Weekly News Recap (30 October-5 November 2023)

© Photo by United Nations Photo via Flickr




USA: Man Arrested for Mass Shooting in Florida

On 30 October 2023, police in Florida arrested Tyrell Stephen Phillips, 22, and charged them with second-degree murder with a firearm in connection with a mass shooting that occurred the day before in Tampa, Florida. The mass shooting occurred during Halloween festivities and resulted in two fatalities and 18 injuries. The incident took place in the Ybor City area, and Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw revealed that at least two shooters were involved.  The police expressed their condolences to the victims’ families and condemned the violence. The mayor, Jane Castor, deplored the national attention on yet another shooting and called for action to address gun violence. The shooting happened in an area with many bars and clubs, where hundreds of people were present due to closing nightspots. The reason for the altercation leading to the shooting is under investigation. Video footage showed people in Halloween costumes on the street, with shots being fired, causing a stampede and injuries. The scene of the shooting was blocked off, with residents expressing concerns about crime in the area, particularly during late-night hours.


UK: Former British Intelligence Officer Sentenced for Attempted Murder of NSA Employee

On 30 October 2023, a former British intelligence officer, Joshua Bowles, received a 13-year prison sentence for a calculated attempt to murder a US National Security Agency (NSA) employee in what was described as a politically motivated and vicious attack. Earlier this year, Bowles carried out the assault near the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, England, targeting a female NSA worker with multiple stabbings. Bowles had worked at GCHQ previously but was no longer employed there when the attack occurred. During his arrest, Bowles revealed that his victim was chosen due to her association with the NSA, as American intelligence was a substantial contributor to the international intelligence community. He expressed grievances and resentment towards GCHQ and women. The judge recommended a minimum of 13 years of imprisonment for Bowles before any possibility of parole. Bowles had previously pleaded guilty to the attempted murder and assault charges related to this case.


USA: Suspect Pleads Not Guilty in Attack on Palestinian-American Woman and Child

On 30 October 2023, Joseph Czuba, a 71-year-old man, pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, attempted murder, and a hate crime in the attack on a Palestinian-American woman, Hanaan Shahin, and her six-year-old son, Wadea Al-Fayoume, in Illinois. The incident took place on 14 October, and authorities believe the victims were targeted due to their Muslim faith and as a response to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Czuba, who was the landlord of the victims, allegedly attacked them after Shahin urged him to “pray for peace” amid the ongoing conflict. Wadea Al-Fayoume tragically lost his life, while Hanaan Shahin is recovering from multiple stab wounds. The case has garnered significant attention and condemnation, with Czuba remaining in detention as he awaits a court hearing. The incident occurred against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the region related to the Israel-Hamas conflict.


France: Survivors of Guinea Mining Violence Seek Compensation in French Court

On 31 October 2023, survivors of a violent incident that occurred at a Guinean iron ore mine a decade ago have initiated legal proceedings against the Guinean government in a French court. Their objective is to enforce a 2020 ruling by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court, which mandated the government to provide approximately $536 000 in compensation to the victims. The survivors are seeking the acknowledgement of this ECOWAS court ruling by the French judicial system. If granted, this recognition would empower them to identify and seize Guinean state assets in France, allowing them to secure the compensation that the government has thus far failed to provide. The incident in question transpired in August 2012 when Guinean authorities deployed security forces to a mining site near a project under the control of Brazil’s Vale and an Israeli billionaire. This deployment followed a protest staged by residents of the neighbouring Zogota village. Tragically, the security forces opened fire on the villagers, resulting in the deaths of six individuals and subjecting some survivors to torture while in custody. Although the ECOWAS court concluded that Guinea had violated the rights of the victims, the government has not complied with the compensation order. Consequently, the survivors have opted to pursue justice through legal channels in France.



