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International Legal News

Weekly update: 8 March 2021 – 14 March 2021

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 8 – 14 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.

International Criminal Court (ICC) – 8 March 2021

The ICC joins the international community in marking International Women’s Day and takes the opportunity to announce the appointment of a Focal Point for Gender Equality at the Court. The Focal Point will assist the Court's Leadership in their efforts to strengthen gender related policies across the Court and to address issues related to employment conditions of women in the institution, including gender balance at all levels of employment. The Focal Point's key functions will include monitoring the Court's progress in strengthening gender equality; advocating on issues impacting women and gender; providing individual counselling; raising greater awareness through training programmes, workshops and events; and advising on gender parity targets. The ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, stated that “the law can serve as powerful tool to empower and to protect women, and to ensure their voices are heard…equality for women and women empowerment translate into progress for all”.

International Bar Association (IBA) – 8 March 2021

The IBA is embarking on a landmark project to uncover the roots causes of gender inequality at the most senior levels of the legal profession. The nine-year project is titled 50/50 by 2030 – a reference to the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goal No 5 on gender equality. It is being supported by the LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation. The project will involve data collection and analysis in 2021, 2024, 2027 and 2030 to see if gender equality measures are working. A blueprint will be drawn up by 2030 to achieve gender parity at the highest levels of private practice, in-house, the public sector and the judiciary. Research will be carried out in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America.

The project is being led by the IBA’s legal and policy research unit, diversity and inclusion council, with input from the Association’s Women Lawyers’ interest group and Lexis Nexis Rule of Law Foundation.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Director of the IBA’s human rights institute, said: ‘The law needs good women at the most senior levels; for too long women have been denied justice in aspects of their lives because the law was created from a male perspective and embedded in the fiction that the law is neutral.”

Middle East and North Africa (MENA) – 8 March 2021

Amnesty International stated that women across the MENA face daily discrimination and violence as there is an abject failure of governments to stamp out gender-based violence. Abductions, assassinations on so-called "honour" killings and other forms of violence against women continues to be part of daily life. In recent years, several MENA countries have made limited advances on women’s rights at a legislative and institutional level. These include reforms to Saudi Arabia's discriminatory male guardianship system and the lifting of the ban on women drivers, establishing a complaints mechanism for survivors of domestic violence in Tunisia and a shelter for women at risk of so-called "honour crimes" in Jordan. Across the Maghreb, legal provisions to combat violence against women have been introduced, including a landmark 2017 law in Tunisia to protect women from all forms of gender-based violence. However, so-called "honour" killings have continued to be recorded in Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait and Palestinian communities in Israel and Palestine, where authorities have failed to take action to prosecute perpetrators or address the underlying discriminatory laws or gender norms which allow such violence to thrive. In several countries, women human rights defenders have faced threats, including threats of rape, intimidation, travel bans or even violent attacks and killings, by state and non-state actors seeking to silence them.

Spain / Brussels – 9 March 2021

The European Parliament (EP) has voted to strip immunity of Catalonia’s former regional head of government and two other separatist politicians, taking them a step closer to extradition to Spain, where they are charged with sedition and misuse of public funds. The chamber announced on Tuesday that EU lawmakers had voted clearly in favour of stripping the immunity from prosecution of Carles Puigdemont and two former cabinet members, Antoni Comín and Clara Ponsatí. The three are subject to European Arrest Warrants issued by Spain, which is seeking their extradition related to their role in organising a 2017 independence referendum deemed illegal by a Spanish court. Spain’s Foreign Affairs Minister Arancha González Laya said the decision was a sign of “respect for the work of the Spanish justice system” and that “Catalonia’s problems are resolved in Spain, they are not resolved in Europe”. Madrid, which has welcomed the vote, is expected to move to reactivate a European Arrest Warrant to bring the trio back to Spain for trial. The extradition will have to be decided first by the Belgian justice system. Spain has already referred the matter to the European Court of Justice.

China – 9 March 2021

The Chinese government has breached every single article of the UN Genocide Convention in its treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and bears responsibility for committing genocide, according to a landmark legal report. The report, published by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy think tank in Washington DC, is one of the first independent, non-government legal examination of China’s treatment of Uighurs under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has adamantly denied committing atrocities and abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority, despite a growing body of evidence. The US administration has already described the persecution of the Uighurs as a genocide. The report said that "China's policies and practices targeting Uighurs in the region must be viewed in their totality, which amounts to an intent to destroy the Uighurs as a group, in whole or in part”.

