Weekly News Recap (10-16 July 2023)

© Photo by United Nations Photo via Flickr




Australia: Former War Veteran Appeals Court Decision for Unlawful Killings in Afghanistan  

On 11 July 2023, Ben Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most decorated war veteran, filed an appeal against the Australian civil court ruling of his involvement in the unlawful killings of four individuals in Afghanistan. Mr. Roberts-Smith filed a defamation case against newspapers for accusing him of war crimes in 2018. However, the civil court ruled that the articles were substantially true and that Mr. Roberts-Smith was likely responsible for “four of the six unlawful deaths he had been accused of.” Mr. Roberts-Smith is also currently under investigation by the Australian police for criminal prosecution for war crimes. He has also agreed to pay for the legal costs of the newspapers if his appeal fails which is estimated to be around 35 million Australian dollars. 


Germany: Court Convicts Syrian Man of War Crimes   

On 11 July 2023, a Berlin regional court found Raed E. guilty of wars, membership in a foreign terrorist organisation and other offences. Raed E. travelled to Germany in 2015 and was arrested in Germany in 2016 for his crimes. The former member of the Islamic State in Syria was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his involvement in torturing captives. The Prosecutor provided evidence that Raed E. participated in targeted attacks on the Shueitate tribe in eastern Syria, and a man, subjected to detention and torture by the defendant, testified in court. The defendant’s conviction and sentence can be appealed.


ICC: Prosecution Office Launches Further Investigations into Surging Violence in Darfur  

On 13 July 2023, Mr. Khan, Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), in a briefing to the Security Council, stated that his office will be launching further investigation into the increased violence in Sudan. Prosecutor Khan stated that his office’s investigation will also encompass individuals that aid and abet, encourage, or direct crimes from outside of Sudan committed in Darfur, as well as allegations in Western and Northern Darfur of looting, judicial killings, extrajudicial killings, and burning of homes. During his briefing to the UN Security Council, Prosecutor Khan emphasised that his office will also be prioritising crimes against children and sexual and gender-based crimes. He also announced a new secured portal where individuals can submit violations or information on crimes.


ECtHR: Court Ruled Deportation of Former Venezuelan Counter-Espionage Head to United States Can Proceed  

On 13 July 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in Carvajal Barrios v Spain that the extradition of Hugo Armando Carvajal Barrios to the United States for drug-smuggling offences can proceed. Mr. Barrios is a Venezuelan national who was a member of the Venezuelan intelligence community and is currently being detained in Spain after entering the country under an assumed identity in 2019. Mr. Barrios has a United States Department of State arrest warrant issued for drug-smuggling offences. Mr. Barrios argued to the Court that his extradition would place him at risk of a life sentence without parole in the United States. However, the Court ruled that he had not demonstrated a “real risk” that he will receive a life sentence (without parole) since no trial has commenced. The Court also stated that Mr. Barrios failed to demonstrate that mitigating factors would not be used to determine his sentence length. Therefore, the Court concluded that he did not sufficiently demonstrate a breach of Article 3: Prohibition on Inhuman or Degrading Treatment if he was extradited to the United States.


EU: Support for International Criminal Court Investigation Into War Crimes Committed by Israel in Palestine  

On 13 July 2023, the European Union Parliament released a statement in support of the investigation launched by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into war crimes committed in the West Bank by Israeli forces. The released statement highlighted the European Union position of a two-state solution, opposing settlements, and the support for investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestinian regions. The statement also expressed concern about Israel’s “punitive measures against the Palestinian people, leadership, and civil society, such as withholding funds and implementing a moratorium on construction plans.”  The European Union also offered assistance for the investigation into the alleged war crimes. The statement received praise from the Palestinian Authority.   



