Weekly update: 1 March 2021 – 7 March 2021
The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 1 March 2021 – 7 March 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.
Saudi Arabia – 1 March 2021
The Turkish fiancée of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz, is calling for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to “be punished without delay” after a US intelligence report found that the kingdom’s de facto ruler played a role in the murder of the journalist on 2 October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. She stated that “if the Crown Prince is not punished, it will forever signal that the main culprit can get away with murder which will endanger us all and be a strain on our humanity”. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who led a UN investigation into Khashoggi’s 2018 murder, reiterated her call for sanctions targeting the Crown Prince’s assets and his international engagements. She stated that with the release of the US report, “the United States should now take the lead in ensuring accountability for this crime and for setting in place the international mechanisms to prevent and punish such acts in the future”.
Russia – 1 March 2021
Special Rapporteurs Agnès Callamard and Irene Khan believe that Alexei Navalny was poisoned to send a “clear, sinister warning” to anyone wanting to criticise the Government. The independent experts were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, conducted a four-month investigation into the Navalny case and wrote to the Russian authorities last December but never received a response. The letter was made public after the expiry of a 60-day confidentiality clause. They said only Russia is known to have developed, stored and used Novichok. A novel version was used against Mr. Navalny, suggesting further development of the toxin. Agnès Callamard added the following: “it is also the findings of our work that the poisoning and attempted killing of Mr. Navalny, along with the lack of investigation and the denying narratives, are part of a larger trend, ongoing over several decades, of arbitrary killings and attempted killings, including through poisoning, by the Russian authorities of journalists, critics and dissidents and are therefore consistent with an overall pattern of modus operandi”.
Germany / Saudi Arabia – 2 March 2021
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has filed a criminal case in a German court against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and four other high-ranking officials for crimes against humanity against journalists. The complaint concerns the persecution of more than 30 journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi. RSF explained that more than 34 journalists are held in detention by Saudi authorities and are victims of multiple crimes, including torture, wilful killing, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, persecution, and unlawful deprivation of liberty. The Crown Prince and the other Saudi officials were identified as suspects by the RSF for their organisational or executive responsibility in the killing of Khashoggi and their involvement in developing a state policy attacking and silencing journalists. The Prosecutor’s office confirmed that it had received the complaint and is assessing its factual and legal merits. RSF hopes that the complaint will lead the German prosecution to conduct a “situation analysis”, which may result in a formal criminal investigation into the alleged crimes. If this occurs, it will be the first official opening of an investigation into crimes against humanity committed in Saudi Arabia.
Israel / Palestine – 2 March 2021
UN human rights experts have called on Israel to immediately end its efforts to demolish a Palestinian village in the northern Jordan Valley and allow the residents to live undisturbed on their lands.
UN special rapporteurs Balakrishnan Rajagopal and Michael Lynk, in a report, warned that an ongoing destruction campaign launched by Israel against the village of Humsa al-Bqai’a is putting the homes and livelihoods at risk. They stated that “severing the villagers from their lands and their homes is particularly punitive given the harsh winter they are experiencing and the ever-present dangers of a global pandemic". Israel has justified its attempt to destroy the village on the grounds that it allegedly lies within an Israeli military firing zone – an explanation often used by the occupying power to dismantle rural Palestinian communities. The UN experts stressed that the “wanton” destruction of property and the forcible removal of a protected population is only allowed under international law when rendered absolutely necessary by legitimate military operations. Even then, such displacement is only legal for temporary periods of time until hostilities have ceased.
International Criminal Court (ICC) – 2 March 2021
This month, the ICC Trial Chamber X is expected to hand down an important decision on exclusion of evidence allegedly tainted by torture in The Prosecutor v. Al Hassan case. It is the first time the Court has been asked to rule on the standards of dealing with claims of torture in ICC investigations and whether the evidence obtained as a result should be admissible.
