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International Legal News

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

Weekly update: 15 February 2021 – 21 February 2021

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 15 – 21 February 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.

Nicaragua – 15 February 2021

Amnesty International said that political repression is intensifying in Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua, as it published a new report showing how human rights activists are specifically being targeted by the authorities.

In its 26-page report – ‘Silence at any cost: State tactics to deepen the repression in Nicaragua’ - Amnesty describes how the government has perfected its repressive machinery by using a series of sophisticated tactics to silence any form of criticism and social demand.

Last October, repressive new laws were proposed that would seriously threaten the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression in Nicaragua. The government uses the judicial system to inflict arbitrary arrests, false charges and jail. They also clamp down on human rights organisations by removing their legal registrations, raid their offices and seize their property. Human rights defenders in the country already routinely face surveillance, threats from police officers, physical attacks, and in some cases imprisonment.

Russia – 16 February 2021

In the case of Tikhonov and Khasis v. Russia, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 6(1) with regard to the impartiality of the jury which delivered a guilty verdict in the applicants’ case. In this case the applicants alleged that the court which had found them guilty of the murders of a lawyer and a journalist, who were killed in Moscow in 2009, had not been impartial. They based their allegations, among other things, on statements made by members of the jury in the media during

and after the trial court proceedings. The Court held that the national courts had not afforded sufficient guarantees to exclude any legitimate doubt as to the impartiality of the jury which had delivered the guilty verdict in the applicants’ case, and that the applicants’ right to be tried by an impartial tribunal had not

been respected.

Germany – 16 February 2021

In the case of Hanan v. Germany, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been no violation of Article 2 of the Convention on the right to life. The case concerned an airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, ordered by a Colonel of the German contingent of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), commanded by NATO. The airstrike was ordered in respect of two fuel tankers thought to have been hijacked and surrounded by insurgents, but in fact surrounded by civilians. The airstrike killed 91 civilians, including the Applicant’s two sons, and also injured 11 civilians. The Grand Chamber found that Article 1 had been triggered and that Germany was under an obligation to investigate under Article 2.

Pursuant to the Status of Forces Agreement with NATO, Germany had retained exclusive criminal jurisdiction over its troops deployed with the ISAF with respect to serious crimes. It was obliged to investigate any serious crimes committed by its troops under both international humanitarian law and domestic law. On that basis, the Grand Chamber held that there were “special features” which triggered the existence of a jurisdictional link for the purposes of Article 1 of the Convention in relation to the procedural obligation to investigate under Article 2. On the merits, the Grand Chamber held (unanimously) that the investigation conducted by the German authorities into the deaths had complied with Article 2, so there had been no violation of the Convention in the case.

United Kingdom (UK) – 16 February 2021

In the case of V.C.L. AND A.N. v. the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 4 on the prohibition of forced labour and a violation of Article 6(1) of the right to a fair trial. The case concerned two Vietnamese youths who police officers had discovered working on cannabis farms. They were arrested and charged with drugs-related offences, to which they pleaded guilty. Following their conviction, they were detained in young offenders’ institutes. A competent authority subsequently recognised them as victims of trafficking. However, the prosecution service having reviewed its decision to prosecute them, concluded that they were not victims of trafficking and the Court of Appeal found on the facts of each case that the decision to prosecute had been justified. This case marks the first time the Court has considered the relationship between Article 4 of the Convention and the prosecution of victims and potential victims of trafficking. The European Court ruled that Articles 4 and 6 of the Convention had been violated “on account of the failure of the respondent state to fulfil its positive obligations under Article 4 to take operational measures to protect the victims of trafficking”.

International Criminal Court (ICC) – 16 February 2021

The ICC saw the opening of the trial in the case of The Prosecutor v. Alfred Yekatom and Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona, charged with committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic (CAR) between 2013 and 2014. Both defendants – Ngaïssona, an alleged former senior leader of the anti-Balaka militia group, and Yekatom, accused of commanding the militias who allegedly committed the crimes – rejected all the charges and pleaded not guilty.

