Weekly News Recap (9-15 October 2023)

© Photo by United Nations Photo via Flickr




Belgium: Trial of Former Rwandan Officials Accused of War Crimes and Genocide Commences

On 9 October 2023, the trial of two former Rwandan officials accused of “war crimes” and “crimes of genocide” commenced in Brussels. Séraphin Twahirwa, aged 65, and Pierre Basabose, aged 76, had sought refuge in Belgium, where they were arrested in September 2020. These two individuals, closely related to Rwanda’s former presidential couple, were actively implicated in campaigns against the Tutsi population in the early 1990s, events that ultimately culminated in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Twahirwa is charged with leading an Interahamwe militia, responsible for numerous murders and a dozen rapes during the genocide. Basabose, who had been granted political refugee status in Belgium, is accused of financially supporting Hutu militiamen. The trial is being held under the principle of universal jurisdiction within Belgian courts, allowing them to prosecute crimes committed abroad. The two men could face life imprisonment. The trial, which is expected to span two months, marks the sixth trial in Belgium related to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which an estimated 800 000 people lost their lives.


Albania: Court of Appeals Rejects Extradition Request for Former KLA Fighter Dritan Goxhaj to the Hague

On 10 October 2023, the Court of Appeals rejected Pristina’s request to extradite former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighter Dritan Goxhaj to The Hague. The extradition request was related to charges of “intimidation during criminal proceedings” and obstructing legal officials at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers war crimes court. The decision comes after a first-instance court initially approved the extradition request in September, following Goxhaj’s arrest in Tirana. Goxhaj’s lawyer argued that he had been charged for exposing the names of potential protected witnesses in a war crimes trial through an article he wrote for a media outlet. The appeal contended that Goxhaj’s detention was related to the exercise of free speech and that the alleged offences were “political” in nature. The appeal also labelled the extradition request as a “legal absurdity” due to the lack of an extradition agreement between Albania and the Netherlands. This case underscores the ongoing challenges related to witness protection and the legal intricacies surrounding the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, which is part of Kosovo’s justice system but located in The Hague. The court is responsible for trying former KLA guerrillas for a range of crimes, including murder, torture, and illegal detentions.


ICJ: Court Holds Hearings on State-Sponsored Torture in Syria Following Allegations by the Netherlands and Canada

On 10 and 11 October 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held hearings regarding state-sponsored torture in Syria since 2011, a case brought forward by the Netherlands and Canada. They accuse Syria of violating the International Convention against Torture, citing the mistreatment of detainees, inhumane detention conditions, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, violence against children, and the use of chemical weapons. This case does not target individuals but seeks a legal determination of state responsibility for torture. The Netherlands and Canada urgently requested provisional measures to halt ongoing violations and support future accountability proceedings. These measures include stopping torture and inhumane treatment, preserving evidence, disclosing burial site locations, releasing arbitrarily detained individuals, ending incommunicado detention, and allowing independent monitoring. The ICJ case highlights ongoing abuses in Syria and is significant for international efforts to address the atrocities committed during the past decade. It calls on the international community to reconsider normalising relations with Syria without addressing its human rights abuses. The ICJ case could also influence national prosecutions of individual suspects related to torture and human rights violations in Syria.




Spain: Court Rejects Police Torture Claim During the Franco Dictatorship

On 11 October 2023, a court in Barcelona rejected a claim by a Spanish man, Carles Vallejo, who alleged police tortured him during the Franco dictatorship. This claim was supported by Spanish prosecutors last month, citing the need to investigate human rights violations during the 1939-1975 Franco regime. The court’s decision, citing the statute of limitations and the 1977 amnesty law during Spain’s transition to democracy, has sparked controversy, with human rights organisation Iridia condemning it as a perpetuation of silence regarding Franco’s crimes. Vallejo’s lawsuit emerged following Spain’s new democratic memory law, designed to address the legacy of the Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship, which had previously led courts to reject such claims. Public prosecutors’ support for Vallejo’s case marked a significant departure, emphasising the need to probe alleged human rights violations during the civil war and dictatorship.


Bosnia: War Crimes Indictments Issued Against Bosnian Detention Facility Staff

On 11 October 2023, the Bosnian state prosecution announced the issuance of war crimes indictments against Dragan Babic, a former warden at a detention facility in Pribinic, and Milovoj Maletic, a prison guard. The charges allege their involvement, along with others, in the torture and murder of over 110 Bosniaks and Croats. These crimes led to the deaths of six individuals, including three Bosniak and three Croat victims, who died due to abuse and physical injuries. Most victims were civilian prisoners and prisoners of war held near Teslic, enduring severe bodily injuries and multiple bone fractures that continue to affect them. The indictment is pending confirmation by the Bosnian state court.


