Weekly News Recap (8-14 May 2023)

© Photo by Alyssa Bernstein via Flickr




USA: Former President Donald Trump Found Guilty in Battery and Defamation Case

On 9 May 2023, former President Donald Trump was found liable to $5 million in total damages against E. Jean Carroll. Mr. Trump was found guilty by a jury of battery and defamation in relation to an encounter between Mr. Trump and Ms. E. Jean Carroll at a Bergdorf Goodman department store in the mid-1990s. Mr. Trump continues to adamantly deny the claims and declared the verdict a “disgrace” and a “very unfair trial”.  However, the jury found Trump liable to battery for unwanted physical contact and defamation where he acted “maliciously, out of hatred, ill will, spite or wanton, reckless, or wilful disregard of the right of another”. Mr. Trump claimed that Ms. Carroll invented the story and did not testify in his own defence while there were no witnesses called to the stand.  Mr. Trump’s lawyers worked on creating doubt in Ms. Carroll’s story. Finally, the jury disagreed and found the former president guilty.


Sri Lanka: Supreme Court Approves Decriminalization of Homosexuality Bill

On 9 May 2023, the Sri Lankan Parliament speaker announced the Supreme Court judgment which cleared the way for a bill to decriminalize homosexuality. While ruling on the petitions for and against a private bill by a ruling party member to decriminalize homosexuality, the court cleared that such a bill is not inconsistent with Sri Lanka’s constitution. The verdict comes as a milestone to the ongoing LGBTQIA+ rights campaigns. Homosexuality is still a punishable offense in the country where the colonial era laws criminalise homosexuality under Sections 365 (unnatural offenses) and 365A (acts of gross indecency between persons). The verdict was delivered confidentially by a three-judge bench. As the court has cleared the way for parliamentary debate and vote on the topic, more such bills are expected to rise.



France: Anti-terrorism Prosecution Office Opens War Crimes Investigation into Death of Journalist Arman Soldin

On 10 May 2023, France opened an investigation into the death of an Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist, Arman Soldin in Ukraine. French authorities are investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity after the journalist was killed by Grad rocket fire near Chasiv Yar, Ukraine. The investigation will be conducted by a unit specialized in crimes against humanity and hate crimes and will seek to determine the exact circumstances of Mr. Soldin’s death. Mr. Soldin was sent to Ukraine in September 2022 after Russia invaded the country and used to travel to the war front lines for reporting.  Mr. Soldin’s death is part of a growing number of deaths of journalists and media team members since the invasion of Russia into Ukraine. 



Pakistan: Court Ruled Imran Khan’s Arrest as “Invalid and Unlawful”

On 11 May 2023, the Supreme Court of Pakistan held that the arrest of Mr. Khan was illegal and ordered for him to be released. The chief justice of Pakistan, Umar Ata Bandial, held that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has violated the law by apprehending Khan without permission on the premises of the Islamabad High Court, and stated that such actions would have a “chilling effect”. The court issued a written order stating that the way in which Khan was arrested was “invalid and unlawful”, and it infringed upon his right to a fair trial. Mr. Khan was taken into custody by paramilitary troops when he arrived at the high court to address a corruption charge. The decision of the supreme court was condemned by the government, and it was emphasized that Khan may be arrested again after his release.




ICC: Four Arrest Warrants Issued by Court for Alleged Crimes Committed in Libya Since 2011

On 11 May 2023, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan announced that four new secret warrants were issued by independent judges of the court for crimes allegedly committed in Libya since 2011. The individuals targeted by the warrants and the specific charges brought by the ICC prosecutor are currently unknown as the warrants are under seal. It is believed that arrest warrants are issued for senior members of former president Muammar Gaddafi’s regime for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the country since 15 February 2011. The ICC launched an international war crimes investigation into Libya since 2011 after a referral from the UN Security Council and following Resolution 1970, which condemned the use of lethal force by Muammar Gaddafi against civilians. The ICC prosecutors stated he is engaged with Libyan legal authorities and emphasized the need for partnership and cooperation to bring justice to victims of war crimes and other atrocities. 

Statement of ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC to the UN Security Council on the Situation in Libya, pursuant to Resolution 1970 (2011)



Ukraine: US, UK and EU Multilateral Partnership to Support Ukraine in the Prosecution of War Crimes

On 11 May 2023, the Atrocity Crimes Advisory group’s (ACA) leadership forum met in Warsaw, Poland to discuss and pledge ways to support Ukraine in the prosecution of war crimes against Russia. The ACA is a multilateral partnership between the United States, European Union and United Kingdom to offer support to the office of Prosecutor General of Ukraine in the investigation process and prosecution of war crimes. The advisory group was formed on May 25, 2022. The leadership forum is a platform to reiterate the commitment to ensure fair justice to the victims of war crimes and gather better multilateral support. The ACA has been involved in providing capacity building as well as skilled personnel to the war crimes unit of the office of the Prosecutor General.



