Weekly News Recap (6-12 November 2023)

© Photo by Rod Waddington via Flickr




France: Former Congolese Warlord Roger Lumbala Set for Trial Over Crimes Against Humanity

On 6 November 2023, former Congolese warlord Roger Lumbala Tshitenga was indicted by three French investigative judges for alleged complicity in and conspiracy to commit crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between 2002 and 2003. The indictment accuses Lumbala of crimes such as murder, torture, rape, and enslavement. Arrested in Paris in January 2021, Lumbala, leader of the armed group Congolese Rally for National Democracy (RCD-N), stands accused of involvement in atrocities committed during the “Erasing the Board” military operation in North Kivu and Ituri provinces. The trial, scheduled for 2025 in Paris, marks the first-ever domestic tribunal case adjudicating mass atrocities in the DRC. Universal jurisdiction allows France to prosecute Lumbala, a long-time resident of France. The trial is crucial for victims seeking justice after over two decades of waiting.


KSC: Former Kosovo Mayor Isni Kilaj Remains in Custody Over Obstruction of Justice Charges

On 6 November 2023, a judge at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague ruled that former Malisheve/Malisevo municipality mayor Isni Kilaj must remain in custody due to suspicions of obstructing justice and officials during their duties. Judge Nicolas Guillou expressed concerns about Kilaj potentially fleeing, tampering with evidence, influencing witnesses, or committing further crimes. Kilaj, a former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) unit commander and head of the Democratic Party of Kosovo’s Malisheve/Malisevo branch, faces allegations that have not been publicly disclosed in detail. Kilaj’s arrest and transfer to The Hague occurred on 3 November. The decision to keep him in custody followed his initial court appearance on Saturday, where the prosecution sought continued detention while the defence maintained his innocence. The Specialist Chambers, established in 2015, focuses on wartime and post-war crimes allegedly committed by former KLA guerrillas from 1998 to 2000.


ICC: Activist Hands Evidence Implicating Belarus President in Transfer of Ukrainian Children

On 7 November 2023, exiled activist Pavel Latushka presented a second dossier to the International Criminal Court, asserting President Alexander Lukashenko’s involvement in illegally transferring Ukrainian children to Belarus from Russian-occupied Ukrainian towns. Latushka, a former Belarusian culture minister, cited insider sources in Belarus and shared evidence indicating Lukashenko’s role as the leader of the Union State of Belarus and Russia in the unlawful deportations. The dossier exposes the engagement of Belarusian and Russian organisations, providing details on a re-education program for Ukrainian children at a state-run camp, aimed at shaping their mentality in alignment with Russian narratives. Personal information about 37 unlawfully transferred Ukrainian children is also included in the submission. 


Azerbaijan: Court Sentences Ethnic Armenian for War Crimes in Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

On 7 November 2023, the Baku military court sentenced Vagif Khachatryan, an ethnic Armenian from Nagorno-Karabakh, to 15 years in prison for alleged war crimes during the first Nagorno-Karabakh War. Khachatryan faced charges related to his alleged involvement in a massacre of Azerbaijani civilians in Meshali, near Khojali, which he vehemently denied. The 1992 report by the Russian human rights group, Memorial, documented severe violence against Meshali’s civilian population by ethnic Armenian forces on December 22, 1991. The Azerbaijani Prosecutor’s Office claims the events resulted in 25 Azerbaijani fatalities, 14 injuries, and the displacement of 358 individuals. Khachatryan, arrested at Azerbaijan’s Lachin checkpoint in July, faced charges of genocide and forced population transfer. Khachatryan, in his closing statement, acknowledged the massacre but maintained his innocence.


