Weekly News Recap (28 August-3 September 2023)

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Iraq: Three Members of the Islamic State Executed

On 28 August 2023, Iraq executed three individuals convicted of being involved in a 2016 bombing in Baghdad’s Karrada shopping district, which killed over 320 people and was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group. The bombing, one of the deadliest attacks in Iraq, took place during the Eid al-Fitr festival and sparked fires that engulfed the area due to a lack of emergency exits in shopping centres. Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani informed victims’ families that the death sentences were carried out against the three perpetrators. Although the statement didn’t mention their names or the date of their sentencing, he stated the executions occurred during the previous evening and early morning. Iraq declared victory over IS in late 2017, however, IS cells continue to pose a threat, with an estimated 5 000 to 7 000 members and supporters across Iraq and Syria, according to the United Nations. The executions are part of Iraq’s ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, with numerous death sentences issued in recent years, both for terrorism-related offences and intentional homicide. In 2022, Iraq executed more than 11 individuals and sentenced over 41 to death.


USA: Trump’s Trial on Georgia Election Case to Start in March 2024

On 28 August 2023, a federal judge determined the commencement date for the trial prosecuting former President Donald J. Trump, scheduled for 4 March 2024. The prosecution proposed the trial date as early as January 2024 while Trump’s lawyers requested that the trial start no earlier than 2026. This marks the first victory for the prosecution but raises concerns of conflicting with three other trials that the former President is facing in Washington, New York, and Florida. The indictment brought in Georgia against the former President charges him and another 19 individuals with election tampering and the indictment of federal election January 6 case is related to Trump’s efforts to retain power after he lost to President Biden. In Florida, Trump faces charges of retaining classified documents and in the New York case, he is accused of 30 felonies related to the hush money paid to a porn actress in the run-up to the 2016 electoral campaign. Trial scheduling remains a challenge and has political implications since it coincides with the upcoming elections.


ECtHR: Court Finds Political System of Bosnia and Herzegovina Discriminatory

On 29 August 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in the case Kovačević v. Bosnia and Herzegovina finding that the electoral system of the country violates Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 on general prohibition of discrimination. The complaint was brought before the court relying on Article 14, Article 3 of Protocol No. 1, and Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 — on the grounds that his voting choices were limited to the candidates who declare affiliation to one of three “constituent peoples”. Bosnia’s constitution makes a distinction between three “constituent peoples” (Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats) and other citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The electoral system of the country requires the citizens to declare affiliation with one of three constituent ethnic groups when they run for the House of Peoples which is the upper chamber of the State Parliament and Presidency, while only voters residing in Republika Srpska can participate in election of Serb Members to the House of Peoples and Presidency. Only voters residing in the Federation can elect Bosniak and Croat members in the above mentioned institutions. These requirements do not apply to elections in the House of Representatives which is the other chamber of State Parliament. The Court noted that reform of the electoral system was a post-accession obligation after it became a member of the Council of Europe. The Court found that the “constituent peoples” enjoyed a privileged position and that the system considered ethnic representation more relevant deepening ethnic division and undermining the democratic character of the elections.


KSC: Constitutional Court Finds Referral Inadmissible in Shala Case

On 29 August 2023, the Specialist Chamber of the Constitutional Court of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) found the referral made by the defendant Pjetër Shala was premature and inadmissible. The defendant claimed that his fundamental rights under Articles 31, 32 and 54 of the Constitution, and Articles 6 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), were violated. The defendant filed a referral on 10 July 2023, claiming that the trial panel, by finding the defendant’s statements given to the Belgian Federal Judicial Police in 2016 not admissible as evidence, has violated his rights to a fair trial and right to an effective remedy. The Chamber found the referral premature since the charges against the defendant are pending and the charges are yet to be decided. The Chamber held that the issue of admissibility of evidence is not an issue regulated by Article 31 of the Constitution or Article 6 of ECHR which only guarantees a right to fair trial, and the Constitutional Court can only assess whether the proceedings as a whole are fair.


Switzerland: Lukashenka’s Hit Squad Member Faces Trial in on Charges of Enforced Disappearance

On 30 August 2023, TRIAL International announced that Yuri Harauskia, a former member of Belarusian President SOBR special forces, will stand trial on charges of enforced disappearances. The defendant is accused of alleged involvement in the disappearances of three prominent political opponents in 1999. The criminal complaint against the defendant was filed by FIDH, Trial International and Viasna based on criminal claims of the relatives of the victims. The victims who were leading figures of the opposition disappeared between May and September 1999 in Minsk. This is the first time a Belarusian national will face trial under the principle of universal jurisdiction and represents a significant step in the fight against impunity for crimes committed in Belarus. The defendant will stand before the criminal court on 19-20 September, and the trial may set a precedent regarding accountability with implications for the Belarusian President.


