Weekly News Recap (21-27 August 2023)

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UK: Public Inquiry into Alleged War Crimes by British Armed Forces in Afghanistan to be Held Partly in Secret

On 21 August 2023, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, chair of the independent statutory inquiry set up to investigate and report on allegations of wrongdoing by the British Armed Forces in relation to their conduct of deliberate detention operations in Afghanistan, ruled that the public inquiry will be held partly in private. This results in some evidence, witness identities and testimonies being limited to closed sessions, which the media and public are prohibited from attending. The inquiry itself will investigate alleged activity during the period from mid-2010 to mid-2013. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Royal Military Police (RMP) are accused of failing to investigate the claims and have sought sweeping restrictions on the basis of security and privacy. Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said there are “cogent national security and other reasons why many hearings will need to be held entirely in closed [behind closed doors].” Evidence submitted to the inquiry claims as many as 80 people were killed in suspicious circumstances by three out of four Special Air Service (SAS) squadrons between 2010 and 2013. The documents outlined the high kill rate of the squadrons, with one soldier shooting 35 people dead in a single six-month tour.


South Africa: COSAS 4 Case Postponed until January 2024

On 21 August 2023, the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg postponed the commencement of the trial for the murder of anti-apartheid activists Eustice Madikela, Ntshingo Mataboge, Fanyana Nhlapo, and the attempted murder of Zandisile Musi, collectively known as the ‘COSAS 4’. The trial, which involves charges of kidnapping, murder, crimes against humanity, and apartheid, has been rescheduled to start on January 22, 2024. The accused, Christiaan Siebert Rorich and Thlomedi Ephraim Mfalapitsa, did not receive amnesty during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process. The charges under international law are based on the context of a systematic attack on political opponents of the apartheid regime and are introduced through section 232 of the Constitution, which recognises customary international law as law in South Africa. The Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) is seeking permission to intervene as a friend of the court (amicus curiae) in the trial. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and SALC are ready to proceed with the trial, but the legal representatives for one of the accused, Mr Rorich, have requested and been granted a lengthy delay to oppose SALC’s amicus intervention. SALC aims to assist the court by providing legal context on the applicability of these international charges within the domestic criminal justice system. The next court hearing on this matter is scheduled for 23 October 2023.


ICJ: Public Hearings Announced for Preliminary Objections in Allegations of Genocide by the Russian Federation in Ukraine

On 22 August 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced that it will hold public hearings on the preliminary objections raised by the Russian Federation in the case concerning Allegations of Genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Ukraine v. Russian Federation: 32 States intervening), commencing on Monday 18 September until Wednesday 27 September 2023, at the seat of the ICJ, the Peace Palace in The Hague. These hearings will commence with two days of first-round oral arguments by the Russian Federation and Ukraine, one day of statements from the thirty-two intervening States, and finally, two days of second-round oral arguments by the Russian Federation and Ukraine.


Norway: Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression Submits Complaint Against Ex-Member of Popular Mobilization Forces for Crimes Committed in Syria

On 22 August 2023, the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) lodged a complaint with Norway’s War Crimes Unit against Hussein Al-Hujaimi, a former member of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) now living in Norway. Al-Hujaimi is accused of committing murders and serious violations while serving in the PMF in Syria. The complaint is based on Al-Hujaimi’s confessions made on TikTok videos. The videos show him admitting to killing multiple people, including Syrian children, while he was part of the PMF, which fought alongside Syrian government forces. The complaint aims to initiate an investigation into the suspect’s actions and uphold accountability for the crimes and violations that occurred in Syria.


Ukraine: Government Accepts “Hybrid Tribunal” Approach for Russia

On 22 August 2023, the Ukrainian government acknowledged that its proposed tribunal format, based on a UN General Assembly resolution, lacks sufficient support and has opted for a modified version of a hybrid tribunal. During an international conference in Kyiv, Andrii Smyrnov, Deputy Head of the Ukrainian President’s Office, stated that the initial approach did not succeed due to concerns from Western capitals, including Washington, about potential prosecution under a Russian-style scenario. Smyrnov noted that international law is influenced by global politics, causing some partners to fear the precedent’s use against them, given their own overseas military involvement. Smyrnov indicated that Kyiv is open to the concept of an internationalised tribunal, as advocated by the US, with the condition that it does not rely on the Ukrainian judicial system as its foundation. He emphasised that a hybrid tribunal based on Ukrainian law is unacceptable. To find a compromise, Smyrnov suggested the possibility of establishing an internationalised tribunal within the credible judicial system of another country. He clarified that his statement was a preliminary proposal.


