Weekly News Recap (15-21 May 2023)

© Photo by OPCW via Flickr




Australia: Officials Questioned at Yoorrook Justice Commission about Systemic Injustice Against Aboriginal

On 15 May 2023, law enforcement representatives from prison and police institutions were questioned by the Yoorrook Justice Commission because of the slow reform “as First Peoples [Aboriginal] continue to face high levels of incarceration, police racism, a hostile legal system and brutal conditions in youth prisons” in Victoria, Australia. Victoria’s Chief Commissioner, Shane Patton, apologised for the past and continued systematic and structural racism, as well as the harm caused by police actions against the Aboriginal people. The Yoorrook Commissioner presented Mr. Patton with a shield to remind the officer to fulfil his promise to change the actions of the police force. Mr. Patton also stated that he and the Victorian police are open to independent oversight and conversations about a new complaint model for the Aboriginal persons. 


USA: Accused Bosnian War Criminal Arrested in Boston

On 16 May 2023, Kemal Mrndzic, a man accused of being a Bosnian war criminal was arrested in Boston, Massachusetts. Mr Mrndzic allegedly oversaw a prison camp where prisoners were murdered, raped, and tortured in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, Mr Mrndzic gained refugee status in the United States (US) by faking US citizenship. Mr Mrndzic has been charged with falsifying, concealing, and covering up a material fact from the US government, using a fraudulently obtained US passport, naturalisation certification, and Social Security card.  Other guards who worked in the prison camp with Mr Mrndzic were convicted by the former United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Mr Mrndzic faces twenty years in prison for charges brought by the US government.



Russia: In Response to Arrest Warrant Against Putin, Russia Places Prosecutor Karim Khan on Wanted List

On 19 May 2023, Russia placed the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan on Russia’s wanted list. This action comes after Prosecutor Khan indicted President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes in the Russian-Ukrainian war. The listing for Prosecutor Khan on Russia’s wanted list does not state a crime but instead states “wanted on felony charges.”  Prosecutor Khan’s photo and personal information are visible on Russia’s Interior Ministry search database.  Russia’s Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation against Prosecutor Khan for the ICC’s decision to seek Putin’s arrest.  The Investigative Committee stated that the investigation into Prosecutor Khan was based on the “criminal prosecution of a person known to be innocent…and preparation of an attack on a representative of a foreign state enjoying international protection.”

On 20 May 2023, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a response to the publication of Prosecutor Karim Khan on Russia’s wanted list, stated that the court is “aware and profoundly concerned about unwarranted and unjustified coercive measures reportedly taken against ICC officials.” The Court reiterated their stance on the lawfulness of the mandate, holding that the Court “stands firmly by its personnel and officials.” On 17 March 2023, the Pre-Trial Chamber II issued an arrest warrant against President Putin in the context of the situation in Ukraine. He is alleged to be responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and the unlawful transfer of population.  




Serbia: Ex-Policeman Charged with War Crime for the Wartime Rape of Kosovo Man  

On 19 May 2023, Kosovo’s Special Prosecution filed an indictment against a Serbian ex-policeman for the wartime rape of an Albanian man. The prosecution filed an indictment in the absence of the suspect because G.P., the accused, could not be located. The court started the trial against G.P. in absentia after all attempts to locate the defendant had been exhausted. G.P. is able to be tried in absentia after a recent amendment to the criminal code which allows for Serbian war crime suspects to be tried without being present as Kosovo does not have the ability to extradite Serbian individuals. The court did not provide a date or location of the alleged crime. In addition to G.P. two other former Serbian armed forces were charged with participating in and committing crimes against the Albanian civilian population.



UK: Prime Minister Sunak Calls for Reform of the European Court of Human Rights

On 16 May 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called for a reform of  the European Court of Human Rights at the Council of Europe summit in Iceland. Sunak with his ongoing campaign of ‘Stop the boats’ has been targeting Rule 39 of ECtHR, which has been used by the court to block London from framing new legal measures, limiting irregular migration. Britain is currently attempting to push for a new law which would allow them to send back migrants arriving in small boats to Rwanda for processing and resettlement. Any migrant sent to Rwanda would have no right to appeal the decision. The government of Britain hopes that by utilising such a measure, fewer migrants would make the journey across the channel. Currently, the ECtHR Judges have issued a Rule 39 injunction against such proposed action, on human rights grounds.



Namibia: Top Court Legalises Same-Sex Marriages Formed Outside the Nation

On 16 May 2023, the Supreme Court of Namibia ruled that the government must acknowledge the unions of same-sex couples who got married in nations where it was legal for them to do so. Namibia is now the second African country after South Africa to recognise same-sex unions from other countries. A Mainga, one of the judges, dissented on the grounds that same-sex relationships are not recognised by Namibian law. The verdict of the other four judges, however, was that same-sex couples’ rights to equality and dignity are violated by not being recognised.



