Weekly News Recap (16-22 October 2023)

© Photo by Joe Catron via Flickr




Bosnia: Six Individuals Face Prosecution for Crimes Against Serb Civilians in Visoko

On 16 October 2023, the Bosnian state court affirmed an indictment against Zijad Kadric, Hajrudin Halilovic, Asim Hamzic, Miralem Cengic, Samir Selimovic, and Amir Murtic for their involvement in individual acts of violence against numerous Serb civilians in 1992. These six individuals had affiliations with military and police units in Visoko. The indictment alleges that they engaged in a pattern of systematic and sustained mistreatment, as well as inflicted physical and psychological harm upon Serb civilians, encompassing women, children, and the elderly, at a detention facility situated within the Ahmet Fetahagic barracks. It is claimed that several hundred civilians from Visoko and the surrounding regions were subjected to daily abuse, beatings, torture, inhumane conditions, and various forms of psychological and physical mistreatment. The prosecution further asserts that Kadric, a senior official at the detention facility, failed to intervene and prevent these atrocities from occurring.


India: Supreme Court Defers Same-Sex Marriage Decision to Parliament

On 17 October 2023, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the power to legalise same-sex marriages rests with the Parliament, not the judiciary. Although there were pleas to apply the Special Marriage Act to same-sex couples, the court rejected this argument. Nevertheless, it acknowledged the constitutional rights of LGBTQ couples to access benefits like adoption. To address issues such as pensions and ration cards, a government panel was instructed to be formed. The court also reiterated its commitment to recognising transgender individuals, having previously established a third gender category. Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, who headed the bench, noted both agreement and disagreement on the matter of same-sex marriage. He emphasised that the court’s role is to interpret and apply existing law, not create new legislation. The court also rejected the government’s argument that being gay is an “urban or elite” concept.


ICC: Mokom Released as ICC Terminates Proceedings in CAR War Crimes Case

On 17 October 2023, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Pre-Trial Chamber II terminated proceedings in the case of The Prosecutor v. Maxime Jeoffroy Eli Mokom Gawaka and ordered Mokom’s immediate release. The decision was based on the Prosecution’s request to withdraw charges against Mokom, citing changes in evidence and a lack of reasonable prospects for conviction. The confirmation of charges hearing had not been completed, and the evidence had not been fully evaluated by the Chamber when the Prosecution made this request. As a result, upon the Prosecution’s request, Mokom was released. Furthermore, Pre-Trial Chamber II directed the ICC Registrar to facilitate Mokom’s transfer to a receiving State. Mokom had been under suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic and was surrendered to the ICC in March 2022.


UK: Greta Thunberg Detained at London Climate Protest Targeting Oil and Gas Conference

On 17 October 2023, during a climate protest outside a London hotel hosting a significant oil and gas industry conference, Greta Thunberg, a climate activist, was arrested by the UK police. Thunberg and other demonstrators aimed to block access to the Energy Intelligence Forum, denouncing the fossil fuel industry’s influence on climate politics. The protest featured chants of “oily money out” and a giant banner reading “Make Big Oil Pay.” Six people were arrested for obstructing a highway, and 14 more were detained for disrupting public order. Thunberg, who has inspired a global youth movement for climate action, emphasised the need to challenge the fossil fuel industry’s resistance to renewable energy transition. Environmental groups plan to continue protests throughout the three-day conference.


KSC: President Ekaterina Trendafilova Grants Modified Sentence and Release for Hysni Gucati

On 17 October 2023, in a press release, it was announced that the President of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC), Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova, decided on 12 October 2023 to modify the sentence of Mr Hysni Gucati, allowing for his release around 18 October 2023. This decision followed a thorough consideration of various factors, including Mr. Gucati’s changed behaviour and expressions of regret during his detention. While the offences for which he was convicted were deemed grave, his opportunity for reflection and commitment to avoid future offences against the administration of justice influenced the decision. The President emphasised that any failure to adhere to the set conditions could result in the decision’s revocation. This marks the first decision on the commutation, modification, or alteration of a sentence by the KSC.



