Weekly News Recap (1-7 May 2023)

© Photo by Sam Nasim via Flickr




ICJ:  Preliminary Objections Raised by Armenia Against Azerbaijan

On 1 May 2023, the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), fixed the time limit in the case of Azerbaijan v. Armenia. The President has provided Azerbaijan with additional time to “present a written statement of its observations and submissions on the preliminary objections raised by the Republic of Armenia.” In September 2021, Azerbaijan filed an application with the court, instituting proceedings against Armenia concerning allegations of alleged violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Azerbaijan has accused Armenia of engaging in discriminatory acts against Azerbaijanis, including a policy of ethnic cleansing and inciting hatred and ethnic violence. The President moved the time limit within which Azerbaijan may present a written statement of its observations for 21 August 2023.


ECtHR: Bulgarian Politician of Turkish Descent Wins Lawsuit Against the Nation on the Use of Turkish in Campaigns

On 2 May 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a judgement on the case Mestan v. Bulgaria, which concerned the interpretation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). Lyutvi Ahmed Mestan is the leader of the Bulgarian political party Movement for Rights and Freedoms which addressed minority rights and welfare. He was a candidate for the 2013 Bulgarian Parliamentary elections and was fined by the local court for speaking in Turkish during the election campaign, as it violated Article 133 of the Bulgarian constitution which mandates the use of the Bulgarian language during election campaigns. As such, Mestan was fined for violating the election code. “The Court considered that the prohibition in question did not correspond to a pressing special need and was not proportionate to the legitimate aims mentioned in Article 10 of the Convention.” The Court held that the interference of Mr Mestan’s freedom of expression had not been necessary and order non-pecuniary damages.



Qatar: 8 Indian Nationals Imprisoned on Charges of Spying Could Face the Death Penalty

On 2 May 2023, eight Indian nations who have been imprisoned in Qatar for months may face the death penalty for their alleged role in spying on a submarines programme. The eight individuals are accused of spying on behalf of Israel and are former members of the Indian Navy. The accused had their first trial in March, with another session expected later this month. Media outlets in India have reported that the arrested were senior employees of Dahra Global Technologies and Consulting Service, a company advising on a Qatari programme that is focused on acquiring high-tech Italian-made submarines. Qatar had signed a memorandum of understanding in 2020 with an Italian-based shipbuilding firm. New Delhi has had access to the eight prisoners and has tried to secure their release but has been told that the former officers passed on intelligence to Israel, hindering dialogue between the two nations.


Saudi Arabia: Imminent Executions Related to the NEOM Project, Alarms UN Experts

On 3 May 2023, UN-appointed independent human rights experts expressed concerns over the executions being conducted by Saudi Arabian authorities of three members of the Howeitat tribe, in the country. The UN experts highlighted that the three people executed were reportedly arrested for resisting eviction in the name of the NEOM project, a futuristic urban development project that is backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund. Though they were charged with terrorism, they were executed last year on 5 August. Experts reiterated that States that have not abolished the death penalty, may only impose it in cases of  ‘most serious crimes’ which involve “intentional killing” under international law. They further urged the Saudi authorities to make prompt investigations into the allegations of torture and other mistreatment that involved the three members. The Saudi authorities had charged six members of the tribe, with three having been sentenced to “severe prison terms” according to UN experts. They also highlighted that the Saudi law on combating crimes of terrorism and financing is not in line with international law. UN experts have urged the authorities to recognise core international human rights instruments as soon as possible and establish an official moratorium on all executions with the view to completely abolishing the punishment of the death penalty.