Kenya: Kenyan Police Unit on Trial for Renowned Pakistani Journalist’s Killing

On 31 October 2023, in a legal case unfolding at the Kajiado High Court in Nairobi, an elite Kenyan police unit is facing charges of wrongful death in connection with the killing of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif in Nairobi last year. The petitioners claimed that Sharif’s killing was a premeditated “assassination” carried out in Pakistan. Sharif, a prominent critic of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, was tragically murdered in October 2022 while travelling in a car with another Pakistani man through a checkpoint near Nairobi. Nairobi police initially expressed regret, citing it as a “mistaken identity” incident during a search for a similar car linked to a child abduction case. However, a Pakistani investigative team later claimed that Sharif’s killing was a deliberate assassination. Sharif’s widow, Javeria Siddique, filed the action against the Kenyan police unit, known as the General Service Unit (GSU), which was involved in the killing. While Kenyan authorities claim Sharif did not stop at a checkpoint on Nairobi’s outskirts, his family and Pakistani investigators claim Sharif’s assassination was plotted in Pakistan. Sharif, 50, fled Pakistan a while back to avoid incarceration on allegations of criticising the country’s national institutions, particularly the military. The petitioners in the lawsuit are the Kenya Union of Journalists and the Kenya Correspondents.


Uganda: ADF Militant Leader Njovu Arrested

On 2 November 2023, an Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia commander Abdul Rashid Kyoto, popularly known as Njovu, was taken into custody, and six other members of a commando force associated with ADF rebels were also killed. They were suspected of killing two tourists and their guide on 17 October in Queen Elizabeth Park. The Islamic State-affiliated ADF rebels had already been held accountable for attacks, including the one that killed 42 people at a school in Mpondwe in June and another incident that led to the death of two Ugandan soldiers in Kasindi, Eastern DRC, in late October. Leading an anti-ADF campaign in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, General Dick Olum suggested a link between these attacks and Njovu’s leadership. The ADF, which was primarily made up of Muslim insurgents from Uganda, grew into the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1990s. They declared their allegiance to the Islamic State in 2019, which calls them its “Central African Province” and takes responsibility for some of their actions. According to General Olum, they have information about the ADF and the leaders who are carrying out these dangerous missions. In addition, he stressed that the civilians and tourists should feel reassured by Njovu’s capture, saying that as long as operations continue, Uganda will remain secure and the ADF will be vanquished.


USA: Alleged Yahya Jammeh Regime Member to Face Torture Charges

On 2 November 2023, it was announced that Michael Correa, a former member of Yahya Jammeh’s “Junglers” death squad, will stand trial in Denver, Colorado, starting on 16 September 2024. Correa faces charges of torture and conspiracy to commit torture. This trial is significant as it represents the first case in the United States based on universal jurisdiction, allowing the prosecution of individuals within US borders for acts of torture committed abroad. During Jammeh’s 1994-2016 rule, Gambia experienced widespread human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings. Correa’s arrest in 2019 and subsequent indictment mark an important step towards justice for victims. Similar cases in Germany and Switzerland are also addressing Jammeh-era crimes. Despite the slow response of the Gambian government to victim demands and recommendations from the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC), the collaboration between the Gambian Ministry of Justice and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to establish a court for high-ranking perpetrators, including Jammeh, is a positive development. Until then, trials like Correa’s remain essential for seeking justice.


KSC: Isni Kilaj Apprehended and Moved to Detention Facilities in The Hague

On 3 November 2023, Isni Kilaj was arrested in Kosovo by the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office on charges related to obstructing the administration of justice and violating the confidentiality of legal proceedings. Following his arrest, Kilaj was transferred to the detention facilities of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) located in The Hague. The arrest warrant was issued by the Specialist Prosecutor, alleging that Kilaj obstructed the duties of official personnel and breached the confidentiality of proceedings in accordance with the Kosovo Criminal Code and the Law governing Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor’s Office. The arrest was executed with the assistance of the Kosovo Police and the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX). In accordance with the law, any individual detained under the directive of the Specialist Prosecutor must be presented before a Judge of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers within 48 hours of their apprehension. Isni Kilaj’s initial court appearance was scheduled for 4 November 2023, where his rights and continued detention were determined.



Philippines: 3 Killed During Local Election Voting

On 30 October 2023, three people were killed as millions voted for village leaders in the southern Philippines amid heightened security due to previous violence. The nationwide vote for over 336 000 council positions is significant as these posts are crucial for political parties to establish grassroots networks and build local support for elections. More than 300 000 police officers and soldiers were deployed to secure the polling stations in 42 000 villages. Elections in the Philippines are historically volatile due to lax gun laws and a violent political culture. Two people were killed and five others injured in a shootout outside a polling station in Maguindanao del Norte province, Mindanao. A confrontation between supporters of rival village captain candidates led to the incident. The other killing occurred in Lanao del Norte province when a gunfight broke out between supporters of rival candidates. In the capital, Manila, long lines formed as voters cast their ballots. Village elections are meant to be held every three years but were last held in 2018 due to financial constraints.