Bosnia: Court Acquits Former Bosnian Serb Army Commander of War Crimes

On 18 October 2023, the Bosnian state court in Sarajevo acquitted Rade Macura, a former commander in the Bosnian Serb Army, of war crimes against civilians. The court found the prosecution’s evidence insufficient to prove his involvement in the murders of ten Bosniak civilians, including three women, during a 1992 search operation in the village of Turjak. The civilians, who had fled from Kozarac and were heading to the Croatia border, were allegedly forced to lie on the road, eat bullets, and then were killed. While acknowledging Macura’s presence at the scene, the court could not establish direct participation in the killings. The verdict is subject to appeal.


France: Authorities Issue Arrest Warrants for Syrian Officers in War Crimes Case, Trial Set for May in Paris

On 19 October 2023, French investigators issued international arrest warrants for four senior Syrian army officers, alleging their involvement in a 2017 bombardment that resulted in the death of a French-Syrian civilian in the city of Deraa. This marks the first time Syrian army officials have faced warrants for alleged war crimes committed during a military operation. The accused officers include former defence minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij, former chief of general staff Ali Abdullah Ayoub, former air force chief Ahmed Mohamed Baloul, and Ali Safetli, who was the commander of the 64th Helicopter Brigade at the time. The case has been deemed emblematic, with efforts to hold war criminals accountable and prevent impunity for such crimes. While the likelihood of the detained officials facing trial remains uncertain, this action signifies a significant step toward accountability for alleged war crimes under the Assad regime. It has been announced that a trial in absentia will take place in May 2024 in Paris.


Russia: Russian-American Journalist Detained on ‘Foreign Agent’ Charges

On 19 October 2023, Russia detained Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), for not registering as a “foreign agent” during her visit to Russia due to a family emergency. RFE/RL stated that Kurmasheva, a dual citizen, faces up to five years in prison. The US State Department condemned her arrest, describing it as Russian government harassment of US citizens. This incident reflects Russia’s increased media controls since the 2022 Ukraine invasion, with many journalists labelled as “foreign agents.” Kurmasheva is the second US reporter detained in Russia this year, following Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. Press freedom advocates and the US government criticise these detentions as attempts to stifle dissent, and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has called for Kurmasheva’s immediate release.



UN: Mission Chief Says 146 000 Assisted After Storm Daniel

On 16 October 2023, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Abdoulaye Bathily, stated that humanitarians responding to the devastating flood disaster in Libya, particularly in the city of Derna, have assisted over 146 000 individuals. This disaster, triggered by dam breaches following Storm Daniel on 10 September 2023, resulted in the loss of numerous lives and the destruction of entire neighbourhoods. While the tragedy showcased the unity and compassion of ordinary Libyans, it also exposed significant governance deficits in the divided nation, characterised by two rival administrations – the internationally recognised government in Tripoli and the parliament in Benghazi. UNSMIL, in collaboration with local and international partners, swiftly responded by providing life-saving aid and leading search and rescue operations. The current focus is on early recovery and reconstruction in the flood-affected areas. More than 43 000 people were displaced due to the floods. Bathily praised the joint efforts of the eastern-based Libyan National Army and various armed groups from the east and west, highlighting their solidarity in assisting rescue teams. However, he expressed concerns about divisions among Libya’s leaders regarding the reconstruction of Derna, emphasising the need for coordinated efforts to ensure an efficient recovery. In terms of political progress, a committee representing rival administrations recently completed work on revised electoral laws for upcoming national elections.


Mali: MINUSMA Begins to Withdraw from Two Camps in Northern Mali

On 16 October 2023, UN peacekeepers in Mali initiated their withdrawal from two camps in the Kidal region, prompting concerns that the forced pullout could intensify fighting between troops and armed actors. The UN mission, known as MINUSMA, had initially planned to leave the camps in mid-October but has expedited its departure due to escalating violence for territorial control in the region. The Malian army, expecting the UN’s disengagement, landed two aircraft at one of the camps in Tessalit, reportedly carrying army troops and Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group. MINUSMA expressed concerns about the rapid deterioration of security conditions and stated its intent to complete the withdrawal “as soon as possible,” including accelerating the withdrawal from a third camp in Kidal town, which had been planned for mid-November. The withdrawal from these camps has exacerbated tensions among the various armed groups present in northern Mali, with rivalries intensifying, and some groups launching attacks on army positions. Mali’s junta government, which took power in 2020, had previously demanded the departure of MINUSMA, despite the country’s ongoing security challenges and political crisis. The situation remains complex and potentially volatile, particularly regarding the Kidal region, where separatist groups oppose MINUSMA handing the camps back to the Malian army, citing ceasefire and peace agreements from 2014 and 2015.


