Weekly News Recap (25 September-1 October 2023)

© Photo by UNICEF Canada via Flickr




Montenegro: Police Arrested a Former Member of the Serbian Armed Forces Suspected of War Crimes Committed During Kosovo War

On 25 September 2023, media outlets reported that Montenegrin Police arrested a Serbian citizen under suspicion that he had committed war crimes during the Kosovo War in 1999. In a communique, the Montenegrin Police clarified that an international arrest warrant exists against the suspect and stated that he was arrested “to ensure his presence in the criminal proceedings that are taking place against him, due to the reasonable suspicion that he has committed the criminal offence of war crimes against the civilian population.” Kosovo authorities issued a statement on 29 September stating that the suspect is undergoing the procedure of extradition from Montenegro to Kosovo.



Thailand: Pro-Democracy Activist Jailed for Speaking Out Against Strict Lese-Majeste Law

On 26 September 2023, the Guardian reported that a prominent pro-democracy activist, Arnon Namoa, had been sentenced to four years in prison for a speech he delivered during a protest calling for reforming Thailand’s powerful monarchy. He was at the forefront of the protests which erupted in 2023 when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets calling for democratic changes, which included the role of monarchy. The monarchy has been protected from a strict royal law, under which any insult to the royals or pursued insult of lawyers would result in imprisonment of up to 15 years. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, protests have also called for the law to be scrapped and has been used against 257 people, including children. The sentence imposed upon Arnon is one of the first of 14 lese-majesty cases against him. He has requested for bail while he has also appealed against the court’s decision.  The case against Arnon relates to a speech he delivered on 14 October 2020, during which he called for monarchy reform and told the crowd that if there were any crackdown on protesters, it would have come only from the king. Over this speech, he was imprisoned for four years and fined 20 000 baht (£453.32). Arnon has denied he had any intention to defame the king, as his comment was only meant to prevent any police crackdown on the protestors. 


Germany: Authorities Investigating Possible War Crimes in Ukraine

On 27 September 2023, a spokesperson of the Federal Prosecutors announced that German authorities are conducting an investigation into a potential war crime in the Ukrainian city of Hostomel. Civilians, among whom a German citizen,  were reportedly shot at and injured by the Russian forces. The investigation is part of the wider ‘structural investigation’ into war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, which does not target specific individuals but gathers evidence related to the possible war crimes in general and the structures and the chain of command behind the crimes. This evidence can at a later point in time be used in criminal proceedings against those responsible. The ‘structural investigation’ into possible war crimes committed in Ukraine and even possible prosecution of those responsible by Germany is not a new phenomenon since Germany has prosecuted atrocities committed abroad on the basis of universal jurisdiction.


Kosovo: Prosecution Released Four Individuals Arrested Under Suspicion of Participating in Sunday’s Terrorist Attack in Northern Kosovo

On 27 September 2023, four individuals arrested by Kosovo Police during the response to the terrorist attack that left one policeman dead, have been released due to lack of evidence. The incident occurred on 24 September in the northern village of Basnjka/Banjskë, where a Kosovo police officer was shot dead in an ambush organised by a well-trained Serbian armed group composed of 30 individuals that sought cover in a nearby Monastery. Kosovo accused Serbia of organising and sending the armed group equipped with sophisticated equipment, while EU and Member States’ representatives qualified the killing of the Kosovo policeman as a terrorist attack. During the response of the Kosovo police following the attack that left three of the gunmen dead, eight individuals were apprehended and arrested by the Kosovo police, four of whom were arrested in the vicinity where the events took place under suspicion of involvement with the armed group. The prosecution stated that apart from the gunmen who were arrested by the police, there is not sufficient evidence to link the four above mentioned individuals to the armed group and the incident.


Italy: Constitutional Court Allows Trial in Absentia in Giulio Regeni Murder Trial

On 27 September 2023, the Italian Constitutional Court made a significant decision in the Giulio Regeni Murder Case concerning the trial in absentia of four Egyptian intelligence and law enforcement officers accused of torturing and murdering an Italian citizen. Giulio Regeni, a Cambridge University PhD student who was researching Egyptian trade unions, went missing in Cairo and was found dead a week later with signs of extensive torture. Egyptian authorities mistook the victim to be a spy and after Regeni’s body was found, they moved on to obstruct the investigation, prepare witnesses, and withhold evidence surrounding the case. In 2022, an Italian court halted the proceedings due to the inability to prove that the defendants knew about the charges, raising implications regarding the right to a fair trial. The Constitutional Court ruled that the trial could proceed in absentia even when there is no evidence that the accused are aware of the proceedings against them. The decision significantly contributes to justice and accountability, especially in cases like Egypt where “torture is orchestrated as part of state policy.”