ECtHR: Court Rejects Freedom of Expression Claims of Greek Orthodox Church Leader for Homophobic Blog Post

On 31 August 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided in the case of Lenis v. Greece that the application was inadmissible. The applicant, a senior official of the Greek Orthodox Church, posted a homophobic article on his blog and was subsequently prosecuted and sentenced for inciting hate and discrimination. The applicant filed a complaint before the ECtHR claiming that his criminal conviction for publishing the article violated his freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Court found that the applicant was attempting to misuse Article 10 of the Convention for purposes that are contrary to the values of the Convention. The Court deemed the application incompatible with the provisions of the Convention and rejected it in accordance with Article 17 on the prohibition of abuse of rights. The Court noted that the applicant’s statements could potentially incite discrimination and hate and emphasised the need for the protection of individuals belonging to the LGBTI community from hateful and discriminatory speech. The decision is important at a time when hateful and discriminatory speech attempts to get legitimised in the name of the right to free speech.


ICJ: Court Allows OPEC to Participate in the Advisory Proceedings on Obligations of States in Respect of Climate Change

On 1 September 2023, the President of the International Court of Justice authorised the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to participate in the proceedings on climate change. On 29 March 2023, the United Nations General Assembly adopted UNGA Resolution A/77/L.58 requesting an advisory opinion from the ICJ regarding obligations of States with respect to climate change. The request asks the Court to determine the obligations of States under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system from emissions of greenhouse gases, the legal consequences under these obligations for States that have caused harm to the climate system and in particular to small developing islands which are vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, and to people and individuals of present and future generations which will be affected by the climate change. The President of ICJ decided that OPEC “is likely to be able to furnish information on the questions submitted to the Court by the General Assembly”. Thus, OPEC may participate in the advisory proceedings and present a written statement on the questions concerned and written comments on written statements of States and organisations.


Finland: Four Finnish Citizens Accused of Terrorism

On 1 September 2023, the Finnish Prosecutor’s office charged four Finnish citizens suspected of being part of a neo-Nazi group training to commit terrorist acts, manufacturing weapons and narcotics, and training others to manufacture and use weapons. According to the Prosecutors, the accused “held ‘racist beliefs’ and were ‘preparing an armed conflict between ethnic groups.’” The suspects were arrested in 2022 as suspects in a firearm crime and released from pretrial detention. With new evidence appearing the investigation focused on terrorism which found that the suspects were planning to commit terrorist attacks against people of specific races and beliefs. The police found 3D-printed firearms and ammunition parts compatible with the manufactured weapons.



Syria: Israeli Air Attack on Aleppo Airport

On 28 August 2023, an Israeli air attack targeted Aleppo International Airport in Syria, causing damage to the runway and rendering it inoperative, according to Syria’s defence ministry. While the Israeli military declined to comment on the incident, regional intelligence sources revealed that the strike aimed at an underground munitions depot operated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps within the Nairab military airport complex adjacent to Aleppo airport. Nairab airport, previously targeted by Israel, serves as a hub for Iranian arms deliveries and troop movements. Israel’s increased focus on hitting Syrian airports and bases stems from the goal of disrupting Iran’s aerial supply routes, which provide arms to allies like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iranian-backed militias, including Hezbollah, maintain a significant presence in Aleppo province and other regions in Syria, supporting paramilitary groups and consolidating influence. Despite Damascus’ denial of Iran’s extensive presence, fighters allied with Iran exert control in various parts of Syria.


Libya: Foreign Minister Flees After Talks with Israel 

On 28 August 2023, Libya’s Foreign Minister, Najla Mangoush, was suspended and fled the country after it was revealed that she met with Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, in Rome the previous week. This marked the first-ever diplomatic meeting between high-ranking officials from Libya and Israel. Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who leads one of Libya’s rival governments, suspended Mangoush and initiated an investigation into the meeting due to a 1957 Libyan law prohibiting normalisation of ties with Israel. Mangoush sought refuge in Turkey following the revelation. The talks involved discussions on preserving Libya’s former Jewish community heritage and potential Israeli assistance in humanitarian and agricultural matters. The announcement led to protests in Libya, with demonstrators condemning the meeting and even attacking government buildings. In Israel, criticism arose over the leak, and questions were raised about the government’s diplomatic approach. Libya has faced turmoil since the 2011 uprising against Moammar Gadhafi, resulting in a divided nation with rival governments and foreign interventions. Gadhafi was pro-Palestinian and hostile to Israel.


