Weekly News Recap (30 January-5 February 2023)

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Mali: Experts Demand Investigation into Wagner’s Possible War Crimes in Mali

On 31 January 2023, UN-appointed rights experts demanded a thorough and impartial investigation into the potential violations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Mali, committed by both government forces and the Russian private military company, Wagner Group. According to the government of Mali that came to power through a military coup in 2021, Russian forces in the country are not mercenaries but instructors providing aid to local troops with equipment purchased from Moscow. “Founded by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group is also widely reported to be involved in fighting in Ukraine, having recruited thousands of convicts from Russian jails.” The Wagner Group has also been a source of concern in other areas, specifically in the Central African Republic (CAR), where the UN human rights office OHCHR published information indicating that the mercenary group is participating in systematic and grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, such as arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, and summary execution, and that these actions are continuing without any reprimand. The UN Working Group on Mercenaries, along with other human rights experts, declared that Wagner’s activities in the northwest African country are shrouded by a “climate of terror and absolute immunity.”



Uzbekistan: Protestors Sentenced to Various Prison Terms Over Anti-Government Demonstrations

On 31 January 2023, Court sentenced 22 people to varying prison terms for their participation in the anti-government protest in the autonomous Karakalpakstan republic last July. In the protest which was sparked by attempts to limit the autonomy of the province, 21 people were killed. Those plans were ultimately dropped by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev during the demonstrations. The protestors were found guilty of “charges that ranged from hooliganism to encroachment on the constitutional order in the country of 36 million people.” The leading defendant, Dauletmurat Tajimuratov, an attorney charged with orchestrating the riots, was given a 16-year prison term. Journalist Lolagul Kallikhanova, 34, was handed a suspended three-year sentence and set free in the courtroom.


UK: Legality of Resuming Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia to be Examined by Court

On 31 January 2023, the High Court in London commenced proceedings to determine whether the UK government’s decision to renew selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which could be used in the war in Yemen, is legal or not. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (“CAAT”), a UK-based NGO, has initiated the legal challenge, accusing the government of complicity in breaking international law and exacerbating the massive humanitarian crisis that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. The judicial review is expected to last until the end of the week. The non-profit organization took legal action after the UK declared its intention to resume selling arms to Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2020. Initially, the NGO won the case in 2019 when the Court of Appeal ruled that the UK’s licensing of arms sales was unlawful. The court in that verdict observed that the government had failed to assess properly whether the arms sales violated its commitments to human rights and ordered it to “reconsider the matter.”


ECtHR: Investigation of Attack on Greenpeace Personnel Unsatisfactory

On 31 January 2023, in the case of Kreyndlin and Others v. Russia, the court observed that there was “a violation of Article 3 (prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment) taken in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of the nine individual applicants and that the State had failed to comply with its obligations under Article 38 (obligation to furnish the necessary facilities for the examination of a case).” The matter pertains to an attack on Greenpeace staff in the Krasnodar Region, possibly stemming from their ties to Greenpeace or the assumption they were foreign agents and the inquiry that followed. The Court ruled that the investigation was inadequate, insufficient and incapable of acting as a deterrent against future acts of this nature, especially considering that a full investigation was only launched four years after the incident and did not examine the potential hate-based motive behind the attack. The Court held that Russia was to pay each individual applicant 4 000 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage.


USA: Four Suspects in the Assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise were Transferred from Haiti to the United States

On 1 February 2023, the US Justice Department announced that four significant suspects in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise on 7 July 2021, have been moved from Haiti to the US to face criminal prosecutions. A total of seven suspects in the case are now in US custody. According to the department, Haitian-American dual citizens James Solages, 37, and Joseph Vincent, 57, and Colombian citizen German Alejandro Rivera Garcia, 44, have been charged with conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the United States. The fourth suspect, Haitian-American Christian Sanon, 54, is charged with smuggling ballistic vests from the United States to Haiti for use in the assassination plot. The four will appear in federal court in Miami. Three others involved in the assassination have already been charged by the US Justice Department, with Sanon being identified as a key operator and an “aspiring political candidate.” The three charged with the assassination face up to life in prison. Sanon faces up to 20 years for his role in supplying the operation. The case is being brought under US law, as the plot to assassinate the Haitian president was allegedly organised in Florida.


UK: 11 000 Nigerians from the Ogale Community in the Niger Delta Filed a Compensation Claim Against Shell

On 2 February 2023, over 11 000 Nigerians from the oil-rich Niger Delta area submit a claim for compensation against Shell Petroleum Development Company (“Shell”) at London’s High Court for loss of livelihoods and damage. The case filed by a UK law firm, Leigh Day, is a further step in legal proceedings that will assess the accountability of multinationals for the actions of overseas subsidiaries. The claims allege that oil spills caused by Shell’s activities in the Niger Delta have damaged farms, polluted drinking water, and harmed marine life. In 2021, the UK Supreme Court allowed a group of 42 500 Nigerian farmers and fishermen to sue Shell in the English courts after years of oil spills had contaminated land and groundwater. According to Leigh Day, the Ogale claim adds to the one presented by the Bille community members in 2015, resulting in a total of 13 652 village residents seeking compensation from Shell. Leigh Day stated that “the next stage in the case is for a case management hearing to be set in Spring 2023, ahead of the full trial which is likely to occur the following year.”


