Weekly News Recap (18-24 September 2023)

© Photo by Victor R. Ruiz via Flickr




ICJ: Court Extends Deadline for Filing of Rejoinder of USA in the Case Concerning Alleged Violations of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights

On 18 September 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the extension of the time limit for the filing of the Rejoinder of the United States of America in the case concerning Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America). The time limit has been extended to 15 December 2023. This ongoing legal case involves claims of treaty violations between Iran and the United States. The Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights was signed in Tehran in 1955 and took effect in 1957. The court issued an order allowing Iran to submit a reply and the United States to submit a rejoinder by 21 November 2022 and 21 September 2023, respectively. Later, these deadlines were extended to 21 December 2022 and 23 October 2023, respectively. Iran submitted its reply within the extended deadline. On 5 September 2023, the United States requested a three-month extension, until 15 January 2024, for filing its rejoinder. This request was made due to the complexity of Iran’s reply. Iran’s co-agent expressed opposition to the United States’ request. Iran’s reply mainly described the United States’ actions and their impacts on Iran, its companies, and its citizens.


ICJ: Court Revised Schedule for the Oral Observations of the Intervening States in Ukraine v. Russian Federation Genocide Case

On 19 September 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) revised the schedule for the 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), which opened on Monday 18 September 2023. The revisions affect only the schedule for 20 September 2023. The changes to the original schedule reflect the time and sequence of observations of the intervening States in this case. 


Switzerland: Trial Commences for Ex-Belarusian Official Accused of Enforced Disappearances

On 19 September 2023, the trial against Yuri Harauski, a former member of Belarus’s Interior Ministry’s SOBR special unit, who has been residing in Switzerland since 2018 or 2019, commenced in the canton St. Gallen district court in Rorschach under the principle of universal jurisdiction. He is accused of participating in the kidnapping and murders of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharenko, former Deputy Prime Minister Viktar Gonchar, and businessman Anatoly Krasouski, all of whom became pro-democracy activists and vocal opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko. Harauski confessed to his involvement in the enforced disappearances of three opposition figures in 1999. His confession came during an interview with Deutsche Welle in 2019, where he provided extensive details about the kidnappings and killings. The case is considered groundbreaking as it is the first time a Belarusian national stands trial for enforced disappearance under universal jurisdiction. It also marks the first application of Article 185bis of the Swiss Criminal Code, introduced in 2017 after Switzerland signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. If convicted, Harauski faces a possible sentence of one to 20 years.


ICJ: Court Grants Permission for Inclusion of the Environmental Groups in Climate Change Advisory Proceedings

On 20 September 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) granted authorisation to the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), and the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) to participate in advisory proceedings concerning the obligations of states regarding climate change. This decision was made based on Article 66 of the Court’s Statute, which suggests that these organisations can provide valuable information on the questions posed by the General Assembly. Each of these organisations will be allowed to submit written statements addressing these questions and provide written comments on statements made by states or other organisations. The deadlines for these submissions have been set by the President of the ICJ as 22 January 2024 and 22 April 2024, respectively. Further procedural details will be determined in due course.


Scotland: UK Government’s Veto of Scottish Gender Recognition Reforms Ruled Unlawful

On 20 September 2023, the United Kingdom (UK) government’s decision to block Scottish gender recognition reforms was deemed unlawful by the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The Scottish government is now seeking to overturn this veto at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The case revolves around the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which aims to allow individuals in Scotland to self-identify their gender. However, the UK government has expressed concerns about the potential impact of the legislation on equality laws that apply across Britain. This legal dispute centres on whether the UK government has the authority to block the bill. The court hearings are expected to last several days, and the outcome could ultimately be appealed to the UK Supreme Court in London. Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain, argued that the use of a Section 35 Order by Downing Street was unlawful since the conditions required for its application had not been met. She emphasised that the case does not concern the merits of the bill but rather the legality of the UK government’s intervention, which could set a precedent for vetoing Scottish Parliament acts on policy grounds. This approach, if successful, would contradict the purpose of the Scotland Act. The proposed reforms would streamline the gender recognition process, making it easier for individuals to change their gender identity, which the UK government believes could lead to fraudulent applications and concerns about safety in sex-segregated settings.