Switzerland: Lukashenka’s Operative Acquitted From Charges of Enforced Disappearance

On 28 September 2023, a Swiss Court acquitted Yuri Harauski, a former member of Belarusian President SOBR special forces, from charges of enforced disappearance of three political opponents in 1999. Harauski has publicly confessed and apologised for his role in the kidnapping and disappearance of three leading figures of the opposition to Lukashenka’s regime. Regardless of the consensus achieved between the parties in the trial concerning the participation of Harauski in the concerned event, the District Court of Rorschach released the suspect on the grounds that “his participation in the crimes could not be established beyond reasonable doubt.” Three human rights organisations that initiated the proceedings criticised the court for its decision noting that irrespective of the verdict, “the trial of Yuri Harauski has already set a historic precedent:  for the first time anywhere in the world, a court ruled on crimes committed in Belarus, on the principle of universal jurisdiction.” The daughter of one of the victims stated that she is determined to appeal the Court’s decision.


Turkey: Supreme Court Upholds Controversial Gezi Park Verdict

On 28 September 2023, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld significant aspects of the Gezi Park ruling concerning the convictions of activists for their role in the 2013 anti-government protests in Istanbul. The decision affirms the life sentence without parole for the civil rights activist Osman Kavala and 18-year sentences for four other activists. The Supreme Court overturned three 18-year sentences for other defendants in the case. The defendants were convicted in 2022 on accusations of attempting to overthrow the government during the nationwide protests. The verdict has raised concerns about the right to protest, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the independence of the judiciary. In 2021, the Council of Europe initiated infringement proceedings against Turkey for failing to release Kavala despite a 2019 court ruling that Kavala was wrongfully detained, potentially leading to the suspension of Turkey from the Council of Europe. In July 2022, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Turkey violated an earlier 2019 ruling by keeping Kavala in detention. US State Department and the EU condemned the trial as “an effort to stifle dissent”, while Human Rights Watch called the trial a “monstrous abuse of the justice system.”


USA: Court of Appeals to Reconsider Mississippi Felon Voting Disenfranchisement

On 28 September 2023, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decided to rehear a case concerning a provision of the Mississippi Constitution that permanently disenfranchises people convicted of certain felonies. In a decision taken in August, the Court found that the provision imposing a permanent ban preventing individuals convicted of certain felonies from voting is unconstitutional and violated the Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment”. Judge Edith Jones dissented the opinion arguing that it contradicts the Eighth Amendment precedent. Delbert Hosemann who serves as Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi petitioned the court to reconsider its earlier decision arguing that disenfranchisement of felons under the concerned provision is a nonpunitive voting regulation and not a cruel and unusual punishment.


Switzerland: Swiss Company Demands 1.8 Million Dollars from Human Rights Organisations

On 29 September 2023, Kolmar Group AG filed a lawsuit for infringement of personal rights against non-profit organisations Public Eye and Trial International, two of their employees, and an independent journalist. The lawsuit seeks 1.8 million US dollars in damages as a consequence of investigative reporting published three years ago, exposing the involvement of the concerned company in the fuel trade from war-torn Libya during 2014 and 2015. The report revealed the diversion and smuggling of petroleum products from state-owned oil refineries intended for the local population, allegedly with the help of an armed group. The lawsuit highlights the challenges and difficulties that NGOs and journalists face when investigating sensitive issues and also underscores the use of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) lawsuits to silence individuals and organisations, undermining freedom of expression and democracy.