USA: Former Trump Lawyer Rudi Giuliani and Other Co-defendants Surrender in Georgia Electoral Case

On 24 August 2023, Rudy Giuliani, Donald J. Trump’s former personal lawyer, along with five others, surrendered to police authorities at Fulton County Jail in relation to the Georgia election interference case. Prosecutors had set a deadline of noon on Friday, 25 August 2023, for each of the defendants to surrender. They will then appear in court to hear the charges against them at a later date. Following the surrender, Mr Giuliani was released on a USD 150 000 bail bond and faces 13 charges, including racketeering and election meddling in relation to his involvement in the Trump presidential election campaign in Georgia in 2020. Leaving the Fulton County Jail, Mr Giuliani told reporters he was “honoured” to be involved in the case. “This case is a fight for our way of life,” he said. “This indictment is a travesty.” Both Mr Giuliani and Mr Trump face the most charges among all those accused.


Russia: WSJ Reporter’s Pre-Trial Detention in Moscow Extended for Additional Three Months

On 24 August 2023, a Russian Court decided to extend the pre-trial detention of Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Evan Gershkovich by three months. The reporter was arrested in Russia by FSB agents under suspicion of espionage in March 2023. Russian intelligence agency (FSB) has claimed that the reporter was gathering intelligence on behalf of the US government. His pre-trial custody, due to expire on 30 August, was extended until 30 November 2023. According to the Russian Criminal Code, suspects can be held in detention for 12 months and, in special circumstances, even longer in the pre-trial stage. Gershkovich’s lawyers have appealed the decision, but it is unlikely for individuals kept under espionage charges to succeed in legally challenging their pre-trial detention. Gershkovich’s detention is the first arrest of an American journalist on espionage charges since the fall of the Soviet Union.



UK: Court Rules Statements of Military Witnesses Regarding the 1972 ‘Bloody Sunday’ Massacre Are Admissible

On 25 August 2023, a judge decided that statements given by military witnesses 51 years ago regarding the murdering of civilians by British troops in Northern Ireland, in what is known as Bloody Sunday, will be admissible before the court. Charges were brought against Soldier F for the murder of James Wray and William McKinney and attempting to murder five other individuals during the events that took place on 30 January 1972 in Northern Ireland. The British soldiers killed 13 people during a civil rights march in Londonderry in 1972. The case brought against Soldier F was dropped by the prosecution in 2021, but an appeal of the relatives of the victims against the discontinuance of the prosecution of Soldier F prevailed. Soldier F had declared that he had no recollection of the events and would not be answering questions surrounding the events. Nevertheless, it was decided that statements gathered during the first inquiry into the Bloody Sunday events part of the 1972 Widgery Report would be admissible during the trial.



Saudi Arabia: Human Rights Watch Report Accuses Saudi Border Guards of Mass Killings of Ethiopians

On 21 August 2023, Human Rights Watch published a 73-page report entitled “‘They Fired on Us Like Rain’: Saudi Arabian Mass Killings of Ethiopian Migrants at the Yemen-Saudi Border,” which found that Saudi border guards have used explosive weapons in a systematic pattern to kill and shoot many migrants, including women and children at close range. The report was compiled after conducting interviews with 42 individuals, including 38 Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers who tried to cross the Yemen-Saudi border between March 2022 and June 2023, and 4 relatives or friends of those who tried to cross during that period. An analysis of over 350 videos and photographs posted on social media or gathered from other sources and several hundred square kilometres of satellite imagery was conducted. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians live and work in Saudi Arabia. Many migrate due to economic reasons or to escape human rights abuses in Ethiopia. There have been calls from the international community for Saudi Arabia to immediately and urgently revoke any policy to use lethal force on migrants and asylum seekers, as well as calls for an accountability hearing and UN investigation into the situation. 



UN: Palestinian-Israeli Death Toll Highest Since 2005

On 21 August 2023, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland reported to the Security Council that over 200 Palestinians and nearly 30 Israelis have been killed in various incidents this year, surpassing 2022’s death toll. This marks the highest fatality count since 2005, reflecting concerning trends across the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The ongoing violence is fuelled by despair over the lack of progress towards resolving the core issues driving the conflict, which is allowing extremists to exploit the volatile situation. Unilateral actions like Israeli settlement growth, demolitions, Palestinian militant activities, and settler violence continue, exacerbating tensions. Wennesland stressed the need for accountability for all perpetrators, condemned violence against civilians, and called for maximum restraint in the use of lethal force. He noted the cessation of hostilities in Gaza but highlighted the dire humanitarian situation there, with electricity shortages and mass protests against Hamas. Wennesland also addressed wider regional incidents and urged increased international support for humanitarian efforts in the region.


