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International Legal News

Weekly update: 15 - 21 September.

The following media round up of international legal and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period 15 to 21 September 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.

El Salvador – 11 September 2020

Spain’s highest criminal court, the Audiencia Nacional, has convicted Inocentre Orlando Montano, a former Salvadoran army colonel, of the murder of five Spanish Jesuits during El Salvador’s civil war as part of an attempt to derail peace talks. He was extradited to Spain from the USA and tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction. The five Spanish victims were killed alongside three Salvadoran victims. While the court said that it considered Mr Montano responsible for these other three murders, he could not be convicted of their killings as he had only been extradited for the trial of the murders of the five Spaniards.

Aludena Bernabeu, co-founder of Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers and member of the prosecution team who helped build the case against Montanao and get him extradited from the US, said the verdict demonstrated the importance of universal jurisdiction.

Bolivia – 15 September 2020

The Bolivian government, led by interim President Jeanine Anez, has asked the ICC to investigate whether deaths linked to the coronavirus pandemic may constitute a crime against humanity. It has accused former President Evo Morales and other members of the Movimiento al Socialismo party of causing deaths by blocking access to medical supplies and oxygen. Roadblocks were erected amidst protests against a decision to delay elections – the government submits that among the goals of the blockades was the prevention of access to public health supplies with the direct consequence of causing the death of several people. It alleges that this conduct was aimed at forcing serious social upheaval that would induce the authorities to take a decision on the upcoming presidential elections.

Syria – 15 September 2020

On 15 September 2020, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria released its latest report, documenting human rights violations committed during the first half of this year in Syria.

The report highlights different types of violations by various State and non-State actors to the conflict. It suggests that the Syrian government continued to perpetrate crimes against humanity of enforced disappearance, murder, torture, sexual violence and imprisonment. According to the Commission, some of these acts may also amount to war crimes. The report further finds that government forces may have also perpetrated the war crime of collective punishment by unlawfully depriving individuals of their property and imposing arbitrary restrictions on movements. Moreover, it states that pro-government forces may have committed the crimes against humanity of forced transfer, murder and other inhumane acts in December 2019 and January and February 2020, as well as the war crime of launching an indiscriminate attack resulting in death and civilian injury.

ICTY – 15 September 2020

On 15 September 2020, the former Bosnian Serb politician Momcilo Krajisnik died of COVID-19 at the age of 75. Krajisnik was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment in March 2009 by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for the crimes against humanity of deportation, forcible transfer and persecution of non-Serbs during the Bosnian war of 1992 – 95. The Appeals Chamber overturned the Trial Chamber’s convictions for extermination and murder and therefore amended the initial sentence of 27 years. In July 2013, Krajisnik was granted early release by Judge Meron, the President of the ICTY. In granting the release, Judge Meron argued that Krajisnik has been rehabilitated and the risk of him committing new crimes was low.

Israel/Palestine – 16 September 2020

On 16 September 2020, Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC I) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) rendered its decision on a March 2020 application by the Government of the Union of the Comoros for judicial review under Article 53(3)(a) of the Rome Statute. In its application, the Comoros requested PTC I to order the ICC Prosecutor to reconsider her 2019 Decision not to Investigate alleged crimes committed during a raid by Israeli Defence Forces against the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on 31 May 2010.

In response to the Comoros’ application, PTC I made two conclusions. First, PTC I found that the Prosecutor did not genuinely reconsider her 2019 not to Investigate. PTC I reasoned that the Prosecutor applied the “reasonable basis to believe,” standard in a manner inconsistent with the PTC’s interpretation of it. PTC I further reasoned that the Prosecutor made premature determinations with regard to both the scope of the potential cases and the nature and extent of the victimization, failed to assess factors and information relevant to the gravity assessment as instructed by the Chamber, and relied on considerations that are irrelevant to the gravity assessment or the specific factor concerned.

Second, notwithstanding its finding that the 2019 Decision not to Investigate is not the result of a genuine reconsideration, PTC I decided not to request the Prosecutor to reconsider her 2014 Decision not to Investigate.

Myanmar - 17 September 2020

The Myanmar military has stated it is investigating “possible wider patterns of violations,” that may have occurred before and during the 2017 operation in Rakhine state. That year, more than 730,000 Rohingya from Rakhine state fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, reporting mass killings, rape, and burning of villages. The army has consistently denied genocide, arguing that it was carrying out a legitimate operation in Rakhine state against rebels. Only certain troops have been court martialled over incidents in some villages, but no details of the proceedings have been released. This marks the first time the Myanmar government has acknowledged possible larger patterns of abuse.

Venezuela - 17 September 2020

A team of independent UN investigators stated the Venezuelan government has committed serious human rights violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity. The fact-finding mission for the UN Human Rights Council published a report noting systematic violence used by Venezuela’s security forces from 2014, which the team believes was used to suppress political opposition. In their report, the team named President Nicolás Maduro and 44 other top officials, saying they were aware of the crimes being committed and, in some cases, gave orders and supplied resources.

Finland - 17 September 2020

In the case of Kotilainen and Others v. Finland, concerning the 2008 school shooting in the town of Kauhajoki in which 10 students and a teacher were killed, the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of the right to life.

The Court held that the authorities could not have known of a real and immediate risk to the lives of the applicants’ relatives. However, having known of posts on the Internet by the perpetrator of the shooting, the police had interviewed him the day before the attack but had not deemed it necessary to confiscate his weapon. Hence, the authorities had not fulfilled their duty of diligence flowing from the particularly high level of risk inherent in any misconduct involving the use of firearms.

Syria/The Netherlands - 18 September 2020

Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers is proud to assist the Government of the Netherlands in an important step to ensure that impunity is brought to an end and that there is justice and accountability for all victims of torture in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Government of the Netherlands has taken a critically important first step in addressing the Syrian State’s failure to respect its obligations under international treaty law for widespread human rights violations, including acts of torture prohibited by the Convention Against Torture, a treaty to which Syria is a party. Guernica 37 will work alongside the Government of the Netherlands in the collection of evidence and ensuring the input from Syrian victims.

Syria – 18 September 2020

The human rights situation in parts of north, northwest and northeast Syria under the control of Turkish forces and Turkish-affiliated armed groups is grim, with violence and criminality rife, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned on Friday 18 September 2020.

While human rights and international humanitarian law violations against civilians continue across Syria, the UN Human Rights Office has noted an alarming pattern in recent months of grave violations in these areas, including in Afrin, Ras al-Ain, and Tel Abyad, where increased killings, kidnappings, unlawful transfers of people, seizures of land and properties and forcible evictions have been documented.

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