Ecuador: Top Court Clears the Way for Early Elections

On 18 May 2023, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court cleared the way for early parliamentary and presidential elections by dismissing a number of cases filed by opposition politicians to halt President Guillermo Lasso’s decision to dissolve the National Assembly. In six different cases, members of opposition parties and social organisations asked the court to rule that Lasso’s decree dissolving the National Assembly was unconstitutional. On Wednesday, Lasso referred to the “two-way death” clause of the constitution, which permits the president to call early elections in specific situations, such as when the legislature’s activities are impeding the operation of the administration.



USA: Extradition of Indian Man for 2008 Terrorist Attack

On 18 May 2023, a USA court approved the extradition of Tahawwur Rana, who is alleged to have assisted in a terrorist attack that took place in Mumbai in 2008 and left more than 160 people dead. Indian authorities have accused Rana of conspiring with a childhood friend to assist the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which was responsible for the attack. Rana was convicted in 2011 of supporting the Islamic militant group and in 2020, India requested his extradition to India. Rana will remain in USA custody until the Secretary of State to India takes a final decision on his extradition.




UN: Secretary General Urges Countries to Renew Commitment to Eliminate Chemical Weapons

In a statement on 15 May 2023, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasised that the world must make every effort to address the continued use of chemical weapons and to eliminate their use in the world. He stated that the use of chemical weapons “threatens our hard-won gains”, and that any state responsible for their use must be held accountable. Guterres stressed the importance of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was introduced in 1997 to eliminate the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer and use of chemical weapons by its 193 state parties. Approximately 98 per cent of the world’s population lives under this convention. Additionally, 99 per cent of the world’s declared stockpiles have been verifiably destroyed, as all signatories of the convention must take all steps to ensure the safe destruction of their existing stockpiles. Guterres claimed that the convention has made the world a “safer” place and urged states to renew their commitment to the Chemical Weapons Convention.


Sudan: Fighting Escalates in Geneina Despite Jeddah Agreement 

On 15 May 2023, the Norwegian Refugee Council (“NRC”), reported on escalating violence in Sudan’s West Darfur region of Geneina, stating that at least 280 people have been killed. For the second time in three weeks, fighting broke out in Geneina which came just hours after the Jeddah “declaration of commitment” was signed by both sides on 11 May 2023. Within Geneina itself, approximately 100 000 internally displaced people have been subject to violence, with their settlements being burnt to the ground. Residents of Geneina have been stranded in the city, cut off from vital healthcare services and basic necessities and unable to escape. The NRC stated that they are still unable to deliver emergency aid in Khartoum and Geneina, and that the “shutdown of the banking system and the lack of visa issuance into the country further hinders large-scale humanitarian relief efforts.” The conflict, which began on 15 April 2023, has displaced nearly 1 million people, with 200 000 seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. 


OCHA: Assessment to be Conducted in Myanmar to Assess Scale of Assistance Required After Cyclone

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (“OCHA”) reported that on 16 May 2023, humanitarian partners in Myanmar will conduct rapid needs assessments to confirm the magnitude of the impact of ‘Cyclone Mocha’ and the scale of assistance required. Further reports from 17 May 2023, by the human rights coalition, the Arakan Rohingya National Alliance, stated that the cyclone killed more than 400 people and the death toll is expected to rise with hundreds missing. On 14 May 2023, Cyclone Mocha hit Myanmar’s western states, particularly the state capital Sittwe, in one of the country’s strongest-ever cyclones. The cyclone caused severe destruction, leaving few houses in Sittwe still standing. Early research also reported widespread flooding and needs in the northwest of the country, which is an area heavily affected by conflict. Health, relief items, shelter, water sanitation and hygiene needs are being reported as well as widespread flooding in the northwest of the country, another area affected by conflict, and heavy rains in further areas. The OCHA appealed for an injection of funds to facilitate a full-scale response to the disaster, as to date, the response plan is still only 10 per cent funded.



France: Russia Denounces French Claims that Russia is Subservient to China

On 16 May 2023, Reuters reported that on 15 May 2023, Russian officials denounced comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that Moscow was subservient to China. Russian officials in Moscow added that Western countries need to get used to a world underpinned by the Kremlin’s close relationship with Beijing. The Russian criticism was drawn from an interview by Macron with the French newspaper l’Opinion where he discussed Russia’s isolation because of its invasion of Ukraine. Macron stated that Moscow and Beijing were deepening their relationship and entering “a new era.” However, the Kremlin stated that Russia’s relationship with China does not have to do with dependence, and that “the West appears fearful of the formation of a truly multilateral system of international relations…that includes several separate independent centres, particularly Russia and China.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko added that Paris had become preoccupied with the strengthened relationship between the two and the changes that it implies on world order. France did not comment on Russia’s response. 


