Weekly News Recap (10-16 January 2022)

©Photo by Swiveler via Flickr




Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi Sentenced to Four Year’ Imprisonment

On 10 January 2022, Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to four years in prison by a court in Myanmar for illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies and for violating the guidelines of COVID-19 restrictions. The 76-year-old, noble peace prize laureate and former Myanmar leader has numerous charges pending against her since her elected government was ousted in February of last year. She was previously convicted on two other charges last month and sentenced to imprisonment which was later halved by the head of the military-installed government. The verdict was conveyed to the public by a legal official, anonymously, as authorities have restricted the release of information regarding Suu Kyi’s trials. If convicted of all charges, she could be sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. The military-installed government has restricted outside access to Suu Kyi, with all hearings closed to the media and spectators. Her lawyers were served with a gag order in October after providing information on the current proceedings. Suu Kyi’s lawyers have denied all allegations against her, citing that the radios were ‘not in her personal possession and were legitimately used to help provide for her security.’ Suu Kyi was charged right after the military takeover last year. The military’s seizure of power was met with nonviolent protests that led to the death of over 1,400 civilians. 


Azerbaijan: Two Armenians Under Trial on Terrorism Charges

On 11 January 2022, the Baku Court presided over two Armenian citizens, Ashot Sargsyan and Vladimir Rafaelyan, on terrorism charges. Ashot Sargsyan was the commander of the Armenian Defence Ministry’s special operations intelligence group and Vladimir Rafaelyan was the military engineer. Both the accused are charged with illegal border crossing, terrorism, committing an act of sabotage and unlawful firearm shipment. They illegally crossed the Azerbaijan state border in the Kalbajar region where the Azerbaijan military units were stationed. They were detained while they were mining the roads passing through Yukhari Ayrim village.  At the court session, witnesses were cross-examined. According to a media report, Sargsyan previously testified stated that he was ordered to blast the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan major oil pipeline. The trial will continue on 24 January.


Sri Lanka: Former Prison Commissioner Sentenced to Death for Killing 27 Inmates

On 13 January 2022, the Colombo High Court sentenced prison commissioner Emil Lamahewage to death for killing 27 prisoners over the Welikada prison riot in 2012. The court acquitted his co-accused police commando Moses Rangajeewa, over the killings in November 2012. The prisoners had rioted against the unannounced search by the police’s Special Task Force to nab contraband and mobile phones at the prisons. The case was heard for three years before a three-member bench. The defendants were charged with 33 counts, including the killing of 27 inmates and for injuring more than 20 others during the riot. According to the prosecutor, eight prisoners were called out by name and killed execution-style. After the 1983 riot where 50 prisoners were hacked to death, the 2012 massacre was the worst prison violence that took place in the nation. The riot drew international attention when the right groups led a sustained campaign for justice of the victims.



Lithuania: Lawsuit Accusing Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev for War Crimes Filed

On 13 January 2022, a civil suit was submitted to the Vilnius District Court against the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for war crimes by the relatives of four victims in connection with the events that took place in Vilnius on 11-13 January 1991. In January 1991, deadly clashes took place after the Baltic country declared its independence. It led to the killing of 14 unarmed civilians and injury to more than 700 people. Gorbachev, being the Supreme Commander of the Soviet Armed Forces, was thus accused by the families for controlling the army and failing to prevent the crimes committed against the Lithuanian citizens. In 2019, a Lithuanian court, in absentia found former Soviet defence minister, Dmitry Yazov guilty of war crimes. Russia has refused to cooperate with the trial and called it illegal and against the principles of justice. Gorbachev was not charged and declined to testify. The Court has yet to decide the admissibility of the claims. The lawsuit aims to hold Gorbachev accountable for the massacre.




Germany: Former Syrian Colonel Sentenced to Life in Prison for Crimes against Humanity

On 13 January 2022, in the world’s first criminal case brought over state-led torture in Syria, the German court sentenced the former Syrian colonel to life in prison for crimes against humanity. The accused, Anwar Raslan, 58, oversaw the torture of prisoners at the notorious Al-Khatib unit in Damascus and the killing of at least 27 people there, in addition to the sexual abuse and rape of detainees. Raslan was arrested in Germany in 2019 and had denied all charges against him. The ruling is significant for acknowledging crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Assad regime against its own citizens. He was tried under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction. According to the prosecutors, he was responsible for the torture of at least 4,000 people in the notorious Al-Khatib prison in Damascus, in 2011 and 2012. More than 80 witnesses testified before the court and the court sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.




