Weekly News Recap (31 July-6 August 2023)

© Photo by Ted Swedenburg via Flickr




Russia: Opposition Politician Kara-Murza’s Appeal Denied

On 31 July 2023, Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza’s appeal against his 25-year imprisonment was rejected. The dual Russian-British citizen was sentenced in April for alleged treason and spreading “false information” concerning Russia’s war in Ukraine. Kara-Murza is part of a prominent group of opposition figures who remained in Russia and continued defiantly criticizing President Putin despite Russia sending troops into Ukraine in early 2022. Kara-Murza’s arrest, two months post-war commencement, was linked to the alleged dissemination of misleading military information, and he was termed a “foreign agent.” The arrest coincided with a CNN interview where he criticized Russia’s leadership. Subsequently, he was charged with treason over speeches, including a claim that Putin targeted civilian sites. Despite Moscow’s denial, Ukraine reported substantial civilian casualties.


Albania: Kosovo Ex-Guerrilla Arrested for Revealing Protected Witness Names in War Crimes Trial

On 31 July 2023, Dritan Goxhaj, a Kosovo ex-guerrilla, was arrested in Tirana, Albania, and was charged with intimidating and obstructing the criminal process. Represented by Albanian lawyer Bashkim Nikolla, Goxhaj’s arrest stems from an article he authored for a Kosovo media outlet, revealing the names of potential protected witnesses in a war crimes trial of another guerrilla in The Hague. The accused is said to have intimidated witnesses and hindered the case against Salih Mustafa, a former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) officer sentenced to 26 years in prison. Goxhaj awaits extradition to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague. Witness protection concerns have marred previous trials of KLA ex-guerrillas. The Kosovo Specialist Chambers, handling cases of former KLA members, confirmed Goxhaj’s detention in Albania pending transfer to The Hague, marking the first such arrest involving an Albanian from Albania.



USA: Former President Trump Indicted for His Widespread Efforts to Overturn 2020 United States Election Results 

On 1 August 2023, former President Donald J. Trump faced indictment following a federal investigation into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Special counsel Jack Smith filed the indictment, accusing Trump of three interlinked conspiracies: defrauding the US, obstructing Electoral College vote certification, and depriving people of a civil right, the right to have their votes counted. A fourth count charged him with obstructing official proceedings. This marked an unprecedented event in US history wherein a former president was indicted for using power to undermine democracy and maintain control. The indictment outlined Trump’s collaboration with six co-conspirators, detailing tactics to reverse his loss. It described his false narratives, attempts to influence the Justice Department, and creation of false slates of electors pledged to him in states that were actually won by Joseph R. Biden Jr. It also documented how he pressured Vice President Mike Pence to use the fake electors to subvert the certification of the election at a joint session of Congress on 6 January 2021. In addition to federal charges in the election and documents cases, Trump also faces legal troubles in state courts.


UK: ISIL’s Genocidal Actions Against Yazidis Acknowledged as ‘Acts of Genocide’

On 1 August 2023, the United Kingdom officially acknowledged that the ISIL (ISIS) group committed “acts of genocide” against the Yazidi population in 2014. This decision, made on the ninth anniversary of the atrocities, comes after a German court found a former ISIS fighter guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. In 2014, ISIS fighters systematically killed and enslaved numerous Yazidi men and women in Iraq’s Sinjar region due to their religious beliefs. While some fled to displacement camps in Syria and Iraq, others sought refuge abroad. The UK’s Minister of State for the Middle East, Lord Ahmad, emphasized the immense suffering of the Yazidi population and the ongoing impact of those events. With this declaration, the UK recognizes the Yazidi massacres as the fifth genocide, alongside the Holocaust, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Cambodia.