Russia: Prigozhin Buried in Private Funeral After Plane Crash

On 29 August 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group, who died in a plane crash on 23 August 2023, was buried in a closed funeral ceremony at a cemetery in St. Petersburg. The funeral arrangements were kept private and secret to avoid turning it into a public display of support. While admired by some for his role in conflicts such as the war in Ukraine, Prigozhin was also criticised for his brutal tactics and had a ruthless and ambitious reputation. His death followed a mutiny he led two months prior, in June 2023, against the defence ministry’s handling of the Ukraine war. The White House hinted at Kremlin involvement in his death, though the Kremlin denied responsibility. The crash also killed two other top Wagner figures, four bodyguards, and three crew members. The cause of the crash remains unclear.


Ethiopia: 183 People Killed in Clashes

On 29 August 2023, the UN human rights office reported that clashes between Ethiopia’s military and militias in the Amhara region have resulted in the deaths of at least 183 people. Over 1 000 arrests have been made across Ethiopia, with many being ethnic Amhara youths, under a state of emergency declared by the government to address the violence. The conflict is rooted in accusations from some in the Amhara region that the government aims to undermine their security, a claim the government denies. While government forces initially regained control of major towns and cities, clashes have continued. Recent fighting began on 27 August 2023 in the town of Debre Tabor and resulted in at least four deaths, according to two doctors. These clashes occurred about a week after Ethiopia’s military entered the town.


UK: UN Expert Calls for Reviewing the Already Discredited IPP Sentencing Scheme 

On 30 August 2023, Alice Jill Edwards, the UN expert on torture, called upon the United Kingdom government to review its discredited Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentencing scheme. UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) issued a press statement highlighting that between the years 2005 and 2012, the English and Welsh courts used the IPP legislation to issue indeterminate sentences to persons who were likely to cause serious public harm “until they no longer presented such a risk”. The sentences under the scheme were mandatory for more than 50 specified serious crimes, which led to a larger number of people being incarcerated, i.e., a total of 8 711. The UN expert on torture called upon the UK government to step up its efforts to ensure that there were “rehabilitation opportunities for all those affected, as well as access to adequate and appropriate reparations”. As of 2022, around 2 900 people continue to be held under the scheme, and a recent parliamentary report also highlighted that the prisoners who continue to remain under the scheme experienced significant psychological distress under it. Reportedly, prisoners under the scheme are 2.5 times more susceptible to self-harm than the general prison population, and government data also revealed 65 cases of suicide among those prisoners. Edwards further highlighted that the scheme violated essential principles of fair justice and the rule of law, and the individuals who have been re-integrated into the society under the scheme can also be re-incarcerated at any time. 


Gabon: UN Secretary-General Condemned the Military Coup in the Country and Acknowledged Irregularities in the Election Process

On 30 August 2023, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, condemned the ongoing military action in Gabon, calling it “a means to resolve the post-electoral crisis”. He also acknowledged that “serious infringement of fundamental freedoms” had also taken place during the election at the weekend, given there were reports of serious irregularities at the polls. Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, reaffirmed Mr Guterres’s strong opposition towards military coups. As per news reports, President Bongo has been placed under house arrest by the military coup leaders, which has ended more than half a century of dynastic rule. According to more news reports, the coup leaders have been calling themselves the Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions, declaring the country to be in a state of institutional, political, economic and social crisis. Mr Dujarric issued a statement that highlighted that the Secretary-General called upon all actors involved “to exercise restraint, engage in an exclusive and meaningful dialogue and ensure that rule of law and human rights are fully respected”. He also emphasised that the UN continues to stand by the people of Gabon.


