International Legal News
Weekly update: 11 – 17 January 2021
The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 11 – 17 January 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.
United States of America (USA) – 11 January
UN human rights experts called for President-Elect Joe Biden’s administration to close the Guantánamo Bay detention centre as soon as possible. The UN experts asserted that detainees are being held there indefinitely, in cruel and inhumane conditions. January 11 marks the 19th anniversary of the establishment of Guantánamo. Seven hundred prisoners were at the facility in 2003, and 40 remain nineteen years later. The detainees who have been subjected to torture should not be forgotten and the indefinite detention of individuals who have not been convicted of any crime by an independent judiciary constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, or even torture. The UN experts commented that the detainees are “in a virtual legal limbo, outside of the reach of the constitutional judicial system of the United States”.
Peru – 12 January
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has found that the police in Peru have used unnecessary and excessive force to quell anti-government mass protests last November, killing two people and injuring hundreds of others. The report, which is the result of an OHCHR mission to the Peruvian capital Lima, finds that police officers did not distinguish between peaceful protesters who were in the majority, and a minority who allegedly acted violently. The report also concluded that people had been arbitrarily arrested and detained in the protests, while journalists and human rights defenders suffered threats and attacks.
“International law is clear: people have the right to peaceful assembly, and gatherings can only be dispersed in exceptional cases”, said Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
United States of America (USA) – 13 January
President Donald Trump has become the first president in US history to be impeached twice. The President was charged with inciting the riot at the US Capitol on 6 January, which left five people dead. Ten Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump, unlike in 2019 when no Republicans voted to impeach. He will face trial in the Senate, which will take place after President-Elect Joe Biden takes office on 20 January.
Lebanon – 13 January
Human rights in Lebanon have seen the most drastic deterioration in decades, including corruption on behalf of the Lebanese authorities, according to Human Rights Watch in its World Report 2021. Human Rights Watch condemned the Lebanese authorities for their excessive use of force against anti-government protesters and continuing attacks on freedom of speech. The report added that the Lebanese authorities have also failed to protect women and girls from violence and discrimination.
India – 13 January
Human Rights Watch reported how the Indian government progressively harassed, detained and prosecuted activists, journalists and those critical of the government. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) brought politically motivated cases against human rights defenders, academics, student activists, opposition members, and other critics. Further, the Indian government continued to impose harsh and discriminatory restrictions on Muslim-majority areas in Jammu and Kashmir. Human Rights Watch in its report mentioned the new media policy that the government had announced in June, which empowers the Indian authorities to decide what is ‘fake news, plagiarism and unethical or anti-national activities’ and to take punitive action against media outlets, journalists and editors. The new media policy includes vague provisions, which are open to abuse and could restrict as well as penalise legally protected speech.
Iran – 13 January
The Iranian authorities continue to imprison human rights defenders and those who speak out against the government’s conduct, including corruption, mismanagement and repression, but have taken no steps to hold accountable those accused of serious human rights violations, particularly security forces who used excessive and lethal force against protestors in November 2019. According to Human Rights Watch, scores of human rights advocates, lawyers, activists, and members of ethnic and religious minorities are serving prison sentences for peaceful dissent following unfair trials.
Russia – 14 January
In the case of Ukraine v. Russia (re Crimea), the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to examine allegations by Kyiv that Russia committed human rights violations in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula it annexed in 2014. It has declared the application partly admissible and the decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.
In its ruling, the European Court of Human Rights said that the facts complained of by the Ukrainian government did fall within the jurisdiction of Russia over Crimea on the basis of “effective control over an area”, rather than of territorial jurisdiction. As far as admissibility is concerned, the Court found that the rule of prior exhaustion of domestic remedies did not apply in this present case, which involved allegations of an administrative practice. Furthermore, the Court stated that there was sufficient prima facie evidence regarding the two elements of an alleged administrative practice, namely ‘repetition of acts’ and ‘official tolerance’.
Greece – 14 January
The case of Kargakis v. Greece concerned the medical care received by the applicant during his pre-trial detention and his conditions of detention in Diavata Prison, the lack of an effective remedy and the length of the procedure for judicial review of the lawfulness of his detention. The European Court of Human Rights held that there had been violations of the Convention, particularly the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment and, the right to an effective remedy read in conjunction with the prohibition of torture concerning the general conditions of detention in Diavata Prison. As to the right to a speedy decision on the lawfulness of detention, the Court has found no violation of the Convention.
Yemen – 14 January
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will designate Yemen’s Houthi rebel group Ansar Allah as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO). Senior UN officials have expressed concern over the potential impact of this decision stating that the blacklisting will further contribute to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen and risks expediting large-scale famine.
France – 15 January
Following a landmark migration ruling in France, experts say that air pollution will lead to mass migration. A decision has been made by a French court, which is believed to be the first time environment was cited in an extradition hearing. This case involved a man from Bangladesh with asthma who avoided deportation from France after his lawyer argued that he risked a grave deterioration of his respiratory pathology and possibly premature death due to dangerous levels of pollution in his native country.
Hong Kong – 15 January
A Hong Kong internet service provider has for the first time blocked a pro-democracy website under a national security law, consequently threatening Hong Kong residents’ internet freedom. The website known as HKChronicles published pro-democracy content and often served as the voice of those oppressed by the draconian law. The website also featured information, articles, graphics related to social unrest that erupted in 2019.
UK/Hong Kong – 15 January
David Perry QC has reportedly agreed to act for the Hong Kong government next month as part of a prosecution against media proprietor Jimmy Lai and eight other pro-democracy activists accused of taking part in a 2019 anti-government protest.
British barristers traditionally accept work under the ‘cab-rank rule’, meaning that they will accept instructions on cases within their knowledge and expertise provided they are able to do so. However, the Bar Standards Board stipulates in its Code of Conduct a number of exceptions to the principle, including that it does not apply to foreign cases.
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC said that “the truth is that we are not hired guns. We are not mercenaries that take a brief that might involve the erosion of the rule of law. The purpose of that rule [the cab rank rule] is to make sure no one goes unrepresented, that we make sure that justice to the best of all possibilities is represented in the court. That is not the situation here.”