On 16 June 2020, the Defence filed a request to terminate this case before the ICC and to immediately release Mr Al Hassan from ICC custody. The Defence argued that “the constituent elements of a fair trial cannot be pieced together” due to the Prosecution’s reliance on “tainted evidence,” referring to evidence allegedly extracted from Mr Al Hassan through torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment while in detention in Mali. On 24 August 2020, the Chamber rejected this request, finding that the torture allegedly committed by national Malian authorities could not be attributed to the Prosecution.
Fair Trials’ Chief Executive Jago Russell commented on the decision by asserting that “the use of evidence tainted by torture is still an issue undermining the fairness and integrity of criminal proceedings around the world” and “if there is evidence that torture has been used during investigations involving Mr Al Hassan, any materials connected with this mistreatment must be excluded by Chamber X.”
Syria – 2 March 2021
Three international human rights groups filed a complaint to the French special war crimes unit about the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad regime. These organisations include the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Syrian Archive based in Berlin, and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression based in Paris. A similar complaint was filed in Germany in October 2020 regarding the attacks in Eastern Ghouta in 2013 and Khan Sheikhoun in 2017. The complaint in France focuses on the August 2013 chemical attacks on the city of Douma and the region of Eastern Ghouta.
The complaint requests the special unit to open a criminal investigation against the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad and his brother Mahir, as well as several other senior advisors and military officials. The request is based on a two-year study of Syria’s chemical weapons program and relies on a wide range of evidence, including videos sent by activists from Syria and information shared by former insiders, defectors and individuals with knowledge of the program.
France – 3 March 2021
French senators have begun debating the new security law bill and Amnesty International have expressed their concerns by claiming that if passed, it would establish mass surveillance including via drones, and violate rights to privacy, freedom of expressions as well as peaceful assembly. Western Europe Researcher at Amnesty International, Marco Perolini, stated that “this draconian new law would bring to life a dystopian future that we never want to see. It would allow police to spy on anyone, almost everywhere, with a drone. This kind of surveillance is an enormous and unacceptable intrusion into people’s lives.”
International Criminal Court (ICC) – 3 March 2021
The Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, confirmed in a statement that her Office has started an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in Occupied Palestinian Territory. She added that the investigation will cover crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court that are alleged to have been committed in the Situation since 13 June 2014. The probe follows the 5 February 2021 decision, by majority, of ICC’s Pre Trial Chamber I, that the Court may exercise its criminal jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine, and that the territorial scope of this jurisdiction extends to Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Bensouda emphasised that “any investigation undertaken by the Office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favour” and highlighted that the central concern must be for the victims of crime, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides. The Prosecutor called for all cooperation from those States involved.
Hong Kong – 4 March 2021
A Hong Kong court has denied bail to 32 out of 47 pro-democracy activists charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law, ending a four-day marathon court hearing. The group of activists was charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the law and detained on Sunday over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities said was a plot to paralyse Hong Kong’s government. After hours of legal arguments from prosecutors and defence, chief magistrate Victor So ordered 32 members of the group to be returned to custody stating that “the court does not find it has sufficient ground to believe that you will not continue to commit acts that endanger national security”. The remaining 15 defendants were granted bail with strict limitations but the prosecution immediately appealed. As a result, they must also return to custody but will be allowed to take their case to the city’s High Court within the next 48 hours. The hearings had gone on late into the night for three consecutive days, causing several defendants to fall ill and be sent to hospital. The detentions have been strongly criticised by governments in the West, including Britain and the United States.
United Kingdom (UK) – 5 March 2021
Lady Justice Rose has been appointed to the Supreme Court and will join the UK’s top bench on 13 April 2021. The country’s highest court is comprised of 12 judges: ten men and two women. Lady Rose’s appointment follows the retirement of Lady Black in January this year and she becomes the fourth woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Joshua Rozenberg commented that “this is true diversity: a former civil servant, not a QC, with a breadth of experience that few can match”.