CJEU: European Court of Justice Issues a Ruling on Non-Material Damage Claims under the GDPR

On 4 May 2023, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a crucial ruling concerning the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The court looked into the conditions under which non-material damages caused by infringing the GDPR can be deemed serious enough to extract compensation. The case was raised by a claimant from Austria, who sought to claim compensation from the national postal services after it tried to predict the political views of a person without consent. The court ruled that “not every infringement of the GDPR gives rise, in itself, to a right of compensation.” The court laid out thresholds and necessary conditions to be met by the non-material damage claims to be eligible for compensation. The three necessary conditions which the court pointed out were that for the right to compensation was: there was an infringement of the GDPR, which resulted in material/non-material damages and that a link can be established between the infringement and the damage cited.


ECtHR: Court Holds Violation of Ukrainian Government for Failure to Review Lawfulness of Arrest

On 4 May 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held in the Case of Trofymenko v. Ukraine, that the applicant’s Article 5 § 4 and §5 of the Convention had been violated and awarded the applicant non-pecuniary damage for 650 euros and 700 euros for costs regarding the proceedings. The case concerns the applicant’s complaint that his arrest without a prior court order had been unlawful. The applicant, in 2017, was arrested by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (‘the NABU’) as an alleged co-conspirator in an embezzlement scheme, without a prior court order as was allowed under Article 208 §1(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Court found that the arrest did not violate Article 5 §1 of the Convention. In this case, arrests are ‘made in the context of a criminal proceeding of serious corruption and that there be a risk of absconding.’ The Court found that the authorities had provided arguments on their behalf, justifying the arrest without a prior court order. However, Article 5 § 4 was violated as the applicant raised his complaint regarding the lawfulness of his arrest, and no response was provided to his arguments.


Belgium: Detains Iraqi Immigrant Suspected of Belonging to Al Qaeda Cell

On 5 May 2023, Belgium issued a statement regarding the detainment of an Iraqi refugee, who is suspected of being involved with an Al-Qaeda cell, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The accused who is referred to by their initials O.Y.T, had been under suspicion for having been partially responsible for carrying out a series of bombings in 2009 and 2010 in Baghdad which caused the death of 376 people and injured over 2 300. The accused who had been residing in Belgium as a refugee since 2015, has been arrested on charges of murders with terrorist intent, participation in the activities of a terrorist group, war crimes and crimes against humanity.




Myanmar: Military has Commuted the Death Sentences of 38 Individuals

On 5 May 2023, Myanmar’s military, which seized power in February 2021, commuted the death sentences of 38 individuals as part of an amnesty deal with more than 2 000 political prisoners. The country’s human rights commission expressed ‘delight’ at the decision, and ‘hopes that similar positive steps will be continued in future.’ Since the military took power, many civilians have joined the People’s Defence Forces, which the military has characterised as ‘terrorist.’ The military has used force against those who oppose their rule and have placed numerous political opponents in jail. There are currently 112 post-coup prisoners on death row, and last July, four prominent political activists were executed.


Uganda: Court Overturns Drugs Regulation Act Citing Procedural Technicality

On 5 May 2023, the Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act of 2015 which prohibited the sale and use of a variety of narcotic drugs in the country. The decision was made following a 2017 petition by Wakiso Miraa Growers and Dealers Association Limited, a group of farmers who grow a crop called miraa (khat) which was banned under the regulation. The panel, of five judges, threw out the law on a technicality with Justice Kibeedi pronouncing that the law was enacted illegally and lacked a quorum on the part of parliament. According to the ruling, all bills must receive a sufficient number of votes to be lawfully passed. In repealing the entire act, the cultivation and sale of Miraa is now legal which is a big victory for Miraa farmers who have noted that research shows the drug is both food and a medicinal plant.