As evidence, the report cited reports of mass deaths, selective death sentences, and long-term imprisonment of elders, systemic torture and cruel treatment including sexual abuse and torture, interrogations and indoctrination, the targeted detention of Uighur community leaders and people of childbearing age, forced sterilisation, family separation, mass labour transfer schemes, and the transfer of Uighur children to state-run orphanages and boarding schools.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – 9 March 2021

Navy Malela and Gradi Koko worked for several years in the audit department of Afriland First Bank, the Congolese subsidiary of a Cameroonian bank. Faced with the magnitude of the embezzlement they witnessed, they blew the whistle internally and then, facing threats and a lack of remedial action by their superiors, forwarded incriminating documents to NGOs and journalists. Both whistleblowers were so outraged by these attacks on the Congolese public interest that they took enormous risks to their personal safety and that of their families. Investigations based on the bank documents show that mining magnate Dan Gertler benefited from an apparent money-laundering network to circumvent U.S. sanctions. Afriland Bank appeared to play a central role in these mechanisms. Investigations also show that the bank harboured accounts for North Korean individuals allegedly acting on behalf of their country, and for companies sanctioned by the U.S. for their proximity to Hezbollah. It also indicates that Congolese politicians and public institutions were conducting fraudulent transactions at the bank. As a consequence, a Congolese court responded by sentencing the whistleblowers to death in absentia. Senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch stated that “Congolese authorities have made a mockery of the rule of law by prosecuting two whistleblowers for revealing information of major public interest that’s critically important to Congolese institutions…their convictions should be quashed, and their revelations should be the basis for independent and impartial investigations.”

International Criminal Court (ICC) – 10 March 2021

Six new judges of the ICC were sworn during a ceremony held at the seat of the Court in The Hague. During the ceremony, participants also bid farewell to the six outgoing ICC judges ending their terms. Judges Ms Joanna Korner (United Kingdom), Mr Gocha Lordkipanidze (Georgia), Ms María del Socorro Flores Liera (Mexico), Mr Sergio Gerardo Ugalde Godinez (Costa Rica), Ms Miatta Maria Samba (Sierra Leone), and Ms Althea Violet Alexis-Windsor (Trinidad and Tobago) were elected for nine-year terms during the nineteenth session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute in December 2020. At the ceremony, the President of the ICC Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji stated “victims across the globe look to The Hague in hope of justice, when domestic courts fail to provide redress…the expectations are high, and the challenges can seem daunting at times. But I am confident that your stellar experience and stalwart antecedents will stand you in good stead to meet those expectations and challenges”. The contributions of six judges whose terms are coming to an end were recognised during the ceremony, these being Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji (President of the Court), Judge Robert Fremr (First Vice-President), Judge Howard Morrison, Judge Olga Herrera-Carbuccia, Judge Geoffrey Henderson and Judge Raul Cano Pangalangan.

Uzbekistan – 10 March 2021

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Uzbek authorities to fill the Central Asian nation's Criminal Code with "meaningful" reforms after a draft failed to remove several impediments to democratic freedoms. In a statement, HRW said that "the new Criminal Code should seek in good faith to comply fully with international human rights treaties to which Tashkent is a party." HRW said in its statement that although the draft law contains some moderate improvements, it also retains many provisions that violate the rights to freedom of speech, association, and religion. On torture, the definition (draft art. 169) has been amended to address recommendations issued by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in January 2020 and the Committee Against Torture in May. However, deeply problematic provisions permit people convicted of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment to remain eligible for amnesty (draft art. 88) and both crimes are still subject to a statute of limitations (draft art. 75). And in cases in which parties reconcile, those responsible for inhuman and degrading treatment are exempt from criminal liability (draft art. 78). HRW has further added that the other provisions in the draft Criminal Code are incompatible with obligations in international human rights treaties to which Uzbekistan is a party, hence these should be amended or repealed accordingly.

Morocco / Saudi Arabia – 11 March 2021

A court in Morocco has decided that an Australian man arrested there last month will be extradited to Saudi Arabia, where his wife and legal team fear he is likely to face severe violations of his human rights. Osama al-Hasani, a former Melbourne imam and consultant in Saudi Arabia, has been detained since early February in a Moroccan prison on the request of Saudi Arabian authorities. A Saudi court has already sentenced Dr. al-Hasani to two years in prison on a theft matter – charges he denies. However, his legal team and family believe he is being targeted for his criticism of the conservative kingdom. Dr. al-Hasani was not present at a court hearing for his extradition held in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, and has been denied access to his lawyer except for a 30-minute meeting shortly after his arrest last month.

Myanmar – 12 March 2021

Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that the Myanmar military junta’s access to a new public camera system equipped with facial recognition and license plate recognitions technology constitutes a serious threat to basic rights. Asia researcher Manny Maung said that “the authorities’ ability to identify people on the streets, potentially track their movements and relationships, and intrude into private lives poses a grave risk to anti-coup activists”.

United States / Egypt – 12 March 2021

The United States has joined Western countries in urging Egypt to end the prosecution of activists, journalists and perceived political opponents under “counterterrorism” laws in a rare criticism of the Middle East country at the United Nations human rights agency. The US, which has observer status at the UN Human Rights Council, was among 31 signatories of the joint statement on Egypt, the first since 2014, which called on the government to lift curbs on freedoms of expression and assembly. Washington has avoided criticising Egypt, a close ally, but US President Joe Biden has promised to speak out against human rights violations and abuses of the rule of law worldwide.


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