Brazil: Supreme Court Rejects ‘Time Frame’ Argument, Upholds Indigenous Rights

On 22 September 2023, Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of Indigenous rights by rejecting the controversial “marco temporal” or “time frame” argument. This legal stance, supported by businesses and farmers, aimed to impose a time limit on claims to ancestral territory, requiring Indigenous groups to prove their presence on the land in question in 1988 when Brazil’s current constitution was ratified to assert their territorial rights. Nine out of the eleven Supreme Court justices voted against the “marco temporal” argument, a decision widely celebrated by Indigenous communities, human rights organisations, and global experts. Critics of the policy had argued that it could effectively legitimise the seizure of Indigenous lands. The ruling is seen as a significant victory for Indigenous groups and has profound implications for Brazil’s Bill 490, a piece of legislation seeking to limit the creation of new Indigenous reservations. This decision underscores Brazil’s ongoing struggle between economic interests and Indigenous rights.


USA: Military Judge Declares 9/11 Defendant Unfit for Trial at Guantanamo Bay

On 22 September 2023, a US military judge at Guantanamo Bay declared Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a 9/11 attacks case defendant, unfit for trial due to enduring abuse, rendering him permanently psychotic. Consequently, his four co-defendants will face prosecution without him while he remains in custody. Colonel Matthew McCall issued the ruling late on Thursday. Pre-trial hearings for the remaining defendants resumed on Friday at Guantanamo, the US naval base in Cuba. Al-Shibh, originally from Yemen, is accused of organising one cell of the 9/11 hijackers. The ruling followed a military medical panel’s diagnosis of al-Shibh with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and secondary psychosis, attributed to his torture and solitary confinement during four years in CIA custody. His defence asserted that al-Shibh’s inability to participate meaningfully in his defence was a result of this treatment. Calls for physical and psychological care have been made for the enduring effects of the torture on all 9/11 co-defendants. The 9/11 attacks and their consequences significantly impacted world events, leading to military interventions, CIA detention programs, and the establishment of Guantanamo’s special prison and military commission.


China: Uighur Scholar Rahile Dawut Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

On 23 September 2023, it was disclosed that Rahile Dawut, a renowned Uighur scholar specialising in Uighur folklore and traditions, was sentenced to life imprisonment.  According to the San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, she was convicted of endangering state security in a secret trial in December 2018. Despite her appeal, the conviction was upheld. Dawut, formerly a professor at Xinjiang University and founder of its Ethnic Minorities Folklore Research Centre, disappeared in late 2017 during a government crackdown on the Uighur population in Xinjiang. Chinese authorities had not disclosed her whereabouts or charges until a recent document confirmed her life sentence. Further, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on her case.



Ethiopia: Grave Atrocities Continue in the Ethiopian Conflict, Report Highlights Mass Killings and War Crimes

On 18 September 2023, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts released a report exposing grave atrocities in the Ethiopian conflict since 3 November 2020. The report detailed mass killings, sexual violence, starvation, infrastructure destruction, forced displacement, and arbitrary detentions by all parties involved. Commission Chair Mohamed Chande Othman expressed deep concern, highlighting escalating violence at a near-national scale and alarming reports in the Amhara region. Ethiopia faces persistent violations, entrenched impunity, and increasing state militarisation, posing risks of further atrocities. In the Amhara region, a recent state of emergency led to mass arbitrary detentions and a state-conducted drone strike. Curfews and a militarised “Command Post” system, lacking civilian oversight, worsened the situation. The situation has led to surging humanitarian needs in the region.



Afghanistan: 2.5 Million Girls Remain Affected Due to Ban on Their Secondary Education

On 18 September 2023, Yasmine Sherid, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), stated that denying education to girls was a “violation of universal human rights”. She further highlighted that the de facto authorities should ensure that every girl in the region should have access to education and contribute to rebuilding the war-afflicted country. She further reported that 80 per cent of school-age Afghan girls are currently not in the classroom, highlighting that 2.5 million girls have been “denied the right to safety, protection, opportunity of education”. The ECW has expressed solidarity with girls who have been deprived of their right to education.


Qatar: Five American and Five Iranian Prisoners Freed in a Qatar Mediated Prisoner Exchange

On 18 September 2023, a significant prisoner exchange orchestrated by Qatar took place and involved the release of five American prisoners and five Iranian detainees. The American former detainees arrived in Doha, Qatar, from Tehran before boarding a flight to the United States. In contrast, as reported by Iran’s Press TV, two of the five Iranians released by the US returned to Iran via Qatar. The remaining three Iranian individuals chose not to return to Iran; two opted to stay in the US, while one ventured to another country. The five Iranians were granted clemency by US President Joe Biden, indicating a diplomatic effort to improve relations between the two nations. Nasser Kanani, spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry, mentioned that those who stayed in the US did so due to their established ties there. This agreement also resulted in the release of $6 billion in Iranian assets held in South Korea. Iran’s central bank chief, Mohammad Reza Farzin, confirmed receiving over 5.5 billion euros ($5.9 billion) in accounts located in Qatar, marking a significant development in the thawing of relations and financial transactions between the nations.


