Weekly News Recap (13-19 March 2023)

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ICC: United Kingdom Makes Contribution to the Trust Fund for Victims

On 13 March 2023, the United Kingdom (UK) donated 430,000 pounds to the Trust Fund for Victims in support of individuals affects by conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon stated, “the UK is determined to help survivors to rebuild their lives, including through our support for the Trust Fund for Victims.” This contribution will be used for reparations to victims of conflict-related sexual violence under the Rome Statute’s reparative justice system. With the reparations, the individuals are provided with the means to address their trauma and regain their hope and dignity. The specific contribution by the United Kingdom will be allocated to country programmes in Central Africa and Uganda which will provide medical treatment, individual trauma counselling, group therapy, education, and socio-economic support.


Myanmar: UN Accuses Myanmar Military of Human Rights Violations that Amount to War Crime

On 15 March 2023, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet stated that Myanmar’s military has engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity since last year’s coup. Ms. Bachelet reported victims who were shot in the head, burned, arbitrarily arrested, tortured, or used as human shields by the military. The UN report was based on interviews with many victims and witnesses to the crimes and was further corroborated by satellite imagery and open-source information. The information points to planned, coordinated and systemic attacks by the Myanmar military. The report stated that more than 1 600 people were killed by security forces since last year’s coup and over 12 500 detained.


France: France Courts Will Hold a Hearing for Universal Jurisdiction

On 16 March 2023, the French High Court announced they will hold a hearing to examine the appeals of two Syrian war crimes and crimes against humanity cases. These hearings will affect the application of universal jurisdiction in France for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Syria. In particular, the hearings will address the additions of conditions attached to the provisions enshrining universal jurisdiction in French Courts. In November 2023, the Court of Cassation ruled that a French court could not prosecute a Syrian suspect because the crimes against humanity that the individual was accused of do not exist in Syrian law. This ruling was in response to the 2010 provision that stated that war crimes can only be prosecuted if the crimes are punishable in the State they were committed or if the State is a party to the Rome Statute. Syria has not ratified the Rome Statute and the Syrian penal code does not include crimes against humanity.


Indonesia: Verdict Handed Down in Stadium Crush Against Three Police Officers

On 16 March 2023, the District Court in Surabaya, Indonesia acquitted two police officers and convicted one officer for negligence. The District Court acquitted two police officers due to a lack of sufficient evidence in the case of the Indonesia Stadium crush that killed 135 people. Officer Hasdarmawan was convicted of negligence and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Two separate investigation teams found that the crush was caused by the deployment of tear gas which lead the crowd to surge. It was Officer Hasdarmawan, who ordered the release of the tear gas. While passing down the sentence, the judge noted that there were grounds to believe that the behaviours of the individuals at the stadium could have contributed to the use of tear gas. 


ICC: Closing Statements for the Case of Al Hassan Will Take Place Starting 23 May 2023

On 16 March 2023, the closing statements of the case The Prosecutor v. Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud will take place between 23 to 25 May 2023 in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The accused are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Timbuktu, Mali. The charges were confirmed in July 2019 and the trial opened in July 2020. The charges are in relation to the widespread and systemic attacks by armed groups against the civilian population of Timbuktu between April 2012 and January 2013 including acts of torture, rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, persecution, and other inhumane acts. After the closing statements have commenced the judges will deliberate and the judgement will be announced.



ICC: International Criminal Court Judges Issued Arrest Warrants Against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova

On 17 March 2023, the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued warrants for the arrest of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, and the Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova. The arrest warrant was issued in the context of the situation in Ukraine and accuses both Mr. Putin and Ms. Lvova-Belova of the war crime of illegally deporting Ukrainian children from Ukraine to Russia. Starting in February 2022 the ICC found there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin and Ms. Lvova-Belova have violated provisions of the Rome Statute. The Ukrainian children were protected persons status under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and their deportation to Russia violated their rights. The ICC has stated the warrants are secret however due to the benefits of public awareness and prevention of further crimes the disclosure of the existence of the warrants, crimes, names of suspects and liability were released.



Pakistan: Highest Court Suspends Arrest Warrants and Provides Protected Bail for Ex-Prime Minister, Imran Khan

On 17 March 2023, Lahore High Court in Pakistan granted protective bail to Imran Khan, the ex-Prime Minister. Mr. Khan is accused of rioting, attempt to murder, abetment of violence and criminal conspiracy under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law. The High Court also suspended the arrest warrant against Mr. Khan in another corruption case. The corruption case is in relation to receiving gifts and profits made from selling gifts received during Mr. Khan’s time as prime minister. Currently, Mr. Khan has 85 cases filed against him since he was removed from office in 2022. Mr. Khan accuses the individuals trying to put him in jail of attempting to assassinate him during a public rally in November 2022.