Lebanon: Humanitarian and Economic Needs of People in Lebanon Growing Amidst Political Deadlock

A report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) from 2 May 2023, discussed the multifaceted crises ongoing in Lebanon. Since 2019, Lebanon has experienced an economic and financial crisis, exacerbated by political deadlock and deterioration of social stability, which has led to previous developmental gains being lost and humanitarian needs increasing. Lebanon has been subject to several internal shocks, such as the 2020 Beirut port explosion, the summer 2021 fuel crisis and the recent cholera outbreak, as well as managing external factors, such as the spill out from the Syrian crisis and hosting a large number of Syrian refugees. Lebanon’s inability to handle these shocks has been compounded by the aforementioned lack of political direction, and in July 2022 was downgraded to a lower middle-income country for the first time in 25 years. The country’s banking sector has almost collapsed and the currency has been devalued drastically. The economic crisis has impacted large parts of society, including many people’s ability to access basic services, such as healthcare, education, safe drinking water and sanitation services. Emergency services and the healthcare system are under great pressure, and with a lack of management or investment by the government, they are unable to meet the full scale of people’s needs. In January 2023, the OCHA estimated that 3.9 million people in Lebanon require some form of humanitarian assistance.


US – Mexico: 1 500 Troops to be Deployed to Mexico Border as Pandemic-Era Border Rule Lifted 

On 2 May 2023, US President Joe Biden announced that 1 500 US soldiers will be sent to the border with Mexico as the US prepares to lift the ‘Title 42’ policy. Title 42 was brought in by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 as a Covid-19 policy that allows US authorities to rapidly turn away migrants and refugees, without having to assess their claims. The policy drew widespread condemnation from rights groups and its lifting is expected to result in an increased number of migrants at the border. A Pentagon spokesperson told reporters on 2 May 2023, that the soldiers would perform “non-law enforcement’ duties and will assist with administration tasks, such as data entry and warehouse support. Rights groups condemned the move, saying it sends the message of “militarizing the border to deter migrants” and instead these people, many of whom are fleeing violence, should be met with humanitarian, medical and mental health professionals. The 1 500 soldiers will join the ongoing deployment of 2 500 already at the border. 


UNICEF: Worldwide Conflicts and Crises Threaten to Reverse Steady Progress in Ending Child Marriage

On 2 May 2023, UNICEF reported that there is slowing momentum to ending child marriage worldwide, despite progress in the last decade. UNICEF stated that multiple armed conflicts, climate shocks, and health and economic crises are threatening to reverse the steady decline in child marriage that has been achieved. The share of young women married in childhood declined from 21 per cent five years ago to 19 per cent today. However, worldwide, an estimated 640 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood, or 12 million girls per year, with sub-Saharan Africa, which has 20 per cent of the world’s share of child brides, being 200 years from ending child marriage. Further, one in four young women in South Asia is married before their 18th birthday. According to UNICEF, poverty, income shocks, and school dropouts are the main drivers increasing the rates of child marriage, and these also make it more difficult for girls to access services that protect them from child marriage. As a result, girls living in fragile settings are twice as likely as the average girl to become child brides. UNICEF stated that a focus on “keeping girls in school and making sure they have economic opportunities” is necessary to progress towards ending child marriage. 


Palestine and Israel: Palestinian Prisoner Dies in Israeli Custody After Three Month Hunger Strike 

On 2 May 2023, Khader Adnan (Adnan), a Palestinian prisoner, died in Israeli custody after a nearly three-month hunger strike. Adnan, a leader in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, was 45 years old and began his hunger strike shortly after being arrested on 5 February 2023, for “involvement in terrorist activities.” An Islamic Jihad spokesman called Adnan’s death “a full-fledged crime, for which the Israeli occupation bears full and direct responsibility.” Hunger strikes have become a last resource of resistance for Palestinians unjustly incarcerated, however, Adnan is the first to die from a hunger strike in decades. In response to Adnan’s death, Palestinian rockets were fired into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, and Israel air raids targeted several sites in Gaza, which is one of the most densely-populated areas in the world with a population of 2 million people. However, on 3 May 2023, Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza agreed to a “reciprocal and simultaneous” ceasefire at 3:30 am local time. The ceasefire was brought in with efforts from Egyptian, Qatari and UN officials. 



