Weekly News Recap (27 February-5 March 2023)

© Photo by World Humanitarian Summit via Flickr




Mexico: USA to Extradite El Chapo’s Son for Drug Crimes

On 28 February 2023, the USA embassy in Mexico City asked to extradite the son of Joaquin Guzman, also known as ‘El Chapo’ for drug offences. Ovidio Guzman, the son of El Chapo was captured in January and allegedly helped his father run the infamous Sinaloa cartel. Ovidio Guzman received a court order blocking his immediate extradition to the USA in January, with a judge giving the USA until 5 March to present an extradition request. He is accused of helping oversee a dozen or so methamphetamine labs in Sinaloa, where his father’s smuggling empire was based. He is also alleged to have ordered the murder of informants, a drug trafficker and a Mexican singer. His father, El Chapo is currently serving a life sentence in the USA for drug trafficking.


India: Supreme Court Ordered a Bipartisan Panel to Select Country’s Election Commissioners

On 2 March 2023, India’s Supreme Court ordered a bipartisan panel to select the country’s election commission. The panel will include the prime minister, as well as the chief justice. This will end a practice in which the government is primarily responsible for choosing members of the election commission. This is in response to allegations by opposition parties that the Election Commission of India is not acting autonomously, an allegation the ruling party contest. The new panel “will also include the leader of the opposition in the lower house of parliament or the opposition party with the highest number of members in the house.” A lawyer representing the petitioners held this decision, as ‘historic’ and demonstrates the importance of an independent election commission.


Turkey: Belgian Law Firm Files Complaint Against Turkey for Crimes Against Humanity

On 2 March 2023, a Belgian law firm, a Belgium-based NGO, and a European judge’s association filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing Turkey of crimes against humanity. The group alleges that Erdogan’s government committed systemic attacks against more than 200 000 persons through the utilisation of torture, disappearances, and arbitrary detention. The complaint goes further on to state that Erdogan’s government failed to adhere to basic principle of international law. The group accused the Turkish government of committing crimes in Turkey, as well as in Belgium. Turkey however does not recognise the ICC since it is not a party to the Rome Statute.


Belarus: Court Sentences Human Rights Advocate to Ten Years in Prison for Financing Protests

On 3 March 2023, a Belarusian court sentenced Ales Bialiatski and three other individuals from Viasna Human Rights Centre for financing protests and smuggling money. Exiled Belarusian opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly denounced the sentencing, holding that this “verdict is yet another outrageous decision of a Belarusian court.”  Mr. Bialiatski is one of the most prominent Belarusians who was jailed during the crackdown on anti-government protests. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last October for his work on human rights and democracy.


USA: Alex Murdaugh, Ex-Lawyer, Sentenced to Life in Prison for the Murder of His Wife and Son

On 3 March 2023, Alex Murdaugh was given two life sentences for the murder of his wife and son. The trial and sentencing took place in South Carolina, United States. Mr. Murdaugh was a well-known member of the legal community, who was also accused of stealing nearly 9 million (USD) dollars of client assets to fund his lifestyle and addictions. Mr. Murdaugh was convicted of two counts of murder after the jury took less than three hours to deliberate. Mr. Murdaugh has one surviving son, who was present at the trial and sentencing. The judge on the case suggested Mr. Murdaugh may have been under the influence of drugs when he committed the murders while the prosecutor pointed to his cunning and manipulative character.


Cambodia: Opposition Leader Sentenced to Twenty-Seven Years for Treason

On 3 March 2023, Kem Sokha, Cambodian opposition leader, was sentenced to twenty-seven years of house arrest for treason, following a three-year trial. While under house arrest, the disgraced leader will be banned from political involvement, voting, and meeting with any individuals outside of family members. Mr. Sokha was charged with conspiracy with a foreign power under Article 443 of the Cambodian criminal code for designing a “colour revolution.” Mr. Sokha was arrested in 2017 without a warrant in his home and had been denied bail on multiple occasions. The judge accused Mr. Sokha of getting ideas from other countries and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, to further his “colour revolution.”


Cameroon: Businessman Charged with Complicity in the Torture of a Cameroonian Journalist

On 4 March 2023, Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga, a Cameroonian businessman was charged with complicity in the torture of Cameroonian journalist Martinez Zogo. Mr. Zogo was kidnapped on 17 January and his mutilated body was found on 22 January. Mr. Zogo previously reported on the alleged embezzlement by a media outlet owned by Belinga. Currently, minimal details about the case have been released by the president’s office although Mr. Belinga’s spokesperson reiterated that the other individuals detained in connection with the crime have been released while Mr. Belinga continues to remain at Kondengui prison.


Hong Kong: Members of Hong Kong Group Have Been Found Guilty of Not Complying with National Security Police

On 4 March 2023, members of a Hong Kong group, Alliance, which organised annual candlelight vigils for victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 were found guilty of not complying with a national security police request for information. During the trial, the prosecution presented heavily redacted evidence under the guise of “public interest” and the court waived the burden of proof normally required i.e., that Alliance was a foreign agent. Hong Kong’s national security laws have long been criticised by the West as silencing dissent. The individuals will be sentenced on 11 March and the conviction comes with a maximum sentence of six months. Alliance separated in September 2021 after many senior members were arrested.


