Weekly News Recap (11-17 September 2023)

© Photo by Parolan Harahap via Flickr




Israel: Supreme Court Holds a Hearing on the Controversial Judicial Reform

On 11 September 2023, the Israeli Supreme Court held a hearing regarding the judicial reform proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The reform which has sparked controversy and unrest in the country, seeks to restrict the authority of the Supreme Court to assess the constitutionality of laws passed by the Knesset, which some fear would give excessive power to the government. If successful, the proposed judicial reform would eliminate the “reasonable standard”, which would make it impossible for the courts to block the actions of the government by using the “reasonable standard” test. The decision of the court has not been made public yet.


Hong Kong: Protester Sentenced to Prison For His Role in the 2019 National Day Protests

On 11 September 2023, a Hong Kong court sentenced a protester to four years in prison for rioting and preventing the course of justice. Fung Ching-wah was arrested during the National Day protests in Tsuen Wan in 2019 and was released on bail after rioting charges were brought against him. He was told to report to a police station twice a week, but by 2020 Fung disappeared, leading to an arrest warrant against him being issued. He was arrested by the police attempting to flee from Hong Kong to Taiwan this year. Fung pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him, but a judge reduced the sentencing by one-fifth instead of one-third due to Fung’s attempt to escape. The sentencing comes at a time of a series of convictions related to the 2019 Hong Kong protests. The 2019 Hong Kong protests were sparked by the Hong Kong extradition bill, which proposed allowing the transfer of fugitives from Hong Kong to jurisdictions lacking an extradition agreement with Hong Kong, such as mainland China. After a series of massive protests during the summer, the bill was subsequently withdrawn by former Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on 4 September 2019.


Bosnia and Herzegovina: Five Former Bosnian Serb Army Commanders and Soldiers Arrested for Srebrenica Genocide

On 12 September 2023, five former Bosnian Serb Army commanders and soldiers were arrested on genocide charges for their role in the Srebrenica Genocide. Arrests were made in Zvornik, Sekovici, Han Pijesak, Vlasenica, and Bileca. The suspects are accused of participating in the capture and murder of around 70 Bosniak men and boys, including a woman during the events that took place in July 1995. According to the State Investigation and Protection Agency, the suspects also organised the removal of the victims’ bodies. Around 7 000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys were killed by the Bosnian Serb Army during the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995.


Kenya: Supreme Court Reaffirms the Right to Freedom of Association for LGBTQIA+ Community

On 14 September 2023, the Supreme Court of Kenya upheld its previous decision asserting that the LGBTQIA+ community has the freedom to associate and form associations. The case stemmed after an application by a High Court advocate asking for the review and setting aside a previous judgment that deemed the refusal of the NGO Coordination Board to register the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGHLRC) as an organisation discriminatory and unconstitutional. The application was dismissed and the right to freedom of association reaffirmed the right to freedom of association and assembly of the LGBTQIA+ community. Homosexuality is penalised under the Kenyan penal code and the decision is an important one upholding LGBTQIA+ rights at a time when legislative proposals have been put forward to make homosexuality punishable by ten years in prison and even death.


USA: Hunter Biden’s Legal Troubles Intensify with Firearms Possession Charges

On 14 September 2023, Prosecutors brought charges against the son of US President Biden accusing him of false statements regarding drug use to acquire a firearm in 2018. According to an indictment filed in the Delaware federal court, Hunter Biden is facing three criminal counts related to firearms possession. US Special Counsel David Weiss had filed an indictment against Hunter following the breakdown of an earlier agreement. This previous deal involved Hunter admitting guilt for two misdemeanour tax charges and enrolling in a programme to evade prosecution for a gun-related charge. However, this arrangement collapsed in July. The indictment comes after an impeachment inquiry announced by the representatives of the Republican Party stemming from concerns and allegations about Biden’s son’s business dealings. The indictment is expected to spark controversies during the 2024 US Presidential election where President Biden will seek re-election in a likely rematch with the former President Donald Trump who is also facing criminal charges filed against him in several separate cases.