DRC: New Mobile Court Provides Justice to Sexual Violence Victims

On 17 March 2023, a village in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) held a trial of fifteen military officers for sexual crimes committed against minors in a makeshift courtroom. The mobile military court offered justice for rape victims in eastern DRC who are still affected by the Second Congo War. The hearings held in the local community are said to demonstrate the importance to the community to speak up about sexual violence and educate the community that the law is for everyone. The mobile courts are funded by foreign donors and have been operating for more than ten years in remote villages to show that all areas of the DRC are subject to the law. 



UN: Syrian Rights Commission Discloses Failures in Humanitarian Response and Calls for Investigation into Aid Delays After the Earthquakes

On 13 March 2023, the UN reported that the Commission of Inquiry in Syria found failures by the Syrian government and the international community including the UN, “that hindered the delivery of urgent and lifesaving aid” to Syria in the days after the 6 February earthquakes. The commission’s assessment of these parties and their roles were highly critical and backed calls for an investigation into delays in delivering aid and rescue equipment to communities in northwest Syria. The chairperson of the inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro stated that the Syrian people “have the right to know exactly what happened” and that people in these areas remain “completely appalled by this incapacity of international organisations to come to their support and aid.” The commission also added that in the months leading up to the earthquakes, the 12-year civil war continued to commit “widespread human rights violations and abuses”, with hostilities even continuing in the aftermath of the disaster, such as the Israeli attack on Aleppo airport, which is a logistical link for humanitarian aid and supplies. Humanitarian assessments have found more than 7 000 people to have been killed in Syria by the earthquake.


For Previous Developments: 


Ukraine: Battle for Eastern City of Bakhmut Continues 

In a video address on 13 March 2023, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky (“Zelensky”) stated that the future of Ukraine relies on the outcome of the battle in and around the eastern city of Bakhmut. Both Ukraine and Russia have reported heavy losses in Bakhmut with Moscow battling to take the city for many months now. Zelensky claimed that there had been more than 1 100 deaths in the “past few days”, with Russia claiming to have killed more than 220 Ukrainian soldiers “over the past 24 hours.” However, the BBC stated that these claims remain unverified. According to the BBC, Bakhmut does not have much strategic value aside from Russian commanders delivering, what has been very limited, positive news to the Kremlin. Ukraine has committed significant resources to defend the city as the capture of it would bring Russia closer to its goal of controlling the whole Donetsk region. Before the invasion approximately 70 000 people lived in Bakhmut; however, now only a few thousand remain, risking their lives to stay there.



US: US Says Russian Jet Caused Spy Drone Crash which Russia Denies 

On 14 March 2023, the United States (“US”) stated that a Russian fighter plane clipped the propeller of a US spy drone causing it to crash into the Black Sea. The incident is the first direct encounter between the US and Russia since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The Russian defence ministry stated that Russia viewed the incident as a provocation by the Americans. The Russian ambassador to the US stated “the American UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) deliberately and provocatively was moving towards Russian territory with transponders turned off” and denied that any contact was made, saying the drone crashed after “sharp manoeuvring.” The ambassador added that “the unacceptable activity of the US military in the close proximity to our borders is a cause for concern.” Although the US has not directly engaged in the war, they conduct regular surveillance in the region and have supported Ukraine with billions of dollars in military aid.



Pakistan: Protests Break Out Over Imran Khan’s Planned Arrest 

On 14 March 2023, regional news agencies reported protests spreading across Pakistan against Imran Khan’s (“Khan”) planned arrest. Khan is being targeted by the police for allegedly selling gifts he received when he was Prime Minister from 2018 to 2022, and pro-khan protestors loyal to his party, the Pakistan Justice Movement or Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (“PTI”), clashed with the police outside the former Prime Minister’s home in central Lahore on 14 March 2023. Several were injured on both sides and the police charged supporters with batons and tear gas. Khan asked his supporters to back him, in a video released on Twitter, where he stated “if something happens to me … you’ve (sic) to prove that this nation will continue to struggle even without Imran Khan.” A senior leader of PTI said that the party would intensify its protests if Khan was arrested, stating that “the situation will only aggravate.” 


Malawi and Mozambique: Record Breaking Cyclone Kills at Least 200

On 15 March 2023, authorities in Malawi reported “Cyclone Freddy” killed at least 190 people in Malawi and five in Mozambique with the full extent of the damage and loss of life still not fully known. The cyclone hit Africa for the second time in a month on 11 March 2023, re-intensifying a record-breaking seven times after weakening. The cyclone has the highest ever recorded accumulated energy for a storm generating more energy alone than a whole typical US hurricane season. It is set to be the longest-ever recorded tropical cyclone. According to Doctors Without Borders, the destruction is being compounded by the threat of disease, with the resurgence of cholera remaining a major concern. Many individuals remain missing or injured.