France: France’s Highest Courts Held that Foreign Suspects Can Be Tried Under Universal Jurisdiction 

On 12 May 2023, France’s highest court recognised that the principle of universal jurisdiction can be utilized to judge and prosecute acts of torture, crimes against humanity or war crimes even when the acts were committed abroad and neither of the perpetrators or victims were French nationals. This ruling is in relation to two cases that involved former Syrian soldier Abdulhamind Chaban, charged with crimes against humanity, and former spokesperson for Jaysh al-Islam Majdi Nema, charged with torture and war crimes. The accused have argued that the French prosecutors cannot charge them with war crimes and crimes against humanity in relation to the Syrian civil war as the crimes are not recognized in the Syrian statute books because Syria never ratified the Rome Statute. However, the French Court of Cassation found that it is sufficient if the foreign legislation recognizes crimes against humanity or war crimes as a common offence such as murder, rape or torture. Additionally, the Court of Cassation ruled that if the foreign nationals were acting in an official capacity during the acts of torture committed abroad and are now “habitual residents” of France, universal jurisdiction can be utilized for trial. The Court considered all conditions to be met for the French justice system to move the two cases against the Syrian nationals forward. The Court also dismissed the appeals by the Syrian nationals allowing for the continuation of French investigations into the cases. 



Russia: Increased Russian Attacks in Ukraine Ahead of Russian ‘Victory Day’ Holiday

On 8 May 2023, Russia launched dozens of missiles and drones towards Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, during a time when Russia prepares to celebrate ‘Victory Day’, a major Russian holiday, in Moscow. The day marks the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II and traditionally includes a military parade through Red Square. The attacks killed at least five people, triggered air raid alerts in roughly two-thirds of Ukraine, and left a warehouse full of food in Odesa on fire. According to Al Jazeera, these attacks are likely increasing as Russia hopes to secure more gains ahead of the May 9 holiday. The attacks have caused increased concerns about the safety of Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia. Russian troops seized control of the plant shortly after invading Ukraine, but Ukrainian employees have continued to run the plant under Russian occupation, and often under duress. The conflict has killed thousands and forced millions to leave their homes since it began on 24 February 2022. 


Syria: Syria Rejoins the Arab League 

On 8 May 2023, the Arab League readmitted Syria after 12 years of suspension. Foreign ministers from the representative countries gathered in Cairo and voted to readmit Syria, after relations between Syria and other Arab countries strengthened, including high profile visits between Syria and the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Prior to this meeting, many diplomats and some states, including Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Egypt, opposed Syria’s rejoining, claiming that Syrian President Bashar al Assad (“Assad”) has done nothing to rehabilitate himself. Syria was expelled from the Arab League after Assad violently suppressed peaceful protests in Syria and triggered a civil war lasting more than 12 years. Although the readmittance is a symbolic boost for Assad, the regime still remains under western sanctions. Human rights group “The Syria Campaign” called the decision “a devastating setback for justice and human rights for Syria and for the whole region”. The conflict has killed more than half a million Syrians, with the regime starving, bombing and torturing civilians, and millions of Syrians remain internally displaced or forced to seek refuge in foreign countries. 


Syria: Suspected Jordanian Air Strike Kills Major Syrian Drug Trafficker 

On 8 May 2023, a suspected Jordanian airstrike killed one of Syria’s most prominent drug smugglers, Marai al-Ramthan (“Ramthan”), his wife and six children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that Ramthan is “considered to be one of the most prominent drug traffickers in the region”, smuggling the drug ‘Captagon’ from Syria into Jordan. Captagon was banned by the World Health Organisation in 1986 and the UK Foreign Office previously stated that Syria is responsible for 80 per cent of the world’s production. Jordan is largely a transit country for the drug as it goes down to the drug’s biggest markets in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. The trade of Captagon grew dramatically in 2021 to 5 billion USD. The attack on Ramthan comes several days after the Jordanian foreign ministry reported that Arab foreign ministers met in Amman to discuss enhancing cooperation between Syria and countries impacted by “drug trafficking and smuggling across the Syrian border”. Jordanian authorities did not deny or comment on the strike.


DRC: Death Toll from Flash Floods Reaches Over 400

On 9 May 2023, local officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”) reported that more than 400 people have died and 5 500 are unaccounted for after deadly floods hit the Kalehe region in eastern DRC on 4 May 2023,in one of the country’s deadliest disasters in recent history. The reports stated that dead bodies were still being recovered, and the death toll is expected to rise, as the flash floods swept away entire homes and buried villages. Red Cross workers in the region raised concerns about the lack of supplies and equipment to help those affected since many survivors have been left homeless and traumatised. In addition to this, the floods destroyed sewage systems and left bodies lying in debris which raised concerns about sanitation. The floods are the latest disaster in Africa that highlight the impact of climate change on vulnerable countries with poor infrastructure. UN climate experts called for a better response to warming temperatures which are increasing the intensity and frequency of Africa’s rains. 