USA: Guantanamo Bay Detainee Transferred to Belize after 20 Years in Captivity

On 2 February 2023, a Guantanamo Bay detainee, Majid Khan, was transferred to Belize almost a year after finishing his sentence at the US-run detention facility, bringing the number of prisoners at Guantanamo to 34, including 20 who are eligible for transfer. Khan was detained in 2003 and brought to Guantanamo three years later. Khan, who went to secondary school in the US state of Maryland, later returned to his native homeland, Pakistan, to join Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks (2001). He was later captured in Pakistan in 2003 and confessed to conspiracy to kill, spying, and “giving material assistance to terrorism” in 2012. According to the Pentagon, he was sentenced in 2021 to a term of confinement for over 10 years with credit for the years he spent cooperating with US personnel. He subsequently completed his sentence. The Guantanamo Bay Detention Center was established in 2002 as a holding place for individuals taken into custody during the “war on terror.”


Turkey: University Students Imprisoned Over Massive 2021 Protests

On 3 February 2023, a court in Istanbul sentenced 14 students of Bogazici University to one year and one year and a half jail terms for conducting protests against a politically appointed rector. The protests were organised by thousands of students, academics, activists, and opposition party members over the appointment of a new rector by Turkey’s authoritarian president at Bogazici University. The court imposed an additional sentence of one year and six months on student Berke Gok for “destruction of public property” and gave student Eftelya Koyuncu an extra 14 months in prison for “defamation of a public official.” The court imposed a one-year jail sentence on other students for violation of the law on Meetings and Demonstrations. The students and lawyers were not allowed to defend themselves by the judge. The demonstrations were repeatedly disrupted by police using force and resulted in the detention of hundreds of students. The protests sparked a revolt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rising control and influence over universities and the academic community.



UNICEF: Number of Children in Need of Humanitarian Aid is Increasing Rapidly in Haiti

On 29 January 2023, UNICEF warned that the number of Haitian children in need of humanitarian aid increased by half a million in the last two years, and at least 2.6 million children are expected to need lifesaving assistance in 2023. Armed violence, cholera outbreak, food insecurity and inflation have restricted access to basic essentials, health services, water and education for millions of children and families in Haiti. Furthermore, due to increased violence in the region, many schools have been forced to close, and remained open only for seven months last year and only reopened in October 2022, with an estimated 1.2 million children under threat of violence. The cholera outbreak is also affecting young children disproportionately as children under 10 represent one in three confirmed cases. UNICEF has scaled up its response to the crisis, although it stated that supplying humanitarian aid is becoming increasingly difficult as most areas are controlled by gangs and are volatile to violence.


Pakistan: Suicide Bomb at a Mosque Kills 59 and Injures At Least 150

On 30 January 2023, a suicide attack at a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan killed at least 100 people, including 20 police officials and injured at least 50. According to the BBC, the suicide bomber targeted the police officials praying in the mosque. The blast caused the roof to collapse on approximately 400 worshippers inside. The United Nations (“UN”) Secretary-General, António Guterres (“Guterres”) strongly condemned the attack and stated that “it is particularly abhorrent that the attack occurred at a place of worship.” Between 300 and 400 police officers were in the area at the time, as the mosque is within an area that houses the police headquarters which is tightly guarded. The Pakistani Taliban ended a ceasefire in November and violence has been on the rise since; however, the group denied involvement in the attack. 


UNICEF: Calls to De-escalate Violence Against Children in Israel and Palestine 

On 30 January 2023, UNICEF released a statement voicing an appeal to parties in Israel and Palestine to refrain from, and de-escalate violence after the recent killing of many children. The statement declared that “children continue to pay the highest price of violence” and that they fear an “increasing number of children will suffer” if the level of fighting continues. By the time of the statement, seven Palestinian children, and one Israeli child had been killed in 2023. The biggest attack occurred on 26 January, when an attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue killed seven Israelis, and a raid of a West Bank refugee camp killed nine Palestinians. UNICEF appealed to parties to stop using violence against children whilst it continues to provide its services to those in need, including psychological support to more than 15 000 children in the Gaza Strip. 