Afghanistan: British Army’s Special Air Service Faces Public Inquiry for Atrocities against Afghans 

On 11 October 2023, a public inquiry examined an investigation surrounding alleged war crimes committed by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Afghanistan in 2012, involving the tragic shooting of two Afghan adults while they were asleep and severe injuries sustained by two young children. Legal representative Richard Hermer contended that these actions undertaken by British soldiers amounted to war crimes. The inquiry also delves into a separate incident from 2011, during which nine Afghan males were allegedly shot and killed in an SAS night raid. Concerns have been raised regarding the military’s transparency, as the public’s access to crucial SAS and Ministry of Defence (MoD) information remains limited. The investigation aims to explore a series of lethal raids, potentially revealing a discernible pattern of illicit killings of Afghan civilians by elite British soldiers during nocturnal operations, potentially constituting war crimes. This inquiry responds to persistent allegations of extrajudicial killings and cover-ups by the SAS, underscoring its significance in addressing these grave concerns. 



Syria: Turkey Accused of Committing War Crimes by AANES

On 9 October 2023, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), during an online press conference, charged Turkey with committing war crimes in recent attacks on the area. AANES condemned Turkey’s reasons for the attacks, emphasising that the attacks were carried out with the intention of eliminating the people’s existence. Last week’s attacks have affected over two million people, with thousands in Amûdê enduring a complete power outage. Turkey targeted 14 oil sites, nine electrical stations, 48 schools, and at least two hospitals. The AANES claimed that Turkey’s activities were against international accords, including the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols, which forbid attacking civilian targets and infrastructure and are known as war crimes. The strikes had a significant negative impact on the area’s infrastructure, causing damage to bakeries, hospitals, schools, electrical stations, and oil installations. The AANES expressed regret at the weaker international reaction and criticised it, as well as the lack of robust condemnation of the Turkish government. It was underlined that the Syrian government’s inaction was a factor in the region’s deteriorating predicament. Additionally, the AANES asked for international protection and action against Turkey and emphasised the sacrifices made by the people of Rojava in their fight against ISIS.  



Afghanistan: Deadly Earthquake Kills Over 2400

On 9 October 2023, a report detailed the devastating earthquake that struck Afghanistan on 7 October 2023, resulting in over 2 400 reported fatalities, marking one of the deadliest seismic events in the nation in recent years. The epicentre of the quakes was located 20 miles northwest of Herat in the western part of the country. The US Geological Survey recorded one of the quakes at a magnitude of 6.3. These earthquakes are among the deadliest worldwide in the current year, following significant quakes in Turkey and Syria that claimed an estimated 50 000 lives in February. The Ministry of Disasters reported the death toll at 2 445 and that approximately 1 320 houses were damaged or destroyed. Rescue teams bordering Iran were deployed to the affected area. Hospitals in Herat received more than 200 deceased individuals, with a majority of the victims being women and children. The immediate need for food, clean water, medical supplies, clothing, and tents was emphasised by Suhail Shaheen, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, as the country faces a critical humanitarian crisis.


Ecuador: State of Emergency Extended

On 9 October 2023, Ecuador extended its state of emergency by a month, a measure initially enacted after the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio in August 2023. The extension follows the mysterious deaths of seven Colombian suspects who were arrested in connection with Villavicencio’s murder. Six of the suspects were found dead in Guayaquil’s Guayas one prison, and the seventh was discovered deceased in Quito’s prison. The state of emergency’s extension allows the government to involve the Armed Forces and Police in combating organised and common crime. President Guillermo Lasso has also undertaken a police leadership reorganisation, removing key officials, and plans to file a criminal complaint regarding the disturbances in the Guayaquil prison. The assassination of Villavicencio, a prominent anti-graft advocate, had significant implications for the country’s political landscape, raising issues of corruption and declining security ahead of the upcoming 15 October runoff election between Luisa Gonzalez and Daniel Noboa.