Syria & Türkiye: Millions of Children Remain in Dire Need of Life Saving Humanitarian Assistance after Earthquakes Hit Both Countries

On 17 May 2023, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that more than six million boys and girls in Türkiye and Syria were still struggling to cope with the devastating consequences of the deadly earthquakes that hit both countries in February this year. According to UNICEF, 2.5 million children in Türkiye and 3.7 million in neighbouring Syria needed continuous humanitarian aid and assistance. Catherine Russel, UNICEF Executive Director highlighted that children in both countries have experienced “unimaginable loss and grief.” The agency highlighted that approximately 40 per cent of households in Turkiye live below the poverty line, with that figure potentially increasing to more than 50 per cent due to the earthquakes. In addition, the education system has been severely disrupted, affecting nearly four million children who had been enrolled in school. Meanwhile, in Syria, there has been severe damage to the water and sewage infrastructure which has put 6.5 million people at risk of waterborne diseases. The agency has estimated that 51 000 children under the age of five are likely to suffer from moderate and severe acute malnutrition. UNICEF has called upon the international community to prioritise a “child-focused recovery.” The agency has appealed for $172.7 million to meet the lifesaving needs of nearly three million children affected by the earthquake in Syria and only $78.1 million has been received so far.  While across the border, UNICEF is still in need of more than $85 million of the $196 million appeal to provide assistance to children in Türkiye.


Sudan: Appeal for $2.6 Billion Launched by OCHA to Assist 18 Million in Need

On 17 May 2023, the UN Humanitarian Aid Coordination Office (OCHA) highlighted that after one month of conflict in Sudan, half of the population in the region requires urgent assistance, which constitutes 57% more than at the beginning of 2023. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) highlighted that it required $472 million to provide assistance to people who had been forced to flee across the country’s borders. OCHA revised its request, stating the agency required $2.56 billion to fund its Humanitarian Response Plan and assist 18 million people in the region. Ramesh Rajasingham, Head and Representative of OCHA in Geneva,  highlighted that 25 million people in Sudan need humanitarian aid and assistance; which is the highest number that has been seen in any country. Since the fighting began in April, a million people have been displaced, with the number of internally displaced having risen to 730 000 and 220 000 have fled to neighbouring countries. Raouf Mazou, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Operations also highlighted that “massive outflows” had been caused by the conflict in the neighbouring countries where around 60 000 people have crossed the border searching for safety. He also highlighted that before the crisis, 1.1 million refugees were living in Sudan; while noting that the appeal made by the agency would assist more than one million people for six months.


UNICEF: Agency Calls for Urgent Action and Support in Order to Tackle the Increasing Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls

On 18 May 2023, UNICEF reported that gender-based violence (GBV) in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), North Kivu province against women and girls has increased by 37 per cent in the first three months of  2023 as compared to the same period a year ago. There were more than 38 000 cases of GBV reported in North Kivu alone in 2022, and in most of the cases, survivors had reported being attacked by armed men and displaced men in and around the camps. Grant Leaity, UNICEF Representative in DRC expressed his grave concern over the surge in sexual violence against children, highlighting the reports of children as young as three years old being sexually exploited had been received. Since the beginning of March 2022, more than 1.16 million people have been displaced in the North Kivu region because of the conflict between the parties. According to the GBV coordination group, approximately one in four survivors of sexual violence require specialised medical and psychological support. While almost 60 per cent of those displaced have been living in overcrowded camps just outside Goma, where they are at a higher risk of sexual exploitation. UNICEF has urgently called for scaling up services in the region to prevent and respond to sexual violence in and around displacement camps. The agency has also called for an urgent increase in funding to tackle sexual violence against children and women in the region.


UNICEF: Children Continue to Suffer in Afghanistan as  Economic Situation in the Region Deteriorates

On 18 May 2023, Fran Equiza, Representative of UNICEF in Afghanistan highlighted that an estimated 90 per cent of the population in the country is on the brink of impoverishment with children suffering the most. According to the agency, about 2.3 million Afghan boys and girls are expected to be facing acute malnutrition, out of which 875 000 would require treatment for severe acute malnutrition which is a life-threatening condition. Mr Equiza highlighted that with Afghanistan being amongst the most “weapons-contaminated countries” in the world, children constituted most of the casualties; with preliminary data suggesting that 134 children were killed, or maimed by explosive devices between January and March of this year. He also highlighted that even though fighting across the region has stopped, children remain vulnerable to having their rights violated. He also highlighted that UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children appeal has only been 22 per cent funded until now, calling for greater support to alleviate the suffering of children in the region.



Malawi: UNICEF Appeals for Funding as Thousands of Children Under the Age of Five are at the Brink of Severe Acute Malnutrition

On 19 May 2023, it was reported that in Malawi more than 500 000 boys and girls are at risk of malnutrition. UNICEF highlighted that 62 000 children in the country are at risk of severe acute malnutrition and the country is already grappling with the aftermath of the Tropical Cyclone Freddy that hit the region in March, which displaced 659 000 people. Gianfranco Rotigliano, UNICEF Representative for the country, highlighted that children in Malawi are on the brink of a “global poly-crisis.” UNICEF’s new appeal highlighted that malnutrition cases among children had increased in the past five years and that renewed funding was needed to provide support to people in the region. The original appeal for $52.4 million has now been increased to $87.7, to provide support to 6.5 million people in the region. He urged that immediate action was necessary and further highlighted that “investing in long-term solutions by strengthening systems and building resilience within communities” was necessary too.


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