Weekly News Recap (24-30 July 2023)

© Photo by Enough Project via Flickr




Europol: Joint Operation Uncovered Criminal Network Smuggling Cuban Migrants into Europe

On 24 July 2023, 62 individuals were arrested as a result of an operation of law enforcement agencies from five countries, dismantling a criminal network smuggling migrants from Cuba to European Union countries. The network smuggled Cuban migrants into the European Union through Serbia charging them with 9000 euros to organize the trip. The criminal investigation exposed a criminal network operating in Serbia, Greece, and Spain that utilized online messaging platforms to offer Cuban individuals illegal services. The smuggling route has shifted from Russia to Serbia after the start of the war in Ukraine. After being flown to Belgrade, the migrants were smuggled into Greece and later transferred flown to Spain. The investigation began after authorities in several countries reported an increase in attempts to enter EU Member States by Cuban migrants with falsified documents. The migrants including minors were subjected to scams, robbery, extortion, and sexual exploitation.


Belgium: Court Convicted ISIS Cell Members Responsible for the 2016 Brussels Terrorist Attacks

On 25 July 2023, eight individuals were found guilty of the terrorist bombing that shook Brussels in 2016. Out of the eight individuals, six were previously convicted in connection with the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. Terrorist bombings in Brussels in 2016 claimed the lives of 35 people and injured hundreds of others. The trial lasted eight months and is the largest in Belgium that heard testimonies of almost 1 000 survivors, witnesses, and experts. Of eight individuals six were convicted on charges of murder and attempted murder in a terrorist context and face life in prison, while two others were found guilty of participating in activities of a terrorist group. Two brothers, Ibrahim Farisi and Smail Farisi were acquitted. The trial lasted 8 months and the decision was taken by a jury of 12 members and 15 alternates that deliberated for 18 days in a guarded location in Brussels.



USA: Biden Administration Approved Sharing Evidence with ICC over Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

On 26 July 2023, according to a New York Times article US President Joe Biden ordered the US government to share information with the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding Russian war crimes in Ukraine. This is considered a significant shift in the US policy towards the ICC and was met with resistance in the Pentagon. The relationship between the US and ICC is a complex one. The US signed the Rome Treaty in 2000 but never sent it for ratification in the US Senate. In 2002, President George W. Bush essentially withdrew that signature. In 2017, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC pushed for an inquiry into the war in Afghanistan including an investigation of alleged violations of international humanitarian law by US forces during the Bush administration. Consequently, President Trump imposed sanctions on the ICC personnel which were later lifted by President Biden. The decision to share information with the Court is subsequent to approval in the Senate of a bill providing for sharing information on the issue. Internal debates reflect concerns that the shift will constitute a precedent opening the doors for investigations against American citizens. The decision to share intelligence with the ICC will have a great impact on the work of the Court since gathered intelligence includes details over decisions to deliberately target civilian infrastructure and the deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children by Russian officials.  


USA: Justice Department Initiates a Civil Rights Investigation into Policing Practices in Memphis

On 27 July 2023, the US Justice Department announced that it is investigating allegations of excessive use of force and unlawful stops of Black residents in Memphis. The investigation follows the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop in January by a police officer that was captured by surveillance footage. The incident sparked outrage in the community and led to accusations of racial discrimination, excessive use of force against Black individuals, and unlawful stops that often end up with physical abuse and even death of the subjects involved. Accusations pointed out that violent behaviour is racially motivated and is a widespread practice of the Memphis Police. Five police officers have been charged with second-degree murder in the Tyre Nichols case. This is the ninth investigation of the kind under the Biden administration looking into the pattern of misconduct, excessive use of force against restrained individuals, unlawful stops, and a pattern of searches and arrests of Black individuals.


