Weekly News Recap (2-8 October 2023)

© Photo by Julien Harneis via Flickr




ECtHR: Court Ruled on Excessive Use of Force Involving Pepper Spray Against Prisoner

On 3 October 2023, the Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in the case of El-Asmar v. Denmark, ruled that there were two violations of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Firstly, it found a violation of the prohibition against inhuman and degrading treatment due to excessive use of force. Secondly, there was a violation of the prohibition against inhuman and degrading treatment because there was no effective investigation. The case centred around an incident where the applicant was subjected to pepper spray by two prison guards while being held in an observational cell. The Court determined that the investigation did not sufficiently examine whether proper legal procedures for using pepper spray had been followed. Additionally, it concluded that Danish authorities had failed to conduct a thorough and effective investigation into the applicant’s claims of mistreatment.


Netherlands: Former Rwandan Military Official Arrested Over Involvement in Rwandan Genocide

On 3 October 2023, Pierre-Claver Karangwa, a former Rwandan military official suspected of a significant role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, was arrested in the Netherlands. Dutch prosecutors initiated an investigation into his involvement in the genocide after the Dutch Supreme Court ruled in June 2023 that he could not be extradited to Rwanda due to concerns about an unfair trial. Rwanda had accused Karangwa of playing a key role in the massacre of nearly 30 000 Tutsis in Mugina parish in 1994 and had sought his extradition since 2012. Despite having his Dutch nationality revoked over the genocide allegations, his extradition was denied due to his status as an opposition politician. However, Dutch prosecutors now also suspect him of involvement in burning down a house with women and children following the attack on Mugina parish. The 1994 Rwandan genocide resulted in an estimated 800 000 deaths, primarily targeting ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates. The Netherlands has previously prosecuted Rwandan genocide suspects under universal jurisdiction and extradited some to Rwanda.


France: Lafarge Appeals Over Syrian War-Related Charges

On October 3, 2023, the French Supreme Court decided to review Lafarge’s appeal that seeks to challenge its indictment for endangering Syrian employees and complicity in crimes against humanity during the 2012-2014 Syrian conflict. The court previously heard arguments on 19 September but is now reevaluating the case, particularly the endangerment aspect raised by the defence. Lafarge, now a subsidiary of Swiss Holcim, is accused of paying millions of euros to jihadist groups, including ISIS, through its Syrian subsidiary, Lafarge Cement Syria (LCS), to maintain its Jalabiya cement plant, endangering its Syrian employees after evacuating foreign-national employees in 2012. Lafarge argues that only Syrian labour law should apply to the employment relationship and seeks the annulment of the indictment based on French law.


Brazil: Supreme Court Reviewing Case for Potential Decriminalisation of Abortion

On 5 October 2023, it was reported that Brazil’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case that could lead to the decriminalisation of abortion in the country for pregnancies up to 12 weeks gestation. The case, which had been on hold since 2018, is now being reconsidered, taking into account Brazil’s international human rights obligations. Currently, Brazilian law only allows abortion in cases of sexual violence, life-threatening situations, or when a fatal fetal condition is present. United Nations rights bodies have repeatedly called on Brazil to decriminalise abortion, stating that denying access to abortion is discriminatory and violates various human rights, including privacy, health, and freedom from cruel and degrading treatment. Justice Rosa Weber, before her retirement, emphasised that motherhood should be a choice, not an obligation, and forcing someone to continue a pregnancy constitutes institutional violence. The remaining justices will vote on the case in a public hearing expected to occur in the coming months. If the court decides in favour of women’s rights, Brazil would join other Latin American countries like Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico in decriminalising abortion. This would mark a significant victory for the Green Tide abortion rights movement and potentially influence other countries in the region.


