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International Legal News

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Weekly update: 9 August 2021 – 15 August 2021

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 9 August 2021 to 15 August 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.

Pakistan – 9 August 2021

Responding to reports that an eight-year-old Hindu boy in Bhong village in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab has been charged with blasphemy – which can carry a mandatory death penalty – after he was alleged to have urinated in the library of a madrasa (religious school) where religious texts were kept, prompting a mob attack on a local Hindu temple, Rimmel Mohydin, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, said: “Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have long been abused to target minority groups, but this case marks a shocking and extreme departure. As well as ensuring that these ludicrous charges are dropped, Pakistan’s authorities must immediately provide adequate protection for the boy, his family, and the wider Hindu community. Those responsible for the ensuing mob violence must also be held accountable.”

Belarus – 9 August 2021

Following last year’s widely disputed presidential election, Belarusian authorities have unleashed a campaign of brutal reprisals against dissent and committed a plethora of human rights violations and crimes under international law against the country’s people. These violations include unlawful use of force, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and abductions, and politically motivated prosecutions under trumped-up charges. Dozens of human rights NGOs and other civil society organisations have been arbitrarily closed and many of their staff have been arrested as suspects in fabricated criminal cases or forced into exile. At least three peaceful protestors have died as a result of police use of force, while tens of thousands were subjected to arbitrary arrests and detention. Hundreds more have complained of torture. These violations have not been investigated, and suspected perpetrators have not faced any charges.

China / Canada – 10 August 2021

A Canadian citizen has lost his appeal against a death sentence in China for drug smuggling. The court said it upheld Robert Lloyd Schellenberg's sentence because evidence against him was "sufficient". Schellenberg was initially sentenced to 15 years in jail, but in 2019 an appeal court said this was too lenient, leading to a retrial and a death sentence. The Canadian ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, condemned the Chinese court's ruling, saying it was "no coincidence" that the verdict was released while an extradition battle involving senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was ongoing in Canada.

India – 10 August 2021

In an extraordinary rebuke over police brutality, India’s chief justice has said the most dangerous places in the country for threats to human rights are police stations. Nuthalapati Ramana said that rather than being the safest places, “the threat to human rights and bodily integrity are the highest in police stations” and “custodial torture and other police atrocities are problems which still prevail in our society”. He stated that one of the causes of police misconduct was that when brought in for questioning or arrested most Indians had no lawyer to represent them, leaving them at the mercy of corrupt officers.

Afghanistan – 10 August 2021

UN Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet condemned disturbing reports of Taliban violence against communities now under their control in Afghanistan. She said in a statement that there was “fear and dread” across Afghanistan, which had driven people to flee their homes. Women have been flogged and killed in areas overrun by the extremists, while journalists and human rights defenders had also been attacked and killed.

Belarus – 10 August 2021

Latvia has declared a state of emergency and Lithuania is mulling a razor-wire fence to stop record numbers of migrants crossing their borders from Belarus, amid claims Minsk is using the arrivals as leverage on EU states to reverse sanctions. Authorities in the two Baltic states and Poland have faced increases in illegal migration so severe they have appealed to Brussels for help, accusing the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, of orchestrating the crossings in a form of “hybrid warfare”. Vilnius, Riga and Warsaw believe Lukashenko is using the migrants, mainly from Iraq, to pressure the bloc into lifting sanctions imposed over his ferocious crackdown on opponents after last year’s disputed elections, widely seen as rigged.

Libya / Russia – 10 August 2021

A new BBC investigation has revealed the scale of operations by a Russian mercenary group in Libya's civil war, which includes links to war crimes and the Russian military. A Samsung tablet left by a fighter for the Wagner group exposes its key role as well as traceable fighter codenames, and the BBC has a "shopping list" for state-of-the-art military equipment which expert witnesses say could only have come from Russian army supplies. Russia denies any links to Wagner. The Samsung computer tablet also provides evidence of the mercenaries' involvement in the mining and booby-trapping of civilian areas. Placing landmines without marking them is a war crime.

