Weekly News Recap (6-12 March 2023)

© Photo by Enough Project via Flickr




Greece: Egyptian Fisherman Sentenced to 280 Years in Prison for Steering a Refugee Boat

On 6 March 2023, adding to the Greek government’s attempts to criminalise irregular migrants and refugees, an Egyptian fisherman was sentenced to 280 years in prison for steering a migrant boat, alleging him to be guilty of human trafficking charges. The 45-year-old fisherman and his 15-year-old son steered a fishing vessel holding 476 migrants across the Mediterranean to the shore of Italy. According to Article 3 of the Greek migration law, he was initially sentenced to 4 760 years in prison, serving 10 years for each migrant. The years of sentence was later reduced to 280 years. Human rights activist groups condemned the court’s verdict and stated that he was just one among the migrants used as a scapegoat by the smugglers. The fisherman agreed to help with some chores as he and his son couldn’t afford to pay the smugglers for the journey to Europe. He was later forced to take over the steering due to the dire conditions in the sea. It is now common for smugglers to let refugees manage the boat to escape the authorities. A spokesperson for Borderline Europe called it the “criminalisation of people on the move.”



ECtHR: Russia Held Accountable for Human Rights Violations in Abkhazia

 On 7 March 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Russia responsible for the illegal detention and inhuman treatment of two prisoners by the Abkhaz authorities. Abkhazia is a partially recognized state in the Southern Caucasus, which is a breakaway state from Georgia, supported by Russia. The court found that two men who were arrested in 2001 and 2003 respectively, faced ill-treatment and detention in inhuman and degrading conditions while also being restricted from receiving medical assistance. Moreover, they were denied a fair trial by an impartial tribunal. The court unanimously held that there was a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 5 §1(a)(c) (right to liberty and security) and Article 6 §1 and §3(c) (right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights by the Russian Federation and no violation by Georgia. The court concluded that Russia had exercised effective control and influence over the area and had jurisdiction over the matter mentioned in the complaint.




Russia: Student Blogger Sentenced to Jail for Criticising Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

On 7 March 2023, Dmitry Ivanov, a 23-year-old student of the Moscow State University (MSU) was sentenced to 8.5 years’ imprisonment. He was sentenced for publishing information regarding Russian attacks on the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, unlawful strikes on Ukrainian cities, and war crimes in the towns of Bucha and Irpin on a telegram channel named ‘Protest MSU’ and spreading misinformation about the Russian Armed Forces, as well as using the word ‘war’ instead of  ‘special military operation’ to describe the events. Last year, the Kremlin passed a law which made publishing any material that they categorise as false about the war, illegal. The blogger told the media after his sentence that “Russia is not Putin.”



Burundi: 24 People Charged for Homosexual Practices

On 9 March 2023, the public prosecutor in Burundi charged 24 people with engaging and inciting homosexuality in the conservative East African nation. The arrest and trial are part of an ongoing anti-gay crackdown in the nation. Burundi criminalised homosexuality in 2009 making it punishable by up to two years in prison if found guilty. The state police arrested 17 men and 7 women while they were attending a seminar organised by MUCO Burundi, an NGO working on combating HIV earlier on 23 February. The arrested people were moved to the central prison of Gitega and will remain there until the trial.



Indonesia: Soccer Officials Found Guilty Over the Deadly Stadium Stampede

On 9 March 2023, two Indonesian soccer officials were sentenced to up to 18 months in prison for negligence in causing one of the world’s deadliest sports disasters. The Chairman of the Organizing Committee for soccer club Arema FC was found responsible for selling too many tickets. The soccer stadium stampede which occurred in October 2022 in East Java province, was overfilled beyond capacity for the match between Arema FC and Persebaya Surabaya which caused the death of over 130 people and inflicted serious injuries on hundreds of others. An Arema FC’s security officer was also held negligent, receiving a 1-year sentence. Three police officials are also facing charges of negligence and will have their cases heard at a future date.



South Korea: Government Filed an Appeal Against the Order to Compensate Vietnam War Massacre Victim

On 9 March 2023, the government of South Korea filed an appeal against a court verdict ordering the payment of compensation to a Vietnamese woman who was a victim of atrocities perpetrated by South Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The court had ruled that the state must pay 30 million won ($22 730) to Nguyen Thi Thanh, 63, as compensation for the injuries she suffered when she survived a mass killing of civilians by South Korean troops in 1968. South Korea had an estimated 300 000 soldiers fighting alongside the US military during the Vietnam War. The decision to compensate Thanh represents the first official acknowledgement of South Korea’s accountability for the war crimes committed by its troops.


