Weekly News Recap (4-10 September 2023)

© Photo by Magharebia via Flickr




Syria: President Assad Abolished Military Field Courts

On 4 September 2023, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a legislative decree to abolish military field courts accused of issuing death sentences without due process. These courts were initially established to prosecute opposition or deserting soldiers during times of war, but they were increasingly used for civilian cases, especially after the 2011 protests and the civil war. Human rights groups have repeatedly expressed concerns about arbitrary sentences issued by these courts, where defendants often confessed under torture and had no legal representation. Assad’s decision coincides with Syria’s return to the Arab League after over a decade of isolation, marking a significant diplomatic development. However, human rights organisations estimate that a significant number of Syrians arrested since 2011 remain in detention or forcibly disappeared.


Sweden: Lundin Case Involving War Crimes in Sudan Commenced

On 5 September 2023, the trial of former Lundin Energy executives, Ian Lundin and Alex Schneiter, commenced in Stockholm, Sweden. The defendants are facing charges of complicity in war crimes in Sudan that occurred between 1999 and 2003. This significant trial holds immense importance for the tens of thousands of survivors of Sudan’s oil war, as it seeks justice for the atrocities committed during that period. It also marks a milestone in the global trend towards holding corporations accountable for their roles in gross injustices and violence. The background to the trial is that in 1997, Lundin Energy signed a contract with the Sudanese government to exploit oil in an area not under governmental control amid Sudan’s civil war. This war resulted in the death of an estimated 12 00 people, displacement of 160 000, and deep poverty for the affected population. Many argue that Lundin, along with its business partners Petronas and OMV, and their shareholders, denied the right to remedy for the victims. The trial is a culmination of years of advocacy by churches and civil society organisations for peaceful oil exploitation in Sudan and against associated social and economic injustices. In 2021, Ian Lundin and Alexandre Schneiter were formally charged with aiding and abetting international atrocity crimes. The trial is expected to continue until early 2026, with 32 plaintiffs and 92 witnesses involved.




CJEU: Court Addressed Danish Nationality Loss and EU Citizenship Implications for Those Born Abroad

On 5 September 2023, the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) considered the issue of retention of Danish nationality for individuals born abroad who have never lived in Denmark. Danish law allows nationals born abroad, who have not demonstrated a close attachment to Denmark, to lose their Danish nationality when they reach the age of 22, which also leads to loss of European Union (EU) citizenship. The case in question involves a Danish-American individual who held both Danish and American nationality from birth. When she turned 22, she applied to retain her Danish nationality but was informed that she had lost it under the mentioned law. The CJEU was asked to determine whether this Danish legislation is compatible with EU law. It was ruled that a Member State (in this case, Denmark) can enact legislation causing its nationals born abroad to lose their nationality at the age of 22 if they lack a genuine link with the country. However, when this leads to the loss of EU citizenship, it must follow proportionality principles. Conditions include allowing retroactive retention or recovery, assessing proportionality, and extending the application period beyond age 22. The Court held that authorities must inform affected individuals and respect EU citizenship rights. Denmark must offer a means for individuals to challenge nationality loss while upholding EU citizenship rights and proportionality.



DRC: Six Soldiers Face Tribunal Over Killing of Protesters in Crackdown

On 5 September 2023, six soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) faced a military tribunal in Goma, North Kivu province, over their alleged involvement in the killing of nearly 50 people during a crackdown on an anti-UN protest. The incident occurred when Congolese soldiers stopped a religious sect from demonstrating against United Nations peacekeepers. An internal army document confirmed 48 civilian deaths. The soldiers, including two officers from the elite Republican Guard, have been charged with crimes against humanity and violating orders. Colonel Mike Mikombe, one of the accused officers, denied the charges during the tribunal. The trial follows a visit by DRC’s interior and defence ministers to Goma to investigate the incident. Militias have plagued eastern DRC for decades, stemming from regional conflicts in the 1990s and 2000s. The UN peacekeeping mission in the region, MONUSCO, has faced criticism for its perceived failure to prevent conflicts in the country.