ECtHR: Court Finds Albania in Violation of Right to Life in Gërdec Explosion Case

On 7 November 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled unanimously in the case of Durdaj and Others v. Albania, finding a violation of the procedural aspect of Article 2 (right to life) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The case pertained to a 2008 explosion at a Gërdec facility used by Albanian authorities for dismantling weapons, causing 26 deaths and injuring over 300, including 15 applicants. The court concluded that the applicants were denied effective participation in the criminal trial. Criminal proceedings against the former Minister of Defence, F.M., for abuse of office remain pending after more than 14 years, raising concerns about potential impunity. The court emphasised the right of the applicants and the public to know the circumstances of the tragedy and the role played by the former Minister of Defence.


Argentina: Álvaro Uribe Faces Universal Jurisdiction Trial for ‘False Positives’ Scandal

On 7 November 2023, victims’ relatives and advocacy groups in Colombia filed a landmark criminal complaint before an Argentine court, invoking the principle of universal jurisdiction. The complaint targets former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, alleging his involvement in the “false positives” scandal, where victims of extrajudicial executions were falsely labelled as “kills in action.” The case, assigned to Federal Court No. 2 by investigating Judge Sebastian Ramos, signifies a historic move against impunity in Colombia. The complainants, represented by Argentine lawyer Máximo Castex, seek justice for the 6 402 victims, claiming Uribe was aware of these war crimes and crimes against humanity and failed to prevent them.



ICC: Three Human Rights NGOs File a Communication Concerning Gaza ‘Genocide’ by Israel

On 8 November 2023, three Palestinian human rights NGOs—Al-Haq, Al Mezan, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights lodged a communication at the International Criminal Court (ICC) urging an investigation into Israel for “apartheid,” “genocide,” and issuing arrest warrants for Israeli leaders. The communication highlights the continuous Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, resulting in over 10 500 Palestinian deaths, nearly half of them children. The plea seeks an expanded ICC investigation into the Gaza siege, forced displacement, use of toxic gas, and denial of necessities as “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity,” including “genocide.” The NGOs specifically target Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for arrest warrants. The ICC initiated an investigation into Palestine in 2021, acknowledging war crimes committed by both Palestinian and Israeli actors. 


Kosovo: Supreme Court Upholds 13-Year Sentence for Former Policeman in Wartime Rape Conviction

On 8 November 2023, Kosovo’s Supreme Court affirmed the second-instance ruling that sentenced former policeman Zoran Vukotic to 13 years in prison for wartime crimes. Vukotic, part of a Serbian police reservist unit, was convicted of rape and involvement in expelling ethnic Albanian civilians from Vushtrri/Vucitrn in May 1999 during the war. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction for “war crimes against the civilian population” committed with fellow unit members and other armed individuals. Vukotic’s initial ten-year sentence in July 2021, reaffirmed in a November 2022 retrial, was extended to 13 years by the Court of Appeals in February 2023. Notably, this case marked the first wartime rape conviction by a Kosovo court, addressing a broad and systemic attack on ethnic Albanian women.


Brazil: Two Arrested Over Reported Plot to Launch Attack on Jewish Community in Brazil

On 8 November 2023, the Guardian reported that two men were arrested and suspected of having links to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, who had reportedly been plotting to launch terror attacks against the Jewish community in Brazil. According to media reports, one man had been arrested at Brazil’s biggest international airport in Sao Paulo after flying in from Lebanon. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, tanked the Brazilian security services for arresting the two men. He further indicated that Mossad, an Israeli intelligence agency, had also played a role in the operation of arresting the two men linked to Hezbollah. The Brazilian police called an operation “to interrupt preparations for acts of terrorism and obtain evidence about the possible recruitment of Brazilians to commit extremist acts.” The police also stated that they had issued search warrants in three regions São Paulo, Minas Gerais and the federal district around Brazil’s capital, Brasília.