IRMCT: Appeals Chamber Rejected Nahimana’s Appeal for Additional Financial Support

On 2 August 2023, the Appeals Chamber denied Ferdinand Nahimana’s appeal for increased financial assistance. Convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2003 for genocide-related crimes, he received a life sentence which was later reduced to 30 years in 2007. Released in 2016, he was granted USD 1 000 for a temporary stay in Mali. He sought the same level of support that was provided to the persons released in Arusha but was denied. In 2023, Nahimana appealed to receive financial aid for subsistence, accommodation, and medical expenses while awaiting a visa for family reunification in Belgium, challenging the Single Judge’s decision denying his request. Nahimana’s appeal centred on the Single Judge’s alleged oversight of the importance of the May 2016 Progress Report. He contended that the report forms the basis for consistent aid regardless of release location. However, the Appeals Chamber found that the report’s mention of “undertaking a process to review the level of support irrespective of the State” does not equate to a binding obligation for additional aid. Nahimana argued that the Mechanism’s failure to provide him extended aid, based solely on his Mali release, is unfair compared to those released in Arusha. Nahimana’s contentions that similar arrangements could have been made in Mali were dismissed as unsupported. The Appeals Chamber upheld the Single Judge’s decision and denied the appeal in its entirety.


Germany: Syrian National Arrested for Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes

On 3 August 2023, a Syrian national, Ahmad H, was arrested in Germany for committing alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes between 2012 and 2015. Accused of being a local leader of “shabiha”, a pro-Syrian government militia, he is alleged to have brutally suppressed dissent following the outbreak of the civil war in 2011 and subjecting detainees to torture. Ahmad reportedly forced groups of detainees to carry sandbags under fire, withholding food and water. He is also accused of assaulting civilians, including an incident in 2013 where he physically abused a detainee and directed fellow militia members to torment him. Another incident in 2014 involved attacking a civilian at a checkpoint. Omar al-Assad, advocacy and communications manager for the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, considers Ahmad’s arrest a significant step and emphasises the importance of European courts in prosecuting war criminals due to the challenges of seeking justice within Syria. On Thursday, Ahmad was ordered to remain in detention while awaiting the possibility of formal charges.


Russia: Opposition Leader Alexey Navalny Sentenced to an Additional 19 Years in Jail

On 4 August 2023, imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was sentenced to an additional 19 years in jail on charges of extremism, which he views as an attempt to stifle his voice. This is his fifth criminal conviction, with the longest sentence among the three he has received so far. Currently serving a nine-year term for fraud and contempt of court, Navalny was also sentenced to 2.5 years in prison in 2021 for parole violation. The closed-door trial took place in the same colony where he is imprisoned. Amnesty International’s Marie Struthers criticized the verdict as a “sinister act of political vengeance,” indicative of broader state oppression intensified since Russia’s Ukraine involvement. Held at the IK-6 penal colony in Melekhovo, about 235 km from Moscow, the trial encompassed six charges including inciting and financing extremist activities and forming an extremist organization.


Pakistan: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan Arrested and Sentenced to Prison

On 5 August 2023, Pakistan’s ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested in Lahore following a court ruling that sentenced him to three years in prison for illegally selling state gifts acquired during his 2018-2022 tenure. The gifts, worth over 140 million Pakistani rupees (USD 497 500), were obtained during official foreign visits. The judge emphasised Khan’s deliberate concealment of benefits gained from the national treasury. In addition to the imprisonment, Khan is also subject to a fine of 100 000 rupees (USD 355). Failing to pay the fine could potentially result in a six-month extension of his time in jail. Khan’s lawyer disclosed that he was arrested at his Lahore residence. In a pre-arrest video on social media, Khan urged supporters to protest, framing his struggle as one for the nation’s future. The three-year prison sentence could see Khan being barred from politics as the law says people with a criminal conviction cannot hold or run for public office.



UN: Secretary General Condemns Pakistani Suicide Bombing 

On 31 July 2023, UN Secretary-General António Guterres strongly condemned the suicide bombing that happened on 30 July 2023 at a political rally in northwest Pakistan and resulted in at least 54 fatalities and 83 injuries. The attack occurred in Bajaur district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and the Islamic State claimed responsibility. Guterres expressed heartfelt condolences to the victims’ families and wished a prompt recovery to the wounded. He urged Pakistani authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and denounced all acts of terrorism and deliberate attacks on civilians. The UN Office in Pakistan also condemned the attack, expressing condolences to the victims’ families.