UNHCR: Humanitarian Situation Further Compounded by Health Crisis in Sudan, Agencies Warn of 1200 Children Deaths Due to Measles Outbreak

On 19 September 2023, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the crisis in Sudan had caused a health crisis in the region. According to UNHCR, more than 1200 children under the age of five have died in nine camps between 15 May and 14 September this year due to the outbreak of measles in the region and high malnutrition. While 3100 suspected cases have also been reported in the same time period, more than 500 cases of cholera have been reported. In Chad, a recent screening exercise revealed that nearly 13 000 children under the age of five were acutely malnourished, with the number of such children having increased by 56 per cent across the province of Ouddai, where more than 80 per cent of the refugees are being hosted. Both the agencies have continued to provide urgent assistance in and outside Sudan and prevent more deaths due to the crisis in camps in Blue and White Nile states, where 53 000 children under the age of five have been provided measles vaccinations, while two measles vaccination campaigns have already reached 1.2 million children in Chad. 


Iran: Parliament Passes ‘Hijab and Chastity’ Bill Targeting Dress Code Rules

On 20 September 2023, Iran’s parliament passed the “hijab and chastity” bill aimed at enforcing the country’s mandatory dress code rules, with a focus on women’s attire. Lawmakers approved the legislation for a trial period of three years, with 152 votes in favour, 34 against, and seven abstentions. Before the bill can take effect, it must receive approval from the Guardian Council, a significant oversight body composed of clerics and legal experts. The bill was under development for several months and was not subjected to a parliamentary vote when initially approved. Instead, it received the green light from a special committee of 10 lawmakers who invoked an article of the constitution allowing for “experimental” implementation. Unacceptable attire for women is described as “revealing or tight clothing” or garments that expose body parts below the neck, above the ankles, or above the forearms. For men, it includes attire that reveals body parts below the chest, above the ankles, or shoulders. The bill introduces various financial penalties for hijab violations, which could escalate to prison terms if conducted in an organised manner and in connection with foreign entities or individuals. It also places obligations on government, law enforcement, and military organisations to ensure compliance with hijab rules and actively prevent or identify violations.


Azerbaijan: Armenian Forces Accept Russian-Brokered Ceasefire as Azerbaijan Launches Offensive

On 20 September 2023, ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh accepted a Russian-brokered ceasefire proposal, just a day following Azerbaijan’s initiation of an offensive to gain control over the disputed enclave, accompanied by demands for unconditional surrender. Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defence verified the ceasefire agreement, that commenced on Wednesday. President Ilham Aliyev’s office separately confirmed talks with Armenian separatists regarding “reintegration” with Azerbaijan, expressing optimism about peace once Armenian armed forces disarmed and withdrew. Russian peacekeepers in the region are to coordinate the ceasefire’s implementation. The agreement entailed the withdrawal of Armenian army units from Nagorno-Karabakh, with Karabakh fighters surrendering their weapons. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan noted reduced fighting but emphasised Armenia’s lack of involvement in drafting the ceasefire due to the absence of Armenian armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, has an ethnic Armenian majority and a self-governing administration with close ties to Armenia but lacks UN and Armenian recognition. Azerbaijan’s military operation began on Tuesday in response to perceived attacks from Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in significant damage in the regional capital and casualties.


UN: World Leaders Strengthen the Foundation of International Law at UN Treaty Event

On 20 September 2023, global leaders, including Heads of State and Foreign Ministers, gathered at the Treaty Event at UN Headquarters in New York to endorse multilateral treaties, which are a vital component of international legal frameworks. These treaties are considered essential tools for Member States to achieve the objectives of the UN Charter. The success of such multilateral agreements, exemplified by the remarkable turnaround in addressing ozone depletion through the Montreal Protocol, underscores the importance of universal participation in these treaties. In the spotlight this year are two significant treaties: the Convention on the International Effects of Judicial Sales of Ships, focusing on trade and already signed by 15 nations, and the Agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ treaty), aimed at strengthening the legal framework for conserving and sustainably using marine biodiversity in a significant portion of the world’s oceans. Additionally, various treaties related to the environment, human rights, disarmament, and combating transnational organised crime are open for signature. The Treaty Event, established in 2000, leverages the UN General Assembly’s high-level week to garner support from global leaders for multilateral treaties and the rule of law. This initiative has achieved significant success, with over 2 000 treaty actions secured.


