Weekly update: 15 March 2021 – 21 March 2021
The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 15 – 21 March 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 Kingdom (UK) / Syria – 15 March 2021
The UK government has marked the 10th anniversary of the Syrian uprising against Bashar al-Assad by imposing sanctions on six senior Syrian regime figures including Faisal Mekdad, the new Syrian foreign minister. The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, accused the six of a “wholesale assault on the very citizens they should be protecting”. The UK already has sanctions against 353 Syrian officials or entities, the most extensive by the UK against any single country, but the six announced today represent the first use of the autonomous post-Brexit British sanctions regime in Syria.
Myanmar – 15 March 2021
Myanmar security forces shot dead six people taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations today, media and witnesses said, and the military junta imposed martial law in districts of the main city Yangon which gave commanders wide powers to crush dissent. Supporters of detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi took to the streets again despite the killing of about 50 protesters on Sunday in the bloodiest day since a military coup on 1st February ignited mass demonstrations nationwide. Marches took place in the second city Mandalay and in the central towns of Myingyan and Aunglan, where police opened fire. Protesters believe China is giving support to the military in Myanmar (also called Burma) but it is unclear who was behind the weekend attacks. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group, more than 120 protesters have been killed during the crackdown.
European Union (EU) / United Kingdom (UK) – 15 March 2021
The EU has begun legal action against the UK over its alleged breach of the NI Protocol. It could lead to the UK having to defend its actions at the European Court of Justice. The European Commission's vice president said he hopes the issue can be resolved without further legal action. The protocol is the part of the Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland and has led to the creation of a new trade border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Earlier this month, the UK government changed how the protocol is being implemented without EU agreement. It delayed the introduction of new sea border checks on food, parcels and pets. It also moved unilaterally to ease the trade in horticultural products across from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The European Commission has sent a letter of formal notice to the UK saying these actions breach the substantive provisions of the protocol as well as the good faith obligation under the Withdrawal Agreement. It has asked the UK to respond within a month before it decides on further legal steps.
Africa – 16 March 2021
Children as young as 11 are being beheaded in Mozambique as part of an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced many more from their homes. Save the Children said it had spoken to displaced families who described horrifying scenes of murder, including mothers whose young sons were killed. In one case, the woman hid with her other children and had to watch her 12-year-old son being murdered. Mozambique’s northern-most province of Cabo Delgado has since 2017 been home to a festering insurgency, linked to Islamic State (Isis), that has escalated dramatically in the past year. While beheadings have always been a hallmark of the attacks, throughout 2020 the insurgents began regularly engaging the military to capture and hold key towns.
Gambia / Germany – 17 March 2021
A Gambian man has been remanded in custody in Germany on suspicion he was part of an army hit squad under the orders of ex-Gambian president Yahya Jammeh. The suspect, named only as Bai L., is suspected of crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder while working as a driver for an army unit that hunted down Yahya’s opponents between December 2003 and December 2006. He is accused of involvement in two murders and one attempted murder, including the 2004 killing of Deyda Hydara, editor and co-founder of the independent The Point daily and a correspondent for AFP for 30 years. Prosecutors said he was also allegedly the driver of a team that carried out the attempted murder of a lawyer in 2003, and the killing of another suspected opponent of the president in 2006. His case is being brought in Germany on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, including war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed.
Human Rights Watch states that this marks an important step for Gambian victims and international justice.
United Kingdom (UK) – 17 March 2021
A parliamentary committee demands tougher enforcement of updated modern slavery legislation due to the fact that numerous UK companies have operated in “wilful blindness” over the potential use of slave labour of Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region. A report by the business, energy and industrial strategy committee stated that there was “compelling evidence” that companies were “complicit in the forced labour of Uighurs in Xinjiang”. The committee urges the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to “do more to meet its commitments to uphold human rights, particularly in relation to businesses with links to China” and the committee referred to the Modern Slavery Act as being “out of date and has no teeth”, expressing their disappointment towards the government’s refusal to commit to a clear agenda for making changes.
Italy / Nigeria – 18 March 2021
An Italian court has cleared Eni and Shell over allegations of corruption in Nigeria. The long-running case centred around the $1.3bn purchase of an offshore oil block in 2011. Prosecutors had alleged that the majority of the money was used to bribe Nigerian politicians and officials, but the court in Milan said the two companies, and 13 defendants including past and current executives, had been acquitted as there was no case to answer. Their acquittal came more than three years after the trial began, but the ruling can be appealed against. Prosecutors had argued that both energy companies knew that most of the money would have been used as bribes, which is something they strongly denied. Shortly after the companies were cleared, the Nigerian government said it was disappointed by the ruling. An associate fellow at the Chatham House Africa programme, Matthew Page, stated that “this is a huge blow for natural resource governance and transparency in Nigeria…the OPL 245 deal has been a multi-layered tale of corruption and malfeasance and international complicity that’s been going on for two decades.”
Iran – 18 March 2021
UN human rights experts demanded that Iranian authorities immediately release arbitrarily detained Iranian-Swedish academic Ahmadreza Djalali who is reportedly in a critical condition and near death after months of prolonged solitary confinement. Djalali was sentenced to death on spurious espionage charges in October 2017 after being arrested during a visit to Iran to attend workshops on disaster medicine. His conviction and sentence were based on a confession extracted under torture and after an unfair trial. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found in a 2017 opinion that he was arbitrarily detained and called for his immediate release. In November 2020, experts expressed alarm over Djalali’s imminent execution when he was abruptly taken into solitary confinement. Compounding that threat is the cruel and inhuman treatment by authorities, raising fears that, even if he is not executed, he may soon die in detention. The experts asserted that “there is only one word to describe the severe physical and psychological ill-treatment of Djalali, and that is torture”.
China – 19 March 2021
According to the human rights group Amnesty International, China has forcibly separated Uighur families by taking young children into state orphanages. In a new report, Amnesty has called on China to release all Uighur children being held in orphanages without the consent of their families. The human rights group spoke to parents who left children with relatives in China when they were forced to flee the country.
Amnesty International’s China Researcher, Alkan Akad, stated that “the tragedy of family separation in Xinjiang exposes the inhumanity of China’s efforts to control and indoctrinate Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups”.