ICJ: Armenia Requests the Court to Take Provisional Measures Against Azerbaijan

On 29 September 2023, Armenia lodged a request at the International Court of Justice to indicate provisional measures and order Azerbaijan to withdraw all troops from civilian areas in Nagorno-Karabakh and grant United Nations access to the region. The request follows the recent events in Nagorno-Karabakh that resulted in the dissolution of the Armenian self-governing institutions in the Nagorno-Karabakh and fall of the region under the complete control of Azerbaijan. As a consequence, three-quarters of the ethnic Armenian population has fled the region raising concerns over alleged violations of human rights by the Azerbaijani force and even ethnic cleansing. ICJ has already issued two orders rendered in the case brought by Armenia against Azerbaijan concerning the Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Armenia v. Azerbaijan).



Brazil: Country’s Second Largest Bank Comes Under Scrutiny for Having Historical Ties to Slave Trafficking and Slavery

On 29 September 2023, the Guardian reported that Brazilian prosecutors have launched a civil investigation into the country’s second-largest public bank, Banco de Brazil’s past slavery ties. The investigation has been launched to hold Brazilian institutions accountable for their role in the enslavement of millions of Africans. The bank has been notified this week of the public inquiry that was going to be conducted, seeking reparations for the bank’s connections with the transatlantic trafficking of Black people. The inquiry was decided to be undertaken after a group of historians stressed upon the dark history of the bank and highlighted the importance of publicly acknowledging institutions’ past ties with slavery. The document in which prosecutors have addressed the bank’s slavery links has made references to international efforts for slavery reparations and has also included the apology by the Guardian’s owners for the newspaper’s founder’s role in transatlantic slavery.  Prosecutors have requested the bank to share information about its historical and financial links with slave traffickers and slavery and also volunteer information on possible reparations. 



China: Forced Separation of Uyghur Children May Lead to Forced Assimilation

On 26 September 2023, three UN human rights experts issued a statement highlighting that classroom teaching in State-run boarding schools in China’s Xinjiang region is almost exclusively Mandarin with Uyghur and other minority Muslim children carrying the risk of forced assimilation due to forced separations and language policies. They urged that separating children from their families could lead to “forced assimilation.” The experts further highlighted that they have received information regarding the large-scale removal of children from their families whose parents are in exile or detained. While also emphasising that they are treated as “orphans” by the State authorities and placed in full-time boarding schools. They also highlighted that the children reportedly had no access to education in their own Uyghur language and were under continuous pressure to speak and learn only Mandarin, as compared to education in bilingualism. Further, the schools providing education in their own language have been shut down.


Russia: Country Seeks to Rejoin Human Rights Council in the Upcoming Elections of the Human Rights Body

On 26 September 2023, the BBC reported that Russia is seeking to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) after the provincial human rights body expelled it in April 2022 for invading Ukraine. Russia was suspended last year with 93 members of the UN General Assembly voting in favour, 24 against and 54 abstaining. Russian diplomats are seeking to get their country re-elected to the human rights body for a fresh three-year term. According to a document seen by the BBC, the State has promised to find “adequate solutions for human rights abuses.” In the next election due on 10 October 2023, Russia would be competing with Albania and Bulgaria for the two seats in the Council reserved for central and eastern European countries. The UK urged that it “strongly opposes” Russia’s bid to rejoin the UNHRC, with a Foreign Office spokesperson highlighting that there exists widespread evidence of Russia’s human rights abuses and violations in both Ukraine and against its citizens. 


Nagorno-Karabakh: UN Special Rapporteur Urges Swift Investigation and Protection of Displaced Populations in Azerbaijan-Armenia Conflict

On 27 September 2023, Morris Tidbal-Binz, the UN Human Rights Council-appointed Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, urged that Azerbaijan must swiftly conduct an investigation into the suspected violations of the right to life reported in the context of the latest military offensive. Thousands of people from the Karabakh Economic Region of Azerbaijan have moved into Armenia in just a few days, raising concerns for the UN Secretary-General, who urges that the rights of the displaced populations should be protected and that they receive the required humanitarian assistance. The UN Special Rapporteur further urged that the investigation to be conducted should adhere to “international standards, in particular the Revised UN Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Execution, also known as the Minnesota Protocol.” He reaffirmed his readiness to assist authorities to ensure strict compliance with both international human rights and humanitarian law standards. He also called upon Azerbaijan to guarantee the “rights of ethnic Armenians” in the Karabakh region and ensure that civilians who remain there are respected in accordance with its international obligations.