CJEU: Court Rejected Actions Filed Against the Council’s Restrictive Measures

On 6 September 2023, the General Court of the European Union dismissed the actions brought by Mr Dmitry Alexandrovich Pumpyanskiy and Ms Galina Evgenyevna Pumpyanskaya against restrictive measures imposed by the Council in response to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Mr Pumpyanskiy, though not directly involved in military actions, is connected to economic sectors that generate significant revenue for the Russian Federation government. Since Russia’s war against Ukraine began in 2022, the Council has placed individuals supporting or benefiting from the Russian government on restrictive measures lists. The Court upheld the decision to include Mr Pumpyanskiy and Ms Pumpyanskaya on the restrictive measures list. It found that the evidence supported Mr Pumpyanskiy’s classification as a leading business person in the oil and gas industry, which provides substantial revenue to the Russian government. Additionally, Ms Pumpyanskaya’s inclusion was justified due to her family and business connections with her husband and their respective roles within certain organisations. The Court rejected claims that including their names on the lists constituted an unjustified and disproportionate limitation of their fundamental rights, including the right to privacy, family life, and home.


ICC: Hungary Provided Voluntary Contribution to ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims

On 7 September 2023, Hungary made a voluntary contribution of EUR 10 000 to the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This contribution will be used to assist victims of crimes under the Rome Statute, including reparations awarded by the ICC and other victim-focused programs. Hungary’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, H.E. András Kocsis, highlighted the importance of addressing the rights and needs of victims in achieving reconciliation and lasting peace. Hungary has been a continuous supporter of the TFV since 2012, emphasising its commitment to the work and activities of the Trust Fund. The TFV relies on financial contributions to carry out its programmes, and unrestricted voluntary contributions like Hungary’s help provide flexibility in resource allocation for maximum impact. Since 2004, the TFV has received over EUR 47 million from 52 States Parties and individuals. In 2022, it received more than EUR 3.8 million in voluntary contributions. The TFV utilises these contributions to implement reparation programs for victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes in various cases.


Mexico: Supreme Court Decriminalised Abortion Nationwide

On 7 September 2023, Mexico’s Supreme Court made a ruling decriminalising abortion nationwide, extending a ruling initially made in the state of Coahuila two years ago. This landmark decision legalises abortion in all 32 states of Mexico, citing the violation of women’s human rights when denied access to the procedure. The ruling allows the federal healthcare system to provide abortions and has been welcomed by women’s rights groups. While Mexico City had already decriminalised abortion in 2007, access remained limited, partly due to a lack of awareness. The decision is likely to face opposition from conservative politicians and the Catholic Church, but it reflects a broader trend in Latin America toward relaxing abortion restrictions, contrasting with recent developments in the United States where abortion rights have faced challenges.


USA: Appeal Filed Before the Supreme Court to Overturn Restrictions on Mail-Order Abortion Medication

On 8 September 2023, an appeal was filed before the Supreme Court by an abortion drug manufacturer, Danco Laboratories, in a significant abortion-related case involving access to the drug mifepristone, the most common method of abortion in the United States. Danco Laboratories filed an appeal arguing that federal judges should not question the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of the drug or the conditions for its dispensing. The FDA’s approval of mifepristone has undergone changes over the years, including allowing it to be sent through the mail and reducing the required dosage for ending a pregnancy. A federal appeals court ruling in August sought to revoke approval for sending the drug through the mail and shorten the time during which mifepristone can be used in pregnancy from the current ten weeks to seven weeks. The Supreme Court had previously intervened in the case to ensure the availability of mifepristone while the legal challenges continued. It is widely expected that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case and make the final decision, which could occur by early summer 2024, amid ongoing presidential and congressional campaigns. This case marks the first major abortion dispute since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade last year, leading to abortion bans at various stages of pregnancy in multiple states.