IRMCT: Court Orders Stay Against the Expulsion Order of Niger

On 14 January 2022, the Court made public, Judge Joseph E. Chiondo Masanche 31 December ordered to stay the expulsion order of the Republic of Niger until final adjudication of the dispute. The Republic of Niger signed a Relocation Agreement for the relocation of eight of the nine acquitted or released individuals from the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”). On 27 December 2021, the authorities of Niger issued an order requiring the relocated persons to leave the territory of Niger within seven days of notification of the Expulsion Order. Some relocated persons filed a motion seeking a permit to continue living on the territory of Niger while some filed for a motion to be relocated to a safe country. The Court observed that Article 28 of the Statute mandates the States shall cooperate with the Mechanism and comply without undue delay with any order issued by a Judge or a chamber. Thus, such an expulsion order is a violation of the Relocation Agreement. The Court ordered Niger to continue to execute and apply all dispositions of the Relocation Agreement and to ensure fundamental human rights. Niger’s submission on the expulsion order of the relocated person is awaited. The request for immediate evacuation and relocation was dismissed.



Bosnia: Ex-Soldier’s Appeal against Conviction Rejected

On 14 January 2022, the Bosnian constitutional court rejected Sretko Pavic’s appeal against his conviction and held that his right to a fair trial was not violated. Pavic was convicted for committing a war crime against civilians during the Bosnian war. He was convicted of participating in the murders of five civilians in the village of Rizvanovici near Prijedor in July 1992. The Court held that in the second-instance judgment, the appeals chamber provided a clear explanation and reasonings for its findings and decisions that give a clear indication that all standards of the right to a fair trial were respected and adhered to. The Court found that the members of the Causevic family were detained next to the checkpoint of Rizvanovici when Pavic and another Bosnian Serb soldier took them out and killed them. The Court’s decision is final and binding.


Bosnia: Former Bosnian Serb Army Soldier Sentence Reduced

On 14 January 2022, in the hearing of Rade Garic’s the appeals chamber of the Bosnian state court reduced his sentence to 17 years for committing crimes against humanity against the Bosniak populations of Vlasenica and Srebrenica during the war in 1992 and 1995. Garic was formerly a member of reservist police forces in Vlasenica and later became commander of the Intervention Section of the Drina Squadron and the Intervention Squad of the Vlasenica Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army. Garic was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison under the first-instance verdict. He was convicted of the persecution of Bosniaks from Vlasenica and Srebrenica and was found guilty of murder, forcible disappearances, physical and mental abuse and other inhumane acts. He was also involved in three separate murders of Bosniak civilians. The second-instance verdict cannot be appealed further. His crimes under the verdict were defined as unscrupulous and brutal.



UNHCR: Refugee Agency Urges European Union to Preserve the Right to Asylum

On 10 January 2022, UNHCR urged EU countries to preserve the right to asylum and also to prioritize better protection of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict. Furthermore, Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR Representative for EU Affairs also underscored that the right to seek asylum must be reserved. In the past year (i.e. 2021), that although EU countries have remained committed to international human rights and refugee laws, there has been violent pushbacks against asylum seekers at EU borders. The UNHCR Representative further stated that divisive and politicised positions have been seen in the EU that seeks to evade asylum obligations even though the EU is based upon the rule of law. A proposal outlined in 2020 by the UNHCR was made to move the bloc from “an ad-hoc crisis-driven approach” to one which was predictable, expansive and well managed. Furthermore, there is a need for putting measures into place for sea rescues and establishing an independent mechanism to investigate. The agency has also urged the French and Czech Presidents to promote sustainable asylum reform and also to achieve progress on key issues like intra EU solidarity, adequate reception of conditions and having fair and fast asylum procedures. The UNHCR Representative also stated that it is essential for the EU to recommit to solidarity towards people, between states and with countries that are hosting the majority of the refugee population.



UN: Unrelenting ‘Human Rights Violations’ in Guantanamo Bay Condemned by UN Rights Experts

