Weekly News Recap (14-20 August 2023)

© Photo by United Nations Photo via Flickr




Niger: Deposed President Bazoum Will Be Prosecuted for ‘High Treason’, Says Junta

On 14 August 2023, the Guardian reported that according to Niger’s military junta, Mohamed Bazoum, the deposed president would be prosecuted for the crimes of “high treason” and undermining state security. Amadou Abdramane, a junta spokesperson, said on state television on 13 August that the regime had “gathered necessary evidence to prosecute before competent and international authorities the ousted president and his local foreign accomplices for high treason and for undermining the internal and external security of Niger.” The statement of Bazoum’s prosecution had come after religious mediators had met with Gen Abdourahamane Tchiani, who had highlighted that his regime was open to a diplomatic breakthrough. The junta in the region has also accused West African politicians and international partners of disseminating a disinformation campaign to discredit the regime. The junta is facing international pressure concerning the release and reinstatement of Bazoum. The upcoming African Union’s peace and security council would meet to discuss Niger’s crisis and could also overrule the decision that intervention on the continent threatens broader peace and security. While neighbours of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, who are also ruled by military governments and have seized power in coups, have highlighted that an intervention would be equivalent to declaring war on them. 


USA: Trump and 18 Other Individuals Indicted on Multiple Criminal Charges in Georgia Electoral Case

On 14 August 2023, former US President Donald J. Trump and 18 individuals were indicted by an Atlanta grand jury under criminal charges regarding the 2020 election in Georgia. According to the indictment, former President Trump and his allies orchestrated a “criminal enterprise” intending to reverse the election outcome in Georgia in favour of Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential elections. Trump and his associates were brought up on charges by prosecutors using the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). The indictment specifies that the criminal enterprise utilised various methods, including obstructing the election by means such as providing false information to the Georgia state legislature, deceiving state officials, fabricating counterfeit pro-Trump electors, intimidating election workers, seeking involvement from Justice Department officials and Vice President Mike Pence, compromising voting machines, and participating in a subsequent cover-up.


ICC: Hearing on Confirmation of Charges in the Mokom Case Scheduled for Next Week

On 14 August 2023, ICC notified that the hearing regarding the confirmation of charges in the case The Prosecutor v. Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka will take place from 22 to 24 August 2023 before the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The defendant was the senior leader and coordinator of military operations of the Anti-Balaka movement and is accused of playing a crucial role in organising the attacks in Bangui and Bossangoa of the Central African Republic during 2013-2014. Mokom is facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. According to the Prosecutor’s office, Mokom is allegedly responsible for directing crimes against the civil population, murder, rape, attacks against religious buildings, destruction of property, pillage, deportation and forcible transfer, severe deprivation of personal liberty and persecution. Mokom’s first appearance before the Court took place on 22 March 2022.



USA: Judge Decides in Favour of Plaintiffs in a Landmark US Climate Case

On 14 August 2023, a Montana Judge ruled in favour of 14 young plaintiffs from Montana who had filed a lawsuit against state officials for violating their right to a healthful environment. The plaintiffs claimed that state policies concerning fossil-fuel projects contributed to climate change and violated their constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment.” Montana state law prevents government agencies from considering potential impacts that are “regional, national or global in nature” and even evaluating the greenhouse gas emissions and their effect on the climate in the state and beyond state borders when deciding on permitting energy projects. Judge Seeley ruled that “by prohibiting consideration of climate change, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and how additional GHG emissions will contribute to climate change or be consistent with the Montana constitution, the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) limitation violates plaintiffs’ right to a clean and healthful environment.” This case is one among many environmental cases brought before courts in a global campaign on climate change.



UK: Charges Brought Against Three Bulgarians Suspected of Spying for Russian Intelligence

On 15 August 2023, charges were brought against three Bulgarians arrested in February under suspicion of spying for Russian intelligence services. Suspects were arrested for alleged offences under the Official Secret Acts and charged with possessing falsified identity documents, including passports and other documents from the UK, Bulgaria, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. The suspects were detained by counter-terrorism officers from the metropolitan police. The suspects have been living and working for more than a decade in the UK, and one of them was formerly an advisor to the Bulgarian Ministry of Energy. The detained individuals are suspected to be part of an espionage cell of Russian intelligence services, which are responsible for murder and poisoning with nerve agents of defectors and other individuals residing in the UK.



