forces to prevent them from protecting the civilian population. He is also charged with mobilising all available vehicles and the necessary fuel with the aim to forcibly expel civilians from the Srebrenica region and for capturing men and boys for killing. It claimed that military and police units under Zivanovic’s command took part in the capture and illegal detention of thousands of men and boys from the Srebrenica area.


Turkey: Uighur Muslims Accuse Chinese Officials of Committing Genocide and Crimes against Humanity

On 4 January 2022, China’s Uighur Muslim Ethnic Group filed a criminal complaint against Chinese officials accusing them of committing genocide, torture, rape and crimes against humanity. China initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. It has continued to deny all accusations of abuse. Roughly 50,000 Uighurs with whom Turks share ethnic, religious and linguistic connections are believed to reside in Turkey, the largest Uighur diaspora outside Central Asia. The complaint was filed with the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office. The complaint related to 116 people who the complainants said are still detained in China and was filed against 112 people, including members of the Chinese Communist Party, directors and officers at labour camps. Lawyer Gulden Sonmez said that the Turkish legislation recognises universal jurisdiction and that torture, genocide, rape and crimes against humanity can be prosecuted in Turkish courts.


Sweden: Woman Charged for Allowing Son to Fight as a Child Soldier for ISIS

On 4 January 2022, Sweden charged a woman for allowing her son to fight for the Islamic State group as a child soldier in Syria. This is the first case of its kind. The Swedish woman allegedly travelled to Syria in 2013, a year before the jihadist group declared a “caliphate” in large swathes of the country and neighbouring Iraq. She stands accused of having allowed her son to fight for armed groups, including IS, from the age of 12 to 15. “The woman is charged for having made it possible that he [would] be recruited and used as a child soldier.” The child allegedly took part in the hostilities performed by the armed groups, including the terrorist organisation Islamic State. The boy died in 2017. The prosecution said that it is the first time in Sweden that charges are being brought against the use of child soldiers. The woman, who returned to Sweden in 2020 after the military defeat of the IS proto-state, has denied all charges.


UK: Nazir Ahmed Found Guilty of Attempting Child Sexual Abuse

On 5 January 2022, a former labour peer was found guilty of sexual offences against two children in the 1970s. He was found guilty of attempting to rape a young girl and sexually assaulting a boy under the age of 11. The 64-year-old, who appeared under his real name of Nazir Ahmed, had denied the charges against him. A woman testified to the jury that Ahmed had attempted to rape her in the early 1970s when the defendant was about 16 or 17 years old. Ahmed was found guilty of two counts of attempted rape and one of serious sexual assault. He resigned from the House of Lords in November 2020 after reading the contents of a conduct committee report which found he sexually assaulted a vulnerable woman who sought his help. Lord Ahmed was charged, along with his two older brothers, Mohammed Farouq, 71, and Mohammed Tariq, 65, but both were deemed unfit to stand trial. Both had faced charges of indecent assault against the same boy abused by Lord Ahmed. Lord Ahmed sentence has yet to be rendered.



Guatemala: Trial against Five Ex-Paramilitary Soldiers Accused of Sexual Abuse Begins

On 5 January 2022, a trial against five former paramilitary soldiers accused of sexually abusing 36 indigenous Mayan women roughly 40 years ago, during the country’s civil war, has commenced. They are former members of Guatemala’s Civil Self-Defense Patrols (PAC) accused of several atrocities during the 1960-1996 war in which an estimated 200,000 people were killed or disappeared. Thirty-six women have come forward in the last decade with accusations of sexual violence committed against them during that time. Some have already given recorded evidence to investigators, which will be played in court. Only five of the victims have opted to be present for the trial before Judge Jazmin Barrios in the Supreme Court of Justice. The accused will be participating through videoconference from the Mariscal Zavala jail where they are being detained and serving sentences for crimes committed between 1981 and 1985 around the town of Rabinal, north of the capital Guatemala City. The population of Rabinal was particularly hard hit by the war and a mass grave with the bodies of more than 3,000 people were discovered.


Turkey: Court Issues 15-month Suspended Prison Sentence to Nazan Sala

On 6 January 2022, Nazan Sala, a freelance reporter was convicted of making propaganda for a terrorist organization and was issued a 15-month suspended prison sentence. Announcing its decision after the defence rested their case, the court decided that all journalists, including Ms Sala were acquitted of the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.” Ms Sala was sentenced to 1 year and 3 months in prison for “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” Sala, alongside Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur, reporters for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency and Şehriban Abi, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish news website Jinha, were arrested in October 2020. The journalists were all acquitted of membership charges, but Sala was separately charged and convicted of making terrorist propaganda. Authorities in the eastern city of Van convicted Sala based on her tweets and retweets about Turkish politics and the conflict in Syria, as well as, other users’ posts in which she was tagged. According to those court documents, authorities questioned Sala about her previous employment at pro-Kurdish news outlets, and evidence used against her included an archive of her previous journalistic work. Sala intends to appeal the verdict.