Syria: “Concrete Moves” Necessary to Build Confidence Measures and Break Political Impasse

On 27 September 2023, Geir Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria, while briefing the UN Security Council, urged the international community to act now to “arrest the downward slide in Syria” as the crisis among the population was further deepening. He called for “concrete moves” and confidence-building measures in order to break the impasse. He highlighted that the deadlock in not reaching a solution is attributable to several factors which are inclusive of “gaps in political will, the distance between substantive positions of the parties, deep distrust and the challenging international climate.” He further stated that the way forward included addressing protection and livelihood concerns and not just political stalemate. He also urged that the political process should be able to “deliver on the ground and to deliver hope.”


UNICEF: Devastating Floods Displace 16 000 Children

On 28 September 2023, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned that more than 16 000 children have been displaced by the devastating storm that hit Libya, with many more having been affected by the lack of essential services. Adele Khodr, UNICEF Regional Director in the Middle East and North Africa, stated that “children are always among the most vulnerable” as a consequence of natural disasters. According to UNICEF, the number of children who have been killed by the storm remains unconfirmed; it fears that hundreds of children have died in the disaster, as 40 per cent of the population in the country accounts for only children. The agency has been continuously providing support to the children in the region since day two of the disaster., with sixty-five metric tonnes of relief supplies having been delivered to affected areas which includes medical supplies for 50 000 people for three months, family hygiene kits for almost 17 000 people, 500 children’s inter clothing sets and 32 000 water purification tablets. Ms Khodr further urged the authorities and donors to “invest in the long-term recovery that is equitable, resilient and child-focused”. The agency is revising its humanitarian appeal for $6.5 million to focus its initial recovery efforts on education, health and water, with 25 per cent of the same being funded until now. 


USA: “Systemic Racism” Condemned by UN Human Rights Experts

On 28 September 2023, a new report released by UN international experts advancing racial justice and equality in policing highlighted that Black people in the United States are three times more likely to be killed by police than if they were White and were 4.5 times more likely to be incarcerated. Dr Tracie Keesee, one of the experts, highlighted that the testimonies of victims were “heartbreaking”. The experts visited 133 affected individuals and five detention centres on their country visit to the United States. They highlighted that racism in the country was “a legacy of slavery, the slave trade and 100 years of legalised apartheid that followed slavery’s abolition.”  They also condemned the “appalling” over representation of people of African descent in the criminal justice system, and expressed grave concerns over the sentencing of children from the diaspora to life imprisonment and chaining pregnant women in prison during childbirth. The report has insisted that armed police officers should not be “first responders” to every social issue in the country while calling for alternative responses to policing. The report has made thirty recommendations highlighting local and federal good practices. 


UN: New Report Reveals 45 Per Cent of States Hinder Individuals from Cooperating with the UN for Reporting Reprisals

On 28 September 2023, the Secretary-General’s report on intimidation and reprisals for cooperation with the United Nations highlighted that over 220 individuals and 25 organisations were facing threats and retaliation for cooperating with the UN on human rights. The report noted that the most growing trend was the increase in the number of people choosing not to cooperate with the UN because of safety concerns. The report includes 40 countries in all regions with 14 being members of the UN Human Rights Council, as highlighted by Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General of UNHRC. The report highlighted that victims and witnesses from the two-thirds of States listed in its request for anonymous reporting of reprisals, as compared to just a third in 2022. An increase in the surveillance of those who cooperate or attempt to cooperate with the United Nations was reported in half the countries listed in the report. According to the report, almost 45 per cent of countries in the report enact new laws and regulations in order to deter cooperation with the UN. The report identified the severity of reprisals against women and girls, constituting half of the victims, as a major concern. Ms Kehris further highlighted that “shrinking civic space was making it further difficult to properly document, report and respond to cases of reprisals.” 


Pakistan: Terrorist Attacks in Two Religious Ceremonies Leave 57 People Dead

On 30 September 2023, the United Nations condemned the suicide bombings that occurred in Pakistan, targeting two religious ceremonies as people gathered to celebrate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday at the Hangu mosque in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and at a religious procession in Mastung, Balochistan. The suicide bombings killed at least 57 people, while 70 have been reportedly injured in the attacks. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, labelled the attacks “particularly abhorrent” and reiterated other organisations in solidarity with Pakistan and its people in their efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism. The attack was also condemned by the members of the UN Security Council, stressing that terrorism in all its forms constitutes as one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.


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