Palestine: Israel Prevents Humanitarian Aid from Entering Gaza Amid Continued Bombardment

As of 16 October 2023, due to a relentless bombardment of Gaza by Israel, vital humanitarian aid remained inaccessible to the besieged Palestinian enclave, heightening concerns of an impending humanitarian catastrophe. Hopes for a temporary ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of aid through the Rafah border crossing in Egypt were dashed after unfruitful talks between Egypt and Israel, which holds the authority to allow or deny supplies across the border. Nevertheless, aid from various countries, including Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Tunisia, has reached Sinai’s El Arish airport. The Egyptian Red Crescent has reported a convoy of over 100 trucks, while UN agencies have started pre-positioning life-saving supplies, such as food and medical equipment, at the border crossing, the sole passage not entirely controlled by Israel. The World Health Organization transported 78 cubic meters of essential medical supplies via the El Arish airport, enough to assist 300 000 individuals. The World Food Programme dispatched planes carrying 20 tonnes of high-energy biscuits and mobile storage units. UNICEF is set to deliver bottled water, water purifiers, blankets, hygiene kits, and medical supplies. Israel imposed a “complete siege” on Gaza following an attack by Hamas on southern Israel on 7 October 2023, resulting in a dire humanitarian crisis with severe shortages of electricity, water, and fuel.


Belgium: Police Kill Suspected Brussels Gunman

On 17 October 2023, Belgian police shot and killed the suspect responsible for the deaths of two Swedish football fans in Brussels the previous evening. The attacker, identified as Abdesalem Lassoued, had pledged allegiance to ISIS and allegedly targeted the victims due to recent Quran burnings in Sweden. Belgian authorities stated the attack was not directly related to the Israel-Hamas conflict and Belgium’s Prime Minister labelled it as a “brutal terrorist attack”. The assailant had been on the radar of Belgian authorities since 2016 but had not been further pursued. He was living in Belgium illegally after his asylum claim filed in 2019 was rejected. The European Commission raised the terror alert level in Brussels, and concerns about immigration policies in the EU have been raised in the wake of the incident. The attack occurred as European countries were already on high alert due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.


Palestine: Hospital Blast Kills 500 and United States Veto UN Security Council Resolution Calling for “Humanitarian Pauses”

On 17 October 2023, a massive explosion at al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza resulted in the tragic deaths of nearly 500 Palestinians, sparking global outrage. Many of the victims had sought refuge at the hospital during almost two weeks of intense Israeli airstrikes on the besieged enclave. Palestinian officials accused Israel of targeting the hospital, while Israel placed blame on Gaza-based armed groups, a claim these groups have denied. Al-Ahli Arab Hospital is the only Christian hospital in Gaza and provides vital healthcare services. Since the conflict began in October, over 115 attacks on healthcare facilities have been documented in Palestine, with severe damage to Gaza’s medical infrastructure. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, this situation has left healthcare providers struggling with limited resources and conditions that hinder their ability to deliver timely and quality care. On 18 October 2023, the day after the explosion, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver aid to Gaza during the Israel-Gaza crisis, despite 12 out of 15 Council members voting in favour. The US argued the resolution failed to acknowledge Israel’s right to self-defence. Brazil, as President of the Security Council for October, pushed for a unified response to the crisis, emphasising the humanitarian situation. The situation remains dire, with ongoing violence and a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.



Sri Lanka: New Counter-Terrorism Legislation Fails to Remain Compliant with the International Human Rights Standards

On 18 October 2023, UN experts stated that Sri Lanka’s proposed counter-terrorism bill did not remedy the defects of the country’s existing draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), urging the government to ensure that the new law was compliant with the international human rights standards. The experts highlighted that the current legislation on counter-terrorism violated international law because of its “vague terminology, its lack of protection for fundamental human rights, and a lack of independent oversight”. The new bill under consideration is intended to replace the existing law on preventing terrorism, as the current legislation has enabled the perpetration of torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations. The UN experts highlighted that they had laid out certain “benchmarks” for the counter-terrorism in Sri Lanka to comply with human rights standards, as they expressed their concerns over the expansion of police powers within the new legislation and less judicial oversight. The same is completely opposite to the benchmarks laid out by the UN experts. They urged that it was a “highly regressive step and it disregards the long-documented violations of human rights occurring in Sri Lanka for persons arrested, detained or convicted of terrorism-related offences.” Though the UN experts welcomed the decision of offences not being punishable by death within the legislation. They urged the Government to meet at least “the minimum requirements of due process and human rights compliant counter-terrorism legislation”.