Turkey: Court Orders Release of Two Students Arrested Over Protest

On 7 January 2022, two university students had spent three months in prison, after being arrested in regards to campus protests against the government’s appointment of a rector at Istanbul’s Bogazici University. Berke Gok and Perit Ozen were charged with violating the law regarding demonstrations, preventing public officials from doing their duty and intercepting a vehicle among other crimes. The protests briefly spread elsewhere in Istanbul and to other cities and led to the brief detention of hundreds of people. The court has imposed a travel ban on the two. The defendants were among a group of protesters who in October blocked rector Naci Inci’s car. Numerous people have been targeted in connection with the protests and police used force against peaceful demonstrators. A separate court trial against 97 defendants will resume next week.


USA: Court Pronounces Life Sentence to the Murderers of Ahmaud Arbery

On 8 January 2022, the Georgia Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley, pronounced life sentences for the three men convicted of murdering an African American jogger Ahmaud Arbery, after chasing him in their pickup trucks. The accused, Travis McMichael, 35, and his father Gregory McMichael, 66, were sentenced to life without parole, while their neighbour, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, who had a less-direct role in the murder and cooperated with investigators, was given life with the possibility of parole. They were charged with multiple counts of murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for chasing down 25-year-old Arbery on 23 February 2020, as he ran through their Satilla Shores neighbourhood near Brunswick, in the southern US state of Georgia. The investigation into the original incident was stalled by local law enforcement for three months until the video was leaked, sparking national outrage. This case led to a burst of nationwide anger and protests in 2020 over the mistreatment and killings by the police force against the African American population. The sentencing does not end the case. Besides the possibility of appealing the Georgia state case, the three men are also facing federal charges of civil rights violations in their pursuit and murder of Arbery.



UN: Violence Perpetrated Against Protestors in Sudan Condemned

On 3 January 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reminded Sudanese security forces of their obligations in relation to the freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, and in doing so, urged them to exercise restraint. During the military takeover on 25 October, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, senior officials and political activists were all detained by armed forces. Mr. Hamdok consequently resigned from his position, only to be reinstated after reaching a deal with armed forces regarding the division of power. Mr. Guterres said he regrets that “a political understanding on the way forward is not in place, despite the gravity of the situation.”  Furthermore, he also “encouraged all stakeholders to continue engaging in meaningful dialogue in order to reach an inclusive, peaceful and lasting solution.” The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, Volker Perthes, stated that whilst he respected the achievements of the Prime Minister during this transitional period, he remained apprehensive about the ongoing political crisis. He noted that ‘the military coup of 25 October risks further derailing progress made since the December revolution.’ He also took the opportunity to express “deep concern” about the number of injuries and deaths which had occurred as a result of the protests and reminded security forces of their obligations under international law, reiterating the sentiments of Mr. Guterres. For Perthes, ‘the aspirations of the Sudanese people for a democratic path and completing the peace process should be the cornerstone of all efforts to solve the current crisis.’


Venezuela: International Rescue Committee Launches Response Plan to Support 25,000 Venezuelans at Risk in Ecuador Due to Food Insecurity and Lack of Shelter

On 3 January 2022, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) launched operations in Ecuador as part of their on-going response to the Venezuelan crisis. The IRC estimates that within the first 18 months of operation, more than 25,000 people will receive much-needed support. The Director of the Venezuela Crisis Response at the IRC, Marianne Menjivar, stated that life for Venezuelans had been extremely difficult, even after their relocation to neighbouring States. She noted that despite the efforts of Latin American Countries (such as Ecuador) to host these individuals, their response continues to be limited due to varying immigration policies, insufficient funding (internationally) and the COVID-19 pandemic. Ms. Menjivar has called upon the international community to ‘allocate enough funding that allows for the development of a comprehensive response to the Venezuela crisis, based on the needs of the population in the places where they are.’ The IRC’s new plan has been adapted to reflect the outcome of an assessment it conducted in 2021 focusing on the needs of the Ecuadorian people. The main needs identified include food insecurity, limited access to formal jobs (most lacked official documentation), limited access to funds for housing and limited access to shelter, to name a few. The IRC continues to run on-the-ground operations in order to provide ‘holistic’ and ‘timely’ support to Venezuelans. This is in addition to ‘implementing programming with a mixed model of partnerships with local organisations and direct implementation in Colombia and Ecuador and providing support to the vulnerable populations through local organisations in Venezuela.’ As of 2020, the IRC is estimated to have helped over 87,000 Venezuelans. 


