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International Legal News

Weekly update: 12 April 2021 – 18 April 2021

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 12 April 2021 to 18 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 Nations (UN) / United Kingdom (UK) – 12 April 2021

The UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, stated that the UK armed forces bill could limit accountability for war crimes if it is passed. The High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Parliament to consider that the proposed new Overseas Operations Bill risks threatening human rights obligations. The High Commissioner said that “as currently drafted, the Bill would make it substantially less likely that UK service members on overseas operations would be held accountable for serious human rights violations amounting to international crimes” and that the Bill could protect military personnel operating overseas “from due accountability for acts of torture or other serious international crimes”.

United Kingdom (UK) / European Union (EU) – 12 April 2021

Brussels is pushing for the UK to not be able to join the Lugano Convention, an international legal pact that determines which countries’ courts have jurisdiction over cross-border civil and commercial disputes. The EU is reportedly against allowing the UK to join the Convention on the grounds that it is not a member of the EEA or the EFTA. The EU’s position will be taken collectively by EU nations over the coming weeks. The UK applied to join the Lugano Convention in order to maintain stability on previous legal judgments on cross-border disputes.

Syria – 12 April 2021

An investigative team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that on 4 February 2018, a Syrian air force helicopter dropped a cylinder that released a toxic gas, namely chlorine, on a residential neighbourhood in the rebel-controlled Idlib region. The OPCW found that it released a toxic gas cloud that affected 12 individuals and the report stated that people were treated for symptoms that included nausea, eye irritation, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing. Syria and its ally Russia have persistently denied using chemical weapons during President Bashar al-Assad’s decade-old conflict, claiming that these attacks were staged by opponents.

United Nations (UN) / Myanmar – 13 April 2021

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned Myanmar could be heading towards a "full-blown" Syrian-style conflict, unless the international community intervenes to stop the violence. Warning of possible crimes against humanity, Michelle Bachelet urged countries to take immediate action to push Myanmar's military to halt the slaughter of its people. UN rights chief said, “statements of condemnation, and limited targeted sanctions, are clearly not enough. States with influence need to urgently apply concerted pressure on the military in Myanmar to halt the commission of grave human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity”.

United Nations (UN) – 14 April 2021

According to the UN’s annual state of world population report, twenty countries still permit rapists to marry their victims in order to evade justice. Russia, Thailand and Venezuela are among the countries that allow men to escape criminal prosecution if they marry the women or girls they have raped. The executive director of the UN Population Fund, Dr Natalia Kanem, asserted that “the denial of rights cannot be shielded in law. ‘Marry your rapist’ laws shift the burden of guilt on to the victim and try to sanitise a situation which is criminal.” The director of Equality Now’s Middle East and Africa region, Dima Dabbous, stated that it is difficult to amend these laws but not impossible. She referred to the law in Morocco that was repealed when a young woman committed suicide after she was coerced into marrying her rapist. The other countries that followed suit were Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Tunisia.

United Kingdom (UK) / Afghanistan – 14 April 2021

The UK military in Afghanistan is expected to leave by 11 September, at the same time as US forces. This would coincide with the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in 2001. The speaker of the Afghan parliament, Mir Rahman Rahmani, has warned that the withdrawal of foreign forces in the current circumstances would lead to civil war. The Ministry of Defence said any changes to the UK presence would be made in agreement with US and Nato allies and after consultation with its partners.

United Nations (UN) / United States (US) – 14 April 2021

According to UN human rights experts, the United States’ anti-terrorism program “Rewards for Justice” is violating the human rights of some of the individuals it targets. Operated by the US State Department, the anti-terrorism programme offers money for information on people outside the country, who the Government has designated as being associated with terrorism, although they have not been charged with any crimes. It also offers financial incentives to foreigners who claim to have terrorist ties, if they cooperate with US authorities. According to the Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, Alena Douhan, “many of the people targeted by the Rewards for Justice program have had their due process rights denied…those rights entail the presumption of innocence and fair trial, and the United States is obliged by international law to respect them.”

United States (US)/ Russia – 15 April 2021

The Biden administration imposed a series of new sanctions against Moscow over alleged interference in the 2020 election, a cyberattack against U.S. government and corporate networks, illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea, and human rights abuses. It also announced sanctions against five people and three organisations related to the Russian occupation of the Crimean region of Ukraine and human rights violations. In addition to the Treasury Department’s extensive sanctions, the State Department announced that it would expel ten officials from Russia’s diplomatic mission in the United States. The sanctions come following President Joe Biden’s phone call with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and as Russian force amass near the Ukraine border. Washington officially accused Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) – its top spy agency – as the force behind the SolarWinds cyberattack, which cybersecurity experts have described as one of the most sophisticated hacking operations in history.

Hong Kong – 16 April 2021

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been imprisoned over his role in pro-democracy protests. Mr Lai, founder of opposition newspaper Apple Daily, was one of several activists who appeared in court who had been earlier found guilty of taking part in "unauthorised assemblies" during mass pro-democracy protests in 2019. He was sentenced to 14 months in prison while nine others received jail time or suspended sentences.

Russia – 16 April 2021

The Moscow prosecutor’s office has announced that it will seek to designate Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his regional political headquarters as “extremist” organisations, which would in effect liquidate the jailed opposition leader’s political organisation in Russia. If approved, this move would mark one of the most serious steps taken on behalf of the authorities yet to target the network of groups set up by President Putin’s critic who currently is on hunger-strike.

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