ICC: International Criminal Court Orders Reparations in the Case of Bosco Ntaganda  

On 14 July 2023, Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an order regarding reparations for the victims in the case of Bosco Ntaganda. Mr. Ntaganda, a former Congolese military leader, was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC in 2019. The Appeals Chamber partially reversed the reparations in 2021 with an addendum order outlining the guiding principles for reparations, including a victim-centred approach, the participation of victims in the process, and the importance of addressing the harm caused to individuals and communities. The Presiding judge gave a summary of the decision during the hearing which Mr. Ntaganda attended (remotely). The Trial Chamber estimated more than ten thousand individuals were affected and it assessed Mr. Ntaganda’s liability for reparations at 31.3 million (USD). The Chamber will rule on procedural aspects of determining victims’ eligibility. 


USA: Man Arrested in Gilgo Beach Serial Killings  

On 15 July 2023, a New York architect, Rex Heuermann, was arrested on six counts of murder in connection to the Gilgo Beach killings. Mr. Heuermann is the prime suspect in the killing of four women who were found in the Gilgo Beach area. The four women were wrapped in burlap and were found within days of each other. According to investigators, Mr. Heuermann placed harassing phone calls to the victim’s family and admitted to the murders. The prosecution used over 300 subpoenas and search warrants to collect evidence linking Mr. Heuermann to the murders. Rex Heuermann pled not guilty and he was remanded to custody without bail during his arraignment. The trial is scheduled to begin in August 2023. 


Bosnia: Court in Bosnia and Herzegovina Sentences Former Member of Croatian Defence Council for War Crimes  

On 15 July 2023, the District Court in Doboj sentenced Mirsad Brkić to eight years in prison for war crimes committed in 1992 in Jezero, Bosnia. The court found Mr. Brkić guilty of the murder of two individuals and illegally imprisoning a group of residents. Mr. Brkić was acquitted on the charge of inhumane treatment. Mr. Brkić was extradited from Austria based on an international warrant issued by the Doboj District Court. Mr. Brkić’s detention in Doboj will be included in his prison sentence. In addition to the eight years imprisonment, Mr. Brkić is required to pay court and witness attendance costs. His conviction can be appealed to the Supreme Court of Republika Srpska.



Tunisia: More Than 1000 People Stranded at the Tunisian Borders with Libya and Algeria  

On 10 July 2023, Al Jazeera reported that “hundreds of Black men, women and children [were] forcibly expelled from the [Tunisian] port city of Sfax remain trapped in a heavily secured ‘no man’s land’ between Tunisia and Libya.” Al Jazeera footage shows the isolated group “languishing on the coast” with wounds inflicted by Tunisia’s security services and desperate for water. Racially motivated attacks against the vulnerable population have been reported, leading to a wave of violence in Sfax. In response, Tunisian security services forcibly placed around 1 200 Black refugees and migrants on buses and abandoned them in the desert on the borders with Algeria and Libya, without food, water, or protection. Reports of sexual assault, rape, and physical assault among the expelled individuals have emerged, although AlJazeera was not able to independently confirm these reports. Rights groups condemned the Tunisian state’s actions as illegal and violating international provisions. Tunisia’s economic deterioration has exacerbated racist sentiment, with unemployment high and shortages of basic goods. The European Union has pledged a significant aid package, including funds to address migration-related issues, but Tunisia’s commitment to human rights remains uncertain.


UN: Security Council Fails to Extend Cross-Border Aid Delivery Into Syria   

On 11 July 2023, the UN Security Council failed to adopt two resolutions aimed at extending cross-border aid delivery into Syria from Turkey and has by extension put life-saving assistance to millions of people in northwest Syria at risk. The first draft resolution, calling for a nine-month extension, was rejected due to a no vote from Russia with China abstaining. The second resolution, submitted by Russia for a six-month extension, was also unsuccessful. The cross-border mechanism, established in 2014, provides a vital lifeline for four million people in northwest Syria. Trucks transport essential supplies, including medicine, water, food, and shelter materials. In 2014, four border crossings were established, and the Bab al-Hawa crossing is the last one remaining. The disruption in aid delivery comes at a time when humanitarian needs are at an all-time high after more than 12 years of war and the recent devastating earthquakes in the region. The failure to renew the cross-border mechanism has been widely criticised, with the United States ambassador calling it a “gross affront” and China expressing regret over the lack of consensus. UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged Council members to redouble their efforts to support the continuation of cross-border assistance to meet the dire needs of the Syrian people.