USA: FBI Counterintelligence Officer Accused of Helping a Russian Oligarch to Evade Sanctions Pleads Guilty

On 16 August 2023, the FBI’s former head of the counterintelligence office in New York – Charles McGonigal, pleaded guilty to charges brought against him for working with a Russian oligarch close to Putin’s circle. An FBI investigation brought up charges against McGonigal who, for personal financial gain, was giving information on the rivals to a US-sanctioned Russian oligarch. Investigation revealed that McGonigal travelled extensively and met with foreign officials and businessmen, providing them with information for personal financial gain. He was charged with “concealing details of his finances and activities overseas, violating US sanctions and laundering money.” The FBI investigation revealed no proof that McGonigal provided classified information to Russia, making this case an unprecedented case of corruption. McGonigal will be the highest-ranking FBI agent convicted of a crime.



Switzerland: Prosecutor Issues Arrest Warrant for Rifat al-Assad for War Crimes Committed in 1982

On 16 August 2023, a year-old judgement by the Federal Criminal Court (FCC) was released wherein the court had ordered the Federal Office of Justice (FOJ) to issue an international arrest warrant for Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The international arrest warrant was issued after Trial International filed a criminal complaint to the Office of the Attorney General, accusing the former vice president of Syria of war crimes regarding his role in the massacres committed in the Syrian city of Hama in 1982. The criminal complaint called for the prosecution of al-Assad for “executions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture on an unimaginable scale” during a Syrian Defence Forces campaign that is believed to have claimed the life of 10 000 to 40 000 victims. The arrest warrant requested by the Office of the Attorney General in 2021 was earlier refused by the FOJ and only came to effect with the decision of the FCC. The FOJ claimed that it was not competent to issue an arrest warrant because al-Assad was not a citizen, did not reside in Switzerland, and no Swiss citizens were victims of the Hama massacre. The court held that the fact that al-Assad was staying at a Swiss hotel when the complaint was filed against him by the Trial International in 2013 is sufficient to establish jurisdiction over the prosecution of war crimes based on universal jurisdiction, making it possible to issue an international arrest warrant.



Argentina: Retired Lieutenant Colonel Receives Life Sentence for 1976 Aggravated Murder

On 16 August 2023, Alberto José Jaime, a 79-year-old retired Lieutenant Colonel, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the double aggravated murder of activist Yolanda Rosa Ponti on 1 December 1976 in Santa Fe. The Federal Oral Court of the provincial capital delivered the verdict, concluding the trial where Jaime was found guilty of “homicide aggravated by abuse of power and involvement of two or more individuals.” Jaime will remain detained until the verdict’s finality. The sentencing hearing is set for 23 August in Santa Fe. The trial centred on the events that led to Yolanda Ponti’s death. Jaime, a member of the Military Intelligence Detachment 122, was implicated in the operation. The prosecution’s pivotal evidence was a 1976 Army summary that documented the actions of Jaime and his accomplices leading up to Ponti’s murder. After evading capture for over four years, Jaime was arrested in 2019 and is the only member convicted for Ponti’s murder.



Austria: Charges Brought against Former Austrian Chancellor for Allegedly Giving False Statements to a Parliamentary Inquiry

On 18 August 2023, former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his former chief of staff were indicted for allegedly making false statements to a parliamentary inquiry regarding a corruption scandal that brought down his government in 2019. The scandal involved the vice chancellor and the far-right Freedom Party leader Heinz Strache, coalition partners of the government, who appeared in videos to have offered favours to a Russian individual. The charges stem from an investigation launched in 2021 when Kurz was still a chancellor, which pertains to Kurz’s testimony to the parliamentary probe concerning his role in establishing and appointing the head of a state-administered holding company. Investigation revealed that he allegedly lied about the degree of his involvement and engaged in the matter since at least 2017, including choosing the staff to run the company. A trial is set to commence in the state court in Vienna on October 18, and if found guilty, Kurz can be sentenced to up to three years in prison.


