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International Legal News

Weekly update: 22 February 2021 – 28 February 2021

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 22– 28 February 2021.

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 Ned Vucijak for consideration.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – 22 February 2021

Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luca Attanasio, and two other people have been killed in an attack on a United Nations convoy in the restive east of the central African country. The convoy from the World Food Programme (WFP) was attacked when the group was travelling from Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province, to visit a WFP-run school feeding programme in Rutshuru, about 40 miles north of Goma.

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the deceased, as well as to the Governments of Italy and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He called on the Government of the DRC “to investigate swiftly this heinous targeting of a United Nations joint field mission and to bring the perpetrators to justice.” Members of the UN Security Council condemned the attack “in the strongest terms”, calling for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

Myanmar – 22 February 2021

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “coups have no place in the modern world”, as he called on the military in Myanmar to stop the repression immediately, release prisoners and respect human rights as well as the will of the people expressed in the recent elections. In a video message to the 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, Guterres referred to the situation in Myanmar, where the military has seized power and detained State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other top political leaders in the coup.

Yemen – 22 February 2021

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said that Yemen’s UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) forces have detained and tortured Yemeni journalist Adel al-Hasani, forcing him to confess to spying for foreign countries through his work.

Adel al-Hasani, an investigative journalist, producer and fixer for international journalists, was detained on 17 September 2020 when STC forces stopped his car at al-Alam checkpoint at the eastern entrance to the southern Aden governorate, HRW said. A Yemen researcher at HRW asserted that “more and more journalists across Yemen are subjected to threats, intimidation, violence, or detention simply for doing their jobs reporting on the country…the Southern Transitional Council’s deplorable treatment of Adel al-Hasani further stains the appalling rights record of the STC and their UAE backers.”

Iran – 23 February 2021

UN Human Rights experts accuse Iran of multiple human rights violations in shooting downing Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Flight PS752 last year and in the aftermath of the deadly attack. Flight PS752 was heading from Tehran to Kiev when it was struck down by two missiles fired by the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), killing all 176 people on board. Iran said the military personnel mistook the civilian aircraft for a US missile. The strike took place in the context of heightened tensions following the targeted killing of General Qasem Soleimani, a top Iranian official, by the United States, and Iran's subsequent retaliations on US bases in Iraq, where he was killed. Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, delivered a 45-page letter to the Iranian government, outlining her findings from a six-month investigation into the disaster, and complaining about the lack of Iranian cooperation, which has left many of her questions unanswered.

Afghanistan – 23 February 2021

According to a report released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the UN Human Rights Office, there was a rise in civilians killed and injured in Afghanistan following the start of peace negotiations in September, although overall numbers for 2020 were down due to lower civilian casualty rates earlier in the year. The Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report 2020 documents the appalling level of harm inflicted on civilians and traces the disturbing spike in violence against them in the last quarter of the year. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stated that “Afghanistan remains among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian. I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”.

Germany / Syria – 24 February 2021

A German court has sentenced a former Syrian intelligence officer to four-and-a-half years in jail for complicity in crimes against humanity. Prosecutors in Koblenz successfully argued that Eyad al-Gharib, 44, had helped to arrest protesters in 2011 who were later tortured and murdered. The case was unprecedented for its hours of witness testimony describing widespread torture in Syria. Another Syrian, Anwar Raslan, remains on trial. Both fled Syria's civil war and got asylum in Germany, but were arrested in 2019. German prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case. The agency the men worked for played a crucial role in suppressing the peaceful pro-democracy protests that erupted against President Assad's regime in 2011.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Lynn Maalouf, asserted that “today’s historic verdict – the first of its kind for crimes under international law committed by a Syrian government official – is a resounding victory for the tens of thousands of Syrian torture survivors and victims of enforced disappearance as well as for Syrian and international human rights and litigation organizations who together, for years, have fought relentlessly for truth and justice.”

Canada / China – 24 February 2021

The Canadian Parliament has approved a non-binding motion that declares that China’s treatment of the Uighurs and Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang province constitutes genocide. Prime Minster Trudeau and his Cabinet abstained from the vote that was supported by the vast majority of Parliament. The motion also called for the International Olympic Committee to move the Winter Olympic Games in 2022 from Beijing.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau released a statement following this vote stating his belief that the allegations against China must be investigated by independent international experts. The Chinese government has steadfastly denied that any genocide is being carried out in Xinjiang. The US government has estimated that 2 million minority individuals have been detained in Xinjiang province, being subjected to indoctrination, abuse, and forced sterilisation.

Ethiopia – 25 February 2021

An Amnesty International report has said that a massacre in which Eritrean soldiers killed "many hundreds" of people in the Ethiopian city of Axum may amount to crimes against humanity. The report describes what could be the deadliest massacre in the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray region, with soldiers in late November gunning down civilians as they fled, and lining men up to shoot them in the back.

It said there were "hundreds, if not thousands" of men lined to be beaten, while soldiers also stopped those grieving from burying their dead.

Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International stated that “as a matter of urgency, there must be a UN-led investigation into the grave violations in Axum. Those suspected of responsibility for war crimes or crimes against humanity must be prosecuted in fair trials and victims and their families must receive full reparation”.

Unites States of America (USA) – 26 February 2021

UN human rights experts called on the US Government to adopt reforms on police violence as well as to address systemic racism and racial discrimination. The experts said: “we have repeatedly raised our concerns about the excessive force used by American police in the context of peaceful demonstrations, and the use of lethal force against individuals who did not present a threat to life at the time of the police intervention”. The experts also expressed concern that the relevant national legal and policy frameworks allow law enforcement officers to use lethal force whenever it is deemed “reasonable”. They called for any such legal and policy frameworks, from city to federal levels, to be urgently revised to reflect established international human rights standards; they also called for a reform of the laws and policies on the use of non-lethal weapons stating that these are still weapons and that “the expanding and improperly regulated use of less-lethal weapons raise serious and dramatic concerns for the respect of the right to life and the right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment. They can kill and have killed; they can harm and wound horribly, leading to permanent disability.”

Myanmar – 26 February 2021

UN human rights experts called on the Myanmar military to end the violent repression of peaceful protests against its coup and allow people to express themselves. The arbitrary detention and harassment of those expressing their dissent or organising and participating in peaceful protests must end promptly, and the experts stated that “we are very concerned that journalists covering the protests have been arbitrarily detained and military personnel are reportedly using slingshots to fire pellets at journalists. Deliberate attacks on journalists and their arbitrary detention are serious violations of international human rights law and must immediately stop.” The experts called on the international community to continue to push for the respect of the will of the people of Myanmar and for the peaceful return of the power to the civilian government.

United Kingdom (UK) – 26 February 2021

Shamima Begum, deprived of her UK citizenship after joining the Islamic State group in Syria as a schoolgirl, lost her fight to enter the country in order to fight the deprivation order. In a unanimous ruling, five Supreme Court justices, led by Lord Reed, found that the Court of Appeal had erred when it ruled last year that Begum would be denied a fair and effective hearing by being kept out of the country. Human rights group Liberty, which intervened in the case, condemned the ruling. Liberty lawyer Rosie Brighouse asserted that “the right to a fair trial is not something democratic Governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone’s British citizenship. If a Government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguards of a fair trial it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.”


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