UNICEF: A Devastating Start to the New Year as Violence in Syria Results in the Death of 2 Children and the Injury of 5 Others

On 4 January 2022, Kambou Fofana, Acting UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa noted that due to escalations in violence in the Northwest of Syria, two children had been killed and another five injured. Further, the acting regional director reported that a UNICEF-supported water station in Arshani Village (in the Northwest) had also been targeted which resulted in over 241,000 people being deprived of water, many of whom are internally displaced. These events occurred just days after reports by UNICEF regarding the increase of grave violations being committed against children in conflicts (both new and protracted) in 2021. With Syria being named by UNICEF as one of the countries in which ‘thousands of boys and girls paid a devastating price as armed conflict, inter-communal violence, and insecurity continued.’ The UN identified more than 26,400 cases of grave violations (including murder, recruitment, sexual violence, kidnapping and attacks against schools or hospitals) in 2020 alone – the data for 2021 is not yet available. UNICEF and its partner organisations are striving to provide necessary support for children in the Syrian crisis, ‘to help them cope with the impact of conflict and to resume their childhoods’. They hope to achieve this by ‘improving access to education and psychosocial support services, delivering critical humanitarian assistance in hard-to-reach areas, as well as delivering assistance such as hygiene kits, safe drinking water, and screening and treatment of malnutrition.’


UN: Ongoing Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan Fuelled by Harsh Winters

On 4 January 2022, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighted the negative impacts stemming from substantial snowfall and rainfall within Afghanistan, including the disruption of flights due to arrive at and depart from Kabul Airport. UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric stated that the snowfall and low temperatures were likely to continue over the next few days. In December 2021, the UNSC unanimously adopted a resolution permitting the delivery of aid to desperate Afghans who have been deprived of basic support whilst also putting in place safeguards to ensure that funds are not taken by the Taliban. The head of OCHA referred to this decision as a ‘milestone’ that will ultimately save lives. Mr. Dujarric noted that whilst the UN’s humanitarian partners had already achieved success in relation to the delivery of aid. He stated that in December alone, said partners had ‘reached seven million people with relief food supplies across the country.’ However, in light of recent events, the focus has now been placed on the ‘provision of winterization support which includes cash and non-food items’ throughout the country. The statistics show that ‘in 2021, donors provided $1.5 billion for two humanitarian appeals, including $776 million of the $606 million required for the Flash Appeal launched in September by the Secretary-General, and $730 million of the $869 million sought in the Humanitarian Response Plan.’ Whilst the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has also vocalised its apprehension regarding the ‘millions of internally-displaced in Afghanistan’, the UN refugee agency (UNHRC) has continued to increase its assistance in relation to the aforementioned delivery of winterisation support (with those most vulnerable being treated as a priority). According to the UN, since 1 September, ‘humanitarian partners in Afghanistan have reached 9M with food assistance, 201K children with treatment for acute malnutrition, 4M people with healthcare and 110K people with winterization assistance.’


UNSC: Syria Urged to Reveal the Truth Regarding its Chemical Weapons by UN Disarmament Chief

On 5 January 2022, the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu informed the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that the information provided by Syria in relation to its chemical weapons programme is inaccurate due to ‘gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies.’ Ms. Nakamitsu requested that Syria cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in order to resolve these issues. In addition to its initial declaration, Syria has submitted 17 amendments along with several other supplements. However, despite this, a number of issues remain unresolved (20 of 24 issues to be exact). These outstanding issues relate to the ‘undeclared research, production, and the arming of unknown quantities of chemical weapons’ as well as ‘significant quantities of chemical warfare agents or precursors, and chemical munitions, whose fate has not yet been fully verified’, all of which are of concern. Ms. Nakamitsu proceeded to outline all the details that the OPCW had not yet received such as ‘a declaration on all undeclared types and quantities of nerve agents produced at a former production facility, details of damage caused during an attack on 8 June 2021, or the unauthorised movement and remains two destroyed cylinders.’ She noted that upon receiving the required information from the Syrian authorities, OPCW will be ready to provide a team that can assist with amendments to the initial declaration – if required. Ms. Nakamitsu also drew attention to difficulties faced in relation to organizing the 25th round of consultations in Damascus due to the refusal of the Syrian Arab Republic to issue a visa for one team member. Efforts by OPCW’s headquarters to convene a meeting with Syrian experts in The Hague proved futile. Ms. Nakamitsu concluded by highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 on the OPCW’s capacity to deploy to Syria but reiterated her ‘full support for the integrity, professionalism, impartiality, objectivity, and independence of the work of the OPCW.’