Russia: Moscow City Court Decides to Dissolve the Sakharov Centre

On 18 August 2023, the Moscow City Court’s decision to dissolve Sakharov Centre was made public, ending one of Russia’s most prominent human rights groups in a government campaign against human rights organisations. The centre was designated under the law as a “foreign agent” as early as 2014 and was evicted from its premises through a decision by the city of Moscow. The Ministry of Justice requested the liquidation of the centre based on alleged violations found through an unscheduled inspection. Legal measures brought through inspection and based on laws against civil society, media, and human rights groups, as Human Rights Watch describes, aim an “all-out drive to eradicate public dissent in the country”. The Centre, named after Nobel Prize laureate and Soviet dissident, was a hub for promoting human rights and hosted a permanent exhibition on political repression in the Soviet Union, including a collection of literature on the modern history of Russia and Sakharov’s writings.



Ukraine: Shelling Hampers Distribution of Humanitarian Aid in the Southern Region of the Country

On 14 August 2023, Denise Brown, UN Humanitarian Coordinator, issued a statement condemning the “indiscriminate attacks” affecting civilians and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. She urged that people in the Kherson and Odesa regions had endured “a particularly harsh weekend” after reports of killings of many civilians had been received. She also highlighted that humanitarian operations had also been affected by the airstrikes and reported that partners from the non-governmental organisation ADRA had to stop the distribution of essential supplies after their warehouse and cars had been damaged by shelling in Kherson. The shelling in the region has killed seven people, which included a 23-day-old infant while wounding 20 others. 



Afghanistan: Taliban Have Created a System of Mass Oppression of Women, Highlights Executive Director of UN Women

On 15 August 2023, Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, appealed in a statement to the international community to continue to press change in Afghanistan and also accused the Taliban of imposing “the most comprehensive, systematic, and unparalleled assault on the rights of women and girls” across the region. She also highlighted that through 50 mandates, they have created a system based on “massive oppression of women that is rightly and widely considered gender apartheid.” She urged that the measures by the Taliban have highly affected the agency’s work in the region. She further appealed for greater support to Afghan women while also encouraging the international community to continue funding humanitarian appeals for Afghanistan. Volker Turk, UN Human Rights High Commissioner, also reminded the de facto authorities of their obligation to uphold all human rights, including women and girls. 


Sudan: Four Months of Conflict Leaves a ‘Devastating Impact’ Upon People’s Lives in the Region

On 15 August 2023, UN humanitarians called for ending the ongoing war of four months in Sudan. Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned in a statement that the catastrophic conflict in Sudan has “resulted in thousands of deaths, the destruction of family homes, schools, hospitals and other essential services, massive displacement, as well as sexual violence, in acts which may amount to war crimes”. Willaim Spindler, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), highlighted that over 4.3 million people had fled the country since the beginning of the conflict on 15 April, while 3.2 million have been internally displaced, which includes 187 000 refugees already living in the country since the beginning of the conflict. While the spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Margaret Harris, warned that due to “insecurity, population displacement and non-functional laboratories” outbreaks of malaria, measles and dengue would become uncontrollable and conditions for children would become even more dangerous as one-third of children under the age of five were now chronically malnourished. Furthermore, Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reiterated the UN High Commissioner’s call for parties to end the conflict and protect civilians.  He also warned that the war was “destroying people’s lives and violating their basic human rights”.


UNSC: North Korea Voices Opposition to the Upcoming Meeting About its Human Rights Record

On 15 August 2023, Al-Jazeera reported that North Korea voiced opposition towards an upcoming United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting about its human rights record, where it accused the United States of advancing its own agenda by leading the effort. The meeting is the first of its kind since 2017, and it will be taking place as the US holds the presidency of the UNSC for a month-long period. The meeting had been requested by the United States (US), Albania and Japan, as it required the support of nine of the 15 council members. Since 2006, North Korea has been under UN sanctions due to its ballistic missiles and nuclear program. It rejects criticism of its human rights record while blaming international sanctions for the country’s humanitarian situation. The US has denied that the international sanctions are to blame for the hardship being faced by North Korea and instead blames the country’s government. Nate Evans, the spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations, told the Associated Press that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has diverted much of its budget and resources to weapons development. Kim, Vice Foreign Minister, highlighted that the US is only interested in “realising its narrow-minded and hegemonic geopolitical purpose”, further adding that the “meeting has nothing to do with the universal conception of human rights protection”.


