Weekly News Recap (2-8 January 2023)

© Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr




Iran: Two French Citizens Arrested on Espionage Charges

On 3 January 2023, two French nationals were arrested on the charges of spying. The Iranian judiciary has filed an indictment for the offence of espionage against the two citizens and has indicted a Belgian national for unspecified charges in a separate case. According to judiciary spokesman Masoud Setayeshi, a final verdict is yet to be issued. A total of seven people from France are already under arrest in Iran. In mid-November French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna announced that two unnamed French nationals had been detained in Iran. In May, two French nationals, Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris were arrested on the charges of spying and attempting to incite unrest. In February, Belgian Olivier Vandecasteele, a former aid worker, was imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges and has received a jail sentence of 28 years. In 2020, traveller and blogger Benjamin Briere was arrested and sentenced to eight years on spying charges. In 2019, the French-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah was arrested and sentenced to five years on national security charges. France, Belgium and other nations have called on their citizens to leave Iran and refrain from visiting, as they might be arbitrarily arrested. Iran has stated that 40 foreign nationals have been arrested during the past few months.


Lebanon: Seven Individuals Indicted Over the Death of UN Peacekeeper Sean Rooney

On 5 January 2023, seven suspects were charged by Lebanon’s military tribunal for contributing to the December 2022 attack that killed a United Nations peacekeeper when the convoy that was carrying him came under attack. A UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vehicle was fired upon by a group of armed men near al-Aqbiya in southern Lebanon on December 14, resulting in the death of Irish Private Sean Rooney, 23, and the injury of three other peacekeepers. Al-Aqbiya, a village known for its support of the Lebanese group Hezbollah, has denied any involvement in the killing. UNIFIL has called on the Lebanese authorities to promptly investigate the first deadly attack on one of its peacekeepers in nearly eight years. The peacekeeping force was formed to ensure the smooth withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after the 1978 invasion by Israel. The UN expanded its mandate after the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, permitting peacekeepers to be positioned along the Israeli border to assist the Lebanese military in extending its authority into the southern region of the country for the first time in decades.


Belarus: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Ales Bialiatski on Trial for Financing Anti-Government Protests

On 5 January 2023, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski appeared before the court on charges of financing protests and smuggling money. He co-founded the Viasna human rights group and was arrested in 2021 along with three other members of the group. Zmitser Salauyou, a fourth rights defender who fled Belarus, is being prosecuted in absentia in the same case. All three accused pleaded not guilty to the charges. Bialiatski faces up to 12 years in prison and was imprisoned along with hundreds of other Belarusians during the suppression of anti-government demonstrations in the summer of 2020. According to Viasna, there were 1 448 political prisoners in Belarus as of December 31.



Sudan: Eritrean Fugitive Accused of Being “The World’s Most Wanted” Arrested

On 5 January 2023, Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, “the world’s most wanted” people smuggler, was arrested in Sudan with the assistance of UAE authorities. It has been alleged that Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, a smuggling kingpin, ran a camp in Libya where hundreds of East African migrants seeking passage to Europe were kidnapped, raped, and extorted. Habtemariam is the subject of two Interpol red notices by Ethiopia and the Netherlands and was arrested on 1 January 2023 by Sudanese police in coordination with UAE authorities. Earlier, Habtemariam was arrested in Ethiopia in 2020 but he escaped custody after one year and was later sentenced in absentia to life in prison. Interpol has stated that the Eritrean, who has been on their radar since 2019, has gained a reputation for his “particularly cruel and violent treatment of migrants.” According to UAE interior ministry official Saeed Abdullah al-Suwaidi, he will face trial in the UAE for money laundering, and authorities will review the possibility of his extradition after the case is closed in the UAE.