UN: Increasing Number of People Seeking Refuge from Sudan in Chad  

On 11 July 2023, the UN expressed concern over the escalating number of people seeking refuge in Chad as the conflict in Sudan persists. The World Food Programme (WFP) reported that 20 000 individuals crossed into Chad in just one week.  The displaced individuals are among the more than 230 000 refugees and 38 000 returnees who have been uprooted by deadly clashes in Sudan’s Darfur states. Urgent priorities for the WFP include treating the wounded and providing assistance to dangerously malnourished children crossing the border from Darfur. The response to the conflict, marked by heavy weaponry and airstrikes involving rival military forces, requires ongoing financial support to address the critical situation. The WFP needs a minimum of 13 million (USD) per month to scale up its response on the Chad-Sudan border. The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the conflict has displaced over 2.5 million people within Sudan and across neighbouring countries. Chad, which has opened its borders to over 190 000 refugees, faces a significant crisis with limited funding to provide essential aid.


Palestine: Israeli Forces and Settlers Forcibly Remove Palestinian Family From Home of 70 Years  

On 11 July 2023, Israeli forces forcibly evicted a Palestinian family from their home in the occupied Old City of Jerusalem based on an Israeli court order. The Ghaith-Sub Laban family, who had lived in their home for 70 years, were removed by Israeli police and paramilitary officers before settlers moved in. The family had been renting the home since 1953 under the Jordanian administration. However, a legal battle in Israeli courts against government-backed settler organisations led to a ruling that they no longer held protected tenant status. Previous court rulings had already displaced six members of the family in 2014. The recent eviction has drawn condemnation from Palestinian civil society and rights groups, who consider it a forcible transfer, constituting a war crime and a crime against humanity. They called for international action, including arms embargoes, economic sanctions, and individual sanctions against Israeli settler organisations. Videos shared online showed Nora Ghaith crying outside her home as Israeli settlers moved in and hung Israeli flags from the balcony.


Ukraine: Russian Attacks Continue as Zelensky Meets with NATO   

On 11 July 2023, Russia carried out a second consecutive night of kamikaze drone attacks on Kyiv and other cities, according to Ukraine’s military. The attacks took place just hours before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was scheduled to meet NATO leaders at a summit in Lithuania. Ukraine’s Air Force reported that Russia launched a total of 15 Iranian Shahed drones, with 11 being shot down. The drone strikes resulted in a fire at a non-residential facility, causing two injuries. The previous night Ukraine reported a Russian attack on a humanitarian aid distribution point in southeastern Ukraine that killed seven people, and two other people were killed in a separate Russian shelling incident in the east. The extent of the attacks on Kyiv and Cherkasy is yet to be determined. Air raid sirens sounded across Ukraine as fighting continued, coinciding with the NATO summit. President Zelenskiy emphasised the importance of defence and protection for Ukraine’s soldiers and citizens ahead of his participation in the NATO-Ukraine Council meeting. The Ukrainian Armed Forces reported that Russia conducted 65 airstrikes and fired at least 71 times at Ukrainian positions and populated areas along the frontline. The reports have not been independently verified, and Russia’s TASS news agency stated that they had repelled Ukrainian attacks in the Luhansk region.



FAO: 782 Million Faced Hunger in 2022, with One in Ten Affected Globally  

On 12 July 2023, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and World Food Programme (WFP) jointly released the latest, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report (SOFI2023), which revealed that between 691 and 783 million people faced hunger in 2022, an increase of roughly 122 million people in comparison to 2019. The report also highlighted that a rise in hunger was witnessed in Western Asia, the Caribbean and across Africa, where at least one in five people faced hunger, which is more than twice the global average. The report further revealed that more than 3.1 billion people were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021 and that there is an increase in malnutrition among children under the age of five with 148 million children under the age of five suffering from stunted growth, 45 million wasted (low weight), and 37 million were overweight which are all indicators of poor nutrition. The report added that malnutrition among children displayed differently in urban and rural settings, noting that child stunting was more prevalent in rural areas (35.8 per cent) than in urban areas (22.4 per cent).  Catherine Russel, Executive Director of UNICEF urged that “the nutrition crisis demands a stronger response focused on children” and that access to nutritious and affordable diets along with nutrition services is essential.