ICJ: Court to Hear Requests for Indication of Provisional Measures in the Armenia v. Azerbaijan Case

On 6 October 2023, it was announced that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will conduct public hearings on 12 October 2023 at the Peace Palace in The Hague. These hearings pertain to the Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Armenia v. Azerbaijan). Specifically, the focus will be on the request for provisional measures submitted by the Republic of Armenia on 28 September 2023. The background to the case is that Armenia initiated legal proceedings against Azerbaijan on 16 September 2021, accusing them of violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Armenia also sought provisional measures, which were granted by the Court. Armenia later requested modifications to this order, but the Court ruled that the circumstances did not warrant a change. On 28 December 2022, Armenia filed a second request for provisional measures, aiming to have the Court instruct Azerbaijan to stop supporting protests that blocked free movement along the Lachin Corridor and ensure unrestricted movement in both directions. The Court granted these provisional measures by a majority vote. Azerbaijan raised preliminary objections to the Court’s jurisdiction, leading to a suspension of the proceedings on the merits while awaiting the Court’s decision on these objections. Armenia requested a modification of the Court’s order on 22 February 2023, but the Court ruled that the circumstances did not justify a modification. Subsequently, on 29 September 2023, Armenia submitted another request to the Court for the indication of provisional measures.


Tajikistan: Relatives of Exiled Activists Held in Custody for Participating in a Protest

On 6 October 2023, it was reported Tajikistan detained relatives of opposition diaspora members who protested during President Emomali Rakhmon’s recent visit to Germany on 28 September. Nearly 50 relatives in Tajikistan were detained and questioned, with some being released but many remaining in custody under unclear charges. Human Rights Watch has criticised these arrests as a violation of Tajikistan’s international human rights obligations, highlighting that Tajik authorities have a history of retaliating against the families of political activists in exile. The detainees, including elderly grandparents and children, were reportedly subjected to ill-treatment and coerced into making videos condemning their relatives and opposition groups. International actors are urged to condemn these actions and press Tajikistan to uphold its international obligations regarding freedom of expression and assembly while holding officials accountable for human rights violations.


DRC: Military Court Imposes Death Sentence on Former MP

On 6 October 2023, a member of parliament and owner of a mining company, Édouard Mwangachuchu, was sentenced to death by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) military justice system on charges including participation in the M23 insurrectionary movement and treason. The death penalty is common in the DRC but has not been applied for 20 years, typically being commuted to life imprisonment. Mwangachuchu was found guilty of several charges, including illegal possession of weapons and participation in the M23 rebellion, a predominantly Tutsi insurgency in the North Kivu province. He was arrested in March and held in prison, with his trial consisting of approximately 30 hearings. His defence counsel argued for his acquittal, and Mwangachuchu’s legal team plans to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. They criticised the verdict as “iniquitous” and motivated by ethnic hatred. They also disputed any proven connections between Mwangachuchu and Rwanda, although the court highlighted alleged ties between him and the country. This case highlights the complex issues surrounding justice and ethnic tensions in the DRC, particularly in conflict-prone regions like North Kivu.


USA: Former US Army Sergeant Apprehended on Suspicion of Espionage for China

On 6 October 2023, Joseph Schmidt, a former US Army sergeant, was arrested for allegedly attempting to provide classified information to China’s intelligence service. Schmidt, 29, was taken into custody at the San Francisco airport upon his arrival from Hong Kong. He served in the military from 2015 to 2020, primarily in intelligence roles and with access to top-secret documents. Court filings reveal that Schmidt made online searches and created documents related to sharing US national security secrets with China. He even offered his services as an “interrogator” to the Chinese consulate in Turkey and conducted research on espionage and intelligence topics. If convicted, Schmidt faces substantial prison time. This arrest follows the recent apprehension of two US Navy members for espionage activities on behalf of China.



Armenia: Rome Statute Ratified by the Country in the Wake of Political and Human Rights Challenges

On 3 October 2023, the Armenian Parliament ratified the Rome Statute with a vote of 60 to 12, which means Armenia will soon become an official member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This move follows a government request to the Constitutional Court last December to assess the compatibility of the Rome Statute with the Armenian constitution, a decision confirmed in March of this year. Armenia’s decision to join the ICC comes against the backdrop of various political challenges, including the mass exodus of Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, strained relations with Russia, and concerns about the accountability of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev for alleged violations of international law. However, there is an ongoing debate in Armenia about whether this was the best time to ratify the Rome Statute, including concerns about strained relations with Russia and a reluctance by Western powers to hold Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev accountable for alleged violations of international law. Additionally, there are concerns about the potential arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin if he visits Armenia, as the ICC has issued arrest warrants against him for actions related to Ukraine.


