Weekly News Recap (20-26 February 2023)

© Photo by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid via Flickr




KSC: Trial of Pjetër Shala Began

On 21 February 2023, opening statements for the trial against Mr. Pjetër Shala commenced at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC). Mr. Shala is charged with four counts of war crimes, including arbitrary detention, torture, murder, and cruel treatment of individuals at the Kukёs Metal Factory in Albania. The alleged crimes occurred between May 1999 to June 1999. Eight victims will participate in the trial, and more victims will be able to join. Individuals directly impacted by the harm perpetuated by Mr Shala or indirectly, through a close relationship with a direct victim who was harmed, are eligible to apply to participate in proceedings. The presentation of evidence is projected to begin on 27 March 2023.


Iran: Iranian-German Citizen Sentenced to Death for Terrorism Related Charges

On 21 February 2023, Iranian-German citizen Jamshid Sharmahd was sentenced to death for the premeditated bombing and killing of fourteen people in Iran. Mr. Sharmahd was arrested in 2020 and was convicted of “corruption on Earth.” He is also accused of leading a US-based group Tondar, that aims to restore the monarchy, which ruled before the 1979 revolution. In addition to being convicted of the bombing and killing, he was also convicted of having contact with US and Israeli officials and agents. Mr. Sharmahd was also accused of leaking classified information about Iran’s missile program. Many people close to Mr. Sharmahd have maintained his innocence, condemned the death sentence, and questioned whether Mr. Sharmahd received a fair trial.


UK: British National Loses UK Citizenship Appeals

On 22 February 2023, Shamima Begum lost her last legal attempt to regain citizenship in the United Kingdom (UK). Ms Begum travelled to Syria in 2015 to join ISIL (ISIS) when she was fifteen years old. The Special Immigration Appeals Commissions of the United Kingdom (UK) dismissed Ms. Begum’s appeal and denied her reinstatement of her British citizenship on national security grounds. Ms. Begum currently resides in a northern Syrian refugee camp. Evidence has pointed to Ms. Begum being a victim of child human trafficking. Ms. Begum’s lawyers claim that Home Security in revoking her British citizenship in 2019, did so without reviewing any evidence and made her stateless despite international law forbidding states from revoking their own citizenship.


Germany: Court Convicts Palestinian Man for War Crimes in Syria

On 23 February 2023, a German court convicted defendant Moafak D. to life imprisonment after being found guilty of killing four people during an attack in Syria. Moafak D. is a Palestinian arrested in Berlin in 2021 after entering the country as a refugee. Mr. Moafak fired a grenade into a crowd of people in Yarmouk, Syria, in March 2014. He was “serving as the commander of a checkpoint for a Palestinian group on the day of the attack.” According to the prosecution, Mr. Moafak fired the grenade in revenge for killing his 25-year-old nephew. Mr. Moafak’s trial was prosecuted under “universal jurisdiction.”


USA: Alec Baldwin Pleads Not Guilty in Felony Charges

On 23 February 2023, Alec Baldwin, a Hollywood actor, pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a crew member onset of a western movie Mr. Baldwin was shooting. Mr. Baldwin was pointing the pistol when the firearm went off, killing Mrs. Hutchins and wounding another director, Joel Souza. Mr. Baldwin is restricted from consuming alcohol, possessing weapons, or contacting potential witnesses as part of his pretrial release. In addition to Mr. Baldwin, a weapons supervisor was also charged with felony involuntary manslaughter.


USA: Harvey Weinstein Sentenced to 16 Years in Prison for Rape and Sexual Assault

On 23 February 2023, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 16 years in prison. He was convicted for the 2013 rape and sexual assault of an Italian actor. His sentence is in addition to the 20 years he was previously sentenced to in New York in 2020. The judge ruled after dismissing Weinstein’s appeal for a new trial. The jury had acquitted Mr. Weinstein of sexual battery and failed to reach verdicts on two other counts. Mr. Weinstein faces charges of indecent assault in London as well.


USA: Abdul and Mohammed Ahmed Rabbani Released from Guantanamo Bay Without Being Charged

On 24 February 2023, Abdul and Mohammed Ahmed Rabbani were released from US military prison, Guantanamo Bay, without charge after nearly 20 years. Both brothers claim they were tortured before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2004. Both Abdul and Mohammed Ahmed Rabbani were officially released in 2021, although it remains unclear why they were being held in Guantanamo Bay until 2022. The brothers will return to Pakistan.


Italy: Doctors Without Borders Rescue Ship Detained and Charged

On 24 February 2023, Italy placed a migrant rescue ship operated by Doctors Without Borders on administrative detention for twenty days and fined the organization 10 000 euros. This detention and fine is an effect of the newly passed governmental decree that regulates migrant charity ships. Italy’s far-right government established the decree in an effort to deter migrants from making the trip across the Mediterranean from Northern Africa. Despite opposition from the UN High Commissioner and the Roman Catholic Church, Italy’s new Prime Minister believes restricting NGO rescue vessels will address the humanitarian crisis in the country.



Palestine: 120 000 Palestinians in Gaza Spend the Winter in Inhabitable Homes

On 20 February 2023, the Norwegian Refugee Council (“NFC”) stated that over 120 000 Palestinians in Gaza live in 21 500 homes with no windows, safe roofs or doors. NRC found that nearly 2 000 homes were destroyed due to the conflict over the last decade, forcing many families to stay with relatives in overcrowded dwellings. Some residents told the NRC that they are burning clothes to keep warm and are covering doors with a thin blanket to protect them from the harsh winter. In addition, house structures are not built to withstand heavy flooding, which the region has suffered from, notably after Israel opened dams close to the Gaza border, releasing large amounts of water which flooded homes, streets and farms last year. Most residents cannot afford to repair or improve their homes after such incidents. Gaza is also suffering from an economic crisis and widespread unemployment due to the 15-year siege by Israel, which has the support of Egypt.