Yemen: Relative Calm in the Region Due to the Truce but More Diplomatic Efforts are Needed to End Conflict

On 15 March 2023, Hans Grundberg, UN’s Special Envoy for Yemen while addressing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), highlighted that the truce fostered between the warring parties in April 2022 despite its lapse in October 2022 has built a relative calm across the country with some elements of the truce still in place. He urged that short-term solutions would only provide partial relief and outlined that the new diplomatic measures which are underway are needed to end the ongoing conflict. The Special Envoy also highlighted that the military situation in the country had been stable to an extent but clashes in several frontline areas, especially Ma’rib and Ta’iz remained a cause for concern. He also praised the regional efforts made especially by Saudi Arabia and Oman. Joyce Msuya, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, also addressed the UNSC highlighting that the truce has brought various positive developments in the region while also noting that the number of people facing food insecurity has been reduced by two million since the previous year. She also urged that the country continue to remain in a “staggering” emergency, with 17 million people depending upon humanitarian aid in 2023.


Ukraine: Commission of Inquiry’s Latest Findings Highlight Attacks Against Ukraine’s Energy Grid and Other Human Rights Violations 

On 16 March 2023, the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine which was set up in 2022 at the request of the Human Rights Council, released its latest finding highlighting that the Russian troops committed a “wide range” of violations many of which constitute war crimes. The latest findings also highlighted that in addition to the violations which include wilful killings of civilians and attacks with explosive weapons, millions have also been left without power in freezing temperatures because Russia attacked Ukraine’s energy grid. Chairperson Erik Møse stated that according to the Commission the attacks made on Ukraine’s energy grid infrastructure  “may amount to crimes against humanity” while recommending further investigation. According to the commission, “indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks” have been committed by Russian armed forces in highly populated areas, which violate international humanitarian law. The report has recommended that all perpetrators should be held accountable. The Commission has also urged for a “comprehensive” approach towards accountability including criminal responsibility and victims’ rights.


UNGA: Impact of Military Rule on the People of Myanmar is “Devastating”

On 16 March 2023, Noeleen Heyzer, UN Special Envoy while addressing the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) highlighted that the impact of the military coup on the people of Myanmar has been “devastating.” She further stated that the violence committed by the military coup was continuing on an “alarming scale”, noting that with continuing violence, repression and violation of human rights by the military regime more civilian lives are being put at risk, and humanitarian operations are affected amid this continuous fighting. She also highlighted that the “four cuts” strategy that had been put in place by the military regime, according to which access to “food, funds, information and recruits” would be blocked, has continued to target civilians as “collective punishment.” According to Ms. Heyzer humanitarian needs across the region had increased, with 17.6 million Burmese requiring it and 1.6 million being internally displaced. She further added that Rohingya people should be integral to the creation of a “peaceful, inclusive and democratic Myanmar” while urging Member States to support the $876 million 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis.


Afghanistan: Due to Funding Constraints, WFP to Make Cuts to Rations in the Region 

On 17 March 2023, the World Food Programme (WFP) appealed for urgent funding to continue its operations in Afghanistan, as according to the agency catastrophic hunger could spread across the region putting thousands of lives at risk unless humanitarian support is sustained. WFP highlighted that because of funding constraints deep cuts to life-saving humanitarian assistance were being made. The agency highlighted that due to these constraints, four million people would be receiving only half of what they need to get by in March. Afghanistan is on the brink of famine according to the WFP highlighting that half of the families are living in a crisis-coping mode to survive, with the agency’s food assistance now being the “last lifeline.” Six million Afghans are at risk of famine, with levels of moderate to acute malnutrition have been recorded and 28 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, which constitutes two-thirds of the population. In 2022, WFP scaled up its response and provided support to 23 million by distributing one million metric tons of food and $326 million in cash vouchers to help families to survive. Currently, the agency is in urgent need of $93 million in order to assist 13 million people in April along with $800 million for the next six months.


South Sudan: Despite Decline in Violent Attacks, Violence Against Civilians Remains High in the Region

On 17 March 2023, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) released its annual report ‘Violence Affecting Civilians’ which highlighted that there was a rise in violence against civilians by two per cent in 2022. According to the UNMISS report, 2022 was marked by three distinct surges of violence which were witnessed between April and May, in southern Unity State; between July and September, in Warrap State; and between August and December, in the Greater Upper Nile region. Nicholas Haysom, UN Special Representative and Head of UNMISS called upon the Government of South Sudan to step up its efforts towards investigating human rights violations and holding perpetrators accountable. After releasing the findings of the report, UNMISS urged all South Sudanese to focus on prospects of sustainable peace, security, and peaceful, fair and inclusive elections. According to the findings, 3 469 civilians were reported to have been affected by the violence in 2022. The report also revealed that even though there was a decline in violent incidents by 37 per cent in comparison to 2021, the number of victims had considerably increased by 58 per cent.


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