CAR: Former Rebel Leader Abdoulaye Hissene Charged with Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes

On 8 September 2023, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in the Central African Republic (CAR), which operates with the backing of the United Nations, has formally accused former rebel leader Abdoulaye Hissene of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. These charges stem from Hissene’s alleged involvement in a turbulent period of CAR’s history, characterised by a violent sectarian conflict that erupted when Seleka rebels, predominantly comprising Muslims, ousted President Francois Bozize in early 2013. Hissene, formerly the military chief of the FPRC faction within the Seleka rebellion, left the armed movement in 2022 during reconciliation talks initiated by President Faustin-Archange Touadera. The SCC accuses him of committing multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes in 2017 as the leader of the FRPC, leading to his United Nations sanctions in 2017. Additionally, Hissene’s connections to Maxime Mokom, another former rebel group leader, are under scrutiny. These charges against Hissene represent a significant step toward justice and accountability in a country that has faced long-standing conflict and instability.



OCHA: Increased Hostilities and Armed Clashes Kill 54 in Northern Syria 

On 4 September 2023, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Syria stated that since 27 August 2023, there has been a significant increase in hostilities in Deir-ez-Zor Governorate, with spill-over effects into Al-Hasakeh and Aleppo Governorates due to heightened frontline activity and ongoing armed clashes. The situation has resulted in the reported deaths of at least 54 civilians, including four children, though exact numbers remain unconfirmed. The intense armed escalations have damaged, destroyed, vandalised or looted critical public infrastructure, including hospitals and water treatment facilities, posing serious risks to civilian access to essential services like food, electricity, and healthcare. Displacement movements have been observed in various areas within Deir-ez-Zor, with people seeking refuge in nearby villages and towns while others have fled across the Euphrates River to Al-Mayadeen. In Aleppo, families in villages near the Euphrates Shield frontline have been displaced to Menbij and Kobani. The primary humanitarian concern is the urgent scaling up of emergency assistance and coordination. Humanitarian organisations are working on a contingency plan for Deir-ez-Zor, and there may be a need for temporary shelter, drinking water, and food aid. 


UNHCR: Sudan Refugee Response Plan Revised and Extended to the End of the Year

On 4 September 2023, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that since the onset of the devastating conflict in Sudan in mid-April 2023, displacement within Sudan and neighbouring countries has surged. They added that by the end of August, around 3.6 million people were internally displaced within Sudan, and more than 1 million refugees, returnees, and third-country nationals sought refuge in neighbouring nations such as the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. The Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP) for Sudan, revised in August 2023, extends its duration through the year’s end. It now anticipates hosting 1.8 million refugees, returnees, and third-country nationals, with financial requirements rising from USD 556 million to USD 1.005 billion. These increases are due to the prolonged crisis, higher expected arrivals in some nations (especially South Sudan and Chad), the involvement of new partners, and varying needs among affected populations. The conflict in Sudan has continued relentlessly, hampering humanitarian access. Healthcare facilities have been attacked, medical supplies are scarce, and humanitarian assets are regularly plundered. This has led to shortages of food, water, fuel, and basic goods, along with limited access to essential services. The inter-agency RRP seeks to support host countries in coordinating and leading the response, emphasising a needs-based approach and collaboration among stakeholders.


UN: Commission Reports Ongoing War Crimes in Ukraine and Highlights Challenges in Justice and Reparations

On 4 September 2023, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine reported ongoing violations by Russian armed forces, including war crimes such as wilful killings, torture, and rape. Commission Chair Erik Møse highlighted these disturbing patterns during a visit to Kyiv. The Ukrainian legal system faces significant challenges in providing accountability and justice for victims and ensuring comprehensive redress for survivors. The Commission, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate violations since Russia’s full-scale invasion, emphasised the importance of reparations initiatives designed in consultation with victims. These programs should be separate from but coordinated with national reconstruction and property restitution efforts. Urgent mental health and psychosocial support for victims also remains a challenge. The Commission’s previous report in August found widespread and systematic torture by Russian authorities, potentially amounting to crimes against humanity. It also noted a pattern of summary executions in areas near the frontlines. Further to this, attacks on Ukrainian ports have raised concerns about global food security, impacting farmers and families worldwide dealing with rising food costs.