India: Death Toll From Indian Flash Floods Rises to 74

On 9 October 2023, the death toll from flash floods in India’s Himalayan state of Sikkim, triggered by a glacial lake burst, rose to 74 with 101 people still missing. Days of heavy rain led to torrents of water rushing down narrow valleys, causing severe damage in villages and Rangpo town. Rescuers found 25 bodies in Sikkim, and eight army personnel who were swept away were discovered in West Bengal. Among the missing were 14 army personnel. Damaged roads, poor communication, and bad weather hindered search and rescue efforts, and local residents were clearing debris left in the wake of one of the region’s worst disasters in over 50 years. Sikkim, a small state in the Himalayas, experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall, with 101 mm (four inches) in the first five days of October 2023, more than double the normal levels. Government authorities are working to establish road connectivity and provide shelter and support for affected people. About 2 000 tourists stranded in northern Sikkim have been provided with food and communication facilities to contact their families.


UN: Warning of the Heightened Risk of Genocide and Related Atrocity Crimes in Ethiopia Issued

On 10 October 2023, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, issued a warning about the heightened risk of genocide and related atrocity crimes in Ethiopia due to ongoing fighting between government troops and local militias. Reports from Ethiopia are deeply disturbing, with entire families killed, communities displaced, and horrific crimes witnessed by relatives. Nderitu stressed the suffering of innocent civilians should not be accepted as inevitable and called for urgent action to prevent impunity. Violations, including mass killings, rape, starvation, destruction of schools and medical facilities, forced displacement, and arbitrary detention, have been perpetrated by various parties to the conflict since November 2020. These violations are a matter of grave concern, and Nderitu cited a report documenting ongoing violations in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and other parts of Ethiopia, along with entrenched impunity and a growing securitisation of the state. The report also mentioned derogatory language and expressed intentions to target a group based on ethnicity, raising alarm about the risk of genocide. Widespread rape and sexual violence against ethnic Amhara and Agew women and girls were also noted and Nderitu called for the violence to stop and emphasised that the hostilities constitute a war against civilians. Despite an agreement to cease hostilities a year ago, violent confrontations and allegations of atrocities, war crimes, and crimes against humanity continue in Ethiopia.


Palestine – Israel: Escalating Israeli Bombing Intensifying Israel-Hamas War

As of 10 October 2023, the conflict between Israel and Hamas is escalating, with the Israeli response to Hamas attacks expected to continue for weeks or even months. Israel officially declared war and imposed a “complete siege” on Gaza, including the blocking of all essential medical supplies. While the Israeli military claimed to have cleared southern Israel of Hamas fighters, sporadic clashes have been reported and cross-border clashes with Hezbollah in Southern Israel have raised further concerns about escalation. Reports indicate a high number of casualties, including 260 children among the 900 Palestinians killed in Gaza, and 21 Palestinians killed in the West Bank. On the Israeli side, there have been over 1 000 casualties, and Hamas has threatened to harm Israeli hostages in response to civilian targeting by Israel. Israel continues to bomb civilian infrastructure in Gaza, and the UNRWA, the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, reported that nearly 180 000 Gazans are seeking shelter in schools converted into refugee centres, with supplies running low. In addition, the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, Gaza’s only entry point not controlled by Israel, was hit by an Israeli air raid for the third time in 24 hours on 10 October 2023. The crossing connects Gaza to Egypt and was the sole possible entry point for aid to enter Gaza. The siege and bombing of the Rafah crossing have raised further concerns about the humanitarian catastrophe growing in Gaza.



UNHCR: Agency Warns of a “Massive Protection Crises” in Sudan Due to Ongoing Conflict

On 11 October 2023, Mamadou Dian Blade, UNHCR’s Regional Director for the East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes, highlighted that the crisis in Sudan was one of the “largest protection crises”. The refugee agency highlighted that the displacement crises continue because of the ongoing conflict. Six million people have been forcibly displaced out of their homes, with women and children constituting with nearly nine in 10 uprooted. The UN Human Rights Council voted for a high-level probe on 11 October to investigate and establish the “facts, circumstances and root causes of all alleged human rights violations” in the country. The Independent Fact-Finding Mission for Sudan has been mandated to investigate international humanitarian law violations, including those committed against refugees. The UNHCR official urged the opposing militaries of Sudan to cease hostilities “to have a peace process” that would help those displaced by the conflict. 