Brazil: Bolsonaro’s Supporter Sentenced to 17 Years in Prison

On 14 September 2023, the Supreme Court of Brazil sentenced a Bolsonaro supporter to a 17-year prison sentence for storming state institutions in Brasilia in January 2023 on charges of violent uprising and attempted coup. The defendant joined the mob attack on state institutions by the supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro. The defendant was found guilty on charges including armed criminal association, damage to historic buildings and attempted coup. The riot occurred after Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat to current President Lula da Silva and the conviction marks the first one related to the January events, sending a strong message against attempts to undermine democracy. Bolsonaro, who is considered responsible for the riot, is banned from holding public office until 2030 by the highest electoral court for spreading false claims about the country’s electoral system.


USA: Supreme Court Freezes Injunction in Biden’s Social Media Collaboration Case

On 14 September 2023, the US Supreme Court temporarily froze an injunction that had limited the collaboration of Biden’s administration with social media platforms to remove false and misleading content. The case alleges that Biden officials pressured tech companies to suppress free speech under the pretext of combating COVID-19 misinformation. Lower courts upheld the allegations contending that Biden’s administration coerced social media companies into content moderation decisions. The outcome of the lawsuit will determine the extent of cooperation between the government and social media during national crises, and weigh the fight against misinformation on one hand and free speech on the other hand. The government had appealed to the Supreme Court and it temporarily halted the injunction allowing time for a formal appeal. The case is a significant one with implications for rights in the digital age.



Myanmar: Amidst Escalating War Crimes, Civilians Continue to be Affected by Brazen Military Attacks

On 11 September 2023, Nicholas Koumjian, head of the UN-appointed Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), highlighted that the “frequency and intensity” of war crimes and crimes against humanity was at an all-time high.  He also highlighted that “brazen aerial bombings and indiscriminate shelling” were occurring continuously, killing civilians, including children. He also highlighted the lack of due process and accountability for war crimes, especially within the Myanmar military. Further, he highlighted the challenges that were being faced by the investigative mechanism in having access to Myanmar as their requests continued to be denied by military authorities in the region. The mechanism has collected “compelling evidence of the widespread burning of Rohingya villages and the assaults and killings of civilians,” according to Mr Koumjian. 10 000 Rohingyas are believed to have been killed, with more than 300 villages being burnt. At the same time, 700 000 have been forced to flee to Bangladesh. 


Sri Lanka: Political and Democratic Standstill as Country Slowly Starts Recovering from the Deep Economic Crisis of 2022

On 11 September 2023, Nada-Al Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged the Sri Lankan authorities to expedite their investigations and prosecution into the cases of human rights violations, especially the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings. She further noted that the investigations should comply with international human rights standards while making repeated calls to the authorities to establish an independent probe into the incident, which left 269 people dead and 500 injured. She also stressed that as the country was reeling from an economic crisis, “poor and marginalised communities” continued to be affected the most by it. She also noted that another 2.5 million people have been impoverished between 2021 and 2022, while 37 per cent of households face acute food insecurity. The deteriorating economy has further led to tensions in the region. It has further sparked land acquisition issues in the country’s north and east for expanding military installations. The UN deputy rights chief also noted that political and democratic reforms had hit a standstill despite protests calling for change.


DRC: Amnesty International Report Lists Negative Effects on Human Rights as a Result of Multinational Mining Activities

On 12 September 2023, Amnesty International and a DRC-based organisation published a report on the effects of the expansion of industrial-scale mining for cobalt and copper on human rights. According to the report, the mining of cobalt and copper which are essential components of rechargeable batteries, has resulted in forced evictions and human rights abuses including sexual assault. The report highlights how multinational mining activities have affected the lives of communities including their displacement from their home and farmlands. Amnesty International’s secretary general pointed out the severe damage these forced evictions have brought to the people’s lives and stressed the importance of climate justice and “just transition” in the global decarbonisation effort, which should not come at the expense of human rights. DRC holds the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and the seventh largest reserve of copper which are essential for lithium-ion batteries; however, DRC remains one of the five poorest nations in the world according to the World Bank.



