Weekly News Recap (13-19 February 2023)

© Photo by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid via Flickr




Germany: Prosecutors in Berlin Presented Closing Statement and Sentencing Recommendation for War Crimes Committed Under Assad’s Regime

On 14 February 2023, in Berlin, after a thirty-day trial prosecutors presented their closing argument for a war crimes trial against the Assad regime. The trial looked at the regime’s use of besieging and starving civilians who opposed the regime. During the closing statement, the prosecutor urged that the defendant, Moafok D be convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life in prison. Moafok D was a “member of one of the pro-regime militias who exerted control over Yarmouk” and is on trial for alleged war crimes committed in the region including throwing a grenade into a crowd, gathered to collect food. This is the second case dealing with atrocities committed under the Assad regime in Syria.


Indonesia: Senior Police Officer Sentenced to Death

On 14 February 2023, Chief Justice Wahyu Imam Santoso sentenced Ferdy Sambo, the former head of Indonesia’s Internal Affairs department to the death penalty. He was convicted for the murder of his aide, Police Brigadier Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat. This case garnered a lot of attention in Indonesia as the ”trial of the century” and was regarded as a litmus test for police accountability in the country. The judge noted that Mr. Sambo acted with premeditation and conspired to cover up the murder by destroying evidence. The prosecution stated that the motive behind the murder was an affair between Hutabarat and Sambo’s wife.  In addition to Mr. Sambo’s sentence, Mr. Sambo’s wife was sentenced to 20 years in prison due to her involvement in the crime and disparaging the name of the Indonesian police.


USA: Man Sentenced to Life in Prison Without the Possibility of Parole for Racist Shooting in Grocery Store

On 15 February 2023, Payton Gendron was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his racist shooting and killing of ten Black people at a United Stated grocery store in a predominately Black community. He was convicted for the ten deaths separately and denied youthful offender status. He received concurrent life sentences for each of the victims. Mr. Gendron’s actions were premeditated and driven by his desire to preserve white power. He will also be prosecuted in the United States Federal Court where he could face a death sentence if pursued by the United States Department of Justice. However, the attorney for Mr. Gendron states that his client will plead guilty in order to prevent a death sentence.


Russia: Journalist Sentenced to Six Years in Penal Colony

On 15 February 2023, a Russian journalist was sentenced to six years in a penal colony after being found guilty of spreading false information, on the actions of Russia’s armed forces, through her posts on a messaging app. Maria Ponomarenko worked for RusNews, and accused the Russian air force of bombing a theatre in Mariupol in 2022. The Kremlin has banned false reporting and criticising the Russian army during their ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. In addition to her six-year sentence in a penal colony, she is banned from working as a journalist for five years. This sentencing is one of many handed to Russia’s political opposition which includes, activists, journalists, and bloggers who have voiced their criticism against the war in Ukraine.


Italy: Former Italian Prime Minister Acquitted in Bribery Trial

On 15 February 2023, the Italian court acquitted former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in his underage prosecution bribery trial. The former Italian prime minister was accused of bribing twenty-eight underage guests that attended his infamous Bunga-Bunga parties to provide false testimony for a previous trial in which he was charged with paying for an underaged prostitute. The court ruled that the charges did not apply to this case since the witnesses should have been identified as suspects. In addition to the former prime minister the other twenty-eight individuals were found not guilty in the bribery case, as well.

Canada: Government Supports Plans to Create a Special Tribunal to Investigate War Crimes in Ukraine

On 16 February 2023, the foreign minister of Canada, Mélanie Joly, stated that Canada would join other countries in endorsing a special tribunal that will look into alleged crimes perpetuated by Russia in Ukraine. This announcement by a Canadian government official came after a meeting with the Ukrainian president in Poland. Ms. Joly expressed that the International Criminal Court  (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) do not have the appropriate mandate to complete an investigation. Therefore, a special group of countries selected by Ukraine to lead an investigation into Russian war crimes should be conducted. It is also anticipated that the special tribunal will assist in preserving evidence for future trials in the ICC or ICJ.


ECtHR: Court Found that the Macedonian Officials Did Not Use All Domestic Remedies

On 16 February 2023, in the case of Taleski and Others v. North Macedonia, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the Macedonian officials did not exhaust all available domestic remedies prior to filing for a claim under Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 6 (right to fair trial). The case involved seven prominent members of the governing body of Macedonia and one Macedonian citizen. The applicants alleged that the annulment of their pardons for charges of widespread wiretapping was a violation of their Article 5 and Article 6 rights. The Court stated that this claim was premature since there were still pending proceedings in the appeals court of North Macedonia. Therefore, the Court ruled that the complaints were inadmissible.