Israel: Netanyahu Wants “Infiltrators” Out of Israel After Clashes at Eritrean Embassy in Tel Aviv

On 4 September 2023, Al Jazeera reported on the clashes that erupted on 3 September 2023 in Israel involving Eritreans, some supporting their government and others opposing it, resulting in over 100 injuries, including dozens of police officers. The fighting began during an event at the Eritrean embassy in Israel marking 30 years of independence under President Isaias Afwerki’s rule; however, critics saw this as celebrating a dictator’s reign and it led to protests. Afwerki, in power for over 30 years, has never held elections, suppressed freedom of expression, and enforced mandatory military service and forced labour. Eritreans have been fleeing these conditions, with many seeking refuge in Israel, where around 25 000 African refugees reside, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea. However, Israel recognises very few as legitimate asylum seekers and considers most economic migrants. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident and convened a ministerial team to address “illegal infiltrators.” He announced his intention to expel all African migrants, though international law prohibits forcibly returning individuals to places where their safety is at risk. Netanyahu’s government had previously attempted various methods to compel asylum seekers to leave, leading to criticism and political divisions within Israel.


Morocco: Protests Follow Deadly Shooting of Tourists by Algerian Coastguards

On 4 September 2023, Morocco’s National Council for Human Rights strongly condemned the shooting of Moroccan tourists at sea by Algerian coastguards, which resulted in at least two deaths. The deadly confrontation has escalated tensions between Morocco and Algeria. Activists gathered outside the country’s parliament headquarters in Rabat, denouncing “the Algerian military regime” and demanding accountability. The North African neighbours, who lack diplomatic relations and have a closed maritime border since the 1990s due to disputes, particularly over Western Sahara, rarely experience such deadly confrontations at sea. Moroccan media reports suggest that two vacationers were killed in Algeria, including a French-Moroccan and a Moroccan resident of France. The Algerian defence ministry cited the increased activity of drug traffickers and organised crime in the region as reasons for the coastguard’s actions. Moroccan officials have initiated an investigation into the incident, and there are discussions about the possibility of filing international lawsuits against Algerian army leaders.


UNHCR: Conditions at South Sudan Border Continue to Deteriorate Due to Overcrowding in Transit Centres for Refugees

On 6 September 2023, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported that people fleeing violent conflict in Sudan are crossing into South Sudan at the Joda border point in Upper Nile State. The agency reported that more people are arriving at the transit centre set up by it in Renk. The transit centre was originally built to accommodate 3 000 people, but more than 8 000 people live in and around it. Jimmy Owgang, UNHCR’s Associate Field Officer in Renk, highlighted that more shelters were required to be built and stated that rains have further complicated the efforts to help people leave the transit centres and reach their homes. During his recent visit to South Sudan, Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees observed the plight of the people fleeing the crisis in Sudan, calling for more support. One million people have fled to neighbouring countries as the conflict has entered its fourth month, and the number of people fleeing will reach more than 1.8 million by the end of the year, further increasing funding needs to over $1 billion. 


UNICEF: Children Constitute 25 Percent of the Migrants Making Perilous Journeys Across Latin America and the Caribbean

On 7 September 2023, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that children on the move through Latin America and the Caribbean due to gang violence, instability, poverty and climate constituted 25 percent of the migrants. Garry Conille, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Director, highlighted that as more and more children are on the move, they remain at the risk of family separation and abuse.  At least 29 000 children have crossed along the Darien jungle route alone in 2021, while 40 000 in the past year. More than 60 000 children have made the trek in the first eight months of 2023, with half of the children under five. UNICEF has highlighted that the root cause of the crisis is widespread poverty, food insecurity and structural inequalities. Migrant children also continue to face physical risks, as in 2022 alone, 92 migrant children died or went missing because of natural hazards, violence and exploitation. UNICEF has appealed for $160.5 million to meet the humanitarian needs of refugees and migrant children in several parts of Latin America and the Caribbean and $142.3 million to support children and families on the migration route across Central America and Mexico in 2023. Mr Conille urged that a “stronger humanitarian response” was required to address the child migration crisis across Latin America and the Caribbean.