According to the Prosecution, Ngaïssona played an integral role in the Anti-balaka movement and became the national general coordinator of the group. The Prosecution further argued that Ngaïssona knew that he was arming, financing, organising and instructing a group that would inevitably target Muslim civilians in western CAR. Moreover, in the preliminary hearing, the Prosecution submitted that the defendants waged a campaign of violence against Muslims where mosques and schools were burnt, and women and children were raped.

The Prosecution was initially criticised for carrying one-sided investigations by only focusing on anti-Balaka leaders. In January 2021, the Court announced the surrender of Mohamat Said Abdel Kain, an alleged leader of the Seleka movement, the other major party in the conflict in CAR. The trial, hailed by Human Rights Watch as a milestone for justice for victims of international crimes, is the last trial that Fatou Bensouda will take part to as ICC Prosecutor.

Russia – 17 February 2021

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny should be released from jail immediately because of the risk to his life. Russia has said it will ignore the ruling despite a requirement to comply as a member of the Council of Europe, calling the Court’s decision “blatant and gross interference in the judicial affairs of a sovereign state”. Russia’s justice minister, Konstantin Chuychenko, called the ruling “unenforceable”, saying there was “no legal basis to free this person from custody”.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) – 18 February 2021

“I’m a hostage, I’m not free … I am enslaved, imprisoned in this jail, my life is not in my hands … I have been by myself in solitary confinement with no trial and no charge.” These are the words of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid, the 36-year-old daughter of the ruler of Dubai. She revealed details about her alleged forced confinement in a Dubai villa in secretly filmed videos, which were broadcast in a BBC Panorama documentary on Tuesday. The international community should call on the UAE to immediately and unconditionally release Sheikha Shamsa and Sheikha Latifa, and to hold to account those responsible for abducting and forcibly confining the two women.

Russia – 18 February 2021

A Russian court handed Anastasia Shevchenko, an anti-Kremlin activist, a suspended four-year sentence after finding her guilty of carrying out activities on behalf of an “undesirable” group. Shevchenko was accused of carrying out activities on behalf of Open Russia, a British-based group founded by exiled former oil tycoon and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The court ruled her activities were linked to a banned foreign organisation, Open Russia Civic Movement (ORCM). Under a highly controversial Russian law, once designated “undesirable,” a foreign or international organisation must cease all activities in Russia and anyone deemed to have affiliation can be held criminally liable. Shevchenko’s supporters said the specific activities that led to her case – taking part in a political seminar and an anti-Kremlin rally – were legal forms of political expression.

Colombia – 19 February 2021

An inquiry in Colombia has found that 6,402 civilians were killed by the military between 2002 and 2008 and falsely passed off as enemy combatants. The number of killings, known as "false positives", is almost three times higher than previous estimates. The inquiry is by a special court looking into crimes committed during a half century of conflict between troops and left wing rebels. A peace deal ending the conflict was signed in 2016. The “false positives” is the name given to the killings of young men – mainly from poor families – carried out by the Colombian army. The army's aim was to pass them off as left-wing rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to boost its kill rate and give the impression it was winning the armed conflict against the group.

The UN human rights office (OHCHR) welcomed the progress on the investigation in Colombia of people falsely presented as having been killed in combat as "an important step in fighting impunity".

United Arab Emirates (UAE) – 19 February 2021

The UN has asked the UAE for proof that the Dubai ruler’s daughter is still alive, after the release of secret messages she recorded this week claiming she was being held in captivity after the failure of a 2018 attempt to escape the emirate. A spokesperson for Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said that the UN had “expressed our concerns regarding the situation, in light of the disturbing videos which have surfaced this week. We have requested more information and clarification on the current situation.” The UAE Embassy in London said hours later that “her family confirmed that Her Highness is being cared for at home, supported by her family and health professionals. Her condition continues to improve and we hope that she will return to public life in due course.”

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