Ethiopia: Mass Deportation of Eritrean Condemned by UN Human Rights Experts

On 13 July 2023, a group of UN-appointed human rights experts voiced their concerns over the summary deportation of hundreds of Eritreans that occurred at the end of June this year. They expressed their grave concern over the hostile conditions that were affecting Eritrean refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Ethiopia. Mohamed Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea highlighted in a news release issued by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) that collective expulsions were prohibited under international law, highlighting that deportation of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers constituted “refoulement.” The experts urged that immigration detention should only be used as a “last resort only for adults, for a short period of time and for a legitimate purpose.” As of the end of May, around 165 000 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia have fled violence and hardship in their country according to data from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).  The UN human rights experts called upon the Eritrean authorities to provide information on the state and whereabouts of refugees and ensure those who have been forcibly deported are protected. They further called upon Ethiopian refugee organisations to partner with Ethiopian authorities and provide access to the asylum system and relevant documentation for those who were on the move.



OHCHR: Prompt Investigation Into the Killing of 87 Civilians in Sudan after Mass Grave is Discovered in West Darfur  

On 13 July 2023, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for a prompt investigation into the killing of 87 civilians in Sudan after a mass grave was discovered in West Darfur. According to the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), the victims, who included the members of the Masalit ethnic community, were allegedly killed last month by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militia. On 20 June 2023, “at least 37 of the bodies were buried […] in the roughly one-metre-deep mass grave in an open area called Al-Turab Al Ahmar, or Red Soil in English” with another 50 bodies having been buried there the following day. Those buried were killed by the RSF and their allied militia between 13 to 21 June 2023 in the districts of Al-Madaress and Al-Jamarek, according to credible sources. The UN High Commissioner called the RSF leadership to immediately put an end to the killing of people and violence along with hate speech based upon ethnicity. 


UN: International Community Should “Double Down on Institutional and Accountability Frameworks” to Prevent Sexual Violence in Conflicts  

On 14 July 2023, Pramila Patten, UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict while presenting the latest data from her report which was published last month, highlighted that 2 455 UN-verified cases of wartime rape had been committed in 2022. She highlighted that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was again the country with the highest number of cases (i.e. 701). She also conducted her first field visit to Ukraine where she witnessed first-hand the toll on women, children and the elderly because of sexual violence and exploitation. Her report also detailed the horrific incidents of those crimes committed in other countries such as Haiti, Ethiopia and Iraq. “The report also clearly demonstrates the emboldening effects of impunity, [… with] nearly 50 parties, mostly non-State actors […] listed for systematically committing sexual violence [and] more than 70 per cent have appeared on the list for five years or more.” She further called for greater political resolve, resources and action to double down on accountability frameworks.


Kenya: Disproportionate Use of Force by Security Forces Against Protestors Kills 23 with Dozens Injured  

On 14 July 2023, Jeremy Laurance, Spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement which condemned the violence and disproportionate use of force by police on protesters in Kenya. According to news reports, the demonstrations began over what is viewed as an unfair tax hike as well as the rising cost of living caused by inflation in the country. The Opposition group leader in the country had made a call for action through civil disobedience and nationwide protest which led to the deadly demonstrations where at least 23 people were killed and dozens injured. Mr. Laurance stated that a “prompt, independent, thorough and transparent investigation into deaths and injuries” has been called, and those who are responsible must be held accountable, along with adopting measures to prevent further deaths and injuries. He further called upon authorities to ensure that the “right to peaceful assembly” be guaranteed as stated in the Kenyan Constitution and international human rights law.


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