USA: Court Dismissed South Carolina Abortion Ban

On 5 January 2023, the “fetal heartbeat” law of South Carolina which bans abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, was overturned by the South Carolina Supreme Court. The court observed that the ban was an “unreasonable restriction” that “violates a woman’s constitutional right to privacy.” The plaintiffs, two South Carolina physicians, a women’s clinic in the city of Greenville and the healthcare non-profit Planned Parenthood won the case by a narrow three-to-two vote. Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican from South Carolina, criticized the decision as an overreach of judicial power, claiming that it was at odds with the will of the voters. Under the act, patients seeking abortions were required to have an ultrasound to detect a “fetal heartbeat” as defined by the law. If such activity was detected, the abortion could not be completed, except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the parent’s life.


Bosnia: Wartime Fighter Agan Ramic Acquitted of Crimes Against Humanity

On 5 January 2023, while rejecting a state prosecution appeal the Bosnian state court confirmed the first instance verdict and acquitted Agan Ramic of crimes against humanity. Ramic was accused of mistreating a minor in the village of Brdjani in the Konjic area in May 1992. The court observed that the appeal was “ill-founded.” The first instance verdict which was delivered in May held that the crime was incorrectly classified as a crime against humanity in the indictment. The presiding judge observed that the prosecution had not provided any concrete evidence to support this legal classification and that the court had not found any evidence that presented that Ramic had acted in the way portrayed in the indictment. According to the indictment, Ramic had asked a minor to catch a lamb and even though the minor caught the lamb Ramic was dissatisfied with it and started hitting him with a rifle butt. Ramic faced charges for committing the crime as part of a widespread and systematic attack on the Serb population in the Konjic area. The second-instance verdict cannot be appealed.


Mali: 49 Ivory Coast Soldiers Granted Pardons by Military Leader Goita

On 7 January 2023, 49 soldiers of Ivory Coast that were arrested in July and accused of being mercenaries were pardoned by Mali’s military leader. The soldiers were arrested as soon as they arrived at Mali’s Bamako airport. According to the Ivory Coast, the soldiers were a part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali and were contracted to work for a private company contracted by the United Nations. The arrests and charges of the soldiers caused a diplomatic conflict between Mali and Ivory Coast. Last week, 46 of the jailed Ivorian soldiers were sentenced to 20 years in prison. Three other women defendants who were released in September and tried in absentia received death sentences.


Iran: Two Men Convicted of Allegedly Killing a Paramilitary Volunteer Executed

On 7 January 2023, Iran announced the execution of two men convicted of allegedly murdering a paramilitary volunteer during a demonstration. These executions were the latest attempt to quell the ongoing nationwide protests. Those executed were identified as Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini. This marks the execution of a total of four men since the demonstrations began in September over the death of Mahsa Amini. All the trials were internationally criticised for being rapidly conducted and behind closed-door. According to the Mizan news agency of the judiciary, the men were found guilty of killing Ruhollah Ajamian, a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s volunteer Basij Force, in Karaj (near Tehran) on November 3. The Basij have been deployed to major cities and have been attacking and arresting protesters who have frequently resisted. The tribunals don’t allow those on trial to pick their own lawyers or even see the evidence against them. The protests mark one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 revolution.



UN: Breakthrough Ceasefire Pact Agreed in Colombia

On 1 January 2023, a breakthrough agreement was signed between the Colombian government and five of the largest remaining armed groups, providing what the United Nations (“UN”) called “renewed hope for comprehensive peace.” The pact was announced by the Colombian President Gustavo Petro (“Petro”), who is the first-ever leftist President of Colombia, and he tweeted that he was seeking “total peace” for the country. According to the President, the pact will run for an initial six months until the end of June 2023, and it marks the end of decades of conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The agreement did not include other dissent factions who remained mobilised, although the UN stated that adherence to the commitments “will reduce violence and the suffering of conflict-affected communities.” Petro said that there would be national and international verification mechanisms put in place to monitor and ensure the ceasefire agreement.