FAO: Report Highlights 258 Million in Urgent Need of Emergency Food Aid

On 3 May 2023, the latest Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC) which is produced by Food Security Information Network (FSIN) was launched by Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAFC) which highlighted that roughly 258 million people faced acute hunger at crisis levels in 2022, with people in seven countries facing potential starvation. The report highlighted that there was an increase in the number of people in urgent need of food, nutrition and livelihood assistance for a fourth consecutive year in 2022. The number that has been released is the highest in the seven-year history of the report. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General described the latest report as “a stinging indictment of humanity’s failure” to fulfil the second Sustainable Development Goal, of ending hunger and achieving food security and improved nutrition for all. More than 40 per cent of people that faced crisis levels of hunger resided in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, parts of Nigeria and Yemen. The report has also highlighted that nearly 60 per cent of people in Somalia faced starvation and destitution, and that in 30 of the 42 major food contexts analysed in the report, “more than 35 million children under the age of five are wasted or acutely malnourished.”


Ukraine: Deadly Airstrikes at Kherson Kill 20, While Injuring 45

On 4 May 2023, Matthew Hollingworth, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ukraine issued a statement expressing his concerns over the recent series of airstrikes and attacks that have killed and injured dozens of civilians in the country. He expressed his concern over the “plight of civilians” after almost a week of the airstrikes. The UN coordinator highlighted that it was alarming to see that dozens were killed in Kherson where a train station and a supermarket were hit by airstrikes “during the busiest hours of the day.” According to news reports, more than 20 were killed and 45 injured due to Russian shelling in the southern Ukrainian city.


Sudan: $445 Million Appeal Launched by UNHCR to Assist People Fleeing Fighting in the Region

On 4 May 2023, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), appealed for $445 million to assist the displaced through October. The updates regarding the situation were made in a preliminary summary of the Regional Response Plan for Sudan, which was presented to donors in Geneva. The Regional Response Plan will provide support to host countries including Chad, South Sudan, Egypt, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic, to ensure access to asylum, life-saving humanitarian assistance and specialised service for the most vulnerable. Raouf Mazou, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations highlighted that a “tragic humanitarian situation” has emerged in the county since fighting between rival military forces broke out three weeks ago. The UN has stated that over 100 000 refugees have left Sudan for neighbouring countries and warned this figure could reach 800 000 as fighting between military factions continues across Sudan. Of the total, the UN predicts 600 000 will be made up of Sudanese refugees, as well as refugees hosted by Sudan, who are leaving Sudan to seek safety elsewhere, and 200 000 will be South Sudanese and other refugees hosted by Sudan returning home prematurely. The total population of the country is 46 million. Egypt reported 40 000 Sudanese have crossed the border so far, and others have gone to Chad, South Sudan and Ethiopia, or have crossed the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia. The conflict, which began on 15 April 2023, has killed 528 people, injured more than 4 500 and started a spiralling humanitarian disaster. Power and water supplies are unstable and there is little food or access to basic services, including hospitals.




Tigray: WFP Pauses Food Distribution in Ethiopia Following Reports of “Significant Diversion” of Food Aid from the Most Vulnerable in the Region

On 4 May 2023, the UN World Food Programme reported that it is “deeply concerned” over the reports that there has been a diversion of a significant amount of food aid from those in desperate need of it in the post-conflict region of Tigray. The agency issued a statement highlighting that “it takes this issue extremely seriously and will not tolerate interference in its distribution of critical food aid to the most vulnerable women, men and children.” A comprehensive investigation has already been launched by the agency into the situation. As a result of the incident, WFP has put a temporary pause on all food distribution in the region, highlighting that they will not resume until they can ensure aid will reach its intended recipients. The agency stated that it has been working closely with the regional authorities regarding the individuals involved in the diversion of aid and to “close any loopholes in the process of identifying and registering beneficiaries.” The agency noted that 84 per cent of the region was in a state of food crisis. 


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