UNESCO: Killing of Journalist During an Army Attack in Myanmar Condemned by Director-General

On 5 January 2022, the United Nation’s educational and cultural agency (UNESCO) urged authorities in Myanmar to conduct a full investigation with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azuay, commending the killing. Journalist Sai Win Aung, also known as A Sai K, died in Lay Kay Kaw (which nears the border to Thailand) on 25 December 2021. The deceased reporter was fatally shot by Myanmar’s armed forces whilst covering the challenges faced by refugees located in the Kayin State. Ms Azoulay stated that ‘media workers like Sai Win Aung risk their lives to keep the public informed. Their work deserves to be recognized and their safety protected in line with international humanitarian law, which forbids attacks on civilians.’ In light of the civil unrest and several protests which have occurred since the military coup, the UN has stated that it will continue to monitor the region for any developments. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported that there had been a number of army raids throughout Myanmar (particularly in Northwest and Southeast) as the conflict continues to escalate. Due to increasing military operations, pro-democracy activists and civil servants from the State Administration Council have fled to Lay Kay Kaw in order to hideout. The UNHCR also noted that due to the conflict escalating, several hundred have now become displaced. Approximately 4,6000 people had fled Myanmar since mid-December – a handful of which have voluntarily returned.


WFP and Impact Hub: The INGNITE Food Systems Challenge Has Begun in Rwanda in an Effort to Develop Domestic Responses to Shortcomings in Food System

On 5 January 2022, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Impact Hub Kigali (IHK) launched the IGNITE Food Systems Challenge which seeks to encourage local communities to develop responses that will enable them to overcome challenges posed by existing food systems. The initiative is also receiving support from both the USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs (BHA) and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This support will enable the IGNITE programme to provide both technical support and up to 300,000 dollars (USD) in financial aid. This challenge has been referred to as a ‘first-of-its-kind initiative’ which seeks to ‘support Rwandan start-ups, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and cooperatives to scale up their solutions, contributing to the economy while addressing different gaps in the food system.’ Applications opened on 5 January 2022 and will remain open to interested parties until 04 February 2022. Ventures which successfully contribute to food security will receive funding of up to $50,000 in addition to six months of accelerated support (which includes tailored support and connection with experts and/or mentors). Thanks to two million dollars in support from BHA, the Challenge will now be able to operate across Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda. The initiative has been well-received by all, particularly in light of declining food insecurity in the region which has been heightened due to factors such as climate change, natural disasters and COVID-19. Mr Jeremie Pigé, head of the WFP IGNITE Innovation Hub for Eastern Africa, stated that ‘the biggest challenge for many entrepreneurs in Eastern Africa is not only access to funding but also technical support that furthers their concepts.’ Thus, Mr Pigé expressed confidence that the Challenge would enable many bright and talented entrepreneurs to come forward and contribute who would not have been able to prior to this programme. It is believed that ultimately the Challenge will have a positive influence on the promotion of innovation when it comes to food systems and more specifically, ‘advancing efforts towards achieving zero hunger in the world.’