Gaza: Mediation Allows for the Opening of Rafah Crossing to Allow Passage of Humanitarian Aid

On 19 October 2023, Al-Jazeera reported that Egyptian workers were seen repairing the damage caused by four consecutive Israeli bombings that had occurred in one week on the infrastructure of the Palestinian side, along the entry point into Gaza that Israel does not control. The Rafah crossing has been closed since the bombarding by Israel began, which has imposed a total blockade on food, water, fuel and electricity. Around 1 400 people have been killed in Israel, while ongoing Israeli strikes have killed 3 700 Palestinians. The humanitarian aid piled up on the Egyptian side of the border is waiting to be transferred near the Rafah crossing point. Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated that the Israeli government has not taken any steps towards opening the Rafah crossing from the Gaza side to allow the transfer of human aid and exit of citizens of third-world countries. On October 18, through the mediation of United States President Joe Biden, Israel finally agreed to the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, with 20 trucks crossing initially.



Canada: 41 Canadian Diplomats Withdrawn from India Amid Tensions Over Sikh Separatist Killing

On 19 October 2023, the Guardian reported that Canada had withdrawn 41 diplomats from India amid a dispute over the murder of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June. He was shot outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia. Melanie Joly announced the withdrawal of diplomats from India, adding that Ottawa would not be taking retaliatory steps and highlighted that India had threatened to unilaterally revoke the diplomat’s official status by 20 October 2023 unless they left. She also stated that they had facilitated the safe departure of their diplomats from India amid the implications of India’s actions. Canada has also called on India to cooperate in the investigation, but New Delhi has rejected the allegations and has taken countermeasures instead. Marc Miller, immigration minister, highlighted that the departures of diplomats meant that the number of embassy staff dealing with immigration would be reduced. 


Somalia: Increase in Civilian Casualties as Extremist Group Al-Shabaab Continues its Attacks

On 19 October 2023, Catriona Laing, UN Special Representative for Somalia, at the briefing of ambassadors in New York, highlighted that Somalia was at a critical juncture as a massive increase in civilian casualties had been witnessed in the past year, with 1298 civilian casualties having been recorded so far. She further highlighted that the military campaign against the extremist group Al-Shabaab had its own setbacks. Due to the military campaign setback, the extremist groups have increased the use of 107 mm rockets. The Special Representative further highlighted the collaboration of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) with the government through joint programmes on women’s involvement in peacebuilding, including strengthening women’s role as peacemakers. The humanitarian situation remains concerning as 1.2 million people have been displaced, and four million face hunger. Ms Laing further urged that the root causes of the crisis were required to be addressed while also calling for resources for funding the 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan. 


Israel & Palestine: Hamas Releases American Hostages Following International Mediation

On 20 October 2023, Hamas released two American hostages, Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie Raanan, who were kidnapped during an attack in southern Israel. These hostages were among the 200 individuals taken captive by Hamas during a surprise attack on October 7, resulting in over 1 400 casualties. The release was facilitated through Qatari mediation efforts, and the International Committee of the Red Cross played a role in transporting the hostages from Gaza to Israel. The Israeli prime minister’s office confirmed their release, and the US President Joe Biden expressed gratitude to Qatar and Israel for their partnership in securing their freedom. This development comes in the context of ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure the release of all civilian hostages held in the region.


Sudan: Conflict Spreads to the South of Khartoum, Also Threatening Gezira State 

On 20 October 2023, the Guardian reported that the fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) had spread to the South of Khartoum towards Gezira, threatening thousands of refugee lives. The conflict has further escalated in South Kordofan state, where a large rebel force called the SPLMN has continuously attacked army barracks. The RSF has been actively recruiting older children from South Khartoum as school closures have affected about 20 million children. The RSF has control of most of the Khartoum, with the Sudanese army having no presence in the area. Sudanese army officials and their supporters have expressed no interest in reaching a ceasefire and have pledged to fight the RSF, while countries like Egypt and Turkey supply drones to the army, and the UAE sends arms to the RSF through Chad. Cameron Hudson, an analyst and consultant on African peace, security and governance issues, highlighted that “Sudan is in a perennial state of coups and violence”.


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