Weekly News Recap (15-21 August 2022)

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Russia: Appeal Filed Against Brittney Griner’s Conviction of Narcotics Possession and Trafficking

On 15 August 2022, an appeal was filed against Brittney Griner’s conviction of narcotics possession and trafficking. Griner was sentenced to a nine-year jail term in early August. She was arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and was found in possession of cannabis-infused vape cartridges. Griner pleaded guilty to the charges and called it an “honest mistake.” US President Joe Biden termed the sentence as “unacceptable” and offered a prisoner swap, wherein Russian athlete Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US would be exchanged with Griner. The US State Department stated that Griner was “wrongfully detained.” The arrest happened amidst heightened tensions between the US and Russia.



Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi Sentenced to an Additional Six-Year Jail Term for Corruption Charges

On 15 August 2022, Aung San Suu Kyi was again convicted on four charges of corruption and sentenced to a three-year jail term for each count. The sentences will be served concurrently. She was previously convicted of abusing her position by renting public land at discounted rates and building a residence with donations meant for charitable purposes. She has already been sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment for sedition, corruption and other charges, at earlier trials. She has been under arrest since the military seized power from the government in a coup in 2021. The trials have taken place behind closed doors with lawyers ordered not to share any information. Suu Kyi has denied all the charges and is expected to appeal the convictions.


India: Eleven Gang Rape Convicts Released in the Bilkis Bano Case

On 15 August 2022, in a case of gang rape and murders during the 2002 Gujarat riots, eleven men serving a sentence of life imprisonment were released after the state government approved their application for remission of sentence. During the 2002 Gujarat riot around 2000 people were killed. In 2008, the special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Mumbai sentenced the convicts for the gang rape and murder of seven members of Bilkis Bano’s family. The sentence was later upheld by the Bombay High Court. Bilkis was awarded five million Indian rupees as compensation. A few months ago, the State government formulated a committee that unanimously decided to release the eleven convicts. The application for remission of a sentence was “considered due to the ‘completion of 14 years’ in jail. Life sentences in India typically carry a jail term of 14 years.” Bilkis has urged the government to restore her “right to live without fear and peace.”



Netherlands: Court Expected to Pronounce Verdict on Downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in November

On 15 August 2022, the Dutch court announced that the verdict in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 will be delivered on 17 November 2022. The Court called the date “provisional” and stated that the reading of the judgment might take half the day. The trial commenced in March 2020. The four suspects involve three Russians and a Ukrainian. They were never arrested and the trial took place in absentia. They were identified by an international team of investigators and are held responsible for murdering all the passengers and crew members. The Kuala Lumpur flight was shot down over war-torn eastern Ukrainian, leading to the deaths of all 298 passengers and crew. According to the prosecutors, the Buk missile system used for downing the plane was transported into Ukraine from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade’s base in Kursk and was later returned to Russia. Russia has completely denied any involvement in the matter. The Prosecutors have urged the court to sentence all the accused to life imprisonment. 


IRMCT: Trial of Félicien Kabuga to Commence in September

On 18 August 2022, in a pre-trial conference, Judge Iain Bonomy ordered the trial of Félicien Kabuga to commence at its branch in The Hague with the opening statements on 29 September, over two years after Kabuga’s arrest. The court has ordered Kabuga to appear in court three times a week for at least two hours, either in-person or through video link. Kabuga requested to change his lead counsel. The Court informed him that the matter is under consideration. Kabuga is the alleged financer of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and is charged with genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and persecution on political grounds, extermination, and murder as crimes against humanity, committed in Rwanda in 1994.



USA: Salman Rushdie’s Attacker Pleads Not Guilty

On 18 August 2022, while appearing before the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, New York, the accused plead not guilty to attempted murder and assault charges. The accused Hadi Matar stabbed Rushdie on stage during a literary event. Matar was indicted by the grand jury on one count of second-degree attempted murder carrying a sentence of 25 years in prison and one count of second-degree assault. Rushdie is the author of “The Satanic Verses” and has faced death threats for over thirty years since the book was published. He is an advocate of freedom of expression. The book is considered blasphemous by many Muslims across the globe. Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious edict calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989. In 2019, his successor Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that the order is irrevocable.


USA: Member of ISIL (ISIS) Cell “The Beatles” Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

On 19 August 2022, El Shafee Elsheikh, the highest-ranking fighter for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) to have ever faced a jury trial in the United States was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was convicted for his role in the heinous hostage-taking and appalling deaths of American, British, and Japanese citizens. According to the court document, Elsheikh was involved as a leader in several conspiracies involving the captivity of 26 hostages in Syria. He was a participant in the detention of and hostage negotiations for four American citizens. Along with two other members of ISIS, Elsheikh supervised the jails and detention facilities at which the hostages were held. In April, he was convicted by a jury in the Eastern District of Virginia of eight offences. He is to serve eight concurrent terms of life imprisonment without a possibility of parole.