ICC: Appeal Chambers Authorises Extension of Time to File Appeal Brief by Philippine Government

On 17 February 2023, the Appeal Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) granted the Republic of the Philippines’ request for an extension to file an appeal against Pre-Trial Chamber I’s decision to resume an investigation into the situation of the Republic of the Philippines. The Appeals Chambers determined that good cause was demonstrated by the Republic of Philippines to authorise an extension of time. The Republic of the Philippines was granted until 13 March 2023 to submit an appeal brief to the ICC.


USA: Former Police Officers Plead Not Guilty for Murder of Tyre Nichols

On 17 February 2023, five former police officers charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression, plead not guilty to the death of a civilian, Tyre Nichols. The former police officers made their first court appearance since the release of a video recording, which shows the arrest and beating of Tyre Nichols. All of the police officers charged were released on bail. The officers will return for trial in May 2023. Two other police officers involved in the crime have not been charged but have been suspended from Memphis Police Department.



New Zealand: National Emergency Declared as Cyclone Kills At Least 4 People

On 13 February 2023, New Zealand declared a national emergency for the third time in the country’s history, after a cyclone killed at least four people including a child. The cyclone, Gabrielle, hit the north of the country causing widespread flooding, loss of power, and local media reports showed houses being washed away by the landslides. Rescue helicopters saved approximately 300 people from their rooftops and although the cyclone has moved away from New Zealand, 10 500 people are still displaced. The country’s Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, stated that the cyclone has affected at least a third of the country’s five million population. On 15 February, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake was felt widely across the country as well; however, there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.


CAR: “Worrying Magnitude” of Incidents Involving Explosive Devices Since       Start of 2023

On 13 February 2023, the United Nations Mine Action Service (“UNMAS”) reported that during the first six weeks of 2023, 14 incidents involving explosive devices occurred in the Central African Republic (“CAR”). These incidents resulted in seven deaths and five injuries, with eight of these incidents occurring in the first half of February in what UNMASS labelled as a “worrying magnitude.” This volatile situation weakens the protection of civilians and affects the ability of humanitarian goods to flow in and around the country including the 940 000 that humanitarian actors plan to assist this year. These incidents highlight the importance of security and demining operations for the protection of civilians and the continuation of aid operations. 


Syria: Additional Crossing Points from Turkey to Syria Opened As Death Toll    Reaches Over 40 000

On 13 February 2023, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (“al-Assad”) opened two additional crossing points on the Syria-Turkey border for humanitarian aid to pass for an initial period of three months. The UN Secretary-General welcomed the decision; however, critics believe that cooperation from al-Assad is part of a wider campaign to gain political legitimacy as the international community increases its relief efforts. The opening of these crossing points will allow more aid to flow into Syria, including 11 International Organisation for Migration (“IOM”) trucks, which passed on Tuesday, through the Bab al-Salam crossing from Turkey into northwestern Syria for the first time since its closure in 2020. The UN has also sent 50 aid trucks through another crossing, Bab al-Hawa; however, the UN has admitted inadequacies in its initial response to the earthquake where four million people in the northwest region of Syria were in need even before the earthquake. The total death toll from the double earthquake has surpassed 41 000 and continues to rise, with more than 35 000 declared dead in Turkey and 6 000 in Syria. On 14 February 2023, the UN appealed for almost (USD) 400 million to address the humanitarian needs over the next three months. 



Libya: 73 Migrants and Refugees Presumed Dead in Shipwreck off Libyan Coast

On 15 February 2023, the United Nations (“UN”) reported that 73 Europe-bound migrants and refugees are missing and presumed dead in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya. The IOM reported that the Libyan authorities retrieved 11 bodies from the wreck and seven people made it back to the Libyan shore in “extremely dire conditions.” IOM Libya reported that the boat was carrying approximately 80 people and had departed from Qasr Alkayar on 14 February, for Europe. The central Mediterranean is a key route for migrants from the Middle East and Africa heading to Europe, and since 29 January 2023 at least 531 migrants and refugees have been intercepted off the Libyan coast and returned to war-torn and conflict areas. According to the IOM’s Missing Migrant project, 25 821 migrants and refugees have gone missing in the Mediterranean since 2014. 