Lebanon: Deadly Clashes in Palestinian Refugee Camp Kills Nine People

On 31 July 2023, officials stated that three days of intense fighting between rival armed Palestinian groups within the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon had killed nine people and injured dozens. The camp, housing 55 000 Palestinian refugees, is near the southern port city of Sidon. Despite attempts by Lebanese and Palestinian officials to negotiate a ceasefire, the clashes continue and the situation has become dire, with a potential humanitarian crisis looming. Some families have managed to escape, but many remain trapped due to the danger. The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has suspended its aid operations in the camp. The violence began when an unknown gunman tried to kill a member of an armed group, but instead killed his companion. Retaliatory shootings escalated the conflict, leading to the current situation. Ein el-Hilweh is one of 12 camps established in Lebanon for Palestinian refugees in 1948. Palestinians in Lebanon have limited rights, facing poverty and restricted access to work and property ownership. The recurring tension in the camp highlights the ongoing impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict and emphasises the need for a resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict to alleviate these tensions and create lasting peace.


UK: ISIL’s Genocidal Actions Against Yazidis Acknowledged as ‘Acts of Genocide’

On 1 August 2023, the United Kingdom officially acknowledged that the ISIL (ISIS) group committed “acts of genocide” against the Yazidi population in 2014. This decision, made on the ninth anniversary of the atrocities, comes after a German court found a former ISIS fighter guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. In 2014, ISIS fighters systematically killed and enslaved numerous Yazidi men and women in Iraq’s Sinjar region due to their religious beliefs. While some fled to displacement camps in Syria and Iraq, others sought refuge abroad. The UK’s Minister of State for the Middle East, Lord Ahmad, emphasized the immense suffering of the Yazidi population and the ongoing impact of those events. With this declaration, the UK recognizes the Yazidi massacres as the fifth genocide, alongside the Holocaust, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Cambodia.


Niger: Borders Reopen One Week After Coup

On 1 August 2023, Niger announced the reopening of its borders with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Libya, and Chad, a week after a coup that ousted democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum. The closure of borders occurred on 26 July 2023, when the military took power. However, Niger’s key trade and commerce entryways remain closed due to regional bloc restrictions. The coup marked the seventh military takeover in Western and Central Africa within three years, prompting the Economic Community of West African States (“ECOWAS”) on 30 July 2023 to threaten the use of force if Bazoum is not reinstated within one week. In response, Burkina Faso and Mali formed a coalition opposing the rest of the regional bloc, declaring external aggression in Niger as a declaration of war. ECOWAS defence chiefs are meeting in Nigeria to discuss the situation, while a regional bloc delegation is in Niger for talks with the military government led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani. European nationals have been evacuated from Niger, but foreign troop withdrawal announcements have not been made yet. Western countries like France, the United States, Germany, and Italy have troops in Niger to aid in counterinsurgency and training missions against al-Qaeda and ISIS-linked groups.


China: Floods in Beijing Kill 20

On 1 August 2023, Chinese state officials reported that heavy flooding caused by days of extreme rainfall from the remnants of Typhoon Doksuriat has killed at least 20 people in and around Beijing. The storm brought record rainfall, with Beijing receiving an average of 10.2 inches in three days, exceeding its usual, average July rainfall. Fatalities included 11 in Beijing and nine in the neighbouring province of Hebei, with 27 people missing in Beijing and six in Hebei. The floods have caused flight cancellations, service disruptions, and the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. In the worst-hit suburban district of Mentougou, streets were filled with water, mud, and debris from nearby mountains. As the heavy rain continues, President Xi Jinping has ordered “all-out” search and rescue efforts. China is also bracing for Typhoon Khanun, the third typhoon in as many weeks, which is expected to hit the densely populated eastern coastal provinces later in the week.


Colombia and Panama: IOM Highlighted the Need for Developing Human-Rights Based Response as Record Numbers of Migrants Cross the Perilous Darién Jungle

On 2 August 2023, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) highlighted the dangerous journeys taken up by migrants by crossing the Darien jungle which is on the border between Colombia and Panama and its infamous Darien Gap reflects the desperation of migrants and refugees to seek better life and escape from persecution. Michele Klein Solomon, IOM Regional Director for Central and North America and the Caribbean highlighted that these dangerous journeys reflected an urgent need for updating the migration systems and creating a human rights-based response in order to prevent further tragedies. According to data released by the Government of Panama, 250 000 people crossed the jungle on foot in the first half of 2023, which is equivalent to the total number for 2022, and is also the highest number recorded. Out of the people crossing the jungle, 55 per cent of them are from Venezuela; while 14% are from both Ecuador and Haiti as well as from Colombia, Peru and children of Haitian parents born in Chile and Brazil. José Samaniego, UNHCR Regional Director, highlighted that the IOM and the UNHCR were stepping up their efforts in order to provide humanitarian and protection assistance along with addressing the urgent needs of refugees and migrants. Despite efforts by the United States, Panama, and Colombia to tackle undocumented immigration through a two-month program, entries into Panama from Colombia continued to rise. July saw the highest number of crossings, with 52 530 people making the perilous journey, predominantly from Venezuela, Haiti, and Ecuador. Even with the start of the rainy season, the flow of migrants has increased significantly compared to previous years. Shockingly, around 20 per cent of the people who crossed the jungle area were minors, with 51 per cent of them under the age of five. The United Nations has warned that these migrants face risks such as disease, violence, sexual abuse, and human trafficking.



