Weekly update: 28 April - 05 May 2020
The following media round up of international legal and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period 28 April to 05 May 2020.
The Guernica Group will provide weekly media updates from the International Criminal Court, European Court of Human Rights, United Nations, European Union and other sources. Should you wish to contribute or submit a media summary, opinion piece or blog, please send to Nenad Vucijak for consideration.
Poland: 29 April 2020
On 29 April, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure by sending a Letter of Formal Notice to Poland regarding the new law on the judiciary of 20 December 2019, which entered into force on 14 February 2020.
The new law on the judiciary undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges and is incompatible with the primacy of EU law. Moreover, the new law prevents Polish courts from directly applying certain provisions of EU law protecting judicial independence, and from putting references for preliminary rulings on such questions to the Court of Justice. After carrying out an analysis of the legislation concerned, the Commission concluded that several elements of the new law violate EU law.
UK Supreme Court: 29 April 2020
R (o.t.a. Palestine Solidarity Campaign Ltd and Jacqueline Lewis) v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government  UKSC 16
This case was about Government “Guidance” aimed at local authorities, banning some of those “ethical” objections to investment policies but allowing other objections. “Guidance” in quotes because the net effect of the Act and secondary legislation was to make the Guidance mandatory. In particular, the policy ban was to apply to (a) boycotts to foreign nations and (b) UK defence industries. The sharp focus of the former was Israel. The Quakers and the Campaign against the Arms Trade appeared in support of the challenge to the latter.
The International Criminal Court (ICC): 30 April 2020
On 29 April 2020, the Board of Directors of the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) at the International Criminal Court (ICC), meeting in closed session, unanimously elected Ms Mama Koité Doumbia as Chair for the remainder of their mandate period, until December 2021. Ms Doumbia succeeds in this function Mr Felipe Michelini, who passed away on 19 April.
In a sombre mood, recalling the sad and untimely passing of Chair Michelini, the members of the TFV Board invested their confidence in Ms Doumbia to lead their support of victims of the most serious international crimes, to overcome their harm and rebuild their lives, in close collaboration with the ICC.
Trial International: May 2020
Trial International, in collaboration with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Redress and EECH, publishes The Universal Jurisdiction Annual Review 2020. This year the review focuses on the risks of confusing the prosecution of international crimes with the fight against terrorism.
With their 6th UJAR, Trial International lay out that implications of choosing pragmatism to the detriment of legal principles are substantial, and the consequences potentially grave.
Egypt: 03 May 2020
On 03 May, Amnesty International published a new overview of Egypt’s assault on journalists and other media workers to mark World Press Freedom Day, including evidence of government censorship, interference in journalists’ newsrooms, and the blocking of publications and websites.
Amnesty International called on the Egyptian authorities to put an end to their relentless crackdown on media and ensure the free flow of information, which is particularly critical now during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The European Court of Human Rights: 05 May 2020
The Grand Chamber declared the application in the case of M.N. and Others v. Belgium inadmissible. The applicants are a couple of Syrian nationals and their two children. They all live in Aleppo. They complained of the refusal to issue them with the short-stay visas for which they had applied to the Belgian Embassy in Beirut in 2016 with a view to seeking asylum in Belgium on humanitarian grounds.
The Court reiterated that the scope of application of the Convention was limited to persons within the jurisdiction of the States Parties to the Convention. In this case, the applicants were not within Belgium’s jurisdiction in respect of the circumstances complained of under Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the Convention. Article 6 (right to a fair hearing) was inapplicable in the present case.
UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): 05 May 2020
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, stated that conditions in many prisons in the Americas region are deeply worrying. Pre-existing structural problems, such as chronic overcrowding and unhygienic conditions, coupled with the lack of proper access to healthcare have enabled the rapid spread of COVID -19 in many facilities.
Bangladesh: 05 May 2020
Bangladesh authorities have quarantined 29 Rohingya refugees without adequate access to aid on an unstable silt island in the Bay of Bengal, according to Human Rights Watch. The authorities said that they are holding the refugees, who had been adrift at sea for over two months, on Bhasan Char to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak in the camps.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told the media on May 02, that the new arrivals were ethnic Rohingya who fled Myanmar to try to reach Malaysia. However, Human Rights Watch interviews with families found that at least seven of those detained are registered refugees from the camps in Bangladesh. Momen said that all future arrivals will be transferred to Bhasan Char, which experts have warned may not be fit for habitation and contains no access to humanitarian services provided by the UN or aid agencies.
Libya: 05 May 2020
Soldiers from Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) attacked an airbase controlled by the forces of renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
The operation was launched early on 05 May by troops loyal to the Tripoli-based GNA, which managed to seize control of major parts of the al-Watiya airbase, southwest of the capital, sources said.
Iraq: 05 May 2020
Islamic State militants have stepped up their attacks on security forces in north-eastern Iraq, reportedly killing at least 18 people since the weekend.
Four tribal militia fighters and three soldiers died in three incidents in Salahuddin, Kirkuk and Diyala provinces on 04 May, security sources said.