International Legal News
Weekly update: 29 March 2021 – 4 April 2021
The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 29 March to 04 April 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) – 29 March 2021
The UK Home Office is facing an investigation after failing to reveal the number of British women who have been stripped of their UK citizenships, after travelling abroad to join the Islamic State group (IS). The data was requested by a human rights group that monitor the conditions of British women kept in camps in north eastern Syria, but following the refusal of the Home Office the case has been taken up by the information commissioner. Alison Huyghe, advocacy officer with Rights and Security International, stated that “we need to know about any risk of discrimination or other patterns of gender-related harm when the government takes people’s British citizenship away”. British law allows the home secretary to take away somebody’s nationality if doing so is deemed “conducive to the public good” – although it is illegal to render somebody stateless if they are not eligible for citizenship of another country. A legal challenge from Shamima Begum failed in the supreme court last month, although her lawyers continue to consider their options.
Russia – 29 March 2021
A Russian court extended the pre-trial detention of activist Mikhail Iosilevich, the first person put behind bars in connection with his prosecution under Russia’s abusive “undesirable foreign organisation” law. By the time the extension ends on April 28, Mr. Iosilevich will have spent three months behind bars without being convicted of something that should not be a crime in the first place. This amounts to a violation of his right to liberty and of Russia’s obligations under regional and international human rights treaties.
International Criminal Court (ICC) – 30 March 2021
The Appeals Chamber of the ICC delivered its judgments confirming by majority the decision of Trial Chamber VI of 8 July 2019, which found Bosco Ntaganda guilty of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ituri (Democratic Republic of Congo), in 2002-2003. Furthermore, the Appeals Chamber unanimously confirmed the Trial Chamber's decision of 7 November 2019, by which Mr Ntaganda was sentenced to a total of 30 years of imprisonment. Ntaganda’s lawyers had sought to overturn his conviction, saying the original trial was riddled with legal errors. The conviction and the sentence are now final. In March, judges at the ICC ordered reparations of $30 million for Ntaganda’s victims.
Central African Republic (CAR) / Russia – 30 March 2021
According to a group of independent UN experts, Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group, a private military contractor, have committed human rights abuses in the CAR while fighting alongside government forces. The UN working group said it was “deeply disturbed” by the connections between Russian mercenaries and a series of violent attacks that have taken place in the CAR since elections in December. According to the UN experts, the Russian contractors work closely with the 15,000 strong UN peacekeeping mission that has been based in CAR since 2014. The role of the UN multidimensional integrated stabilisation mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) is to protect civilians and provide an environment to allow the country to build durable institutions. The Chair-rapporteur of the UN working group on mercenaries, Jelena Aparac, asserted that “this blurring of the lines between civil, military and peacekeeping operations during the hostilities creates confusion about the legitimate targets and increases the risks for widespread human rights and humanitarian law abuses”.
France / Mali – 30 March 2021
A UN report concludes that a French airstrike killed 19 civilians and three armed men at a wedding in Mali on 3 January. The French ministry of defence disputed the finding stating that the strike targeted an armed terrorist group. The day after the attack, the fact-finding team within the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA), composed of 15 human rights officers, and supported by two UN forensic experts and two public information officers, investigated the strike and elucidated the allegations surrounding the deaths. As part of their investigation, the team organised at least 115 face-to-face interviews, spoke to at least 200 people during group meetings, and carried out more than a hundred telephone interviews.
Council of Europe (CoE) – 31 March 2021
The CoE Committee of Ministers adopted a formal Recommendation which provides a framework for member States to better regulate the trade in goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Recommendations include a trade ban on inherently abusive equipment, such as spiked batons, weighted leg irons and body worn electric shock weapons, and stringent trade controls on standard law enforcement equipment that can be readily misused to inflict torture or other ill-treatment, such as pepper spray, tear gas and electric shock projectile weapons. In addition, the Recommendation encompasses guidance for regulating the trade in certain pharmaceuticals that risk being misused for the purpose of lethal injection executions. The Research Associate at the Omega Research Foundation, Dr Michael Crowley, expressed hope that “this will pave the way for the negotiation of a legally binding international instrument to address the trade in torture and death penalty technologies globally”.
International Criminal Court (ICC) – 31 March
The Appeals Chamber of the ICC delivered its judgment on the Prosecutor's appeal against Trial Chamber I's decision of 15 January 2019, which had acquitted, by majority, Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé of all charges of crime against humanity for their alleged role in post-election violence in Côte d'Ivoire in 2010-2011. The trial ended after the prosecution finished its case and before the defence began, saying evidence submitted was not enough to support a conviction.
Hong Kong – 1 April 2021
Seven of Hong Kong's most prominent pro-democracy campaigners have been convicted of unlawful assembly relating to huge demonstrations two years ago. Media tycoon Jimmy Lai as well as lawyer and former legislator Martin Lee were among those found guilty of organising an unauthorised march. The group of seven will be sentenced at a later date. Some of them are also facing other charges, including under the Beijing-imposed national security law, which was introduced in response to 2019's mass protests and carries severe penalties, including long prison terms.
Russia – 1 April 2021
Alexei Navalny has gone on hunger strike after saying he was denied urgent medical treatment in prison. The Russian opposition leader has complained of a sharp deterioration in his health since his transfer to a prison colony in the Vladimir region to serve a two-and-a-half year sentence on embezzlement charges. The colony, which is 60 miles from Moscow, is notoriously strict and said to excel at isolating inmates from the outside world. In a handwritten letter addressed to the governor of his prison, Mr. Navalny said daily requests for a doctor of his choice to examine him and for proper medicine had been ignored.
Myanmar – 2 April 2021
Senior UN officials strongly condemned the widespread violence by Myanmar’s security forces against civilians, including children, as the members of the Security Council expressed alarm at the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country. They also urged all sides to refrain from violence and called again for the immediate release of all detainees, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.