Libya: Devastating Flooding Leaves Thousands Dead 

On 12 September 2023, the latest figures highlighted that more than 5 000 people could be dead, while 10 000 are still missing in the devastating floods triggered by Hurricane Daniel, which hit the eastern parts of Libya on the weekend. Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, expressed his condolences to those affected by the disaster. He also stated that UN teams in the region were responding to the crisis while highlighting that resources and emergency teams were being mobilised to provide aid and support to the people affected. According to the World Metrological Organisation, two dams burst during heavy storms, which swept entire neighbourhoods in the city of Derna into the sea. Margaret Harris, Spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), labelled the flooding of “epic proportions” while adding that up to 1.8 million people have been affected. Further, some hospitals have also been wiped out in the region. 


WFP: 41 Per Cent Drop in Funding Leads to Drastic Ration Cuts Globally, Putting 24 Million People at Risk of Hunger 

On 12 September 2023, Arif Husain, chief economist for the World Food Programme (WFP), highlighted that the agency was facing a 60 per cent funding gap as contributions continued to decline. According to the latest analysis, every one per cent cut in food assurance would push 400 000 people into emergency hunger. According to WFP, 345 million people are already suffering from acute food insecurity, out of which 40 million are facing emergency levels of hunger and are at risk of dying. The ration cuts have already been felt across many of the 79 WFP operations globally, due to which 10 million people in Afghanistan have lost support from the agency. Due to the continuous ration cuts, the agency will only be able to support three million people across Afghanistan from October.  While in Syria, the agency cut all the rations by half in July, when 5.5 million people who were dependent on WFP were already living on 50 per cent rations. WFP had reached 160 million people last year, where the funding was 41 per cent more than what is currently required for this year. Amidst economic shocks, conflicts, and climate extremes, 783 million people worldwide are uncertain about their next meal.


UNHCR: Four Million Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants Continue to Struggle Having Access to Basic Needs

On 12 September 2023, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported that four million refugees and migrants from Venezuela continue to face difficulties in having access to food, shelter, healthcare, education and formal employment in Latin America and the Caribbean. The latest Refugee and Migrant Needs Analysis (RMNA) for 2023 highlights that many Venezuelan migrants and refugees lack stable livelihood opportunities, making it difficult to integrate within host communities. The report also finds that approximately 19 per cent of refugee and migrant children are out of school and are instead helping their families with underpaid jobs. Even though 60 per cent of Venezuelan refugees and migrants are documented, they still have inadequate access to basic rights. Dr Eduardo Stein, the Joint Special Representative of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela, urged that the documentation initiatives be implemented to provide a dignified life for Venezuelan families. With regularisation and documentation efforts having bore positive results, one-third of Venezuelan refugees and migrants continue to be unable to regularise their status and, as a result, unable to support their families. As of August 2023, there are more than 7.7 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide. Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V), has requested $ 1.72 billion for the Reginal Refugee and Response Plan, which has only been funded 12 per cent until now. 


EU: European Parliament Resolution Called for ICC to Issue an Arrest Warrant Against Lukashenko

On 13 September 2023, the European Parliament passed a resolution formally designating Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko as an accomplice to Russia’s action in Ukraine. The resolution accuses Lukashenko of enabling and facilitating Russia’s unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine and for directly participating in the illegal deportation of children, including to Belarusian territory. The resolution calls for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant against Lukashenko whose actions could be considered a ‘deportation or forcible transfer of population’ as a crime against humanity, or even as amounting to genocide for ‘forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’ under Article II(e) of the Genocide Convention. The resolution states that Lukashenko is responsible for the transfer to Belarus of over 2 150 Ukrainian children, including orphans, where they undergo Russification and ideological indoctrination.