UN: Immediate De-escalation Needed in Syria

On 30 October 2023, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, warned of a growing and dangerous escalation of violence in Syria, with a particular concern about spillover effects from the recent conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He described Syria as being in a “strategic stalemate” since March 2020, marked by static front lines, persistent violence, and sporadic escalations in fighting. The lack of a meaningful political process has contributed to instability and growing violence. Pedersen noted that Syria had already experienced spillover violence from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with recent airstrikes attributed to Israel causing civilian casualties and infrastructure damage. The country has witnessed an upsurge in violence, including attacks on government-controlled areas and the northwest, leading to the displacement of civilians. The envoy emphasised the need for immediate de-escalation, a credible political process, and respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He warned that the international community must act promptly to prevent further deterioration of the situation. Edem Wosornu, Director of Operations and Advocacy at the UN Humanitarian Aid Coordination Office, OCHA, highlighted the impact of hostilities on humanitarian workers and operations in Syria’s north, with aid workers killed and organisations suspending their operations. Critical services and infrastructure have also been damaged, and funding for humanitarian efforts remains insufficient. The situation in Syria demands ongoing international focus and action to address the pressing humanitarian needs.


UN: Humanitarian Workers Warn Hospitals in Gaza “Hanging on by a Thread”

On 30 October 2023, UN aid teams expressed deep concern about the mounting pressure on hospitals in northern Gaza, especially in the vicinities of Al Shifa and Al Quds hospitals in Gaza City and the Indonesian hospital in northern Gaza, which have been bombarded over the weekend. UN relief chief Martin Griffiths, who is currently in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, urged all parties to protect civilians, free hostages, allow the swift and safe delivery of aid, and respect international humanitarian law. Around 117 000 displaced people are taking shelter in the 10 operational hospitals in Gaza City and northern Gaza, which have received evacuation orders. The UN health agency WHO emphasised that evacuating hospitals would endanger patients’ lives. The situation in Gaza remains dire, with shortages of medical supplies and power, leading to emergency C-sections being performed without anaesthesia. The UN Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA is providing assistance to over 600 000 people who have sought safety in UNRWA shelters, despite being over three times their capacity. The agency also held a memorial service for its 59 personnel killed in the conflict. As of 30 October 2023, the death toll in Gaza since October 7 surpassed 8 300. Palestinian armed groups have continued to fire indiscriminate rockets towards Israeli cities and the UN called for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages.


UNHCR: Underfunding for Uganda Refugee Operation

On 31 October 2023, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated that the partners involved in the refugee response in Uganda are facing significant challenges in 2023, primarily due to a lack of funding for their interventions. This issue is exacerbated by a growing influx of new refugees, with 74 618 new arrivals received by the end of September 2023, bringing the total to 225 000 new arrivals since 2022. While most refugees are fleeing violence in South Sudan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the recent conflict in Sudan has resulted in a significant number of new arrivals from Sudan. The funding shortfall is impacting various sectors, particularly livelihood opportunities and food security. Many refugees are receiving reduced food rations, and there is a looming threat of a complete break in the food assistance pipeline in December 2023 if funding is not secured. Child poverty rates are on the rise, leading to child labour, school dropouts, and other protection risks, with gender-based violence being a particular concern. Hygiene and sanitation needs are increasing, but funding limitations have hindered the provision of essential supplies. The situation has led to rising suicide rates, financial difficulties, and domestic violence. Despite these challenges, the “Uganda refugee model” remains, offering freedom of movement, the right to work, and access to education and healthcare.



Germany: Government Proposes Law Introducing Sexual Violence as a War Crime

On 1 November 2023, the German government passed a draft law that allows for the prosecution of sexual violence in conflict zones as a war crime and a crime against humanity. This law, approved by the centre-left-led coalition, involves an amendment to Germany’s criminal code, granting the authority to prosecute such crimes committed abroad under the principle of “universal jurisdiction.” The revised definition of war crimes encompasses sexual assault, sexual enslavement, and forced pregnancy termination. This legislation aims to address the numerous reports of sexual assaults, particularly in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It also seeks to empower victims by enabling their active participation in criminal trials as co-plaintiffs. However, it is important to note that this proposal still awaits parliamentary approval. 