North Korea: Missile Launch Condemned by UN

On 20 February 2023, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK”) launched two more intercontinental ballistic missiles that the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned. This was in addition to the long-range missile they launched on 18 February 2023 that landed in Japan’s sea. It triggered the US to deploy joint air exercises with the Republic of Korea and Japan on 19 February 2023. DPRK said its exercises are part of a move to strengthen its “fatal” nuclear attack capacity, and Kim Jong Un’s sister warned the US and South Korea of “using the Pacific as our firing range” and accused them of attempting “to gain the military upper hand and predominant position in the Korean Peninsula.” There were no reports of damage to aircraft or vessels on either side.



UN: Local Elections in the CAR Represent Opportunity to Advance Peace

On 21 February 2023, according to the head of the UN mission in the Central African Republic (“CAR”), the upcoming local elections present a “significant opportunity” to advance the country’s peace and political process. The UN stated that political engagement with the leaders of armed groups remains essential and that the CAR authorities are exploring ways to integrate ex-combatants into security forces, amongst other options. The local elections are the first to be held since 1988 and, according to the UN, could “strengthen local governance, advance decentralisation of services, and provide an opportunity to include women, youth, and other marginalised groups.” CAR still has challenges to overcome, such as developing its legal framework and updating the electoral code to encourage more women to participate, which are compounded by financial shortfalls and a challenging security environment. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in CAR continues to decline, with the UN World Food Programme projecting that the amount of people suffering from acute food insecurity will increase to nearly 50 per cent this year, up from 44 per cent in 2022. The UN urged countries to support a (USD) 465 million appeal to mobilise funds for life-saving interventions in the CAR.


UN: Three Senegalese Peacekeepers in Mali Killed by Explosive Device 

On 21 February 2023, an explosive device killed three Senegalese peacekeepers and injured five others in Mali. According to the country’s UN Mission, the incident occurred in the central Mali village of Songobia, where their vehicle, part of a supply convoy, hit an explosive device. The head of the UN Mission, El-Ghassim Wane, condemned the attack and called the incident “another tragic illustration of the complexity of our operational environment and the sacrifices made by the international community for peace in Mali.” According to the UN, the UN mission in Mali is one of the most dangerous peace operations, with 168 peacekeepers killed since its establishment in 2013. The UN Security Council condemned the attack in the strongest terms and underlined the need to bring the perpetrators to justice.


Syria and Turkey: Both Countries Hit by Two New Earthquakes 

On 21 February 2023, two new earthquakes with a magnitude of 6.3 and 5.8 hit the people of Turkey and Syria, killing at least six people and wounding hundreds across both countries. The latest quakes happened as most people are living on the streets after the earthquakes destroyed their homes on 6 February. The new earthquakes hit the Turkish town of Defne, in the Hatay province, which was one of the worst affected areas by the earthquake from earlier this month. The quake was also felt in Jordan, Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Egypt. As of now, the 6 February 2023 quakes have killed approximately 47 000 people in both countries, most of the fatalities occurred in Turkey, and millions of people are displaced. Turkish authorities have recorded more than 6 000 aftershocks since, and rescue efforts for survivors in both countries have slowed.



Israel and Palestine: Political Will Needed to Realise Two-State Solution in Order to De-escalate the Conflict

On 22 February 2023, UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated, during a meeting of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, that preventing further escalation of conflict in the Israel-Palestine should be the foremost concern of the international community. He highlighted that the situation in the region has been “the most combustible in years” as there has been an escalation in the conflict along with halted peace process. He emphasised that political will is required to end the occupation in the region and realise the two-state solution. He also highlighted that since 2005, the UN has been tracking the fatalities in the area, and 2022 has been the deadliest year, with violence continuing into 2023.


Algeria: Crackdown on Civil Society Organisations by Algerian Authorities Raises Human Rights Concerns

On 22 February 2023, Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, expressed her concern over the increased crackdown on civil society organisations by the Algerian authorities after two of the most essential human rights associations in the region had been dissolved, i.e. la Ligue Algérienne pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (LADDH) and le Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse (RAJ). Ms Lawlor called for ending the repression of human rights and highlighted that the dissolution of two prominent human rights associations “undermines the space for human rights defenders to carry out their legitimate human rights activities.” She also highlighted various concerns over certain provisions of the Algerian law on associations, as against international human rights.


DRC: Appalling Attacks and Violence Continues Against Civilians in the Eastern Region of the Country

On 23 February 2023, Ilze Brands Kehris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, after her ten-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), highlighted that there had been a resurgence of attacks by armed groups in the region and called upon the Congolese authorities to double their efforts to promote inter-communal trust along with countering rising hatred. She emphasised that the country’s human rights and humanitarian situation would further deteriorate if the drivers of conflict were not identified. Along with continued violence by armed groups against civilians, there have also been documented human rights violations, with include mass killings, mutilations and conflict-related sexual violence, which has caused massive displacement in the region. Ms. Kehris commended the recent progress in transitional justice as “a clear sign of hope for the future.”


UNGA: New Resolution Passed by Assembly Calls for Immediate End to the War in Ukraine

On 23 February 2023, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), at its eleventh emergency special session, adopted a new resolution which called for ending the war in Ukraine hours before the conflict entered its second year on Friday. The Assembly reiterated its call for Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine” and called for the cessation of hostilities. The resolution also emphasised the need for an independent national or international investigation and the prosecutions of the most severe crimes committed in Ukraine to ensure accountability and justice for all victims. One hundred and forty-one Member States voted in favour of the new resolution, with seven member states, including Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, Russia and Syria, voting against, with thirty-two abstentions.


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