Eurojust: Seven Nations Participating in Joint Investigation into Crimes Being Committed in Ukraine

On 4 March 2023, seven national authorities signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US Department of Justice. This MoU will increase cooperation with the joint investigation team (JIT) and US authorities in investigating crimes in connection with the war in Ukraine. Eurojust President Mr. Ladislav Hamran stated that this MoU “demonstrates that the wish to make justice prevail transcends national and continental borders.” The main purpose of the declaration is to facilitate closer coordination including providing practical arrangements for cooperation and the sharing of information. The JIT was established one month after the war started by the Lithuanian, Polish and Ukrainian authorities.



Russia: Kremlin Responds to Chinese Peace Deal in Ukraine 

On 27 February 2023, the Kremlin responded to a Chinese plan to end the war in Ukraine with a lukewarm comment that Beijing’s voice should be heard but the details of the proposed deal are important. The Chinese deal called for a comprehensive ceasefire after initially declaring a “no limits” alliance with Russia at the beginning of the war. The Kremlin added that though they are “paying a great deal of attention” to the deal proposed by the Chinese, they stated that ultimately Russia was continuing to conduct its “special military operation” in Ukraine and didn’t see a peaceful resolution being achieved. China continues to not condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine. 


UN: Funding Needed to Aid 17.3 Million in Yemen

On 27 February 2023, the UN and its partners appealed for (USD) 4.3 billion in aid for 17.3 million people in Yemen. Even though both sides agreed on a six-month truce last year, Yemen remains one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises with widespread suffering which is exasperated by a deteriorating economy and the collapse of the country’s basic services. More than 21 million Yemenis, two-thirds of the population require humanitarian assistance and protection. For almost eight years, Government forces, backed by Saudi Arabia, have been fighting against the Houthi rebels, with Yemeni civilians paying a devastating price. Yemen has also been subject to severe drought and flooding, as well as hosting approximately 100 000 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Somalia and Ethiopia. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that “the international community has the power and means to end this crisis” through funding and emphasised that the Yemeni people need support now more than ever. 


UN: Special Envoy Appeals for De-escalation in Violence

On 27 February 2023, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland appealed for Israel and Palestine to take action to address core issues fueling the conflict between both countries. The situation has deteriorated, particularly in the West Bank, with two Israelis and one Palestinian killed and more injured on one of the latest attacks, 26 February 2023. The UN envoy stressed that each country’s security forces have a responsibility to maintain order in their countries and to hold all perpetrators of terrorism accountable. Recent violence between the two sides has unfolded as tensions increased with Jordan hosting Israeli and Palestinian officials in Aqaba in an attempt to curb rising violence ahead of Ramadan next month. The meeting was also attended by representatives from the United States and Egypt. The UN stated that it remains committed to achieving lasting peace and stability in the region.


Pakistan: Long Term Economic Support Needed to Recover from Catastrophic Floods

On 28 February 2023, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (“IFRC”) warned that the need for longer economic support for people affected by the catastrophic floods in Pakistan in July and August 2022 is pressing. The organisation stressed that Pakistani needs are still very high and although organisations continue to support communities in the short-term, long-term support is needed for the country’s recovery. The situation in Pakistan is conflated by global inflation and an economic turndown which has resulted in existing cash assistance not stretching as far as individuals need it to. The extreme floods in 2022 affected 33 million people, submerged one-third of the country and destroyed 2.2 million homes, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. In addition to this, the floods destroyed over a million livestock and rendered a large amount of agricultural land unusable, resulting in a loss of income and trade. The crisis has further exacerbated already economically disadvantaged people and pushed more communities into poverty. Although aid from the IFRC, and other organisations, has reached a lot of people, there are “still millions of people on the ground who are looking for help.” 


Greece: Train Collision Kills 46 and Injures at Least 70

On 1 March 2023, a passenger train in northern Greece collided with an oncoming freight train and killing 46 and injuring at least 70. Many of those who were killed in the collision were university students, who were “returning to Thessaloniki from carnival celebrations.” Multiple carriages derailed and three burst into flames with survivors stating they were thrown to the windows of the train cars and freed themselves from the carriages after the crash. The train, operated by Hellenic Train, was northbound from Athens to Greece’s second-largest city Thessaloniki, with approximately 350 passengers on board. The evacuation process continued late into the night with rescuers working in thick smoke and pulling metal from the carriages to check for survivors, with fire compounding their efforts. According to Euro News, several of the dead are believed to have been in the restaurant car, at the front of the train. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, with two rail officials being questioned by the police. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited the site and promised to find the cause of the incident and “prevent something like this from ever happening again.”