China / Canada – 11 August 2021

A court in China has convicted a Canadian businessman of espionage and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. Michael Spavor has been detained since 2018, after being arrested with fellow Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig. The verdict will test a strained relationship between the Canadian and Chinese governments. It comes as an extradition battle involving Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei, takes place in Canada. Critics have accused China of treating both Spavor and Kovrig as political bargaining chips, held as part of what is known as "hostage diplomacy".

United Kingdom / United States – 11 August 2021

The WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has lost a high court battle to prevent the US government expanding the grounds for its appeal against an earlier refusal to allow his extradition to face charges of espionage and hacking government computers. Judges said the weight given to a misleading report from Assange’s psychiatric expert that was submitted at the original hearing in January could form part of Washington’s full appeal in October.

Germany / Russia – 11 August 2021

A British man has been arrested in Germany on suspicion of spying for Russia. German federal prosecutors said the man - named only as David S - worked at the British embassy in Berlin. He allegedly passed documents to Russian intelligence "at least once" in exchange for an "unknown amount" of money. He was arrested in Potsdam outside Berlin, and his home and workplace have been searched. A spokesman for Germany's foreign ministry quoted by AFP news agency said Berlin was taking the case "very seriously" and said spying by "a close alliance partner on German soil is unacceptable". The arrest was the result of a joint UK-German investigation.

Africa – 11 August 2021

Amnesty International has said in a 36-page report that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have raped hundreds of women and girls during the Tigray war, subjecting some to sexual slavery and mutilation. Some survivors said they had been gang raped while held captive for weeks on end. Others described being raped in front of their family members.

Africa / International Criminal Court (ICC) – 11 August 2021

The Sudanese government will hand Omar al-Bashir over to the ICC along with other officials wanted over the Darfur conflict. Bashir, who ruled Sudan for three decades before being deposed in 2019, faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The conflict in Darfur began around 2003 when several rebel groups took up arms against the government in Khartoum. ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said that he is mandated, as an ICC official and in accordance with his mandate from the UN Security Council, to conduct independent investigations into what happened in Darfur.

Poland – 12 August 2021

Poland's parliament passed a legislation that would put an end to most legal claims for properties confiscated after World War II. The bill states that administrative decisions can no longer be challenged in court after the expiration of a 30-year period, essentially preventing Jews from recovering property seized by Poland's communist-era authorities. The controversial bill has increased tensions between Poland and Israel, which had previously summoned the Polish ambassador over the proposed legislation. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid stated, "I condemn the legislation that was passed in the Polish Parliament today, which damages both the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of its victims”.

Israel / Palestine – 12 August 2021

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Palestinian armed groups’ rocket and mortar attacks during the May 2021 fighting in the Gaza Strip, which killed and injured civilians in Israel and Gaza, violated the laws of war and amount to war crimes. Palestinian and Israeli authorities have a long track record of failing to investigate alleged war crimes, highlighting the importance of the International Criminal Court’s investigation into Israeli and Palestinian conduct.

International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) – 12 August 2021

Claudia Salomon, appointed the first female President of the ICC International Court of Arbitration on 1 July 2021, has given her views on a range of topics including her first weeks in the role, her commitment to diversity and inclusion, how she intends to build on the successes of her predecessor to ensure a client-focused mindset for the ICC Court and ICC Arbitration, a likely increased role for technology, and the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic.

Egypt – 13 August 2021

Amnesty International stated that the Egyptian authorities have failed to hold accountable a single member of security forces for killing at least 900 people during their violent dispersal of sit-ins in Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares. Twelve men are facing imminent execution and hundreds of others are serving lengthy prison terms over their involvement in the protests, demonstrating the corrupt priorities of Egypt’s so-called justice system.

Afghanistan – 13 August 2021

The UN has urged Afghanistan's neighbours to keep their borders open as the number of civilians fleeing the Taliban onslaught increases. Thousands of those internally displaced have been arriving in Kabul, seeing the capital as their last safe refuge. Many of those seeking safety in Kabul have been sleeping on the streets. According to Save the Children, about 72,000 children are among those fleeing to the capital in recent days.

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