Weekly News Recap (19-25 September 2022)

© Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr




Ethiopia: UN Investigators Warn of Atrocity Crimes in the Country

On 19 September 2022, investigators of the UN Human Rights Council in Ethiopia reported that they believed the government to be involved in ongoing crimes, which may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Tigray region since violence erupted in November 2020. This was one of the findings made in a report released by the Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, which was created by the UN Human Rights Council last year. The report also said that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the government has committed and continues to commit these crimes, in particular, those of persecution on ethnic grounds and other inhumane acts such as great suffering or serious injury to the body or mental or physical health. Another finding is the use of starvation as a method of warfare, which is partly the result of the willful impediment of humanitarian agencies in the territory.


KSC: Closing Arguments for the First Trial at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers

As reported on 19 September 2022, the trial of former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander Salih Mustafa finished at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) in The Hague. The Prosecutors accused the former commander of a series of war crimes including arbitrary detention, cruel treatment, torture and murder of civilians during the 14 months Kosovo fought for their independence in the late 1990s, mainly due to his involvement in the activities of Zllash detention centre. During the trial, the Court heard from 29 witnesses, including 8 survivors who were kept under unsanitary conditions, without adequate food, water, bedding, medical care or toilets. The survivors described repeated beatings including electric shocks and being burned with candles by the Accused, and men under his control. The Prosecutor asked that the accused be convicted to 35 years in prison. Mr Mustafa has continued to deny all the charges before him, stating that he is “not guilty of any of the counts brought here before me.”


OHCHR: Accountability for Custodial Death of 22 Year Old Iranian Woman Demanded by UN Experts

On 20 September 2022, UN experts expressed their condemnation over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody. She had been allegedly arrested for failing to comply with Iran’s strict rules on women’s dress, by wearing an “improper hijab.” Experts further criticised the violence that was meted out by the Iranian security forces against peaceful protestors and human rights defenders who were demanding accountability for Amini’s death. According to reports, Ms Amini was arrested by Iran’s police authorities on 13 September for wearing what was perceived as an “improper hijab” and was severely beaten by the members of the police during her arrest and transfer to the Vozara Detention Centre. The experts reiterated that for the past four decades, Iranian women have continuously been peacefully protesting for their fundamental rights, and urged authorities to listen. They also urged Iranian authorities to repeal all legislation and policies which are discriminatory on the grounds of sex and gender and to respect international human rights standards.



Ukraine: Eurojust and the ICC Launch Guidelines for Documenting and Preserving Evidence in the Ukrainian Conflict

On 21 September 2022, Eurojust and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) published practical guidelines for civil society on investigating and documenting core international crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. In doing so, it will allow civil society to contribute to the ongoing investigations being carried out in Ukraine and other countries, as well as at the ICC. The guidelines are the result of the expertise of the ICC, Eurojust, the Genocide Network, civil society organisations, and national and international prosecutors. This publication was issued in response to many organisations, who inquired about how to protect vulnerable information. The guidelines address several key areas such as approaching vulnerable persons, taking a person’s account, photographs, and videos, dealing with digital and physical documents, etc. while emphasising that victims and witnesses should not be interviewed multiple times.


USA: US Congress Introduces a Bill to Improve War Crimes Legislation

On 21 September 2022, the bipartisan Justice for Victims of War Crimes Act was introduced as a possibility to improve the existing 1996 legislation on national prosecution of international crimes. The bill allows for the prosecution of crimes which occur abroad to take place before United States (US) courts, even if the victims are not US citizens or members of the armed forces. This bill is in essence providing for the doctrine of universal jurisdiction to be applicable in the US, as legislators want to avoid the country from becoming a haven for war criminals. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is thought to have acted as a catalyst for this bill, and to have gained bipartisan support. The previous legislation from 1996 is not considered appropriate as it requires that the victim or the perpetrator have a link to the US. This legislation is limited and only covers war crimes. It does not allow for the prosecution of crimes against humanity or genocide.


Venezuela: UN Report States the Government Might be Responsible for Crimes Against Humanity

On 22 September 2022, a UN report issued by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela claims that the Venezuelan security service, under the direction of President Nicolas Maduro, have committed crimes against humanity to maintain political power and suppress political opponents. The report states that there are substantial grounds to believe that the Venezuelan government was responsible for the extensive use of arbitrary arrest and torture, dating back to 2014. The report is based on 471 interviews of victims and 50 former officials, specifically members of Venezuela’s General Office of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), and other government entities. The report establishes a clear link to President Maduro’s responsibility and condemns the inaction of other authorities to hold abusers to account.