Ethiopia: Federal Troops Accused of Atrocities in their Hunt for Fano Militiamen

On 8 September 2023, the Guardian reported that Ethiopian soldiers had killed more than 70 civilians and looted properties in the Amhara region after the Ethiopian troops occupied the rural town of Majete on 3 September. The killings occurred after two weeks of fighting between federal soldiers and the Fano, an Amhara militia. The fighting between the two groups emerged last month when Abiy Ahmed, their prime minister, announced dismantling the regional paramilitary forces and absorbing them into the national army. Furthermore, a state of emergency has also been declared by the government in the region since 4 August. According to witnesses, the Ethiopian troops have conducted random house-to-house searches and also looted property in the region. Other survivors have shared similar testimonies of federal soldiers, highlighting that the soldiers threatened them to give information about the Fano and accused them of hiding fighters and weapons in their homes. Marta Hurtado, a spokesperson for the UN commissioner of human rights, had also expressed concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in Amhara since early August, calling upon all actors to stop killings and other violations. 


Belarus: Presidential Decree Restricts Belarusian Citizens from Obtaining or Renewing Identification Documents Abroad

On 8 September 2023, Belarus issued a presidential decree denying its citizens the ability to obtain or renew passports and identification documents at Belarusian consulates abroad. This move could leave thousands of exiled Belarusians without valid identification documents abroad, or at risk of politically motivated prosecution if they have to return to Belarus for document processing. The decree, signed by President Aliaksander Lukashenka, shifts the responsibility for issuing, replacing, or extending passports and IDs for Belarusians abroad to internal affairs officials, making it necessary for Belarusians to return to the country for such documents. It also restricts certain property transactions to Belarus or through power of attorney issued in Belarus. The decree took effect on September 7, 2023. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised this move, stating that it puts Belarusian citizens abroad at risk of arrest and political prosecution. Over the past three years, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have fled the country due to political repression and persecution, and this new decree further endangers their rights and safety. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a party, states that everyone has the right to leave any country, including their own, and must include the right to obtain necessary travel documents.


Mali: Amid Growing Islamist Threat, Mali Jihadists Kill Dozen in Twin Attacks Intensifying Insecurity Across the Region

On 8 September 2023, it was reported that at least 64 people were killed in twin attacks on an army base and a crowded passenger boat on the Niger River in northern Mali by al-Qaeda-linked militants. According to a statement released by the government, extremists from Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) targeted the Timbuktu boat on the Niger River and an army position at Bamba in the Northern Gao region. The statement highlighted that 49 civilians and 15 soldiers had been killed. The killings had been “claimed” by JNIM, formed from a series of local al-Qaeda affiliates six years ago. According to the vessel operator, Comanav, the boat had been targeted by at least three rockets aimed at its engine, and it is unclear what form the attack on the passenger boat took. The current attack occurred after another al-Qaeda faction, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), had announced last month that it was blockading Timbuktu. 


UN: “So-Called Referendums” By Russia in Ukraine an “Illegal Attempt” to Annex Occupied Areas

On 8 September 2023, Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General of Europe, while briefing the UN Security Council (UNSC), reiterated the UN Secretary-General’s position that “any annexation of a State’s territory by another State” which occurred as a result of the use of force would constitute a violation of principles of the UN Charter and international law. He further expressed his concerns about the so-called elections being held by Russia in occupied areas of Ukraine, highlighting that they “have no legal grounds”. He further highlighted that Russia’s attempt to annex Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions of Ukraine by the “so-called referendums” is “illegal”. He also reiterated that Russia, as an occupying power, was under the obligation to respect international humanitarian law.  He also expressed his concerns over the humanitarian situation in the Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine, highlighting that Russian airstrikes directed against civilians continue to affect civilian infrastructure and objects necessary for food production and distribution in the region.


Morocco: Deadly Magnitude 6.8 Earthquake Kills More than 2000 People

On 8 September 2023, a powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck Morocco, causing widespread devastation. Over 2 000 people died, while more than 2 000 others were injured. The earthquake’s epicentre was located in the High Atlas Mountains, some 71 km southwest of the historic city of Marrakech. These areas are still being scoured for potential survivors by the emergency services and troops. Morocco declared three days of national mourning in response to this deadly earthquake, one of the most severe in decades. Reports indicate significant damage to houses in villages like Asni near the epicentre, with residents working tirelessly to rescue those trapped under debris. The Moroccan government and armed forces are actively involved in providing assistance and assessing the damage. Secretary-General António Guterres expressed the United Nations’ readiness to assist the government in any way needed to aid those impacted.



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