Bosnia: Defendants Plead Not Guilty to Charges of Abusing Serb Detainees in Visoko

On 10 November 2023, defendants Zijad Kadric, Hajrudin Halilovic, Asim Hamzic, Miralem Cengic, and Samir Selimovic pleaded not guilty to charges of committing crimes against Serb civilians detained at the Ahmet Fetahagic military barracks in Visoko from May to December 1992. The accused, affiliated with the Municipal Headquarters of the Territorial Defence Force in Visoko, the Bosnian Army, its military police force, and the police’s Public Security Station in Visoko, face allegations of torture, robbery, and physical and psychological abuse against civilian detainees, including women, children, and the elderly. Amir Murtic, the sixth defendant, is expected to enter a guilty plea on 15 November. The charges pertain to crimes committed during the Bosnian War. The case highlights the harrowing experiences of Serb civilians in detention during the conflict, shedding light on the complex dynamics and atrocities that occurred during the Bosnian War.



Kenya and Ethiopia: Floods Kill Dozens and Destroy Livelihoods

On 6 November 2023, heavy rains and flash floods caused significant devastation in Kenya and Somalia. In Somalia, at least 25 people have lost their lives, and homes, roads, and bridges have been destroyed, leading to a government-declared emergency. About 2 400 residents are trapped by floodwaters in the Luuq district of southern Somalia’s Jubaland state, prompting a swift response from the Somalia Disaster Management Agency. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has issued a warning about the high risk of flooding along the Juba and Shabelle rivers, urging the evacuation of people along these areas. The situation is expected to worsen as more water flows downstream from the Ethiopian Highlands. In Kenya, the death toll has reached 15, with Mombasa and the northeastern counties of Mandera and Wajir being the hardest hit. Flash floods have destroyed farmland and livestock, aggravating an already challenging situation due to heavy rains during the short rainy season. The heavy rains and flooding have also impacted the Somali region of Ethiopia, displacing thousands and causing damage to homes and farmlands. This crisis comes after years of drought in the region.


Chile: 14 Venezuelans Die in Fire

On 6 November 2023, a fire in a migrant settlement in Coronel, Chile, resulted in the death of 14 Venezuelans, including eight children. Authorities are investigating the cause of the fire, with suspicions that a heating unit may have overheated. The settlement was home to three families, and the incident has raised concerns about unauthorised housing developments on fire-prone land known as “encampments” in Chile. Coronel, located near Concepcion, is prone to forest fires due to high temperatures during the southern hemisphere summer. Many Venezuelans, seeking to escape poverty and violence, are making perilous journeys to Chile, often crossing the border from Bolivia or Peru under dangerous conditions.


Myanmar: UN Alarmed at Increased Fighting and Mass Displacement in Myanmar

On 6 November 2023, the UN expressed increasing alarm at the conflict in northern Myanmar between the army and an alliance of ethnic minority groups, including the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA). Heavy fighting and airstrikes have resulted in civilian casualties and the displacement of over 30 000 people in Shan State near the Chinese border. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has emphasised the need to protect civilians and called for unimpeded access to humanitarian aid. This escalation of violence poses a significant threat and is the most significant challenge to the military junta since the 2021 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi.


UN: War in Sudan is Growing in Scope and Brutality

On 7 November 2023, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) stated that the war in Sudan, which began in April 2023, is escalating in terms of scope and brutality. Nearly six million people have been displaced, both internally and across borders, creating a complex humanitarian crisis. Within Sudan, 4.5 million people have been internally displaced, while 1.2 million, primarily women and girls, have fled to neighbouring countries, including Chad. The Darfur region has seen intense conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, resulting in further displacement, with thousands struggling to find shelter and many forced to sleep under trees by the roadside. The situation in the White Nile state is dire, with overcrowded refugee camps and a significant health crisis, including a measles outbreak and malnutrition leading to child deaths. Refugees have also sought safety in Chad, where approximately 450 000 Sudanese refugees have arrived since April 2023, adding to existing displaced populations. Chad is hosting almost a million refugees but is grappling with severe humanitarian challenges and insufficient funding for assistance. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reiterated the importance of empowering women and their allies to work towards a just and peaceful future, urging a shift from war to peace in Sudan and worldwide.