Cambodia: Former Khmer Rouge Leader Loses Appeal on Genocide Case

On 22 September 2022, an appeal of the last surviving member of the Khmer Rouge, 91-year-old Khieu Samphan, was rejected by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (“ECCC”). The ruling found Khieu Samphan’s arguments unfounded. This marks the last decision by this Court and puts an end to 16 years of work by the UN-backed tribunal. The initial judgement convicted Khieu Samphan for his role in the genocide of Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia. Of the two million victims of the Khmer Rouge, 100 000 to 500 000 were Cham Muslims, and an estimated 20 000 were ethnic Vietnamese. The tribunal will now close its doors after having brought to justice five senior Khmer Rouge leaders, at a cost of more than $330 million. Khieu Samphan was the former head of state for the ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ government, from 1975-1979. He was close to Pol Pot, also known as Brother No 1 and leader of the group, who died in 1998 having never stood trial.


Palestine: Coalition of Lawyers Refer the Fatal Shooting of Al Jazeera Reporter to the ICC

On 22 September 2022, a coalition of Palestinian lawyers and advocacy groups resorted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a case for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist. This comes weeks after the Israeli government acknowledge some degree of responsibility for the killing. The referral states that the killing of the reporter was deliberate. Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and a protective vest marked with the word “press” when she was shot last May in the occupied West Bank. The lawyers argue that the timing and trajectory of the bullets suggest Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted. The Israeli government, while recognizing that the killing could have been caused by Israeli forces, has denied any allegations that the journalist was targeted. The filing of this complaint, however, does not guarantee that a case will be opened and that this particular crime falls within the jurisdiction of the Court or within the scope of the preliminary examination that the Court has already initiated.


Liberia: Swiss Court Announces Dates to Hear the Appeal of Liberian War Criminal

On 22 September, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court announced dates to hear the appeal of Alieu Kosiah, who was previously convicted to 20 years in prison for his role in the commission of war crimes during the country’s first civil war in June 2021. The appeal hearings will take place on 11 January 2023 in the town of Bellinzona. Kosiah was the first Liberian to be found guilty for crimes committed in Liberia’s two civil wars. Kosiah has maintained his innocence throughout the legal process which has lasted over seven years. In case Kosiah loses his appeal, he will serve 13 more years in prison before being deported to Liberia.


OHCHR: Independent Commission Concludes that War Crimes Have Been Committed in Ukraine

On 23 September 2022, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine established by the UN Human Rights Council concluded its findings and stated that war crimes have been committed in the country based on its investigations in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy. The Commission further stated that it has documented violations which include indiscriminate attacks, illegal use of explosive weapons, torture, ill-treatment, and sexual and gender-based violence. On one of its visits in June 2022, the Commission witnessed first-hand the damage that had been caused by explosive weapons to residential buildings. The investigation conducted by the commission into sexual and gender-based violence showed that such crimes were committed by some soldiers of the Russian Federation with the age of victims ranging between four and 82 years old. The commission also found that children were exposed to heavy violations like repeated explosions, displacement and separation from family. The Commission has interviewed more than 150 victims and witnessed while having visited 27 towns and settlements.




Afghanistan: De-Facto Government Continues to Bar Girls from Attending School in the Region

On 19 September 2022, one year from when the Taliban decreed the exclusion of girls from school, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the Taliban to let girls back into school. Further reiterating Mr Guterres’s call, Markus Potzel, the acting head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), called the development “tragic, shameful and entirely avoidable” and stated that the decision of the de facto government was profoundly affecting a whole generation of girls. Further, it has been estimated that around one million girls have not been allowed to attend school lessons for the past year, despite there being repetitive international calls for remedying the situation. Mr Potzel further reiterated that the Taliban should reverse this decision and urged them to take “concrete steps” in enabling girls to return to school. 


Pakistan: With 7.6 Million People Displaced by Flooding, Officials Warn the Flood Waters May Take Six Months to Recede

On 20 September 2022, Babar Baloch, Spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in a statement highlighted that the agency was continuously providing support to flood-hit areas of Pakistan. As of now, there are 7.6 million people displaced in the region, with 600 000 living in relief sites, while many parts of the country remain underwater. The UNHCR has so far been able to deliver 1 million life-saving items to the Pakistani authorities and it further plans to transport over 1.2 million relief items to local authorities in the areas which have been most flooded. According to officials, the flood waters would take up to six months to recede in the most affected areas. There also remains concern as to the one million registered Afghan refugees with 800 000 of them living in 45 most affected districts. To provide them aid, the UNHCR has provided emergency cash assistance to hundreds of vulnerable refugee families which has supplanted the Government’s monsoon response.



