Weekly update: 24 January – 30 January 2022
The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 24 January to 30 January 2022. Guernica 37 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 at email@example.com for consideration.
Ukraine / Russia – 24 January 2022
Britain has started withdrawing staff from its embassy in Ukraine, amid growing fears of a Russian invasion. Officials say there have been no specific threats to British diplomats, but about half of the staff working in Kyiv will return to the UK. The US has ordered relatives of its embassy staff to leave, saying an invasion could come "at any time". Russia has denied plans for military action, but tens of thousands of troops have amassed on the border.
United Kingdom (UK) – 24 January 2022
Aviva Investors, an important UK asset manager, has put the directors of 1,500 companies on notice that it is willing to seek their removal if they fail to show enough urgency in tackling issues including the climate crisis and human rights. The firm said the way it votes on the re-election of company board members in the upcoming AGM season would be heavily influenced by its four key stewardship priorities for the year, which also include biodiversity and executive pay. In its annual letter to 1,500 companies in 30 countries including the UK, Aviva Investors urged companies to develop their own biodiversity action plans, publicly state their commitment to human rights, with appropriate due diligence, and ensure that executive pay plans – particularly bonuses – are linked to its four stewardship priorities.
United Kingdom (UK) / United States (US) – 24 January 2022
The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be able to go to the supreme court in the UK to challenge a decision allowing him to be extradited to the US to face espionage charges. However, the high court refused him permission for a direct appeal, meaning the supreme court will first have to decide whether or not it should hear his challenge. The high court last month ruled that the WikiLeaks co-founder can be extradited, as it overturned a judgment earlier last year based on concerns about Assange’s mental health and risk of suicide in a US maximum-security prison. In their ruling in December, the high court judges sided with the US authorities after a package of assurances were put forward that Assange would not face those strictest measures unless he committed an act in the future that required them.
Syria – 24 January 2022
Fears are growing over the fate of hundreds of children believed to be held by jihadist extremists inside a besieged prison in north-east Syria. Nearly 850 children are inside Ghwayran prison in Hasaka, which was stormed by Islamic State (IS) group fighters on Thursday, triggering days of battles. More than 150 people are reported to have been killed since IS launched its raid to try to free jailed fighters.
Guatemala – 25 January 2022
Indigenous women raped by paramilitaries during Guatemala’s brutal civil war have triumphed in court, when their aggressors were sentenced to 30 years each in prison. In a verdict hailed as a vindication for survivors who have spent years fighting for justice, a tribunal convicted five former paramilitary patrolmen of crimes against humanity for the rape of five Maya Achi women in the early 1980s.
United States (US) – 25 January 2022
The US has helped prepare for the diversion of natural gas supplies from around the world to Europe in the event that the flow from Russia is cut, in an effort to blunt Vladimir Putin’s most powerful economic weapon. As fears of an invasion of Ukraine have grown, US officials said that they had been negotiating with global suppliers, and they were now confident that Europe would not suffer from a sudden loss of energy for heating in the middle of winter.
El Salvador – 26 January 2022
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged El Salvador to reverse its decision to make Bitcoin legal tender. In September, El Salvador became the first country to allow consumers to use the cryptocurrency in all transactions, alongside the US dollar. The decision led to large-scale protests over fears it would bring instability and inflation to the impoverished Latin American country. Bitcoin has lost about half its value since November. The IMF has warned President Nayib Bukele of the risks the cryptocurrency poses to the country, stressing that it would be difficult to get a loan from the institution. The board's directors have now "urged the authorities to narrow the scope of the Bitcoin law by removing Bitcoin's legal tender status", according to a statement. They highlighted the "large risks associated with the use of Bitcoin on financial stability, financial integrity and consumer protection" and with issuing Bitcoin-backed bonds.
Italy – 26 January 2022
Roberto Saviano has said he felt compelled to speak up against anti-migration policies as he faces a defamation trial over remarks accusing Italy’s far-right leaders of a lack of compassion towards people dying at sea. Saviano, the author of Gomorrah, for which he infiltrated the mafia – he has been in hiding from them since 2006 – will stand trial later this year for calling the Brothers of Italy leader, Giorgia Meloni, a “bastard” after she said NGO boats that had attempted to rescue refugees should be sunk.
Yemen / United States (US) – 26 January 2022
The Saudi-led coalition used a precision-guided munition made in the United States in last week’s airstrike on a detention centre in Sa’adah, north-western Yemen, which, according to Doctors without Borders, killed at least 80 people and injured over 200, Amnesty International said today. The laser-guided bomb used in the attack, manufactured by US defence company Raytheon, is the latest piece in a wider web of evidence of the use of US-manufactured weapons in incidents that could amount to war crimes. Over the past week, the Saudi-led coalition has relentlessly pounded northern Yemen with airstrikes — including the capital city, Sana’a — that have inflicted dozens of civilian casualties and destroyed infrastructure and services. The escalation followed Houthi strikes on 17 January that targeted an oil facility in Abu Dhabi, which killed three civilians.
United States (US) – 27 January 2022
President Joe Biden will honour his commitment to make an African-American woman his first nomination to the Supreme Court, the White House says. She would replace the liberal justice, Stephen Breyer, who is expected to retire at the end of the current Supreme Court term in June. His retirement plans are yet to be officially confirmed. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told a news conference that “the President has stated and reiterated his commitment to nominating a black woman to the Supreme Court and certainly stands by that”. Only two African Americans - both men - have ever served on the court: Justice Thurgood Marshall from 1967 to 1991 and his successor Justice Clarence Thomas, who is set to become the oldest member on the bench at age 73.
Jordan / Syria – 27 January 2022
The Jordanian army says it has killed 27 drug smugglers who attempted to cross into the kingdom from Syria under the cover of heavy snow. The smugglers were backed by "armed groups", a statement said, adding that some fled back to Syrian territory. Troops "found large quantities of narcotics" where the clashes happened. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said its sources had reported clashes between Jordanian border guards and drug smugglers. According to the UK-based monitoring group, they took place in the southern countryside of Suweida province, near the border villages of Khirbet Awad and al-Mughayir. The Jordanian army vowed to strike with "an iron fist" at any smuggling or infiltrations that threatened national security.
Ukraine / United States (US) – 28 January 2022
US President Joe Biden has warned there is a "distinct possibility" Russia might invade Ukraine next month, the White House says. Russia meanwhile says it sees "little ground for optimism" in resolving the crisis after the US rejected Russia's main demands. The build-up of tens of thousands of Russian troops on Ukraine's borders in recent weeks has stoked fears of an invasion. Russia denies it is planning an attack. The US president made the comments in a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During their talk, President Biden "reaffirmed the readiness of the United States along with its allies and partners to respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine", a White House statement said.
Uzbekistan – 28 January 2022
A court in Uzbekistan has sentenced a Muslim blogger to seven and a half years in prison for something many people do every day: posting an innocuous message on Facebook. The criminal court in Tashkent’s Almazar district on January 26 found Muslim blogger and government critic, Fazilhoja Arifhojaev, guilty of threatening public security by reposting and commenting on a social media post that had questioned whether it was appropriate for a Muslim to congratulate non-Muslims on their religious holidays.