Syria: UN Resolution Providing Humanitarian Aid to 2.7 Million People Every Month Set to Expire

On 2 January 2023, the UN announced that UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2642 which provides lifesaving humanitarian aid to the northwest of Syria, will expire on 10 January 2023. The resolution currently allows aid to be delivered across the Turkish border and its expiry will result in devastating consequences for 4.1 million people in non-government-controlled areas of Syria. Without UN cross-border operations, these people, many of whom are women and children, will not have access to food and water during a harsh winter and a serious cholera outbreak. In 2022, the resolution allowed for around 2.7 million people to receive aid every month across the Turkish border into Syria, helping to support the early recovery and livelihoods of communities in these areas. If the resolution is not extended, this will result in the termination of the UN Monitoring Mechanism (UNMM) which verifies the ‘humanitarian nature of consignments at the border.’


Ukraine: Deadly Russian Attacks Continue into the Start of 2023

Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure continue into the start of 2023, including attacks on hotels, residential homes and educational facilities which have resulted in ongoing civilian casualties. Ukrainian authorities reported more than fifty civilians had been killed in a single day (31 December). The UN Deputy Spokesperson for the UN reported that the UN and their humanitarian partners are continuing to deliver support to people in need, including food, water, blankets, emergency shelter kits and other supplies. More intensive fighting continues in the Russian-occupied eastern Donetsk and the Luhansk region. On 31 December 2022, Ukrainian military sources reported a missile strike on a Russian military base housing conscripts in Makiivka in occupied eastern Ukraine, that killed or wounded as many as 400 Russians. The Russian defence ministry announced on 1 January 2023, that only 63 soldiers were killed in the attack- the highest death toll acknowledged by Russia since the invasion began in February of 2022.


Save the Children: Number of Children Facing Crisis Levels of Hunger in Lebanon to Rise

On 3 January 2023, Save the Children announced the number of children in Lebanon facing crisis levels of hunger will rise by 14 per cent if urgent action is not taken. Years of economic instability and global climate and hunger crises have caused 37 per cent of the Lebanese and Syrian population in Lebanon to live with high acute food insecurity, including four in 10 Lebanese and Syrian children. Save the Children reported that without urgent action this will rise to 42 per cent, making Lebanon the sixth worst food crisis globally for its share of the population. The socio-economic crisis has pushed three-quarters of Lebanon into poverty, with the country facing deteriorating living conditions, daily power cuts, a cash crisis and a serious cholera outbreak. Save the Children reported that families are being forced to skip meals or reduce the number of nutritious meals and quantities of meat their children consume. The organisation warns that without action, Lebanon may become the “next tragic hunger emergency.”


UN:  7 Million Allocated to Provide Lifesaving Assistance in Mali

On 3 January 2023, a UN report announced that on 30 December 2022, a 7 million (USD) Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was approved for emergency interventions in central and northern Mali. The CERF is a humanitarian funding mechanism designed to enable an effective response to populations affected by natural disasters, armed conflict or underfunded crises. Between January and December 2022, northern Mali faced increasing population movements with more than 72 500 people newly displaced as a result of armed conflicts and military interventions. The new funds will provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to 423 000 internally displaced people, refugees and host populations in affected regions. In 2022 humanitarian partners reached over 3.5 million vulnerable people in Mali; however, this was with only 38 per cent of the funding required for the full humanitarian response plan in Mali.


Syria: As the Cross-Border Resolution Nears its Expiry Date, UN Experts Call for its Renewal to Continue Providing Aid to 4.1 Million People Affected in the Region

On 4 January 2023, a group of independent human rights experts highlighted that the UN Security Council Resolution 2642 which has ensured lifesaving and humanitarian aid in northwest Syria through cross-border deliveries from Türkiye should be extended. They highlighted the risks of the non-renewal of Resolution 2642, which is set to expire on 10 January 2023. In their statement, they stressed that if Resolution 2642 was not renewed the humanitarian situation in northwest Syria would further deteriorate. The Resolution, for the past eight years, has allowed delivery of critical aid supplies despite there being limitations in “its scope and duration.” Through its cross-border assistance, the UN reaches 2.7 million people each month, with 80 per cent of the people receiving aid constituting women and children. UN experts also stated that renewal of the resolution was the minimum requirement as there wasn’t any other “comparable alternative” which could aid and assist the 4.1 million in need in the region. Experts warned that the non-renewal of the resolution could further deteriorate and also reduce the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid and medical aid in the region. 