Thailand: Shopping Mall Shooting Kills 2

On 3 October 2023, a teenage suspected gunman was arrested following a deadly shooting at the upscale Siam Paragon Mall in Bangkok, Thailand. Authorities confirmed two deaths and six wounded, with five in critical condition. While it’s believed the suspected gunman is 14 years old, the police chief only confirmed he’s a minor suffering from mental illness, and the motive remains unknown. Videos on social media showed chaos at the mall, with people, including children, fleeing and security guards assisting them. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin expressed condolences and noted that one of the victims was a Chinese tourist. While gun violence is not uncommon in Thailand, mass shootings are rare. Recent incidents include the killing 22 children in a nursery in 2022 and a rampage in 2020 that left at least 29 dead.


UN: Engagement in Haiti Ahead of International Support Mission to Continue

On 3 October 2023, the UN announced it will continue its engagement with Haiti as preparations are made for the deployment of an international support mission aimed at assisting the country’s beleaguered police in tackling rampant gang violence. This development follows a Security Council vote in favour of sending a non-UN mission to Haiti, which has been plagued by armed groups seizing control of large portions of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and terrorising civilians for over a year. UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed this decision. Haiti faces a multifaceted crisis encompassing political, humanitarian, and socio-economic challenges, in addition to armed violence. The international mission, led by Kenya and supported by neighbouring countries, has been approved for an initial 12-month period, with a review after nine months. While awaiting the mission’s deployment, the UN will maintain close engagement with Haitian authorities, particularly in support of the police, corrections and justice system, and electoral processes. The head of the UN’s political mission in Haiti, Maria Isabel Salvador, sees the Council’s decision as a positive step toward bringing peace and stability to the country and urged Haitian political leaders to address the nation’s challenges effectively.


UN: Humanitarian Response to Karabakh Crisis Continues

On 3 October 2023, the UN announced that its agencies and partners are intensifying their humanitarian response in the wake of the Karabakh crisis. Over 100 000 refugees have sought refuge in Armenia, with urgent health concerns among them. In Khankendi (known as Stepanakert amongst Armenians), which is nearly empty, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is focusing on finding extremely vulnerable individuals, including the elderly, mentally disabled, and those left without help. Essential services like hospitals and water authorities have ceased to function. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) stressed the need to strengthen Armenia’s health system to manage the massive influx of refugees, emphasising monitoring and treatment of infectious diseases, measles vaccinations, and mental health support. Additionally, the WHO has provided supplies to treat victims of a fuel depot explosion in Karabakh. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, is mobilising health and protection services for women and girls among the refugees, including reproductive health kits and dignity kits.


Ethiopia: Despite Continuing Abuses and Violence, UN Investigation into Human Rights Violations to End

On 4 October 2023, the Guardian reported that a UN investigation conducted into the human rights abuses committed during Ethiopia’s Tigray war has been terminated. The deadline for the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) would expire later this month, after a deadline to table the resolution for renewal passed on 4 October. The investigators highlighted that there remained “an overwhelming risk” of human rights abuses continuing in the region. They highlighted that the overall human rights situation of the country “deteriorated abruptly” since a ceasefire had ended the two-year civil war in November. Mohamed Chande Othman, the chair of the UN investigation, urged that the report highlights “the overwhelming majority of risk factors for future atrocity crimes” in Ethiopia, including widespread violence and instability.  The commission’s termination represents a victory for the country as it impeded the investigations while the commission was dismissed as politically biased. 


Liberia: Election-Related Violence Raises Concerns

On 4 October 2023, Seif Magango, UN Human Rights Office Spokesperson in Liberia, raised concerns over the reports of elected-related violence ahead of the general election on 10 October in the county. At least two people were left dead, while 20 were injured after violent clashes between supporters of the opposition Unity Party and the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) took place in Foya, Lofa County. The UN has also recorded eight attacks on journalists by various political actors. The spokesperson urged the government to ensure that “journalists can do their jobs freely and safely.” He further urged that independent investigation should be conducted into all incidents of election-related violence and those responsible should be held accountable. He also called upon the authorities to ensure that necessary measures are taken by them in order to ensure that the elections are conducted in a fully inclusive manner that allows safe participation of all. 