Iran: Draft Bill Could Imprison Women Up to 10 Years for Not Wearing Hijab

On 13 September 2023, the Guardian reported that the draft law on hijab is awaiting approval by authorities. It states that women in Iran could face a sentence of up to ten years in prison if they continue to defy the hijab and chastity bill. Even businesses serving women without a hijab face being shut down. According to Hossein Raeesi, the punishment prescribed in the draft law is comparable to those for serious offences like murder and drug trafficking.  UN experts say the stricter dress code amounts to “gender apartheid”. The draft also widens “gender segregation” in universities, hospitals, parks and workplaces. UN Human Rights Council-appointed experts further state that the law is an attempt towards “suppressing women and girls into total submission”. According to the organisation Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), the new law was being reviewed by Iran’s Guardian Council. This powerful body reviews legislation and the bill’s provisions to ensure it complies with Islamic law. The organisation further stated that once the bill is endorsed, it would be returned to the parliament and could come into force as early as October.


Ukraine: Continuous Attacks by Russia on Ukrainian Ports Condemned by UN Humanitarian Chief in Ukraine

On 13 September 2023, Denise Brown, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, highlighted in a statement that “one attack every other day” has hit port and grain facilities in Ukraine. The statement comes after a Russian drone attack damaged infrastructure at Ukrainian grain-exporting facilities on the Danube River, which injured six people. According to Ukrainian officials, grain warehouses, oil storage tanks and administrative buildings were destroyed in the attack. Ms Brown added that Russia’s strike was the “21st of such attacks since Russia’s decision to terminate the Black Sea Initiative less than two months ago”. She further warned that Russia’s pattern of attacks was “catastrophic” for the Ukrainians and the 345 million people already suffering from hunger. 


Libya: As Floods Affect Thousands, Flash Appeal Launched to Provide Aid for 250 000 Libyans

On 14 September 2023, Michele Servadei, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), highlighted that the situation in Libya was “terrible”. He stated that the agency has sent medical kits and supplies for 10 000 people along with 1 100 hygiene kits. He urged that psychosocial support was also needed for the displaced and those “who are in shelters” or stranded. An urgent appeal was issued by the UN Humanitarian Aid Coordination Office (OCHA) for $ 71.4 million to respond to the needs of 250 000 people who have been affected by the devastating flooding over the next three months. The agency has estimated that more than 880 000 people in five provinces are living in areas directly affected by the floods. The UN World Food Programme has delivered food aid to more than 5 000 families in the region. It plans to provide monthly food assistance for the next three months through its emergency operation to 100 000 people in the flood-affected areas. 


Burkina Faso: Quarter of Schools Close Due to Intensifying Violence, Impacting One Million Children

On 14 September 2023, the Guardian reported that according to a new report, a quarter of schools are now closed in Burkina Faso as violence has intensified in the region. The report highlighted that one million students had been affected by the school closures, and the number of school closures has risen by a third over the past year to 6 149. The report was launched on 13 September 2023 by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and UN agencies, highlighting that Burkina Faso accounted for half of the 13 200 school closures because of violence and insecurity in central and west Africa. Dr John Agbor, Burkina Faso country director for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), warned that with children out of school, they are more likely to be “forced to work, to be recruited into armed groups, or to be victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, gender-based violence or early marriage”. Anika Krstic, NRC country director for Burkina Faso, highlighted that conditions in the schools that remain open were poor, with only a few teachers left. Felicité Tchibindat, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, urged that protecting schools from threats and violence was the first step in “breaking the cycle of crisis and reducing the likelihood of future conflicts”.


Iran: In Response to the Country’s Non-Compliance, Britain, France and Germany Uphold Nuclear Sanctions

On 14 September 2023, Al-Jazeera reported that Britain, France and Germany, the three European allies, also known as E3, announced that they would keep the sanctions on Iran in relation to the country’s atomic programme and its development of ballistic missiles. The measures which were to expire on October 18 under the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers would be renewed. The E3, in a joint statement, said that they would retain their sanctions as a “direct response to Iran’s consistent and severe non-compliance” with the accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The sanctions imposed by the JCPOA ban Iran from developing ballistic missiles that are capable of delivering nuclear weapons and also bar anyone from buying, selling or transferring drones and missiles to and from Iran. Iran has violated those sanctions by developing and testing missiles and sending drones to Russia for its war on Ukraine. According to the E3, the sanctions would remain in place until Iran fully complies with the deal.


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