Ukraine: In Order to Avert a Food Crisis in the Region FAO Launched a New Initiative for Assisting the Agricultural Sector

On 4 January 2023, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that a 15.5 million (USD) initiative had been launched to avert a food crisis in Ukraine. The project with funding from the European Union would be able to assist with suitable agricultural production as well as provide support to the country’s farmers and smallholders. According to FAO, around 13 million people in the region rely upon the country’s farming sector. Pierre Vauthier, head of FAO’s Ukraine country office, highlighted that the individuals and families he met during his visits to the region confirmed that there is “an urgent need for immediate support for restoring household capacities.” Hanna Antonyuk, Project Manager at FAO Ukraine, also highlighted that the project will be providing support to agricultural producers who are in urgent need of having access to finance, technical and business development advice. The EU-funded project provided support between March and May of the previous year, where more than 6 000 households benefited from agricultural inputs, cash, and vegetable seeds. Starting in March 2023, the project would make available grants of  USD 1 000-25 000 for supporting production in the regions of Lviv, Zakarpatska, Ivano-Frankivska and parts of Chernivetska.


UNDP: Out of the 33 Million Affected by Flooding in Pakistan, Nine Million Risk Being Pushed into Poverty

On 5 January 2023, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted that an additional nine million people in Pakistan are at risk of being pushed towards poverty, due to recent flooding, which has already affected 33 million. Knut Ostby, UNDP Resident Representative in Pakistan, further stated that even though the flooding in the region was ‘unprecedented,’ climate change could cause this to happen in other countries as well. He also explained that due to loss in the planting season and increases in food prices, the number of persons living in food insecurity could increase to 14.6 million people from 7 million. Reiterating Mr Ostby’s concerns, Khalil Hashmi, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, stated that eight million had been ‘acutely displaced by the floods.’ More than 1 700 people were killed in the monsoon flooding disaster, and over two million homes were destroyed. There is a need for $16 billion for rehabilitating and reconstructing the country. 


UNHCR: New Border Measures in the US Expand Restrictions on Migrants from Other Countries 

On 6 January 2023, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR stated that the plans by the Biden administration for expanding the restrictions on people seeking refuge in the United States were not ‘in line with refugee law standards.’ The reforms which would be put into place, deny asylum to migrants if they crossed from Mexico into the US border without permission. The Biden administration, however, has stated that up to 30 000 people per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela can enter the US legally, if they meet certain requirements which include finding sponsors and demonstrating their ability to afford a plane ticket. Although the reforms were in part welcomed by the UNHCR, Boris Cheshirkov, UNHCR Spokesperson, highlighted that the measures must not “preclude people forced to flee from exercising their fundamental human right to seek safety.” He also noted that due to the ‘multifaceted’ nature of the announcement by the Administration, the refugee agency is seeking further details to analyse the impact of the measures while reiterating that some provisions are not in line with the refugee law standards.


OHCHR: As Hundreds of Political Prisoners are Released in Myanmar, Thousands Continue to Remain Incarcerated 

On 6 January 2022,  the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) highlighted that hundreds of political prisoners in Myanmar had been granted amnesty this week although thousands more remained incarcerated. Since the military coup of 1 February 2021, nearly 17 000 people have been arrested. OHCHR Spokesperson Jeremy Laurence took this opportunity to call upon the authorities to release the thousands of other journalists who are in detention for opposing the military rule. While the release of the hundreds of political prisoners was welcomed by the Human Rights Office, another 22 political prisoners were detained, on the same day. The OHCHR also appealed for the former democratically elected leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi’s immediate release after further sentencing.


Leave a Reply