On 10 January 2022, the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, located in Cuba, was labelled as a site of unparalleled notoriety” and “a stain on the US Governments commitment to the rule of law” by a group of independent human rights experts anointed by the UN Human Rights Council. The UN human rights experts called upon the US in a statement they released which coincided with the 20th anniversary of the facility and declared in it that it was simply unacceptable for any government to practise arbitrary detention without trial and accompanied by torture or ill-treatment, especially by a government which has a stated claim on protecting human rights.  The detention camp which is sited within the US naval base on the island was set up in 2002 for prisoners captured in Afghanistan. At its peak, it housed 780 people, most of whom were detained without trial. Out of the 39 detainees still held at Guantánamo, only 9 of them have been charged or convicted of crimes, and between 2002 and 2021 nine detainees died in custody, among which 7 reportedly committed suicide and two died from natural cause; none had been convicted of a crime. Experts state that as the remaining detainees get older their health is deteriorating and the level of medical assistance and torture rehabilitation that is required, is inadequate. Experts also expressed their deep concerns about the court’s delays. They further called upon the US to close the site and return the detainees to their home countries while considering the principle of non-refoulment. Furthermore, they called for making reparations to the tortured and arbitrarily detained prisoners, and to hold accountable those who authorised and engaged in torture in accordance with international law. They also highlighted the failure of the US judicial system in protecting human rights, upholding the rule of law and enabling a legal black hole to thrive in Guantanamo with their apparent approval and support.


UN: Largest Single Country Appeal Launched by the Organisation in Afghanistan

On 11 January 2022, United Nations launched a funding appeal of more than $ 5 billion in order to prevent the basic services in Afghanistan from collapsing.  The collapse of basic services in the country has left 22 million in need of assistance, with 5.7 million people requiring assistance beyond the borders of Afghanistan. Martin Griffiths, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator while speaking in Geneva stated that there was a need of $ 4.4 billion for the Afghanistan Humanitarian Response Plan in order to pay healthcare workers and others, further stating that the appeal that has been launched is the largest ever of its nature for a single country and it is also three times the amount that has been raised in 2021. While, there has also been a funding call made for $623 million by Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, for the Afghanistan Situation Regional Refugee Response Plan, which would be supporting refugees in the five neighbouring countries. The plight of Afghanistan has been described as the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crisis, with the UN humanitarian coordinator noting that acute hunger is being faced by half the population, with over nine million people having been displaced.



OHCHR: Investigations Requested into Use of Lethal Force Made by the Security Forces on Protestors in Kazakhstan

On 11 January 2022, the OHCHR requested a “prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the killings and whether there was unnecessary and disproportionate use of force by security forces after the death toll from the recent unrest in Kazakhstan mounted to 164.” Liz Throssell, OHCHR spokesperson reported to the United Nations in Geneva that close to 10,000 people are estimated to have been held in detention; further stating that people have the right to protest peacefully and the right to express their opinions under international law, and they simply should not be detained for expressing their opinions. Moreover, UN human rights experts have called upon the Kazakhstan authorities to halt their unrestrained use of force that has been directed at the protestors and called for an independent human rights-based investigation into how the Government used force to quash the protests. They also expressed deep concern towards the fact that the Kazakhstan President reportedly gave the order to the security forces to open fire against protestors whom he described as “bandits and terrorists.” They also highlighted that the misuse of the word “terrorism” undermines security for all, and also cautioned against the inaccurate, as well as, overly broad use of the term; further stating that the term should not be used for silencing those who do not share the Government’s opinion and are protesting about socio-economic condition and expressing political views. They also added that the labelling of protestors as ‘terrorists’ by the Kazakh authorities in its overly broad terrorism legislation which allows the use of force, including a shoot to kill policy against any individual who has been determined to be a “terrorist” is profoundly concerning. They recalled that use of lethal force should only be made in self-defence and when all other means have been exhausted, inclusive of non-lethal force, further stressing that these principles were also applicable upon foreign forces that were operating on the territory of Kazakhstan with its consent.



UNSC: ‘Endless Cycle of Instability’ Looming over Mali

On 11 January 2022, El-Ghassim Wane, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Mali stated before the UNSC that even after a decade of civil conflict that erupted in the country, the hopes for a resolution to the insurgency are far from being reached. He explained that the insecurity and humanitarian situation in the country has further deteriorated where more children are out of school and the country is affected by an infinite cycle of instability. In 2022 more than 1.8 million people are expected to require food assistance as compared to 1.3 million in 2021, which has been the highest level of food insecurity since 2014. The UN envoy though argued that without the engagement and deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) in 2013 and the collective effort of the international community, the situation would have been far worse. The UN Special representative also briefed the UNSC upon the current stand-off between the Malian transitional leadership, controlled by the military and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). On 9 January, the ECOWAS held an Extraordinary Summit in which it decided that the timetable proposed for the transition i.e. lasting five and half years was ‘unacceptable’, and urged the Malian authorities to focus upon a speedy return to the constitutional order. According to the UN Special Representative, the key aspect of the MIUSMA mandate is to support the transition and find a consensual way to overcome the impasse. MINUSMA’s activities were also provided by Mr. Wane which noted that in 2021, there were more extremist attacks than any year before and the mission ended the year with the highest number of casualties since 2013.