Mexico: UN Experts Express Grave Concern Over Continuous Attacks on Women Activists

On 30 August 2023, a group of UN human rights experts issued a statement in the wake of two recent incidents relating to attacks on women activists in Mexico. They were outraged at the targeting of women activists who continue to search for their forcibly disappeared family members.  The UN experts have urged the Mexican government to ensure that human rights defenders working on enforced disappearances can operate safely and freely. They also called upon the government to promptly investigate the attacks, prosecute and impose appropriate sentences on the persons responsible for the violations. Human rights defenders Teresa Magueyal and Araceli Rodriguez Nava have been two of the women who have been attacked, with the former having been shot dead on 2 May 2023 while riding her bicycle in Celaya, Guanajuato state. Araceli Rodríguez Nava, who continues searching for her disappeared son, was attacked on 4 March 2023 in Chilpancingo, capital of Guerrero state. According to the UN experts, both women were beneficiaries of the federal protection mechanism for human rights defenders and journalists. 


Chile: Government Announces a National Search Plan for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances during Pinochet’s Regime

On 30 August 2023, the Chilean government announced that it will launch a National Search Plan for the remaining disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship. The announcement came on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances and the upcoming anniversary of the coup of 1973 that installed Pinochet’s military dictatorship. During Pinochet’s dictatorship that lasted for 17 years, 1 469 people disappeared with the majority missing after being detained by Pinochet’s police. According to the announcement, the remains of only 307 victims of enforced disappearance have been identified and returned to their families, with more than 1 100 victims left to be found.



Armenia: Government Asks the Parliament to Ratify Rome Statute

On 1 September 2023, the Armenian Government formally requested the Parliament to ratify the Rome Statute, making Armenia the 124th State Party to the Statute of International Criminal Court. Armenia signed the Rome Statute in 1999 but has not moved to ratify it after the Constitutional Court found the Rome Statute incompatible with the country’s constitution. Armenia moved to make necessary amendments to the constitution only in 2022 with the Constitutional Court stating that the Rome Statute is in compliance with the amended Constitution. The ratification of the Rome Statue comes after the renewed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the war crimes that could be committed in Armenia in case of aggression will be subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Another implication of the move to ratification is with regard to the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the ICC arrest warrant issued against Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which case Armenia would be obliged to execute in case the named persons in the arrest warrant are present in the Armenian territory.


Niger: IOM Calls for Setting up of a Humanitarian Corridor to Enable Safe and Voluntary Returns of Stranded Migrants

On 1 September 2023, Christopher Gascon, Regional Director for the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), highlighted that 4 800 migrants awaiting voluntary return were being hosted by the IOM at seven transit centres in Niger, with most of them from western Africa: Mali, Guinea, Senegal and Nigeria. He further stressed that the transit centres were 40 per cent over their capacity and an additional 1 400 migrants also needed assistance, adding that a corridor was being set up to deliver humanitarian aid in conflict-affected areas of Niger. The military takeover on 26 July 2023 caused neighbouring countries to close their borders, and fights were suspended, making it difficult for migrants to leave their country. Mr Gascon also stressed that access to an airport is necessary for returning people home. According to him, the humanitarian appeal for Niger is currently 30 per cent funded, and a million dollars per month are needed to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to people in the transit centres. IOM also called for financial support to “prevent the situation from escalating into a full-blown humanitarian crisis”. Overall, 4.3 million people in the region depend upon humanitarian aid, with more than 710 000 forcibly displaced people hosted by the country. 


Mali: Continuous Crises in the Region Threatens to Plunge One Million Children Under the Age of Five into Acute Malnutrition

On 1 September 2023, Ted Chaiban, Deputy Executive Director for Humanitarian Action, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), highlighted that there was an urgent need for support in Mali as almost nine million people in the region need humanitarian assistance with half of them being children. The warning comes in the wake of nearly a quarter of the country’s population suffering from moderate to acute food insecurity, with more than 2 500 people at risk of famine. Five million children in the region need humanitarian assistance. The humanitarian situation in the region, which has been compounded by armed conflict, internal displacement and limited humanitarian access, threatens to put almost one million children under the age of five at risk of acute malnutrition. At the same time, 200 000 are at risk of dying of hunger if life-saving assistance fails to reach them. Since 2020, there has been a significant increase in the number of children needing humanitarian aid, which has risen to 1.5 million. As of the end of June, 377 000 people have fled, with half of them being children due to conflict and climate shocks. The humanitarian appeals for Mali remain underfunded as the crisis worsens. The $751.4 million humanitarian appeal has only been 21 per cent funded until now, while UNICEF’s Humanitarian Appeal for Children in Mali is funded less than a third. The UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP) require $184.4 million to assist 8.8 million people, including 4.7 million children in the region. 


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