IOM: Displaced Haitians Facing Risks from Improvised Sites

On 16 August 2023, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed concerning conditions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The organisation found that nearly half of the IDPs have left their temporary accommodations in host communities due to growing fatigue, residing instead in vulnerable makeshift sites. This trend signifies a deteriorating social fabric in a country already grappling with gang violence and disasters. Communities that initially offered refuge are now strained, sharing limited resources and eroding their capacity to assist. High insecurity fosters mistrust between host communities and displaced populations, prompting IDPs to move to improvised sites where they face additional risks, including violence and abuse. With nearly 5.2 million people needing help and only 25 per cent of the Humanitarian Response Plan funded, the IOM calls for increased international assistance for immediate and long-term solutions. The organisation currently provides shelter, hygiene items, and water interventions while assisting Haiti’s government in restoring public services and rebuilding trust.


OCHA: South Sudan Classified as the Most Dangerous Country for Aid Workers

On 17 August 2023, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that South Sudan recorded the highest number of attacks on aid workers in 2023. According to the 2023 Aid Worker Security Report, 40 recorded incidents resulted in the deaths of 22 aid workers and injuries to 36 others. The attacks primarily affected South Sudanese nationals and occurred in various regions of the country. These incidents have hindered humanitarian efforts to address the needs of a population where 9.4 million people require assistance. The nation’s Humanitarian Response Plan, requiring USD 1.7 billion to aid 6.8 million vulnerable individuals, is only funded at 43.8 per cent as of 16 August 2023. Moreover, South Sudan’s existing fragility is exacerbated by the arrival of over 220 000 refugees, returnees, and third-country nationals from the conflict-ridden Sudan. The overcrowded conditions and limited resources at border points and transit centres are heightening tensions and increasing vulnerability, particularly among women, children, and older people.


OCHA: Increased Funding and Humanitarian Aid Needed for 18 Million in Myanmar

On 17 August 2023, Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, urged for increased humanitarian access and funding to aid the 18 million people in need across Myanmar. After a three-day visit to the country, Griffiths noted that ongoing crises have left a third of the population requiring humanitarian assistance. Displacement has dramatically risen, from 380 000 in early 2021 to 1.9 million. Cyclone Mocha, which hit Rakhine state, aggravated the situation by damaging homes, displacement camps, farmland, and livestock. Griffiths emphasised the need for improved access and funding, pointing out the resource gap, with only 22 per cent of required funds received halfway through the year. He also discussed the challenges of aiding conflict areas and highlighted the necessity for safe, sustained aid delivery.


Taiwan: Vice President Returns from Trip to the US

On 18 August 2023, Taiwan’s Vice President, William Lai (“Lai”), returned from a sensitive visit to the United States, a trip China condemned and Taiwanese officials warned could trigger more Chinese military exercises near the island. China claims Taiwan as its territory and has denounced Lai’s visit as separatist and troublesome. Taiwanese officials anticipate that China will hold military exercises near the island in response, potentially to intimidate voters before the upcoming presidential election. Lai had transits in the US on his way to and from Paraguay, a country that maintains formal ties with Taiwan. He met with the Taiwanese community and officials from the American Institute in Taiwan. Lai is the frontrunner for Taiwan’s next presidential election in January, which President Tsai Ing-wen cannot contest due to term limits. China particularly disapproves of Lai’s stance on Taiwan’s independence. 


UNICEF: Worst Cholera Outbreak in Six Years Strikes Children in DRC

On 18 August 2023, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stated that conflict and displacement in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are causing a severe cholera crisis, particularly impacting children. In the first seven months of 2023, the DRC has witnessed over 31 000 suspected or confirmed cholera cases and 230 deaths, with the worst-hit province, North Kivu, accounting for more than 21 400 cases. This marks a significant increase from 2022’s total of 5 120 cases. UNICEF fears that if immediate action is not taken, the disease could spread to previously unaffected areas. The displacement of over 1.5 million people, including 800 000 children, in provinces like North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri has created overcrowded camps with inadequate sanitation, providing ideal conditions for cholera transmission. Families in these camps lack access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities. Investigations have revealed that a large percentage of households affected by cholera had been displaced earlier in the year. UNICEF has called for USD62.5 million to address the crisis, aiming to assist 1.8 million people, including 1 million children, with clean water, hygiene supplies, medical aid, and child-friendly cholera care. However, the current funding stands at just 9 per cent of the required amount.


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