Mexico: Former Attorney General Arrested for Disappearance of 43 Students in 2014

On 20 August 2022, former attorney general Jesús Murillo was arrested in the matter of the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college. Murillo is the most prominent individual to be held in the case so far. He was arrested on charges of forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice in the abduction and disappearance of the students and teachers in the southwestern state of Guerrero. It is now largely seen as a ‘state-sponsored crime.’ After the arrest, a judge issued 83 more arrest orders against soldiers, police, Guerrero officials and gang members. During his regime, Mr Murillo oversaw the investigation and was highly criticised by international experts for torturing the witnesses and the erroneous nature of the inquiry. The lawyer for the parents of the students has urged the government to make more arrests.



Yemen: Extended Truce Has Reduced Civilian Casualties, but there Still Remains an Urgent Need to End the Fighting

On 15 August 2022, Hans Grundberg, while briefing the UN Security Council, underscored that there was an urgent need to bring the conflict in Yemen to an end. He highlighted that the UNSC has the joint responsibility in helping Yemen to take the “necessary and decisive steps towards peace”. He also commended the extension of the truce that so far has been agreed on by the conflict parties till 2 October 2022. If the truce is not renewed, he emphasised, it could lead to “renewed cycles of escalation and violence”. Even though the truce has reduced civilian casualties and there have been no airstrikes in the past few months, the increase in child casualties in the region still remains worrisome according to the UN Envoy. He also highlighted that the parties to the truce are looking forward to prioritise economic and security issues and to find durable solutions for political issues. Furthermore, he stated that he was increasing his efforts to provide support to the parties in resolving all the outstanding issues.


Afghanistan: 25 Million Afghans Are Facing Acute Poverty while Humanitarian Funds Do Not Reach beyond 40 per cent

On 15 August 2022, Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, UN Deputy Special Representative in Afghanistan called the situation in Afghanistan a “pure catastrophe” affecting millions of civilian lives. He further highlighted that only 40 per cent or 1.8 billion dollar of the 4.4 billion dollar of required funding have been received so far. The UN and its partners have only been able to assist and support nearly 23 million Afghans in the past year, while 25 million Afghans living in poverty required prompt attention due to the increasing food prices resulting from the global food crisis and economic deterioration in Afghanistan. Dr. Alakbarov further emphasised that the humanitarian needs will increase over time and providing humanitarian aid will not be enough as it is crucial as well to address climate change, impoverishment and lacking development, in particular when it comes to agriculture. He moreover points out that the current situation cannot be reversed without a proper financial structure and working economy.


Sri Lanka: Rights of People in Jeopardy as Government Continues to Crackdown on Dissent

On 16 August 2022, the Human Rights Watch reported that the economic crisis in Sri Lanka has affected the rights of millions of people by driving civilians into impoverishment and endangering their access to health, education and an adequate standard of living. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch underlined that many Sri Lankans faced food insecurity while the newly elected government focused on cracking down on peaceful protests and dissidents. She emphasised that the government should rather engage with the public and international financial institutions in order to address the economic crisis of the country. According to the United Nations, around 5.7 million people are in need of humanitarian aid and support, while 4.9 million of the population do not have access to adequate food and therefore require humanitarian assistance.


Myanmar: UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s Visit to Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar Highlights that Support is still Required by Rohingyas to Return Safely to Myanmar

On her first official visit to Bangladesh Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, met with various host officials, civil society representatives and Rohingya refugees. She also visited various camps where Rohingya refugees were residing. At least 1.1 million Rohingyas were living in the Cox’s Bazaar region of Bangladesh and some of them were living in Bhasan Char in Bangladesh. The High Commissioner visited various Rohingyas camps and listened to the grievances of the refugees. She further reiterated that it was important to ensure that suitable and safe conditions exist in Myanmar before realising any returns in a voluntary and dignified manner. At the same time the root cause of the problem needed to be understood in order to conduct voluntary and safe returns. With the current economic crisis and the Ukraine war, there is a rise in food prices, which is affecting refugees in Cox’s Bazaar. She underscored that the international community should not ignore the Rohingyas and should scale up its support for them.


Angola: Amid Upcoming Elections, Increased Human Rights Violations and Repression Continue by the Authorities

On 16 August 2022, Amnesty International reported an increase in violations of human rights in Angola, which includes unlawful killings and arrests amid the upcoming elections. The organisation also highlighted that the Angolan authorities have further intensified their crackdown on human rights activists. The situation is tense due to a drought induced hunger and the declining humanitarian situation. Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, stated that in the recent years an increased crackdown on human rights activists and dissidents has been witnessed in the country. He further stated that with upcoming elections the country needs to be held accountable for its continuous violations of human rights. Plans to guarantee the access to justice and effective remedies for victims along with ensuring respect for human rights need to be outlined by the Angolan authorities. He also underscored that the authorities should be working with the international community in order to provide relief to people affected by drought and hunger in the Southern region of the country.