UN: Over 10 000 Palestinians Killed in One Month

7 November 2023 marked one month since Hamas’s attack on Israel and the Israeli offensive into Gaza, which has led to a dire humanitarian crisis in the region and prompted strong appeals from the UN. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, expressed his “total condemnation of the acts of terror committed by Hamas in Israel” and that he “remains extremely distressed by the killing of civilians in Gaza and the humanitarian catastrophe that continues to unfold in Gaza, with an unimaginable toll on civilians”, emphasising that there can be no justification for such acts. The situation is described as unimaginable, with an average of 160 children losing their lives each day, and the overall death toll surpassing 10 000, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. The UN’s health agency spokesperson, Christian Lindmeier, highlighted the overwhelming levels of death and suffering in Gaza, further exacerbated by the near-total blockade on the territory. Access to the region is urgently needed, as is a humanitarian ceasefire. The situation in Gaza remains dire, with many held captive and requiring urgent medical attention. Diplomatic efforts are underway to address the crisis, with UN rights chief Volker Türk engaging with government officials, civil society, victims, and UN colleagues in the region. The central role of human rights in finding a solution to the ongoing violence is emphasised.


USA: US Forces Face Further Attacks by Armed Drones in Iraq

On 9 November 2023, it was reported that US forces were targeted in three attacks in Iraq, but no casualties were suffered. Since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict, this has been the most geographically widespread series of strikes that have been conducted against US forces in a single day. A joint patrol of US forces and Iraqi counter-terrorism service near the northern city of Mosul was targeted by an explosive device. The al-Harir airbase in Erbil and the Ain-al-Asad airbase in west of Baghdad was also targeted by armed drones, which house both US and international forces. According to a statement from Iraqi Kurdistan’s counter-terrorism service, a fire at one of its depots was caused due to armed drones. The US forces have been attacked 40 times since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, with the troops based across the Middle East.



Ukraine: Civilian Ship Struck by Russian Missile in Odesa

On 9 November 2023, it was reported that Russia fired a missile at a Liberia-flagged civil ship that was entering the Black Sea region of Odesa. According to the Ukrainian army, the vessel was struck by an anti-radar missile, with the harbour pilot being killed in the attacks and three Filipino crew members and a port worker being injured. According to Odesa’s Regional Prosecutor Office, the track was launched at 16:45 local time (14:45 GMT), and the ship was moored at the time it was struck. The vessels that have been entering and leaving Odesa have continued to be at risk of Russian attacks since the country pulled out of the Black Sea grains export deal that allowed for the safe export of Ukrainian grain. A “humanitarian corridor” has been since opened by Ukraine to allow vessels to come and go from its ports.  



UNSC: WHO Chief Highlights Every Ten Minutes a Child is Killed in Gaza

On 10 November 2023, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the UN Security Council (UNSC) that a child is getting killed every ten minutes in Gaza, highlighting that no one is safe in the region. He further urged that the health system in Gaza “is on its knees”, as there have been more than 250 attacks on health centres in Gaza while 25 in Israel and two-thirds of its primary healthcare centres were not functioning. He further called for a ceasefire to save lives and expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid. He also highlighted that the medical staff in the region was struggling to manage the growing needs of 2.3 million who are without any lifesaving aid for treating them. In the UNSC meeting, members met again to discuss the ongoing Israel-Palestine crisis, with ambassadors urging for a ceasefire without any short-term pauses. The World Health Organisation chief also called on Hamas to release hostages and Israel to restore essential services of water, electricity and fuel. 



Mexico: 123 Migrants Trapped in Trailer Rescued

On 10 November 2023, 123 people from neighbouring countries trapped in a trailer were found by Mexican authorities in the central state of San Luis Potosi. According to Mexico’s immigration agency, 34 were children among them, and most of the people found in the trailer in Matehuala were from Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. The people trapped in the trailer were found after a resident reported hearing cries from the locked trailer box. However, it remains unclear if the people in the trailer were part of a 7000-strong migrant caravan now making its way from southern Mexico to the United States. Details regarding where the migrants were headed had not been provided by the authorities. According to Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, the migrants had been provided with food, medical assistance and accommodation. 



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