UNICEF and ILO: New Report Highlights 1.8 Billion Children Across the Globe Live Without Social Protection 

On 1 March 2023, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) published a report which highlighted that the number of children without any social protection across the globe was increasing, which is putting them at risk of poverty, hunger and discrimination. According to the report, between the years 2016 and 2020, 50 million boys and girls ages 15 and under missed out on child benefits, increasing the total to 1.46 billion. There has been a decline in child and family benefits coverage in the Latin American and Caribbean region from 51 to 42 per cent, while in Central and South Asia it remained around 21 per cent. According to UNICEF and ILO, children were twice as likely as adults to live in poverty, surviving on less than $ 1.90 a day. Natalia Winder-Rossi, UNICEF Director of Social Policy and Social Protection urged that there was a need to “strengthen, expand and invest in child-friendly and shock-responsive social protection systems,” while also highlighting that universal child benefit could prove to be a lifeline amid increasing economic crisis, climate change, conflict and food insecurity. The report recommends that policymakers take urgent action toward creating universal social protection for all children, with other recommendations emphasising the need to secure sustainable financing and increase budget allocation for children in national social protection systems while strengthening social protection for parents and caregivers. 


Iraq: Government Efforts Towards Repatriation from Notorious Al-Hol Camp ‘an Example for the World’

On 2 March 2023, António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, following his visit to the Jeddah Rehabilitation Centre in northern Ira, commended the commitment of Iraq towards making responsible repatriations by utilising solutions that embed  principles of accountability and reintegration. Mr. Guterres has visited camps across the globe and noted that the Al-Hol camp is the “worst […] that exists in today’s world”, with people stranded there for years in the worst possible conditions, with detainees being deprived of their human rights. He called the Iraqi government’s efforts towards repatriation “an example for the world” while also appealing to countries to increase their efforts towards the return of persons who are detained in the Al-Hol camp. 


Nicaragua: Crimes Against Humanity in the Region Likely Sanctioned by Highest Levels

On 2 March 2023, the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua highlighted in  its first report, which is to be delivered to the Human Rights Council on 3 March 2023, that crimes against humanity have been committed in the region. They further urged the international community to impose sanctions upon those who were responsible for committing the in Nicaragua and highlighted that these crimes had been “put into practice” by President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo and continue today. Jan Simon, Chair of the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua highlighted that, based on the investigation, it could be concluded that the crimes committed were motivated by political reasons, and were committed against civilians by the Nicaraguan Government since 2018. He also highlighted that the incidents of human rights violations were not isolated but “product of deliberate dismantling of democratic institution and destruction of civic and democratic space.” The report also highlighted that acts of physical and psychological torture had also been committed by members of the National Police, National Penitentiary System and pro-government armed groups during arrest, interrogation and detention of opponents. 


OHCHR: Ration Cuts Announced and Implemented by WFP Could Affect One Million Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

On 2 March 2023, Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar made an urgent appeal to Member States to reverse the “catastrophic cuts to food rations for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh” that had been implemented on 1 March by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). He emphasises that the impact of these cuts would be “catastrophic and long-lasting” with a risk of increasing malnutrition and adverse effect on health in the community as well as impairing the development of Rohingya children. Mr. Andrews issued his plea in a letter to the UN Member States highlighting that the cuts could exceed 30 per cent of the current food allocation to Rohingya refugees. He also highlighted that already, the inadequate level of food support to the Rohingyas has affected 40 per cent of Rohingyas children with stunted growth, 41 per cent of pregnant and breastfeeding women are suffering from anemia and “45 per cent of all Rohingya families […] are living with insufficient diets.” The food ration cuts could affect one million Rohingya refugees. He also emphasised that the cuts that were being implemented are only the first round of ration reduction and that if no further funding is received the value of monthly food ration allocation to Rohingya will be reduced to 17 per cent. He stated that he would be closely monitoring the contributions made by governments towards food and nutrition for the refugees. 


Nicaragua: UN Experts Call for Sanctions Against Nicaragua for Crimes Against Humanity

On 3 March 2023, a group of UN experts called for sanctions against the Nicaraguan government for crimes against humanity including torture, extrajudicial execution, and arbitrary detention since 2018. The experts named the current President and Vice President as participants in these crimes. Other human rights organisations have accused the government of violating their citizen’s civic freedoms and President Ortega of maintaining power over the country through fixed elections. Groups have reported over twelve thousand cases of executions, torture and arbitrary detention, and political persecution. The UN report provides hope for the end of systemic violations and abuses committed by the current Nicaraguan government.


Myanmar: Military Continues to Commit Human Rights Violation by Employing a ‘Four-Cuts’ approach

On 3 March 2023, the UN Human Rights Office published a report on the human rights situation in Myanmar highlighting that the military in Myanmar has created an endless human rights crisis with its continuous use of violence including killing, arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of anti-coup opponents. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, highlighted that the military has been showing continuous disregard toward international obligations and has been emboldened by its continuous and absolute impunity. The report documented the number of human rights violations that were committed between1 February 2022 and 31 January 2023, while also citing credible sources which have verified 2 940 deaths and 17 572 arrests by the military. According to the report, the military has employed a “four cuts” approach which utilises indiscriminate airstrikes, artillery shelling, and razing villages to displace the civilian populations, and deny humanitarian access; essentially cutting off non-state organised groups from having access to food, finances, intelligence and recruits. The UN Human Rights Chief also highlighted that the military and its affiliated militias have continued to be responsible for most of the human rights violations that are being committed in the region and some of them may even constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. 



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