FAO: December Sees World Food Prices Dip Slightly

On 6 January 2022, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported that world food prices suffered a slight decline in December due to international prices for vegetable oils and sugar declining significantly. The ‘FAO Food Price Index averaged 133.7 points in December, a 0.9 per cent decline from November but still up 23.1 per cent from December 2020.’ The Price Index is responsible for tracking the prices of ‘commonly-traded food commodities’ and highlighting any changes on a monthly basis. In 2021, the Price Index ‘averaged 125.7 points, as much as 28.1 per cent above the previous year.’ With this in mind, Senior Economic Abdolreza Abbassian stated that ‘while normally high prices are expected to give way to increased production, the high cost of inputs, ongoing global pandemic and even more uncertain climatic conditions leave little room for optimism about a return to more stable market conditions even in 2022.’ Since November, the FAO Price Index showed a decline of 0.6 per cent in relation to cereal prices. The FAO noted that this decrease was due to ‘falling wheat export quotations amid improved supplies following southern hemisphere harvests more than offset firmer maize prices underpinned by strong demand and concerns over persistent dryness in Brazil.’ Though when taking into account the full year, the Cereal Price Index achieved its highest level since 2012.  In relation to Vegetable Oil, the index witnessed a decline of 3.3 per cent due to a lack of palm and sunflower oil, which is believed to be due to a ‘subdued global import demand that may be linked to concerns over the impact of rising COVID-19 cases.’ However, the index still managed to reach an ‘all-time high’ in 2021, as it had increased from 2020 by 65.8 per cent. The FAO Sugar Index also witnessed a decline since November, more specifically, of 3.1 per cent. This marked a ‘five-month low, reflecting concerns over the possible impact of the Omicron COVID-19 variant on global demand’. Similar to other indexes, sugar prices also increased by 29.8 per cent compared to the previous year and thus, the index reached its highest level since 2016. FAO regarded the Meat Price index as ‘stable’ in December and when taking into account the whole year, prices were ‘12.7 per cent higher than in 2020.’ Overall, the FAO Dairy Price index was the only one to rise in December, it rose by 1.8% per cent when compared to November. There was an increase in the ‘international quotations for butter and milk powders’, though cheese prices ‘declined marginally.’


UNIFIL: Lebanon Authorities Urged to Investigate Attack Against Peacekeepers

On 6 January 2022, the UN encouraged Lebanese authorities to initiate a speedy, but thorough, investigation into an attack carried out against peacekeepers by unknown individuals on Tuesday night (last week). On Thursday, UN Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric stated that ‘contrary to some subsequent media disinformation, the peacekeepers were not taking photos and were not on private property. They were on their way to meet Lebanese Armed Forces colleagues for a routine patrol.’ The peacekeepers formed part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), UNIFIL had been formed in 1978 to oversee Israel’s withdrawal from the region. In fact, the task force had been commended ‘after fighting in 2006 to oversee the cessation of hostilities between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.’ Mr Dujarric reaffirmed that any infringement upon UNIFIL’s freedom of movement and any act of aggression constituted a violation of the agreement reached between the UN and the Lebanese Government. Adopted in 2006, UN Security Council Resolution 1701 reaffirms the right of the mission to have ‘full and unimpeded access throughout its operations.’ Mr Dujarric also took this opportunity to remind ‘all concerned parties’ of the obligations under the aforementioned resolution and to call upon the Lebanese Government to ‘investigate quickly and thoroughly and prosecute all those responsible for these crimes.’ Despite UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ reaffirming his solidarity with the country during a visit last month, the region still continues to face issues such as ‘political upheaval, an economic and financial crisis, and the devastating impacts of the August 2020 explosion at the port in the capital, Beirut.’ 


Myanmar: Thousands Have Camped Along River in an Effort to Escape Violence

On 7 January 2022, thousands of individuals fled Myanmar relocating to a river that borders Thailand due to escalating violence in Myanmar. The villagers were reportedly ‘fearful of returning to homes which they said had been bombarded by military air strikes’, however, these individuals also remained hesitant about seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Last year, the Myanmar military seized power by the means of a military coup and since then there has been ongoing fighting between military and resistance fighters. The result of which has seen thousands of civilians displaced throughout the region. Those individuals who did escape to Thailand have since returned due to deteriorating conditions in refugee camps. Human rights watch groups have called upon the international community to provide more aid and assistance to displaced individuals. According to Reuter Reports, on the Thai side of Moei River, there were approximately ‘2,000 men, women and children living under a tarpaulin on the opposite bank in four separate locations.’ The International Committee of the Red Cross has also been monitoring the situation and reported that there were approximately 8,000 Myanmar refugees located in temporary shelters across Thailand. Spokeswoman for the Thai authorities, Ratchada Dhanadirek, stated that Thailand was ‘taking care of the refugees’ and adhering to ‘international human rights standards.’ However, the UNHRC reported that the Thai government refused to provide them access to sites in Mae Sot where refugees are currently located and that they had been unable to cross the Myanmar border. Though spokesperson Kasita Rochanakorn confirmed that the ‘UNHRC has supplied mosquito nets, sleeping mats, blankets and facemasks to support the humanitarian response being led by Thai authorities.’ Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, stated that ‘Thailand must recognise that their humanitarian obligations to refugees involve more than just allowing some food and medicine packages across the border.’ Sadly, since the military coup commenced in Myanmar an excess of 1,400 civilians have been killed by security forces.


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