Syria: UN Humanitarian Coordinator Concludes Mission

On 17 August 2022, Imran Riza, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, has finalised its four-day mission to the region’s northeast. During his stay, his activities included visiting the camps housing tens of thousands of displaced people as well as observing multiple other projects in the Al-Hasakeh and Ar-Raqqa Governorates. He also met relevant decision-makers in order to discuss humanitarian priorities and their efficient implementation. After consulting the residents, Mr. Riza declared that providing a life with dignity for the affected families required sustained support. In this respect, the current undertakings seem to be suited and effective. Moreover, Mr. Riza reconfirmed that the organisation is committed to address the crisis both on a short and long-term level. The northern Syrian territory is currently facing a severe water shortage that is endangering the quality of life for the inhabitants of the region. Moreover, increased military activity, such as drone strikes and shelling, has been observed. Such events trigger even greater anxiety, enhancing the risk of displacement among civilians.


Ethiopia: Government’s Plan for Peace Has Been Contested by the TPLF

On 17 August 2022, an Ethiopian committee in charge with exploring conciliation possibilities has announced that it has put forward a Tigray “peace proposal.” The committee is currently in the progress to submit its proposal to the African Union (AU). However, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) described the peace plan as an “obfuscation,” stating that the government has manifested no real incentive to dialogue, allegedly ignoring the promises made to ensure a sustainable environment for discussions. Previously, the group requested the restoration of basic services to the six million inhabitants of the region. On the same day of the announcement of the draft, the World Health Organization’s head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, referred to the situation in Tigray as the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world” and a “man-made catastrophe.” The conflict in Tigray has escalated in November 2020 and caused food shortages as well as lack of access to basic services such as electricity, communications and banking.


Equatorial Guinea: Amnesty International Called for Authorities to Immediately Stop Arbitrary and Indiscriminate Arrests

On 18 August 2022, Amnesty International released a statement, urging Equatorial Guinean authorities to stop arresting young men in their fight against gang crime. The statement was put forward in the light of the numerous troubling testimonies documented by the organization. The governmental proposed a so-called “Cleaning Operation,” a national plan released at the beginning of May that serves the purpose of combating increasing levels of crime among youth gangs. Marta Colomer, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner for West and Central Africa, declared that the plan is deeply distressing, as it raises concerns regarding the violation of human rights. According to the testimonies, many youngsters are imprisoned arbitrarily, are treated inhumanely or even tortured, with many losing their lives or being forcibly disappeared. Reports show that in a single week in May, 400 young people were detained, three months after thousands of young men were arrested country wide. The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, declared that the plan does not infringe human rights, claiming that the international organizations, who criticise it, are merely attempting to destabilise the country.


UN: Secretary-General António Guterres Urged Wealthier States to Aid Developing Countries Purchase Ukrainian Grain

On 19 August 2022, the World Humanitarian Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called wealthier countries to help developing nations purchase Ukrainian grain. Witnessing the departure of several ships from the port of Odesa, he made a special call, asking countries to “open their hearts and wallets.”  Under the recent agreement mediated by the UN, ships carrying grain and other basic resources have resumed their course. Mr. Guterres referred to Odesa as a symbol of what genuine collaboration among countries can achieve. Odesa has been an important transportation line for grain, and the current war in Ukraine has left it paralysed. However, Ukraine, Russia, Türkiye and the United Nations have signed the Black Sea Grain Initiative, with the goal to unblock the grain and fertilizer exports. Since last month, 25 ships, carrying over 600,000 tonnes of grain and food products such as wheat, corn, sunflower oil, and soybeans have departed from Ukrainian ports. Mr. Guterres declared that each ship is a “vessel of hope.”


India: The Decision to Grant Voting Rights to Indian Citizens Living Temporarily in Muslim-Dominated Kashmir Has Wreaked Havoc

On 19 August 2022, a decision taken by the Indian government that would grant voting rights to any Indian citizen living temporarily in Indian-administered Kashmir has ignited anxiety among civilians. The public perceived the move as another attempt by the Hindu nationalist government to change the demography of the sole Muslim-majority Indian region. Residents claim that the action is part of the governments’ plan to crush a popular movement for either an independent state or a merger with Pakistan. In the event of its implementation, the new decision would add approximately two and a half million more voters on top of the seven million existing ones, marking a 30 percent increase. The civilians affected would be mainly citizens temporarily residing in the Kashmir region, among them especially Indian military personnel, government and private sector employees, as well as migrant workers.


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