Haiti and Dominican Republic: Warnings of Tropical Storm Franklin Approaching

On 22 August 2023, Al Jazeera reported that Tropical Storm Franklin is approaching Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with the possibility of causing landslides and flooding. The storm is set to make landfall on the southern side of the shared island of Hispaniola. With wind speeds up to 85 km/h, it’s of particular concern for Haiti due to its vulnerable infrastructure and past disasters like Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which killed hundreds and left millions needing aid. Even less severe storms have devastating impacts due to Haiti’s ongoing political, health, and security crises. The Dominican Republic is also taking precautions, closing schools and businesses as the storm approaches. Puerto Rico and the Turks and Caicos Islands may also experience effects from the storm. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this marks the seventh Atlantic storm of the season and signifies an escalation from “near normal” to “above normal” hurricane activity.


Greece: 18 Suspected Migrants Killed in Wildfires

On 22 August 2023, the charred bodies of 18 individuals, suspected to be migrants, were found in Greece’s Dadia Forest, which has been destroyed by wildfires. The area is near the Turkish border and is a major crossing point for refugees and migrants, and sees recurring fatalities as they attempt to enter the European Union. Greece’s migration minister, Dimitris Kairidis, expressed sadness over the tragedy and criticised criminal traffickers who jeopardise migrants’ lives on both land and sea. The Eastern Mediterranean route has witnessed over 17 000 people attempting the crossing this year, primarily from conflict-prone regions. Despite stringent border controls, Greece remains a gateway for migration to Europe. Severe wildfires, intensified by summer heatwaves, are posing unprecedented challenges, prompting calls for improved fire management strategies and collaboration between authorities and the scientific community. The European Union has offered resources to aid Greece’s firefighting efforts. 


Mexico: Bus Crash Kills 15 Migrants

On 22 August 2023, a bus crashed in central Mexico and claimed the lives of at least 15 migrants and left 36 others injured. The migrants, primarily from Venezuela, were en route in the state of Puebla when their bus collided with a trailer. This region is a common route for migrants travelling from Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala toward the United States. According to reports, the crash site, in a hilly area, is frequented by human smugglers. The injured have been transported to hospitals in Tehuacán. With hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to traverse Mexico yearly to escape poverty and violence, road accidents involving overcrowded and perilous vehicles are sadly common. The incident echoes previous accidents, such as a bus falling into a ravine in Oaxaca in July 2023 and a collision in Puebla that killed migrants from Colombia and Venezuela in February 2023.


UN: Taliban Responsible for Revenge Killings, Torture, and Forced Disappearances in Afghanistan

On 22 August 2023, The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) reported that despite the Taliban’s assurances of amnesty, hundreds of former Afghan government officials and armed forces members have been allegedly killed. A new UN publication reveals credible accounts of 218 extrajudicial killings, 14 enforced disappearances, over 144 cases of torture, and 424 arbitrary arrests by the country’s de facto authorities between August 15, 2021, and June 30, 2023. UN human rights chief Volker Türk decried the betrayal of trust as former officials were targeted despite the Taliban’s promised amnesty. The report emphasises that Afghanistan’s previous democratically elected officials deserve equal human rights protections, and Afghanistan remains bound by international human rights treaties. The lack of transparency and accountability in investigating and holding perpetrators accountable for these incidents is a grave concern, as the de facto authorities’ progress remains limited. The report calls on the Taliban to clarify the terms of the general amnesty and adhere to it genuinely to ensure justice, reconciliation, and peace.


Syria: Suffering of Syrians Compounded as Political Process Reaches a Stalemate

On 23 August 2023, Geir Pedersen, UN Special Envoy, told the UN Security Council that the Syrian political process had reached a stalemate while highlighting that Syrians, both inside and outside the country, were suffering severely from the conflict. He also highlighted the deterioration of the country’s economy and the suffering of its people, as food prices were rising along with the cost of essential goods, leading to families struggling to afford proper meals. The past week hit an all-time low of 15 500 to the United States dollar as compared to 47 pounds to the dollar in 2011. He stated that as long as the conflict in the region continues, the country’s economy cannot be received, and the suffering of Syrians would only further increase. He also stressed that the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 should be implemented to address the crises in Syria. He further called for increased support for continuing humanitarian operations in the region, as the $5.4 billion humanitarian plan has only been funded by 25 per cent, while another plan that is providing support to Syrian refugees has only been funded 10 per cent so far. 