Myanmar: Artillery Strike on a Displaced Persons Camp Kills 29

On 11 October 2023, it was reported that at least 29 people were killed in an artillery strike in a displaced persons camp in north-east Myanmar. The attack occurred in the Mong Lai Khet camp for displaced persons, located on the outskirts of Laiza, the town on the Chinese border where the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) has its headquarters. The camp is located in an area controlled by the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). According to a KIO spokesman, all victims were civilians. The attack has been one of the deadliest in the 63-year-long conflict in Kachin State. Maj Gen Zaw Min Tin, junta spokesman, denied that the attack was committed by the military and claimed that the army had no operations in the region. Officials in the region believe that at least 11 children have been killed, while 56 more have been injured. 



HRW: Investigation Reveals Israel’s Alleged Use of White Phosphorus against Gaza and Lebanon 

On 12 October 2023, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a question and answer document that verified that Israel is putting civilians in danger by employing white phosphorus in its continuing military operations in Gaza and Lebanon. HRW confirmed footage of white phosphorus usage in Gaza City and along the Israel-Lebanon border. This is a violation of Israel’s international legal duty to protect people. Lama Fakih, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, stressed the serious harm caused by white phosphorus use in densely populated regions. HRW advocated for a total prohibition on airburst of white phosphorus weapons in populated areas, as well as non-lethal alternatives. Amnesty International also confirmed the use of white phosphorus, emphasising its illegitimacy in densely populated areas such as Gaza. However, Israel’s military refuted the accusation, claiming that it was incorrect. Although white phosphorus is not illegal in areas of warfare, it is restricted near civilians under the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons. Previously, Israel was condemned for its massive deployment of white phosphorus during the 2009 Gaza offensive. Despite previous assurances that it would be used sparingly, Israel’s recent military activities have rekindled worries about its deployment in inhabited areas.



Europe: Pro-Hamas Celebrations and Pro-Palestinian Protests Banned in Several Countries Amid Rising Tensions

On 12 October 2023, the Guardian reported that pro-Hamas celebrations and pro-Palestinian protests announced in various countries have been banned amid rising tensions. Furthermore, despite concerns for public order, Germany has pledged “a zero tolerance” approach to antisemitism, and France has banned pro-Palestinian protests. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, warned that any antisemitic acts and defending of terrorism would be dealt “severely in France while also urging that the country should not give in to “any form of hate”. Olof Scholz, the German Chancellor, also added that there would be zero tolerance for antisemitism. Twenty-four people had been arrested in the aftermath of antisemitic incidents in Germany. With the rise in such incidents, leaders are pledging a crackdown on antisemitism. Three Jewish schools in Amsterdam planned to close on 13 October to protect the safety of students and teachers after the former Hamas chief called for protests across the Muslim world in support of Palestinians. In Spain, a synagogue had also been defaced over the weekend with the words “free Palestine”, putting the Jewish community on high alert. 


Zimbabwe: Water Shortages and Poor Sanitation Systems Blamed for the Growing Threat of Cholera Outbreak

On 12 October 2023, the Zimbabwe government banned large gatherings as cholera cases have risen. Authorities fear a repeat of the 2008 epidemic wave where 4 000 people died. There have been 100 suspected deaths in September alone, while nearly 5 000 possible cholera cases have been reported in more than 41 districts. The highest number of cases have been reported in Manicaland, a province on the border with Mozambique, with more than 1 000 cases reported. The government has advised the public in the areas of Manicaland and Masvingo against attending open markets, social gatherings and outdoor church camps. The cholera outbreak has been triggered by perennial water shortages and a worsening sanitation system in the country, where, in some areas, people go for months without running water. The Budiriro and Glen View townships have been declared red zones as they are considered high-risk areas.


Gaza: Israel Military Gives 24 Hours for 1.1 Million Gaza Residents to Relocate Amid Continuous Bombardment

On 13 October 2023, the order by the Israeli government to relocate 1.1 million civilians in the Gaza Strip from north to south within 24 hours caused confusion and chaos. It was reported that in the early morning of 13 October, in northern Gaza, the streets were empty as people stayed inside their homes, while no cars were seen on the road except for ambulances. In its statement to civilians in Gaza, the Israeli military highlighted that the evacuation was for their own “safety” as it planned to “operate significantly in Gaza City”. Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, highlighted that the UN considers such a movement as impossible as it would not be without “devastating humanitarian consequences”. He stated that the order was equally applicable to all UN staff and people sheltered in UN facilities in the region, while the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) has been providing shelter to more than 60 per cent of the 423 000 people displaced in recent days in the Gaza strip. Salama Marouf, the head of the Hamas government media office, urged that the relocation directive was an attempt by Israel “to broadcast and pass on fake propaganda, aiming to sow confusion among citizens and harm our internal cohesion”.



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