USA: Saudi Arabian Engineer Released from Guantanamo Bay Military Prison

On 9 March 2023, the US Department of Defence informed that Ghassan Al Sharbi, 48, was released from the Guantanamo Bay military prison after being imprisoned for more than 20 years. He was never formally charged for the suspected crimes in relation to the September 11th attacks on the US. Al Sharbi was returned to Saudi Arabia after a review board found in February 2022 that his detention was “no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat” to US national security. The defence department stated that Al Sharbi was transferred to Saudi Arabia “subject to the implementation of a comprehensive set of security measures including monitoring, travel restrictions and continued information sharing.”



 Peru: Former President Castillo’s Pre-trial Detention Term Extended

On 10 March 2023, Peru’s former president Pedro Castillo’s pre-trial detention term was increased to 36 months from 18 months by the court. Judge Juan Carlos Checkley who was in charge of the Supreme Court-led investigation ruled the extension for “allegedly being the leader of a criminal organisation.” Castillo, who has been in custody since December on charges of rebellion, is now facing additional charges of criminal organization, collusion, and influence trafficking.  He has strongly denied all charges against him and being part of any criminal organisation. While the judge explained that the extension is to prevent any chances of Castillo leaving the country or influencing investigation, his lawyer has alleged political persecution.




Iran: Supreme Leader Called Poisonings that Killed Over 1 000 Girls ‘Unforgivable’’

On 6 March 2023, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei stated that the poisoning of school girls in Iran is an “unforgivable” crime that should be punished by death, if deliberate. The poisonings began in November 2022 in the Shi’ite Muslim city of Qom and spread to 25 of Iran’s 31 provinces with over 1 000 girls falling ill. The poisonings have caused huge public outrage with some politicians blaming religious groups opposed to girls’ education, and authorities accusing the Republic’s “enemies” of the crimes to undermine the establishment. The poisonings have triggered protests in Iran at a time of existing unrest, where the country has faced months of protests after Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody. In fear of more protests, the authorities have downplayed the poisonings; however, for the first time since the revolution in 1979, school girls have joined the protests and activists have accused the establishment of conducting the poisonings in revenge for the ongoing protests. The White House called for an independent investigation to determine if the poisonings were related to the existing protests, which would make it within the mandate of the UN’s fact-finding mission on Iran.


UN: Human Rights Situation in Eritrea Remains Dire with No Sign of Improvement

On 6 March 2023, UN deputy human rights chief, Nada Al-Nashif warned that the human rights situation in Eritrea remains dire and shows “no sign of improvement.” Al-Nashif warned of serious violations of people’s human rights, in particular the longstanding problem of indefinite military service. Intense military conscriptions in Eritrea have led thousands of young Eritreans to flee or go into hiding with their families, under the threat of being forcibly removed from their residences unless they disclose the whereabouts of their missing relatives. In addition to this, a UN report from November 2021 detailing how Eritrean Defence Forces (“EDF”) attacked civilians and carried out extrajudicial killings has led to no accountability measures being implemented and “has allowed perpetrators in the EDF to act with impunity.” Furthermore, an unknown number of Eritreans remain arbitrarily detained, “and some disappeared, in secret prisons, for more than two decades” including dual national journalists and an American-Eritrean daughter of a former minister who was 15 years old at the time. 


Mexico: 343 Migrants Found in Abandoned Truck in Mexico

On 7 March 2023, Mexican authorities discovered 343 migrants and refugees, including 103 unaccompanied minors, in an abandoned freight truck. The National Immigration Institute (“INM”) stated that the truck was on a route often used by smugglers to bring people from south-eastern Mexico to the US border. INM stated that most of the adults were from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Ecuador, with a majority of children from Guatemala. According to the INM, the children will be put into the family services system. The authorities further informed that the migrants who make it to the US frequently pay smugglers to bring their children later, explaining the number of children unaccompanied. All people were found to be in good health and the reason for the driver fleeing is unknown. 


UN: Radical Change of Direction Needed for Women Across the World

On 7 March 2023, the Executive Director of UN Women, Sima Bahous, addressed the UN Security Council ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March and stated that a “radical change of direction” is needed for the women, peace and security agenda. She noted that although there have been several historic firsts for gender equality, the “composition of peace tables” has not significantly changed and, as such, new goals and plans for women’s involvement in peacebuilding are needed. Bahous pointed to the regression of women’s rights in Afghanistan, sexual violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and online abuse targeting women opposing the military rule in Myanmar, as examples of women’s rights violations across the globe. To achieve a change in direction, Bahous suggested that mandating women’s participation in every decision-making process is needed and further emphasised the importance of providing resources to women’s groups in conflict-affected areas. UN Women has so far supported more than 900 organisations since its establishment in 2015. 


Syria: Aleppo Airport Out of Service After Israel Air Raid 

On 7 March 2023, Israel launched an airstrike on Aleppo airport in Syria taking it out of service. Initial reports from the Syrian Arab News Agency stated that it was not clear if there were any casualties as the Israeli officials did not comment. For almost a decade, Israel has carried out air attacks against targets in Syria that they believe are hiding Iranian-sponsored weapons and personnel deployments; however, it rarely acknowledges its operations in Syria. Iran backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and according to Western intelligence sources, has expanded its presence in Syria, with Iran’s proxy militias, led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah, having influence in large areas of eastern, southern and north-western Syria and suburbs around Damascus. There has been no official comment from Israel. 