FAO: Escalating Food Crisis in Sudan Raises Alarm, Additional Funding Appeal Made to Address Needs

On 3 August 2023, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlighted that 20.3 million people in Sudan were facing severe hunger, a figure that has doubled since last year. According to data, 42 per cent of the population is suffering from acute food insecurity, which has been further compounded by the increasing food prices along with disruptions in the market. The latest Integrated Food Security Phases analysis highlighted that the situation is critical in the region with 14 million people facing ‘crisis’, while more than six million people are only one step away from a famine and the most affected regions include Khartoum, South and West Kordofan as well as Central, East, South and West Darfur. The FAO has made an urgent appeal for an additional funding of $65 million in order to provide assistance to six million people and support farmers in preparing for the upcoming planting season. Abdulhakim Elwaer, FAO’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa highlighted that the food and nutrition security in the region has been highly affected by the conflict, along with displacement of four million people the situation has further compounded. The UN agency has projected that for the period October 2023 to February 2024, around 15 million people are likely to face a food crisis. 


UNRWA: Cessation of Hostilities Called for at the Palestinian Refugee Camp in Lebanon

On 3 August 2023, Dorothee Klaus, United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Director in Lebanon, following the fighting between Palestinian armed groups at the Ein El Helweh camp that has forced thousands to flee their homes highlighted that the clashes continued in the region despite there being an announcement for a ceasefire. The Ein El Helweh is one of the 12 camps that is operated by the UNRWA in order to provide assistance to Palestinian refugees and along with services to nearly 50 000 people. The camp is located near Lebanon’s third largest city, Saida, which shut down because of shelling and artillery fire. According to Ms. Klaus, a UNRWA school complex inside the camp which provides education to 3 200 children during the academic year, had been used for fighting. The UNRWA called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the camp in order for the agency to continue providing assistance and conduct needs assessments. Currently, 600 people are being hosted by the UNRWA and its partners in two schools at another of its camps. 


Ethiopia: State of Emergency Declared in Ethiopia Due to Armed Clashes and Increased Violence in Amhara 

On 4 August 2023, it was reported by the Guardian that a state of emergency had been imposed by the Ethiopian government in the Amhara region after the leader of Ethiopia’s Council of Ministers said that he was no longer able to control the intensifying violence between the local ethnic militia and the army. The emergency was announced by the office of the prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, stating that the attacks by “armed extremist groups” posed an increasing threat to public security and were also causing economic damage. Violence has erupted across Amhara over a disrupted plan to absorb regional security forces into the national army. On 3 August 2023, the Amhara regional president sent a letter to the prime minister which highlighted that the unrest in the region was causing “serious economic, social and humanitarian damage”, while also highlighting that the situation has become difficult to control by “regular law enforcement system”. 


OHCHR: Closure of UN Human Rights in Uganda Announced by Human Rights High Commissioner

On 4 August 2023, it was reported that the human rights office on 5 August will cease its operations in Kampala. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk expressed grief over the closure of his office in Uganda, following the Government’s decision to not renew the Host Country Agreement. The UN High Commissioner highlighted that since the establishment of the office in 2005, the human rights office has closely engaged with the Government and other partners on various human rights issues. The High Commissioner urged that even though considerable progress has been made by the country over the years, there still remain serious human rights challenges. He also highlighted that the Uganda Human Rights Commission is “chronically underfunded and understaffed and reports of political interference in its mandate undermines its legitimacy, independence and impartiality”. Further, he warned against the decline of Uganda’s human rights treaties it had ratified, which also included the passage of the highly discriminatory anti-homosexuality law. 


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