UN:  International Response to the Myanmar Crisis is Failing

On 21 September 2022, Tom Andrews, the UN appointed Human Rights Expert, while briefing the Human Rights Council stated that since the coup in February 2021, the situation in Myanmar has worsened, and further urged the international community to change its response to the crisis. Mr Andrews stated that the number of displaced persons in the region is up to 1.3 million, with  28 000 homes and villages destroyed, and more than 13 000 children have been killed. He also highlighted that 130 000 Rohingya refugees were living in internment camps where they were suffering from discrimination and deprivation. He further observed that with the international response to the crisis has failed and that Member States need to be more forceful in depriving the military junta of financial resources. He urged Members to ‘re-think status quo policies’ and “set a new course of action for UN Member States to stand with and for those who are ‘fighting for their lives, their children, their future.'”


Sahel: Rising Insecurity and Violent Extremism in the Region Pose a Global Threat

On 22 September 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in a high-level meeting on the African region, highlighted that the crisis in the Sahel posed a “global threat.” The rising insecurity, violent extremism, organised crime and political instability in the region, if not addressed, will make an already “catastrophic humanitarian situation even worse.”  He stated that non-state actors are taking control over the region and they are extending their presence further; into countries of the Gulf of Guinea. He also noted that the humanitarian crisis is being compounded by climate change with soil erosion and drying of water resources causing acute food insecurity. Moreover, the region is also being threatened by a “systemic debt crisis”  that is going to have repercussions across the continent. As such, he urged the international community to work collectively to restore “constitutional order” and “democratic governance” in the region.


Horn of Africa: Drought in Africa May Push 3.6 Million Children to Drop Out of School

On 22 September 2022, it was reported that as a consequence of the drought in the Horn of Africa more than 3.5 million children are at risk of dropping out of school. According to new figures, the United Nations Children’s Fund has estimated that 3.6 million children in the regions of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are at the risk of dropping out of school as a result of the continuous drought and growing pressure on households. Four consecutive failed rainy seasons have forced many families to flee their homes in search of more resources and pushed millions to the brink. The agency has estimated that in Kenya 1.57 million children are on the brink of dropping out of school with 1.14 million in Ethiopia and 900 000 in Somalia. Furthermore, there may be an increase in children dropping out of school because of the additional factors of families moving to other villages where there is not much educational infrastructure, nor the ability of parents to afford the essentials needed to send children to school. 


Russia: Authorities Crackdown on Peaceful Protestors and Arbitarily Detain Them

On 22 September 2022, Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in responding to the detention of 1 386 peaceful protesters in Russia urged all peaceful protestors to be immediately released by the authorities, as everyone had the right to express their opinion freely. He further reiterated that the international community should also respond and increase its efforts towards ending Russia’s aggression against Ukraine by supporting the people peacefully protesting against the invasion and objecting to participating in the conflict. It was also reported that the use of unnecessary and excessive force was resorted to by the police against the peaceful protestors.


Ethiopia: Ethiopians Still Caught Up in a Deadly War

On 22 September 2022, an extensive report by the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia stated to the Human Rights Council that the Ethiopian people are again caught up in a deadly conflict between Government troops and forces loyal to the Tigrayan separatist fighters. They said that crimes against humanity had possibly been committed in the on-off war that erupted in the northern region in November 2020. The report maintains that serious violations of human rights are occurring and crimes against humanity were happening on a massive scale in the region. The chairperson of the Commission, Kaari Betty Murungi, also stated that there has been an “escalation” in drone strikes in the region, putting the lives of civilians at risk. The Commission further stated that the government was using the war crime of “starvation” as a method of committing warfare, although the Ethiopian government has continuously claimed that the Council has subjected the federal government to “unfair and biased scrutiny.”


IRC: Increased Humanitarian Needs as Heavy Rains Lash Central American Countries

On 22 September 2022, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reported that with heavy rainfall having been witnessed in Central America, the effects of climate change have already started to affect millions. In Honduras alone, 200 families have been affected by heavy rains and it has been identified by the IRC as one of the 20 countries which are at the highest risk of experiencing a worsening humanitarian crisis in 2022. Meg Galas, Director for Northern Central America at the IRC highlighted that Central American countries have been highly affected by climate change, with continuous hurricanes in 2020; more than 3.4 million people in Honduras have been left in need of urgent humanitarian aid. She also highlighted that climate change has been a highly contributing factor in internally displacing 1.5 million people in Central America and more than 15 million have experienced hunger in 2021. She urged that families in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador required urgent international support and an expansive humanitarian response.


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