Palestine: Israeli Air Strikes in Gaza Kill 12 Civilians and 3 Islamic Jihad Leaders

On 9 May 2023, Israel launched surprise air strikes on the Palestinian Gaza Strip killing 12 civilians, including eight women and children, and three leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (“PIJ”). The strikes began in the early hours of 9 May 2023 with 40 warplanes and helicopters attacking Gaza in several waves. In addition to the 15 killed, 22 people were reportedly injured, with half of these being women and children who are in critical condition. Russia announced that three Russian citizens were killed in the strikes. The Al-Quds brigade, an armed branch of the PIJ, vowed revenge on the attacks, stating that “the blood of the martyrs will increase our resolve…the resistance will continue”. PIJ is the second largest Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip, being outnumbered by the governing group Hamas, and has been responsible for many of the rocket attacks on Israel in recent years. Israel responded to their attacks by stating that the Islamic Jihad leaders targeted were involved in recent attacks on Israeli citizens. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, reported that Israel is “prepared for all possibilities”, adding “I suggest that our enemies not test us”. The attacks that occurred recently are the deadliest on Palestine since the three-day hostilities in Gaza in August 2022, which resulted in the deaths of 49 Palestinians.


Haiti: Increasing Gang Violence Against Women and Children Raises Concerns, UN Experts Urge Government to Take Action

On 10 May 2023, UN experts expressed their grave concern over the intensifying violence in Haiti which also included sexual violence being perpetrated by gangs against women and children. The experts highlighted that the heightened insecurity in the region has forced thousands of people in the region to flee and settle in makeshift camps. Armed gangs in the region have reportedly taken control of urban areas where they have been engaging in killings, violence, rape, kidnapping and intimidation in order to expand their influence. The experts also highlighted that “systematic violence against women and girls” was also being used by armed gangs in order to assert and exert their power. They further urged the Haitian authorities to “adopt adequate measures” to stop the ongoing violence and also hold accountable perpetrators committing the violence. They urged that the measures should be adopted in accordance with the rule of law and the “national strategy on disarmament, dismantlement, reintegration and community violence as adopted by the Government in 2021”. 


Pakistan: Violence Continues Following the Arrest of Imran Khan

On 10 May 2023, the former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan pleaded not guilty to corruption charges. The violence in Pakistan continues following the arrest of the former prime minister, with the death toll having risen to nine and the military has been deployed across the country. Around 1 000 people have been arrested nationwide, with hundreds injured. According to the Islamabad police, the leaders from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) including Khan were arrested “for inciting arson and violent protests under a well thought out plan for threatening peace”. According to PTI, Khan’s detention is a political persecution by the government. In response to the ongoing protests, Mr Guterres, UN Secretary-General, called for refraining from violence and stressed the need “to respect the right to peaceful assembly”. He also urged the authorities “to respect due process and the rule of law in proceedings brought against former Prime Minister Khan.”



NRC: Report Highlights Conflict and Climate Disasters as Drivers of Displacement

On 11 May 2023, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) released its Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID) which highlighted that the number of people fleeing their homes because of the war in Ukraine and climate disasters increased by a fifth. The report highlights that by the end of 2022, the number of internally displaced persons (IDP) has increased from 59.1 million in 2021 to 71 million across the globe. Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council stated that the conflict and disasters that occurred in the past year were the triggers for massive displacement. She also emphasised that the war in Ukraine has further triggered a food crisis across the globe which hit IDPs the hardest. According to the report, 17 million of those movements were triggered by the war in Ukraine, due to which 5.9 million had fled their homes. While the extreme flooding that occurred in Pakistan in 2022 also triggered more than 8 million movements. 


Afghanistan: Experts Call for Moratorium Over “Brutal” Sanctions by the De-Facto Authorities

On 11 May 2023, ten Special Rapporteurs and members of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls called for putting an immediate end to the “brutal and undignified forms” of punishments sanctioned by the de-facto authorities against women and girls in the country. This came in response to an announcement by the Taliban-appointed Supreme Court in favour of punishments including stoning, flogging and burying people under a wall. The experts noted that women were more likely to be punished with capital punishment because “of deeply entrenched discrimination and stereotypes against them”. The UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) has reported that, within the last six months, 274 men, 58 women, and two boys have been subjected to public flogging and a judicially sanctioned execution has been carried out within the last six months alone. The expert urged the authorities to immediately establish a moratorium “on the death penalty and all forms of corporal punishment” which included flogging and amputation, which constituted “torture or another form of cruel and inhuman punishment”.


Palestine: 200,000 Palestinians’ Vital Food Assistance at Risk Due to Funding Shortfalls

On 11 May 2023, the World Food Programme (“WFP”), warned that due to the extreme funding shortfall, 200 000 Palestinians could be affected by the suspension of vital food assistance. WFP warned that unless the funding gaps are not met, 60 per cent of the people that are being assisted by the agency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory would no longer be receiving food in the month of June. Samer Abdeljaber, WFP Representative and Country Director in Palestine stated that the limited resources that they have would be stretched in order to meet the need of the most vulnerable families as they will go hungry without assistance. In order to maintain its life-saving assistance in the occupied territories, the agency is in urgent need of $51 million. In May alone, due to funding shortfall the WFP had to reduce the value of its cash assistance by 20 per cent i.e., $ 10.30 per person. According to the WFP, due to the combined effects of growing insecurity coupled with a deteriorating economy and rising cost of living, food insecurity has risen in the region. Mr. Abdeljaber urged government donors and the private sector to continue providing their support to the agency. 


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