Weekly update: 6 September 2021 – 12 September 2021
The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 6 September 2021 to 12 September 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.
Israel – 6 September 2021
Israeli security forces have launched a massive search operation in northern Israel and the occupied West Bank after six Palestinian prisoners escaped from one of the country’s most secure prisons using a rusty spoon in an unprecedented jailbreak. The six, including five members of Islamic Jihad and a high-profile leader from al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade from Jenin refugee camp, had shared a cell at Gilboa prison and reportedly excavated their escape route behind a sink.
Afghanistan / United Kingdom (UK) – 6 September 2021
Lawyers who worked under the previous regime in Afghanistan have told the Gazette directly of the fear they are now living with on a daily basis. A prosecutor still living in Afghanistan contacted the Gazette to say he and his family had been living in hiding since the day the Taliban took over his local province. Even before the seizure of power, he had received death threats to his home following the prosecution of Taliban suspects, with the letters stating that no-one would be spared. The lawyer said he had seen reports that the UK government had decided to save people who were in danger and pleaded for help from ministers to save his and his family’s life. The Law Society has said it is ‘gravely concerned’ about the situation in Afghanistan and the perilous future of those who worked in the justice system under the old regime. There has been particular fear for the 270 women judges and 170 women lawyers and prosecutors based in the country, many of whom were not able to be evacuated before the allied troops left.
United States (US) / Cuba – 7 September 2021
Nearly 20 years after the 9/11 attacks, the man accused of orchestrating the plot, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has appeared along four other defendants, for the first hearing in over 18 months at a Guantánamo Bay military tribunal. The trial of the five accused for their role in the attacks has yet to begin. The session which began on Tuesday was the resumption of pre-trial hearings, now in their ninth year and with no clear end in sight. They have been bogged down in procedural problems and the central issue haunting the entire process, the admissibility of evidence obtained by the CIA under torture.
Egypt – 7 September 2021
Campaigners have accused Egyptian security forces of killing dozens of alleged militants in extrajudicial executions then claiming the deaths occurred during "shoot-outs". Human Rights Watch cited interior ministry statements as reporting 755 such killings between 2015 and 2020. It examined the cases of 14 men, whose relatives said they died in custody. The interior ministry has not commented, but its statements said its forces opened fire in self-defence. They also said that most of those killed over the five-year period were sought for "terrorism" and that most belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood.
United States (US) / Afghanistan – 8 September 2021
The US is convening an expanded group of western nations to set a framework for cooperation with the new Taliban government, amid fears that isolating the militant group could backfire. The meeting, chaired by the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, faces an all-male, Pashtun-dominated caretaker government that has ignored calls to form an inclusive administration. The virtual meeting, convening as many as 20 nations, will run through a familiar set of conditions for cooperation with the Taliban, including free movement for Afghan and foreign nationals who wish to leave, protection of rights for women and a commitment to protect aid workers. The meeting is likely to discuss the terms for giving humanitarian aid, after the UN warned this week that the Afghan economy was on the brink of collapse.
Afghanistan – 8 September 2021
Anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan have asked the international community not to recognise the new government announced by the Islamists. They said that the all-male cabinet consisting entirely of Taliban leaders or their associates is "illegal". The US has expressed concern that the interim government includes figures linked to attacks on US forces. The EU said the Islamist group had reneged on promises to make it "inclusive and representative". The interim cabinet is led by Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who is on a UN blacklist. Another figure, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the American FBI. The National Resistance Front (NRF) said it considered the announcement of the Taliban's caretaker cabinet "a clear sign of the group's enmity with the Afghan people".
International Criminal Court (ICC) – 8 September 2021
Trial Chamber I of the ICC composed of Judge Joanna Korner, Presiding Judge, Judge Reine Alapini-Gansou and Judge Althea Violet Alexis-Windsor scheduled the opening of the trial in the case The Prosecutor v. Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman ("Ali Kushayb") for 5 April 2022. Mr. Abd-Al-Rahman was transferred to the ICC's custody on 9 June 2020, after surrendering himself voluntarily in the Central African Republic. His initial appearance before the ICC took place on 15 June 2020. The confirmation of charges hearing was held before Pre-Trial Chamber II from 24 to 26 May 2021. On 9 July 2021, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC unanimously issued a decision confirming all the charges brought by the Prosecutor against Ali Kushayb and committed him to trial before a Trial Chamber.
United Kingdom (UK) / France – 9 September 2021
Priti Patel is set to anger France by sanctioning plans to forcibly redirect migrant boats back across the Channel despite warnings the controversial tactic would deepen a rift in relations. The home secretary is understood to have ordered officials to rewrite the UK’s interpretation of maritime laws to allow Border Force to turn boats around, forcing them to be dealt with by the French authorities. It comes following a G7 interior minister’s meeting, during which Ms Patel told her French counterpart that the British public “expect to see results” from French efforts to prevent crossings.
France / Syria – 9 September 2021
The Paris appeals court backed a guilty verdict against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's uncle for misappropriating public funds in Syria, laundering the spoils and building a vast property portfolio in France with ill-gotten gains. The court confirmed last year's four-year prison sentence against Rifaat al-Assad, which he may not have to serve given his advanced age. However, the confiscation of his French real estate assets, worth an estimated 90 million euros ($106 million), ordered at his initial trial, will now go ahead. Dubbed the "Butcher of Hama" for allegedly commanding troops who put down an uprising in central Syria in 1982, Assad has been under investigation in France since 2014. A Paris court last June dismissed charges against Assad for the period 1984 to 1996, but found him guilty of organised laundering of funds embezzled from the Syrian public purse between 1996 and 2016. He was also convicted of tax fraud.
United Kingdom (UK) / Afghanistan – 9 September 2021
The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, said that Britain could be prepared to undertake lethal drone strikes in Afghanistan if the Taliban fail to prevent international terrorism taking hold in the country. Wallace was speaking as he showcased a £16m prototype of the remotely piloted Protector in Lincolnshire, making one of the first ever flights by a large drone capable of bearing missiles in the UK. When asked if he was prepared to consider launching drone strikes in Afghanistan, he said: “I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect citizens’ lives and our interests and our allies, when we’re called upon to do so, wherever that may be.”
Syria / Jordan – 10 September 2021
Amnesty International stated that the UN and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) must halt plans to transfer refugees from Rukban camp back to Syria. The operation would put returnees at risk of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence, as Amnesty International documented in a report this week. Rukban is an informal settlement, located in an isolated and inhospitable area between the Syrian and Jordanian borders known as “the berm”. Living conditions in the camp are dire, and residents lack access to medical care, sanitation and clean water.
Democratic Republic of the Congo – 10 September 2021
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that an alarming number of human rights abuses have been carried out against civilians this year by armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the two most affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, UNHCR and its partners recorded more than 1,200 civilian deaths and 1,100 rapes, constituting a total of 25,000 human rights abuses. Speaking in Geneva, UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov said the violence “continues to cost lives and drive people from their homes”.