USA: Trump Faces New Charges in Mar-a-Lago Case

On 27 July 2023, prosecutors added serious charges against former President Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents case. Evidence suggests that Trump asked the property manager at Mar-a-Lago to delete security footage in Mar-a-Lago that proved that Trump’s aide moved boxes allegedly containing classified documents to avoid a federal subpoena. New charges filed against Trump include attempting to alter and destroy evidence and showing classified national security documents related to a battle plan related to Iran to visitors at his golf club. The indictment also named the property manager at Mar-a-Lago as a defendant who allegedly under Trump’s orders deleted the security footage. The initial indictment filed in the Southern District of Florida accuses former President Trump of mishandling classified documents and unlawfully retaining the documents after he left office in 2021. Currently, two indictments are filed and a trial date is set against former President Trump – one in the Mar-a-Lago case for violation of the Espionage Act, and the other one in the Manhattan Criminal Case for hush-money payments to cover up a sex scandal during the Presidential Campaign of 2016. Two other investigations are ongoing related to Trump’s involvement in the attack on the Capitol in January 2021 and the other one is related to attempts to reverse the outcome of elections in Georgia.


Belarus/Kyrgyzstan: Cases of Unlawful and Prolonged Detention of Putin Critics Surge in Countries with Pro-Russian Governments

On 28 July 2023, a journalist in Belarus and two Russian anti-war activists in Kyrgyzstan were further kept in detention by respective State authorities. Belarusian journalist Ihar Karney was transferred to a pre-trial detention centre despite serving a 10-day sentence on charges unspecified and unknown to the public. No further charges have been put forward so far by Belarusian authorities but the detention indicates that the journalist may face other charges for criminal offences. Detention of two Russian anti-war activists was extended according to the Committee of National Security in Kyrgyzstan. The activists protested and condemned Russian armed aggression against Ukraine and were arrested in Kyrgyzstan facing extradition. One of the two activists has sought asylum and is currently awaiting the decision. Last month, Kyrgyzstan extradited another Russian anti-war activist to Russia.



Singapore: First Woman Executed for Drug Charges in Two Decades

On 28 July 2023, Singapore hanged a 45-year-old woman on charges of drug trafficking. The executed woman was caught with 31 grams of heroin and was sentenced to capital punishment. The practice of imposing the death penalty for drug offences has raised concerns among human rights groups and international organizations. Singapore’s strict drug laws resulting in executions of those found guilty attracted strong criticism and protest domestically and abroad. A United Nations expert group has called for an ‘immediate moratorium’ after procedural errors were identified in a case of execution of an ethnic Tamil that was not accorded proper interpretation. The execution of the 45-year-old woman proceeded despite protests and calls to abolish the practice. Singapore has executed 15 individuals – local and foreigners, on drug-related charges since March 2022.


OHCHR: Executions in Kuwait and Singapore Call for Moratorium on Death Penalty  

On 28 July 2023, “Seif Magango, Spokesperson for OHCHR, condemned the multiple executions that had been carried out this week in Kuwait and Singapore and denounced the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. This week, five prisoners were executed in Kuwait, while two in Singapore, which included the first Singaporean woman having been executed in nearly 20 years, calling for an end to the death penalty by the OHCHR. Magango urged that Kuwait and Singapore should “immediately establish a moratorium on executions and join the more than 170 States” who have abolished this punishment. According to a statement released by the Kuwait Government in light of the executions, they highlighted that the five prisoners that had been executed included a man with reported ties to the ISIL terrorist group, who had been convicted of bombing a Shia Mosque in 2015, which killed 27 people and injured more than 200. While in Singapore, a man and woman had been executed on unrelated charges of drug trafficking. Magango highlighted that the death penalty was not in compliance with the “fundamental right to life and to the right to be free from torture and other inhuman treatment”, urging it should be eradicated from laws everywhere. 



Somalia: Suicide Bomber Kills Over 30 Soldiers  

On 24 July 2023, a suicide bombing at the Jale Siyaad military academy in Mogadishu, Somalia, claimed the lives of at least 30 soldiers and left many more wounded. The attack was carried out by the al-Shabaab militant group, which has been waging a long-standing insurgency in an attempt to overthrow the Somali government and enforce its strict interpretation of Islamic law. Despite a military campaign launched last year that drove al-Shabaab from significant portions of southern Somalia, the group has persisted in launching deadly assaults. In the past weeks, al-Shabaab has intensified its attacks, targeting peacekeepers, besieging cities like Baidoa, and staging multiple raids in the capital city of Mogadishu. The recent attack at the military academy underscores the ongoing security challenges and the threat posed by the militant group in the region.  