Pakistan: Mass Deportation of Thousands of Undocumented Afghan Refugees Begins 

On 1 November 2023, Pakistan began the process of arresting and deporting Afghan refugees who missed the deadline on Wednesday morning to leave. According to Sarfraz Bugti, at least 200 000 people have already returned to Afghanistan voluntarily. The new anti-immigration policy of Pakistan affects 2 million Afghans who are thought to be residing without documentation in Pakistan. Widespread criticism has been made about Pakistan’s forcible return of refugees, with the Taliban administration in Afghanistan urging its neighbour to give undocumented Afghans more time. According to Bugti, no compromise would be made against “illegal refugees”, and they would be detained and deported. Bugti highlighted that the deadline was set for those Afghans working for the Western countries who were supposed to relocate there. He urged that if they were not relocated, then they would have to be declared illegal refugees, detained and deported as a consequence. Afghan refugees were being detained and deported even before the deadline had expired, and police have been accused of harassing both illegal and legal refugees. 


UNHRC: Israeli Attacks on Refugee Camp Could Constitute War Crime

On 1 November 2023, the UN Human Rights Office (UNHRC) urged that the Israeli air attack on Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp could amount to a war crime. A missile hit the camp on 31 October, which left a giant crater amid bombed-out buildings. According to the Gaza Government Media Office, at least 195 people have been confirmed to have been killed by the air attacks, while 777 were injured, with 100 remaining missing beneath the rubble. The attacks were described as “horrific and terrible” by the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF), as more than 3500 children had been killed since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. 


Ukraine: Over 100 Settlements Attacked by Russia in Last 24 Hours

On 2 November 2023, the Guardian reported that Russia had shelled over 100 settlements in the last 24 hours, which has been more than in any single day. Igor Klymenko, Ukrainian interior minister, highlighted that Russia has shelled 118 settlements in 10 regions in the past 24 hours. An attack on an oil refinery in Kremenchuk by Russia has also been reported. Ukraine fears that Russia will intensify its attacks on the energy infrastructure of the country. A South Korean lawmaker stated on 1 November that North Korea has provided Russia with over one million artillery rounds. Ukrainian top general Valery Zaluzhny, in an interview published by the British outlet Economist, stated that the conflict is moving toward a state of attrition and that Ukraine will need new technology and more extensive army reserves to meet its goals. 




IDEA: New Report Highlights Decline in Democracy for the Sixth Consecutive Year

On 2 November 2023, the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) released a report highlighting that a decline in democracy had been witnessed for the sixth consecutive year in 2022, with half of the world’s countries sliding backward on various indicators. The think-tank highlighted that 85 out of 173 countries surveyed “suffered a decline in at least one key indicator of democratic performance in the past five years”, with indicators ranging from freedom of expression to political participation. According to Kevin Casas-Zamora, IDEA Secretary General, “democracy is still in trouble”, highlighting that it was declining in many countries. In democratic terms, Europe was named the highest-performing region, while in eastern Europe and Asia, countries such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, and Turkey scored poorly. The six-year fall has been recorded as the most extended democratic decline since the records began in 1975.


Egypt: 7000 Foreign Passport Holders in Gaza Set to Return Through Rafah Crossing as Egypt Initiates Evacuation

On 2 November 2023, the Guardian reported that Egypt would help in the evacuation of nearly 7000 foreigners and dual-national Palestinians from Gaza amid a call for “humanitarian pauses” by United States President Joe Biden. The Egyptian foreign ministry said the country was preparing to receive “about 7000” people representing more than 60 nationalities through the Rafah crossing. After the Rafah crossing opened for the first time since the conflict began three weeks ago, a total of 361 foreigners and dual nationals left Gaza on 1 November. According to foreign governments, there are passport holders from 44 countries and 28 agencies.  According to AFP, 400 people were expected to cross on 2 November, with ambulances lined up in expectation to ferry dozens of casualties to Egyptian hospitals. 


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