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International Legal News

Weekly update: 25 January 2021 – 31 January 2021

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 25 -31 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 Nations (UN) – 25 January 2021

The UN Secretary-General spoke virtually at the annual Park East Synagogue and United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Service to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

António Guterres expressed concern about the rise of anti-Semitism, urging coordinated global action to build an alliance against the growth of neo-Nazism and white supremacy, as well as the resurgence of xenophobia and hate speech triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Secretary-General stated that “the only way out of the COVID-19 pandemic is through science and fact-based analysis. The production of vaccines in record time is testimony to the effectiveness of this approach. There is no vaccine for antisemitism and xenophobia. But our best weapon remains the truth.”

International Criminal Court (ICC) – 25 January 2021

Central African Republic (CAR) accused, Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, surrendered to the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Mr Said is suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the CAR’s Capital, Bangui, in 2013. He is suspected of committing these crimes jointly with others and/or through others or ordered, solicited or induced these crimes or aided, abetted or otherwise assisted in the commission of these crimes; or in any other way contributed to the commission of these crimes.

Amnesty International Legal Advisor, Alice Banens, said that “the arrest and transfer of Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, who is accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, is a positive step towards justice for victims of the armed conflict that raged in the country since 2012 until now.”

A decade after the uprising that overturned politics in Egypt, political prisoners are being targeted inside the country’s overcrowded prison system.

Amnesty International have confirmed in an investigative report that Egyptian officials subject political prisoners to torture and cruel inhuman living conditions while denying them basic health care as a form of punishment. Reprisals included being held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement in abusive conditions for more than 22-23 hours a day, being denied family visits for periods of up to four years and being deprived of receiving any food packages or other necessities from relatives.

Serbia – 26 January 2021

In the case of Zličić v. Serbia, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been violations of Art.3 of the Convention on the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. The case concerned the applicant’s alleged ill-treatment by the police, the investigation into his allegations, and the proceedings that followed. The Court found in particular that the decision of the domestic courts alone was sufficient to find a violation of Art.3 concerning the alleged ill-treatment. However, it noted many other factors that would lead to that conclusion, including medical and witness evidence. The Court also found a violation of Art.3 because of the absence of an adequate investigation into the allegations.

United Kingdom (UK) / China – 27 January 2021

Prominent Jewish figures in the UK are marking Holocaust Memorial Day by speaking out over China’s treatment of its minority Uighur population, saying they have a “moral duty” to do so.

Leading British Jews have warned there are similarities between contemporary events in China’s northwest Xinjiang province, where there is mounting evidence of a state-orchestrated campaign of repression against the Uighurs, and those historic tragedies.

According to the UN, at least one million Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority, have been detained in internment camps in the Xinjiang region, which borders eight countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

International Criminal Court (ICC) – 27 January 2021

A revised version of the Code of Judicial Ethics of the ICC enters into force. In revising the ICC Code of Judicial Ethics to reflect best practices, the judges of the Court reaffirm their strong commitment to the highest ethical standards. Key amendments have been made to Art.5 of the ICC Code of Judicial Ethics concerning integrity, such as an express reference to judicial collegiality, an explicit prohibition of any form of discrimination, harassment and abuse of authority, and a new paragraph elaborating on ethical obligations in connection with the election of the Presidency. The revised Code clarifies its binding nature, as well as providing that certain ethical obligations continue to apply to former judges. It adds important concepts such as loyalty to the Court and further elaborates on judicial independence.

France – 28 January 2021

A group of six French and international human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, said that the police in France engage in longstanding and widespread ethnic profiling that constitutes systemic discrimination, as they initiated the first class action against the French state over the practice. The organisations sent a letter of formal notice to the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior, and the Minister of Justice to press for structural reforms and concrete measures to put an end to discriminatory police practices. Human Rights Watch states that ethnic profiling by law enforcement in France is a widespread and well-documented problem. National and international organisations, French human rights institutions, and the UN have all called on France to take steps to prevent and punish ethnic or racial discrimination by police officers.

Brazil – 28 January 2021

Human Rights Watch said that the administration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is using a repressive law enacted during the country’s dictatorship (1964-1985) to seek prison sentences against people who have criticised its disastrous response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The director of Human Rights Watch’s Americas division, José Miguel Vivanco, asserted that “the National Security Law grants special protections to the reputations of high-level officials, including the president, and the armed forces that no other Brazilian citizen or institution receives…In a democratic country that protects freedom of expression, the public should be able to scrutinize and criticize officials, and freely debate matters in the public interest, without fear of retaliation or punishment.”

Russia – 29 January 2021

Russian anti-Putin campaigner Alexei Navalny has denounced his detention as "blatantly illegal" in an appeal hearing via video link. He was arrested on 17 January for not complying with a suspended sentence and he had only just arrived from Berlin, where he spent months recovering from a near-fatal Russian nerve agent attack. Thousands of Navalny supporters protested across Russia last Saturday. His lawyers protested that Mr Navalny's hasty trial at a police station on 18 January had lacked transparency and that they had been denied access to him. Alexei Navalny accuses President Vladimir Putin of running an administration full of "thieves" and Mr Putin refuses to name him in public and belittles him as simply a "blogger".

European Union (EU) / United Nations (UN) – 29 January 2021

The EU must boldly rethink its socio-economic governance if it is to live up to its commitment to eradicate poverty, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said at the end of an official visit to the EU’s institutions. The crisis arising from Covid-19 has affected many Europeans who had never experienced poverty before. Olivier De Schutter said, “I have spoken with people who have experienced hunger for the first time, who have been exposed because they are homeless, and who have been maltreated and abused because of poverty” and that the EU can play a key role in strengthening member states’ anti-poverty efforts, particularly through annual recommendations it issues to its Member States.

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