Myanmar: UN Special Rapporteur Calls for Ending “Deadly Paralysis of Indifference” and Holding Accountable the Perpetrators of Violence

On 24 August 2023, Volker Turk, UN human rights chief, called for accountability and justice for hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who have been displaced from their homes in Myanmar since 2017. As 25 August 2023 marks the sixth anniversary of the brutal campaign against the Rohingyas in the Rakhine state, the then High Commissioner of Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, called the massive attack against the minority as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Over a million Rohingya have fled persecution in Myanmar to seek asylum and refuge in Bangladesh, while 600 000 remain within the Rakhine State. While the human rights chief reiterated his call for accountability, he also urged the international community to continue supporting Rohingya refugees and their host communities in Bangladesh. Tom Andrews, the Special Rapporteur on the situation in Myanmar, also appealed to the international community to end the “deadly paralysis of indifference” and hold accountable Min Aung Hlaing, who led the genocidal campaign and is now the head of the military junta that continues to attack civilian populations in the region. 


UN: Da’esh Continues to be a Threat in Conflict Zones, Despite Successful International Counter-Terrorism Initiatives

On 25 August 2023, Vladimir Voronokov, head of the UN Counter-Terrorism Office (UNOCT), while briefing the UN Security Council, highlighted that to counter and prevent terrorism, long-term commitment and continuous, coordinated efforts were required. He presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the terrorist group, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which highlighted that threat in non-conflict areas remained low. He urged that the continuous expansion of the Da’esh and its affiliates in some parts of Africa was deeply concerning. Its affiliates in the Sahel region were becoming “increasingly autonomous”, with increasing attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. He further pointed out that there had been considerable progress witnessed by some successful counter-terrorism initiatives by the international community, which targeted the finances of the terrorist group. According to the UN report, the cash reserves of the group are now estimated at $25 million to $50 million, which has significantly reduced, and there also had been “sustained attrition” to the group’s leadership, as noted by the report. He further urged counter-terrorism initiatives to be “firmly grounded in political strategies for resolving conflicts that fuel terrorism the most.”


Tigray: New Report Highlights Rape Continues to be Used as a Weapon of War

On 25 August 2023, the Guardian reported that the Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers continued to use rape as a weapon of war despite a peace agreement having been signed in November 2022. The first report by Physicians for Human Rights and the Origination for Justice and Accountability in the Horn of Africa, which documented sexual violence from the start of the conflict in November 2020 through June 2023, made use of hundreds of medical records and also the healthcare professionals also recounted cases of gang rape, sexual violence and murder, including the killing of children. 304 medical records of conflict-related sexual violence from healthcare facilities across Tigray have been reviewed by the organisation, out of which 128 showed that rape had occurred after the agreement to halt hostilities had been made. The age groups of survivors of sexual violence ranged from eight to 69, where three-quarters of cases were gang rapes and in almost all cases, the perpetrators belonged to military and paramilitary groups. 


UNICEF: One Year Since Devastating Floods Hit Pakistan, Millions of Children Continue to be in Need of Urgent Humanitarian Assistance

On 25 August 2023, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that millions of children in Pakistan continue to require humanitarian assistance and access to essential services, one year since the devastating floods that hit the country. Lives of 87 children have been claimed in this season’s monsoon rains, which are continuously worsening, and the agency has estimated that 8 million people, around half of whom are children, live without access to safe water in flood-affected areas. At the same time, over 1.5 million children need lifesaving nutrition in flood-affected areas; the current appeal of UNICEF to provide such support remains underfunded. The current appeal of $173.5 million has been only 57% funded until now. Since August 2023, UNICEF and partners have reached 3.6 million people with primary healthcare services and have enabled 1.7 million people to have access to safe water in areas where water networks have been damaged or destroyed. One-third of the country had been submerged by last year’s floods, which affected 33 million people, destroying vital infrastructure, including thousands of schools and healthcare facilities. While children have been highly affected by the floods, UNICEF, in the past year, has screened 2.1 million children for severe acute malnutrition and admitted 172 000 people for life-saving treatment. Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF representative in Pakistan, called upon the Government of Pakistan to increase investment in basic social services for children and families while also urging to build climate-resilient systems for reducing “equity gaps and vulnerability to climate shocks”.


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