Iran: UN Inquiry to Look into Hostage-Taking and Detention of Iranian Dual-Nationals by the Country

On 20 September 2023, the Guardian reported that a UN inquiry into the human rights in Iran would be conducted into the growing detention of Iranian dual nationals and identifying the practice as unlawful state hostage-taking. The inquiry was set up in November 2022 by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and would be overseen by three lawyers and reported in March 2024. The UN inquiry body has been warned by a submission from the Free Nazanin Campaign, which worked for the release of British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, that the authorities are normalising the capture of Iranian dual-national and is being used as diplomatic bargaining chips. The submission also highlights that the detention of Iranian dual citizens has been integral to the country’s human rights abuse. The submission further called for a more significant international response to the situation, highlighting that the hostage-taking increased in 2022, especially in the aftermath of nationwide protests in September 2022. The submission also highlighted that a “terrifying precedent” is being set by Iran, which other countries across the world could replicate by threatening to execute prisoners in return for concessions. 


UNRWA: Palestine Refugees Agency Suffers from Underfunding as Pledges Announced at Meeting Could Sustain Services Only till October

On 21 September 2023, Phillipe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner-General, while speaking at the UN headquarters, highlighted that it had become “absolutely unbearable” as the needs of Palestine refugees continued to increase while the funding was on the verge of decreasing. He further warned that the conflict in the region was also intensifying a “feeling of abandonment by the international community”. The agency has been seeking up to $ 190 million to provide support and another $ 100 million to continue providing food aid flowing through Gaza, Syria and Lebanon. Pledges announced at the donor meeting at which Mr Lazzarini highlighted the plight of Palestinian refugees would sustain aid services at least till the end of October. He further highlighted that efforts must be redoubled to “mobilise the necessary support for the agency”.


Africa: Ghana Steps up to Host Key Peacekeeping Summit, as Africa Reels Under Insecurity

On 22 September 2023, the United Nations and Ghana jointly announced that the UN peacekeeping Ministerial Meeting would be held in Accra in December. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, head of the UN Peace Operations, stated that the Ministerial Meeting is an important event where leaders would “reaffirm their commitment and pledge to UN peacekeeping, which remains one of the most significant multilateral tools to achieve sustainable peace and development”. The summit held in Accra would focus on civilian protection, addressing misinformation and disinformation, and promoting safety and security. 


Sudan: Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan Warns Sudanese Conflict is a Threat to Regional and International Peace and Security

On 22 September 2023, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, President of the Transnational Sovereign Council, in his speech to the annual general debate of the UN General Assembly, highlighted the plight of Sudanese who have been suffering from continued violence that emerged since April 15. The Rapid Support Forces launched the war, whom Mr Al-Burhan described as rebels in alliance with “tribal, regional and international militias, and mercenaries from different parts of the world”, committing horrible crimes against the Sudanese. He further urged that the war was now a threat to regional and international peace and security as the rebels gained the support of mercenaries and terrorist groups from other countries and regions. He further stressed that he is committed to transitioning power to the Sudanese people via a peaceful and legitimate process.  


Northern Ireland: European Council expresses concerns over Troubles Legacy Bill

On 22 September 2023, the Council of Europe, a European human rights watchdog, expressed “serious concern” over elements of the Troubles Legacy Bill, a piece of legislation that changes how killings during the Troubles in Northern Ireland are investigated. The bill, which recently became law by Royal assent, includes a provision to grant a conditional amnesty to suspects who provide information to a new commission, a move opposed by almost all victims’ groups in Northern Ireland. The Council of Europe has urged the UK government to reconsider this provision, citing concerns about human rights compliance. The legislation sets up the Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), which will take over all investigations into killings from the Northern Ireland conflict. Over 3 500 people died in violence during the Troubles from 1968 until the Good Friday Peace Agreement in 1998, with most killings remaining unsolved. The Council of Europe has called for additional practical measures to ensure as many inquests as possible can be concluded before the ICRIR begins its work in May 2024. Sixteen victims and bereaved relatives have lodged legal challenges against the law, and the Irish government is considering whether to take a case against the UK at the European Court of Human Rights.


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