Ghana: Parliament Voted in Favour of the Bill Abolishing Death Penalty

On 25 July 2023, the Parliament of Ghana voted in favour of the bill amending the Criminal Offences Act and abolishing the death penalty. Ghana joins the considerable list of African countries to abolish the death penalty as capital punishment. The amendment was put forward by MP Francis-Xavier Sosu with the support of the Parliamentary Committee on Constitution, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs and the Death Penalty Project (DPP), a London-based organization advocating for the abolishment of the death penalty. The bill amending the Criminal Offences Act was widely supported by the public and will exponentially improve the human rights situation in Ghana. Mr Sosu stated that abolishing the death penalty shows Ghanese society’s determination to not be “inhumane, uncivil, closed, retrogressive and dark.” 176 inmates were on death row in Ghana when the bill was successfully passed in Parliament.


Algeria: Forest Fires Claim 34 Lives, Including 10 Soldiers  

As of 25 July 2023, forest fires have resulted in the death of 34 people in Algeria, including 10 soldiers. The interior ministry has been conducting firefighting operations in multiple regions, including Boumerdes, Bouira, Tizi Ouzou, Jijel, Bejaia, and Skikda. The fires have led to the evacuation of approximately 1 500 individuals. The extreme temperatures, reaching up to 49 degrees Celsius in neighbouring Tunisia, have exacerbated the situation. Witnesses reported that fires originating in mountainous areas have spread to residential areas, forcing hundreds of families to flee their homes. The civil protection authorities have been utilising various means, including land and sea evacuations using fishermen’s boats and coastguard vessels, to rescue residents from affected areas.  


UN: Operation in Yemen to Avert Catastrophic Oil Spill Crisis  

On 25 July 2023, the UN began a critical operation to syphon one million barrels of oil from the FSO Safer, a decaying supertanker off the coast of Yemen. The tanker has been stranded for over 30 years and holds four times the amount of oil spilt by the Exxon Valdez, posing an immense threat to the marine ecosystem and global shipping lanes. The move comes after years of warnings about the possibility of the tanker cracking and causing an environmental disaster. The oil spill could disrupt food and fuel supplies to Yemen, which is already facing an aid-dependent crisis due to the conflict there. The UN has held discussions with both warring sides in Yemen about selling oil to support the Yemeni people. They encouraged finding a solution for the sale. However, they emphasized that the top priority is to secure the oil to avoid any spillover. The UN, with cross-UN collaboration, raised USD 121 million from various sources for the operation, but an additional USD 20 million is needed to complete the project and address remaining environmental threats. The operation involves pumping the oil for 19 days, with plans to secure a replacement vessel to prevent further risks.


Syria: US Military States Russian Fighter Jet Fired Flares at US Drone in Syria

On 25 July 2023, the United States claimed a Russian fighter jet intercepted a US MQ-9 Reaper drone in Syria, flying dangerously close and firing flares at it. The attack caused severe damage to the American aircraft, particularly its propeller. The U.S. military has expressed concern over this pattern of aggressive intercepts by Russia in the region. The incident follows a series of encounters between Russian fighter jets and U.S. aircraft in Syria, with increased tensions observed in the Deir Ez-Zor province.  The MQ-9 drones targeted by Russian jets are involved in anti-Islamic State missions in western Syria. In response to these incidents, US officials have urged Russia to cease such behaviour. The US and Russian military officers maintain communication over a deconfliction phone line to address these encounters, but tensions remain high. With approximately 900 US forces in Syria, the situation remains complex and sensitive.   


UN: Guterres Condemns Attempted Coup in Niger   

On 26 July 2023, UN Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned an attempted power grab in Niger that happened that day, as President Mohamed Bazoum was held by some of his guards in his official residence. The African Union Commission Chair described this as an “attempted coup d’etat,”. There have been no reports of gunfire but talks to secure the president’s release have been unsuccessful. The UN, the Economic Community of West African States, and regional leaders have condemned the coup attempt, emphasising the need to protect democratic governance, peace, and stability in Niger. Guterres called on all involved to exercise restraint and uphold constitutional order. Niger faces security challenges from jihadist insurgencies, and this attempted coup adds to the regional instability.