Colombia: Abuse of Children Continues Despite Peace Accord

On 12 January 2022, UN news reported that children continue to suffer from the impact of hostilities in Colombia despite the decrease in violations against them following the Peace Agreement between the Government and FARC rebels. The special representative for Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), Virginia Gamba stated that children are still being used and abused by parties to the hostilities. She recounted that girls in particular are affected by grave violations. The most frequent violation was their recruitment and abuse by armed groups. Ms. Gamba called on all armed groups to immediately stop recruiting and using children and to release those in their ranks, pointing out that children associated with armed groups should be considered as victims. About 118 children were confirmed killed and maimed from some dangerous weapons.  Accordingly, the special representatives called on armed groups to desist from using indiscriminate explosive devices. She added that all parties should take all measures to protect children during military operations and activities in line with international humanitarian law and that armed confrontations in areas where civilians and children are present should be planned with the principle of distinction, proportionality and precaution. Children who were released from armed groups were reintegrated and over 300 were enrolled in specialized programmes. A political office in the State’s Executive Branch recognized that over 200 ex-combatant who laid down weapons were children.  The Special representative welcomed this accountability by the government and added that preventive measures must be put in place to reinforce the prevention of grave violations and to strengthen the protection of boys and girls.


Yemen:  UN Special Envoy Called For Efforts to End Fighting

On 12 January 2022, the UN Special Envoy, Hans Grundberg urged warring parties to talk even if they are not ready to put down their arms as the war in Yemen continues. He pointed out that the concerns at the moment were genuine political will, responsible leadership and adherence to the interest of the entire population. He described the recent fighting in the county as among the worst seen in Yemen for years.  The UN envoy pointed out a few violations and raised concern over the continued detention of UN staff in some parts of the country and called for immediate access to them. He added that restrictions on the movement of goods and people are a challenge throughout Yemen pointing to road closures, checkpoints, and fuel ship clearances, and added that they were harming the population in unjustifiable ways. Mr Grundberg while exploring ways to address the parties and end the fighting upheld that disagreements over sequencing, competing priorities and lack of trust remain obstacles. He further underscored the need for difficult discussions among the warring parties. The special envoy explained that he had been focusing on developing an approach that covers political, security and economic issues. The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator painted a grim picture that does not offer any optimism and enumerated a series of hardships from thousands of displaced people over the past months. The humanitarian work is continuously being hampered for avoidable reasons and the biggest constraint was financing. He appealed to donors for more support.  The Special Envoy further emphasized the importance of delivering a more effective and inclusive response by strengthening the economy to reduce the need for people. He however added that the most transformative change will come after the end of the fighting. While amplifying women voices, the founder and CEO of a youth Foundation in the country said that women have a right to actively participate in political and peacebuilding processes.


WFP: School Meal Program in Venezuela Expanded to Reach More People

On 13 January 2022, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) expanded its school meal program to reach over 110,000 students and staff in some parts of the country. The WFP has stated that it will increase its monthly food ratio distributes to primary and special education schools. This program is targeted at children below 6 years in areas of high food insecurity. Its goal is to provide meals in 11 Venezuelan States. The WPF’s Deputy Country Director for Venezuela stated that given the effects of what children receive today impacts the rest of their lives, the expansion reaffirms the WFP’s commitment to providing nutritious food to children at their critical age, which the WFP has received positive responses from parents. A total number of take-home rations exceeding 156,000, aim to cover the caloric requirements of young children for a month have been collected by schools in the State of Falcon for parents or guardians on behalf of school children since July last year. The WFP is also preparing to provide ration for school children and in-school class resumes after being suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The WFP also expressed their gratitude towards their donors as their operations in Venezuela will be guaranteed until April 2022.


WFP: Conflict in Ethiopia Threatens Food Assistance in the Region

On 14 January 2022, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned about the impending stoppage of its food assistance operations in Northern Ethiopia due to the blockage. Since mid-December, no food assistance has reached the region due to the conflict and stocks of nutritious foods for the treatment of women and children are all exhausted. The WFP’s Regional Director for Eastern Africa says that to save some, some others must go hungry.  He further called for the immediate guarantee from all parties to the conflict for the safety of humanitarian needs since humanitarian supplies are not flowing as expected in the region. The reach of only 20% of the population needed to be reached in Tigray, which was attributed to the lack of both food and fuel. With plans to reach millions more people in Tigre and thousand more in Amhara and Afar Regions, the WFP warns that it may likely run out of food and nutrition supplies for millions of people in the country from next month. It, therefore, called for more funding in order to support the work. 


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