Afghanistan: Women Not Receiving Aid After Taliban Ban Women Working for NGOs

On 15 February 2015, Save the Children reported that Afghan women are missing out on life-saving aid since the Taliban issued a decree banning women from working for non-government organisations (NGOs). Widows and single women told Save the Children that they are often unable to access aid because they do not have a male family member to collect it and cultural norms and traditions prevent them from engaging with male humanitarian workers. According to UN Women, the ban is impacting 93 percent of surveyed organisations in Afghanistan in their ability to access women and provide humanitarian assistance. The ban comes amidst the country’s coldest winter in more than a decade, and the country’s worst hunger crisis on record. 

https://www.savethechildren.net/news/we-need-women-help-women-afghan-women-cut-aid-following-taliban-ban-female-ngo-workers – 

Ukraine: Amid Continuous Shelling and Conflict, Appeal for $3.9 Billion Made to Respond to Needs of 11.1 Million Affected

On 15 February 2023, Martin Griffiths, Head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) highlighted that the situation in Ukraine remained desperate amid continuous conflict and shelling of civilian targets. He urged the need for greater humanitarian funding to continue delivering lifesaving support and aid to the people affected. An appeal for $3.9 billion has been made by the OCHA chief in order to respond to the needs of 11.1 million people affected by the conflict inside the country. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also made an appeal for $1.7 billion in order to help the 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees who are being hosted in 10 countries, namely Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.


Italy: Proposed Law on Search and Rescue Operations at Sea Risks Impinging on Humanitarian Assistance to Migrants Stranded at Sea

On 16 February 2023, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed his concerns over the proposed law in Italy regarding humanitarian search-and-rescue operations (SAR). According to the proposed regulations, humanitarian rescue ships would be required to head to port immediately after each rescue and forgo any additional rescues, even if they are in the immediate vicinity of the people in distress. The provision preventing humanitarian ships from taking additional rescues as well as designating distant disembarkation sites by the country would impinge upon the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance to migrants at sea. Mr. Türk further highlighted that the law risked not only punishing migrants but also those who seek to help them. He also stated that the proposed law would further increase interception and returns to Libya, a location which the OHCHR considers an unsafe port of disembarkation.


UNHRC: Reductions in Food Assistance to Rohingya Refugees Risks “Devastating Consequences” 

On 16 February 2023, Tom Andrews and Michael Fakhri, UN independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council issued a statement regarding the situation of Rohingya refugees living in camps neighbouring Bangladesh. They highlighted that there would be “catastrophic consequences” if life-saving food aid is slashed for refugees. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced that 17 per cent of rations for Rohingya refugees would be reduced, and further warned that if no new funding commitments are made by April, there would be further cuts. Both UN experts also warned that Rohingya refugees depended entirely upon life-saving food aid and if these cuts are made, repercussions would be “immediate and long-lasting.” They also added that the reductions in food would affect vulnerable people the most, who are already food insecure, as acute malnutrition among Rohingya refugees remained high. They noted that other human rights concerns would emerge as a consequence of ration cuts, with refugees at risk of human trafficking and embarking on dangerous boat journeys. They urged for “immediate action” by the international community to avoid any “generation-spanning consequences” of the ration cuts.


IOM: Appeal for $84 Million Launched by Organisation to Assist One Million Migrants in the Horn of Africa and along the Eastern Route

On 16 February 2023, it was reported that the Regional Migrant Response Plan that has been launched this week by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM) aims to address the needs faced by people along the treacherous Eastern Route towards the Arabian Peninsula. The Eastern Route is considered to be one of the busiest, most complex and dangerous migration corridors in the world, which cuts through deserts, seas and war-afflicted Yemen. Along the Eastern Route, 89 migrants have died or disappeared, with more likely unrecorded. António Vitorino, IOM Director General, highlighted that the Regional Migrant Response Plan would address the drivers of irregular migration, along with providing a “flexible mechanism for all stakeholders to respond to evolving migration trends, and broader humanitarian and development challenges affecting migrants, host communities and the respective governments.” The IOM and its partners have appealed for $84 million to provide humanitarian and developmental assistance to over one million migrants in the Horn of Africa.


Türkiye: Flash Appeal of $1 Billion Launched by UN to Assist Five Million Affected by the Cataclysmic Earthquake 

On 16 February 20223, the United Nations launched a three-month flash appeal in order to provide humanitarian assistance and aid to five million people affected by the previous week’s devastating earthquakes across Türkiye. The earthquakes have directly impacted more than nine million people in the region, with 35 000 people have lost their lives as of 15 February. According to UNHCR, more than 1.74 million refugees who are living in 11 provinces of Türkiye have also been directly affected by the disaster. The flash appeal for $1 billion would target 5.2 million people and would also aid the organisations and the Government to scale up their operations and responses in areas of food security, protection, education, water and shelter.  


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