UNSC: Afghanistan Labelled as the “Most Repressive Country” for Women by UN Special Representative 

On 8 March 2023, Roza Isakovna Otunbayeva, UN Special Representative and the head of the UN’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expressed condemnation towards the recent decrees passed by the Taliban which has further deteriorated the rights of women in the region. She highlighted that Afghanistan remained to be the “most repressive country in the world for women’s rights” while addressing the UN Security Council. She also urged the international community to continue engaging with the group and also called upon them to construct an agenda for discussions with the Taliban including issues which matter to the group as part of the confidence-building process. She highlighted that the bans on women’s rights imposed by the Taliban would further deteriorate humanitarian access to the most vulnerable people in the region. 


UNHCR: Draft Migrant Legislation Introduced by UK Government May Impose a De Facto “Asylum Ban” if Adopted 

On 8 March 2023, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) highlighted that the draft legislation which has been proposed by the United Kingdom (UK) government would lead to denial of the right to seek refugee protection to people arriving irregularly to the country, especially those risking their lives by taking dangerous routes to cross the English Channel. UNHCR highlighted that the legislation if adopted, would impose a de facto “asylum ban” and would be a clear breach of the Refugee Convention. Moreover, with the UK  being one of the original signatories of the 1951 Refugee Convention, recognising the right of refugees to enter a country of asylum irregularly; the draft legislation would undermine the  “long-standing, humanitarian tradition of which the British are rightly proud.” Gillian Triggs, UNHCR Assistant High-Commissioner for Protection was “profoundly concerned” by the draft legislation which was introduced in the House of Commons on 7 March 2023. 


UNICEF: New Report Highlights Impact of Global Pandemic, Conflict and Climate Disaster on Deepening Inequalities Among Children in Europe and Central Asia

On 9 March 2023, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published a new report highlighting that inequalities among children were deepening due to conflicts and climate disasters in the regions of Europe and Central Asia. UNICEF Regional Director, Afshan Khan highlighted that many families have been plunged into uncertainty due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, while also adding that the lack of data on how these crises have affected the children has made it difficult to assess the needs of the most vulnerable children and families. According to the report, 35 to 40 million children across Europe and Central Asia region are living in poverty, while there are also existing inequalities in access to healthcare and education for some. The report has provided the example of Roma children, highlighting that 11 million boys and girls with disabilities are among the most disadvantaged when it comes to inequalities in access to education.  UNICEF in its present report has urged that governments should meet the needs of every child and prioritise children in the collection and analysis of data. The report also called for more support for children at risk of poverty and social exclusion.


Horn of Africa: 50 Million People Across the Region Face Extreme Levels of Food Insecurity

On 10 March 2023, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that nearly 130 000 people across the Horn of Africa have been left “looking death in the eyes” because of acute hunger that has been caused due to climate change, violent insecurity and disease across the region, with 50 million facing extreme levels of food insecurity. Lisbeth Aelbrecht, a veteran WHO worker, warned that the situation in the region is worse than it was more than two decades ago. The catastrophic food crisis has affected seven countries across the Horn of Africa namely: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. She further highlighted that all seven countries were battling measles, while four of those were also battling cholera. She warned that the outbreak of these diseases was linked to “extreme weather and to climate change.” The WHO has made an appeal for $178 million to provide humanitarian assistance across the region, and also ensure that the health system does not collapse. The appeal  would also be utilised in scaling up the treatment of people suffering from medical complications as well as severe malnutrition.


DRC: As Ongoing Violence Displaces 300 000 in the Region, Horrifying Human Rights Violations Reported in Affected Areas

On 10 March 2023, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) expressed its concern over the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) because of the continuous violence between non-state armed groups and government forces. The renewed violence among the parties has uprooted 300 000 people from North Kivu Province since 17 February 2023. According to the UNHCR, another 20 000 fled at the beginning of the week of 17 February 2023 while 50 000 were displaced from the Kitchanga region in Masisi territory during the same week. Matthew Saltmarsh, a UNHCR spokesperson, highlighted that civilians were continuing to suffer because of the conflict, especially women and children. He also highlighted that human rights violations in affected areas were also reported, with violations including arbitrary killings, kidnapping, extortion and rapes. The UNHCR reiterated its call for putting a halt to the violence in the region which had taken an “enormous toll on the civilian population.” The humanitarian operation in the region is one of the most seriously underfunded operations in the world. The agency seeks 232.6 million for 2023 in order to provide assistance to internally displaced people and refugees in the DRC but the operation has only been eight per cent funded until now. 


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