Weekly update: 13 - 20January 2020
The following media round up of international legal and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period 13 - 20 January 2020.
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 Nenad Vucijak for consideration.
Mali: 13 January 2020
A Malian court’s last minute postponement of a former junta leader’s trial is a blow to the families of 21 soldiers whose bodies were discovered in a mass grave in 2012 after they were forcibly disappeared. The trial of General Amadou Haya Sanogo and several military officials, who are accused of kidnapping, murder and complicity in the murder of the 21 Malian paratroopers, has been adjourned since 2016. Malian authorities have justified the decision on the grounds of consolidating social cohesion and concord within the army.
Mauritius: 14 January 2020
Mauritania’s first presidential transition in a decade has raised hopes that the new head of state, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, will ensure human rights protections for all Mauritanians. Under the outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, authorities used laws on criminal defamation and the counterterrorism law to prosecute and jail human rights defenders, activists, social media activists and political dissidents. Calls have also been made for Mauritius to work towards abolishing the death penalty in all circumstances.
Saudi Arabia: 14 January 2020
Saudi authorities carried out a sweeping campaign of repression against independent dissidents and activists, including two waves of mass arrests in 2019. The arrests and harassment coincided with the most significant advancements for Saudi women in recent years, however the reforms for Saudi women do not whitewash the rampant harassment and detention of Saudi activists and intellectuals, including women’s rights activists, who simply expressed their views publicly or privately. Dozens of Saudi dissidents and activists, including four prominent women’s rights defenders, remain in detention whilst they and others face unfair trials on charges tied solely to their public criticism of the government or peaceful human rights work.
Switzerland: 15 January 2020
Draconian new laws giving police sweeping powers to target “potential terrorist offenders”, including children as young as 12, must be rejected. The proposed anti-terrorism legislation would create control orders that would limit a person’s liberty, movement, expression, association, privacy, family life and right to work based on a vague notion that they might-in the future- pose a threat to national security. It would also give the police exhaustive powers including house arrest, travel bans, and electronic surveillance, with few, if any effective safeguards against abuse.
European Parliament: 16 January 2020
The European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Burundi ahead of the May 2020 elections. It also called upon authorities to drop charges and immediately and unconditionally release four journalists working for “Iwacu”, one of the country’s last remaining independent newspapers. The four journalists and their driver were arrested on 22 October 2019 whilst on a reporting trip to the Bubanza Province and subsequently charged with being complicit in “threatening the security of the state”. Their judgment is due to be delivered by the end of January. The 15-year sentence requested by the prosecutor in this case, is a warning to the few remaining journalists who dare to stay in Burundi” report on sensitive issues at your peril.
Lebanon: 16 January 2020
The Lebanese Internal Security Forces, including anti-riot police, used excessive and unlawful force against protesters on the nights of 14 and 15 January, subjecting scores of protesters to brutal beatings and carrying out waves of arbitrary arrests of many peaceful protesters. The Lawyers Committee to Defend Protesters in Lebanon estimates that security forces have arrested as many as 100 people across the country, including give children (under 18 years of age) since the start of the protests.
Morocco: 17 January 2020
Abdelqader Belliraj, a dual Moroccan and Belgian citizen, who is currently serving a life sentence following one of Morocco’s best-known trials for supposedly plotting terrorism, has apparently been held in abusive solitary detention for more than three years. Following a trial based on his and his co-defendants “confessions” which were obtained under police torture, Belliraj has been deprived of contact with inmates and confined to a cell for 23 hours a day since 2016, contravening United Nations standards on the treatment of prisoners.
Libya: 17 January 2020
Protection of civilians and justice for victims of human rights violations must be the cornerstones of any peace deal emerging from the UN-led summit in Berlin on Libya’s armed conflict. The conflict- which escalated last April with the attempted military takeover of the capital of Tripoli by Khalifa Haftar’s self-proclaimed Libyan National Army- is taking place against a backdrop of periodic armed clashes which taken a heavy toll on the civilian population. According to UN statistics, more than 284 civilians were killed and more than 140,000 displaced as a result of the armed conflict in Libya in 2019.
Egypt: 17 January 2020
The death of Mustafa Kassem, an Egyptian- American imprisoned in Egypt following an unfair trial, underscores the Trump administration’s failed approach on human rights in Egypt. Police arrest Kassem in August 2013, during protests against the military takeover in Cairo. He was held for more than five years, until his conviction and sentencing in September 2018 in an unfair trial alongside more than 700 others. According to his family, Kassem, a diabetic with a heart condition, was repeatedly refused appropriate medical care. However, his death was not for lack of US attention, two years ago Vice President Mike Pence raised Kassem’s case directly with President Al-Sisi and said that he was assured it would be given “very serious attention”. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have spoken out on Kassem’s death, their anger apparent in a press conference that took place.
European Court of Human Rights: 20 January 2020
In the case of Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Part v Hungary (application no 201/17) the European Court of Human Rights held by 16 votes to one, that there had been a violation of Article 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned a political party’s mobile application, which allowed voters to photograph anonymously and upload and comment on invalid votes cast during a referendum on immigration in 2016. The Court found in particular that the provision of domestic election law relied on by the authorities had not allowed the applicant party to foresee that it could be penalised for providing such an application, which had been an exercise of its freedom to expression.
Nepal: 20 January 2020
The horrors of Nepal’s ten-year insurgency weigh greatly on the country, with a heavy toll of killings, rapes, disappearances and torture. The conflict ended in 2006 with a peace agreement and since then, Nepal’s leaders have tried their best to shrug off responsibility for crimes committed during that period. Earlier in January, former Maoist leader, and twice Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, blurted out that he could “only” be blamed for 5,000 deaths, whilst “state forces” had killed more than 12,000. The government is yet to investigate a 2005 killing and has instead proposed the appointment of one of the suspects, Agni Sapkota, as a speaker of parliament. In 2010, the United States denied a visa to Sapkota due to “serious and specific human rights allegations associated with his conduct during the insurgency.” Negotiators for the government and opposition parties, both of which have leading members implicated in the conflict-era atrocities, agreed on a list of nominees to serve on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in response to which Victims’ groups have denounced the nominees as “loyal cadres of the political parties… another ploy to add insult to the injury of the conflict victims and give amnesty to the political masters.”
Afghanistan: 20 January 2020
Afghan authorities have made a public commitment to establish a protection mechanism for human rights defenders in a move welcomed by the international community. At an event hosted by Amnesty International in Kabul, 32 human rights organisations from across Afghanistan presented a joint strategy for the establishment of a protection mechanism for human rights defenders in an increasingly dangerous situation where they face attacks from both state and non-state actors.