UNSC: Attacks on Cultural Property and Major Ukrainian Ports Highlights “Calamitous Turn”  

On 26 July 2023, Khaled Khiari, UN Assistant Secretary-General for political and peacebuilding affairs, told the UN Security Council that the recent attacks by Russia targeting Odesa and other major ports of Ukraine mark a “calamitous turn” in the 17-month war. He highlighted that the war was far from being the first attack on Ukrainian culture and heritage. The Council meeting had been convened in light of the missile strikes that occurred on 23 July 2023 of the centuries-old Transfiguration Cathedral, which is the foremost Orthodox Church in Odesa. He urged that the Russian Federation should immediately halt all attacks against cultural property protected under various international instruments. He also urged that deliberately targeting infrastructure that facilitates in exportation of food could be life-threatening to people around the globe. Mr Khiari also called for more humanitarian support, as the humanitarian operations were severely underfunded; and with the UN trying to reach around 7.3 million people during the first half of the year, only 30 per cent of the $ 3.9 billion plan has been funded so far.   


Cambodia: Severe Electoral Clampdown Impinging on Fundamental Freedoms of Cambodians  

On 26 July 2023, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged that the “constant shrinkage” of Cambodia’s democratic space in recent years was impinging upon the fundamental freedoms of the citizens’ right to participate freely in public life. He condemned the severe electoral clampdown imposed by the Cambodian Government during the upcoming vote. He further expressed his concerns over other measures that had been imposed by the government which included some physical attacks as well as depriving people of credible information sources. He further called upon the government to create an inclusive civic space for all Cambodians, while also urging the authorities to further boost the participation of marginalised groups in order to promote a more representative democracy.


West Bank: Mounting Violence in the Region Calls for Urgent Steps  

On 27 July 2023, Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East while briefing ambassadors in the Security Council highlighted that urgent steps need to be taken in order to curb the increasing violence that has been taking place in the West Bank. He highlighted that the continued violence was occurring along with “the absence of a peace process and continuing economic challenges facing Palestinians.” As of 27 July, 21 Palestinians have been killed, while 250 were injured by Israeli security forces who were carrying out search and arrest and counter protest operations. According to Israeli sources, two members of the Israeli security forces have been killed, while eight were injured, and another 39 Israelis including three children had been injured by Palestinians in shooting and ramming attacks. Mr Khiari urged that targeting civilians, and children was unacceptable and should be condemned by the international community and the perpetrators must be held accountable. He urged that Israel had an obligation to protect Palestinians and their property within the Occupied Palestinian Territory and also ensure that prompt and transparent investigations were conducted into all acts of violence.   


Sudan: Health Crisis in the Region Pushes More Than 3.4 Million to Flee To Safety

On 27 July 2023, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that the conflict in Sudan has created a health crisis for 3.4 million in the region who have been further forced to flee to safety as cases of infectious diseases and other illnesses have been reported among displaced populations. Moreover, the region also faces a scarcity of health services. Nima Saeed Abid, WHO Representative in Sudan highlighted that the health crisis in the region is “enormous”. The agency in the past month issued an emergency appeal for $145 million in order to support its operations, and only 10 per cent of the same has been funded so far. In the region, more than two-thirds of hospitals are out of service, the agency has recorded 51 attacks on health facilities, which has resulted in 10 deaths and 24 people getting injured. With neighbouring countries such as the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan receiving the displaced population, WHO and its partners are providing support to the national authorities of those countries to provide emergency health assistance to the displaced. Chad has been hosting more than a quarter of a million people, which according to Dr Jean-Bosco Ndihokubwayo, WHO Representative in Chad, would increase health needs and further “exert high pressure on the available health facilities”. The agency has delivered over 36 tonnes of supplies to Chad and an emergency medical team has also been deployed to the country.   


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