For prior developments see: 


Iraq: Turkish Advances May Threaten Stability in the Region 

On 31 January 2023, Reuters reported that Turkey’s advances into Iraq could risk deeper conflict in the region. Turkish forces have continued to advance across the increasingly depopulated border of Iraqi Kurdistan as it increases its decades-long offensive against Kurdish militants in the region. Reuters warned that if the new Turkish bases come under attack it may lead to Turkey becoming further embroiled in Iraq and, in turn, cause Iran to expand its intelligence operations and own military action in Iraq as well. The former secretary general for Kurdistan’s Peshmerga forces stated that until 2019 Turkey had 29 outposts in Iraq; however, they now estimate the number to be closer to 87, which are mainly located in a strip of territory about 95 miles long. Turkey’s defence ministry commented that the operations are in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter, “which gives member states the right to self-defence in the event of attacks.” Iran did not respond to requests for comment.


IOM: Increased Support to Manage Growing Number of Rohingya Refugees

On 31 January 2023, the International Organization for Migration (‘IOM’) stated that the number of Rohingya refugees arriving from South-East Asia in 2022 increased by approximately 290 per cent from 2021.  IOM recorded about 3 300 arrivals in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in 2022 compared to 850 in 2021. As of 23 January 2023, IOM reported the number has already reached 300 and is therefore scaling up operations in the region to provide more humanitarian support. The humanitarian support in the region includes providing health services, cash-based rental assistance programmes and promoting alternatives to detention for migrant children and mothers. Five years ago, the first Rohingya refugees began fleeing persecution in Myanmar and settled in what is now the world’s largest refugee settlement, Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Nearly 1 million refugees are now in the region’s cramped camps with many continuing to flee danger into neighbouring countries. 


Libya: Italy Renews MoU on Migration with Libya, Forcing Thousands of  Migrants Back

On 1 February 2023, Human Rights Watch reported that Italy’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Migration with Libya would be renewed on 2 February for another three years, after the November 2022 date for making changes was passed. The MoU which had first been signed in 2017, provides both financial and technical support to the Libyan authorities for intercepting thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy and forcing them back to Libya. According to a June 2022 report by the UN Independent Fact Finding Commission, the thousands of migrants and asylum seekers who are forced back to Libya face “murder, enforced disappearances, torture, enslavement, sexual violence, rape and other inhumane acts…in connection with their arbitrary detention.” The Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court had also highlighted that the crimes against migrants in Libya constituted “crimes against humanity and war crimes.” The European Union has also provided considerable support to Libya, allocating 57.2 million euros for “Integrated Border and Migration Management in Libya” since 2017, making both the EU and Libya complicit.


Myanmar: Military Junta Extends State of Emergency for Another Six Months, Delaying Constitutionally Mandated Elections

On 2 February 2023, the Guardian reported that the military junta in Myanmar had extended the state of emergency for another six months, further delaying elections that were mandated to be held according to the country’s constitution. According to Min Aung Hlaing, junta chief, more than a third of townships were not under full military control. He further stated that the military would continue to play a prominent role in the country even after the elections. The extension of state emergency was denounced by the United States with Ned Price, State Department spokesperson stating that the emergency extension “prolonged the military’s illegitimate rule and the suffering it inflicts upon the country.” Furthermore, a new round of sanctions had also been imposed upon Myanmar by the United States, Canada and Britain. 


Nigeria: Worsening Security Situation in the Region is Increasing Division Among Communities on Ethnic and Religious Lines

On 2 February 2023, Alice Nderitu UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide voiced her concern over the deteriorating security situation in Nigeria while expressing her condemnation of the airstrike that occurred on 24 January, which killed at least 40 herders. She particularly expressed her concern over the situation in the North West and North Central regions of Nigeria, where the airstrikes had taken place. She pointed out that the security situation in the region was declining because of the politicisation of transhumance, the seasonal movement of livestock for grazing along with divisions among communities along religious and ethnic lines. She also urged that the upcoming elections in the region should not “trigger violence and even atrocity crimes.” She also underscored that transhumance was being used in political discourse in West Africa and the vast Sahel region for targeting communities in relation to it. She appealed for urgent action to be taken to address conflicts, and for the elections to take place peacefully.


Ethiopia: As the Aid Situation Improves, Access to Some is Still Hindered     

On 2 February 2023, Florencia Soto Niño, an associate Spokesperson for the UN aid coordination office (OCHA) briefed correspondents on the aid situation in the Northern regions of Ethiopia, i.e. Tigray, Afar and Amhara. She highlighted that aid access in the northern region had continued to improve with aid operations having expanded after the Cessation of Hostilities agreement in mid-November, but some civilians in the conflict-affected region remained difficult to reach. She highlighted that since the agreement 127 000 tons of food had been brought into Tigray, which has reached more than 3.8 million people. The latest situation report from the OCHA highlighted that around 400 000 people have received food aid in the region between the period of 12 to 18 January 2023. According to humanitarians “significant displacement” in the Amhara regions of North Shewa, South Wello and West Gojam have been witnessed. She also highlighted that the agency aims to reach 17 million people with “food, water, health and agriculture support.”


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