USA: Human Rights Watch Criticises Anti-Immigration Laws Proposed in Texas

On 5 October 2023, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas called for a special legislative session on 9 October 2023 to consider proposals including creating a state crime of illegal entry into Texas with a sentence of up to 20 years, enabling state law enforcement to deport asylum seekers for illegal entry, and increasing mandatory minimum sentences for human smuggling. Human Rights Watch (HRW) argues that these proposals are concerning and run counter to human rights standards, as they duplicate federal laws and violate the principles of not deporting refugees to persecution or punishing them for illegal entry. The organisation also questions the effectiveness of such measures in reducing illegal migration and highlights how they can inadvertently benefit criminal cartels. One of the proposals seeks to establish a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for human smuggling and operating a “stash house.” HRW points out that this could result in the imprisonment of thousands of young Texans for non-violent offences, such as driving migrants, for at least a decade. Defence attorneys argue that these charges disproportionately affect young people, often recruited through social media to provide transportation for undocumented individuals. The proposed mandatory minimums would give prosecutors significant power in sentencing decisions, undermining the right to a fair trial.


Sahel: French Troops to Withdraw from Niger

On 5 October 2023, the French military headquarters stated that they will begin the disengagement of their operations this week from Niger following a coup in the West African country. This marks a turning point in the western nations’ efforts to counter a decade-long Islamist insurgency in the Sahel region. The move to withdraw troops from the region emerged after the French ambassador left Niger under pressure from the new military regime which ousted the pro-Paris president, Mohamed Bazoum, on 26 July 2023. The French troops had been at the forefront of operations against Islamist insurgents and jihadists across the Sahel region. The latest coup has been viewed as a serious threat to the French strategy in the region after several other coups in other countries had already forced France to rethink its military strategy and anti-jihadist presence. 


UNICEF: In Six Years, 43.1 Million Children Displaced Due to Extreme Weather Events

On 5 October 2023, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) highlighted that 43.1 million children across 44 countries have been forcibly displaced because of weather-related disasters in the past six years. The figure further translates to a concerning average of 20 000 displaced each day. The findings have been highlighted by the latest UNICEF report, Children Displaced in a Changing Climate, which is the first ever global analysis reporting the displacement of children due to floods, storms, droughts and wildfires.  According to the analysis, floods and storms have accounted for 95 per cent of recorded child displacement between 2016 and 2021. Countries that topped the list in terms of maximum number of child displacements were China, the Philippines and India with 22.3 million child displacements which accounted for over half of the total number. But the greatest proportion of child displacements has been recorded in small island states such as Dominica and Vanuatu which were severely affected by storms. UNICEF has urged the governments, development partners and private sectors to take immediate action to protect children and young people vulnerable to future displacement. 



Syria: Drone Attack on Military Academy Kills 100

On 5 October 2023, it was reported that more than 100 people had been killed, with 125 injured in an attack on a military academy with weaponised drone bombing the site minutes after Syria’s defence minister had left a graduation ceremony there. According to a statement issued by the Syrian defence ministry, “terrorist groups” had used drones to carry out the attack. In response to the attack Geir Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria, appealed to exercise restraint and expressed his grave concern over the upsurge in violence in Syria, highlighting that there was a pro-government shelling and rocket fire into Idlib after the attack. 



Israel: Country Declares State of War Following Attack by Hamas Militants

On 7 October 2023, a major attack by Gaza militants on Israel has resulted in hundreds of Israeli casualties. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of war, vowing retaliation in the wake of an unprecedented assault by Hamas. The attack involved a barrage of rockets and armed infiltrations into Israel. As per Israel’s Foreign Ministry, over 200 Israelis have been killed in the attacks. In retaliation, Israeli strikes claimed the lives of at least 256 people in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The fate of hostages, including Israeli soldiers, is still unknown, with Hamas claiming their capture. Rockets were launched as far as Tel Aviv, and militants infiltrated Israeli territory by land, sea, and air, some even using paragliders. Israel initiated “Operation Swords of Iron” in response to the attack, with Netanyahu promising a significant price for Hamas. The situation remains tense, with fighting reported in various locations, and Israel has called up tens of thousands of reservists. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, rooted in historical tensions predating Israel’s establishment in 1948, has escalated this year, resulting in a high number of casualties on both sides. The latest attack comes on the 50th anniversary of the 1973 war, adding further complexity to the ongoing conflict.



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