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International Legal News - 27 December 2023

Updated: Jan 3

The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 19 December to 27 December 2023.


Guernica 37 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 at nenadv@guernica37.com for consideration.



Pakistan – 25 December


Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was accused of disclosing official secrets without authorisation under s.5 of the Official Secrets Act. Still, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has granted him bail. Khan is charged with compromising state security and fabricating information for his benefit. The Pakistani Election Commission (ECP) was directed by the Supreme Court to address complaints regarding the lack of an impartial and easily accessible procedure for the next general election. The ECP said extending the nomination period by 2 days would help potential candidates and political parties. Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Khan's political party, claimed that the government had rejected Khan's election nomination document. Khan's legal team also stated that Khan would be disqualified from running for the election without suspending the ECP's conviction for corruption charges. In August, the Federal Investigation Agency arrested and detained the vice chairperson of the PTI, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, for wrongful communication of official confidential information as well.

Niger – 25 December

Niger's military leader, Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane, has suspended all cooperation with the International Organization of Francophone Nations (OIF) to end ties with former colonial ruler France. The OIF, a French-speaking organisation, promotes political, educational, economic, and cultural cooperation among 88 members. Niger's first elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, was overthrown by a military coup in July, and the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Fatherland (CNSP) has proclaimed itself as the new leader. The CNSP has implemented measures to reject French influence in Niger, including ejecting French diplomats, blocking French media RFI and France24, and urging French troops to leave the country. The CNSP has called for the decolonisation of African people and the establishment of "Pan-Africanism" in the Sahel region. Despite international criticism and sanctions for the coup, the CNSP claimed that the UN Credentials Committee recognised the legitimacy of the new government of Niger in its report A/78/605 of December 6.

Albania – 23 December

Albania's Parliament has lifted the immunity of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Sali Berisha following his indictment on corruption charges. Prosecutors sought to strip Berisha of his parliamentary immunity because he breached their decision to report regularly while under investigation. In October, Berisha was charged with corruption and money laundering offences for allegedly using his powers as PM to corrupt senior officials to privatise a state-owned sports complex for his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi. Berisha has denied the accusations, claiming they are politically motivated. The US banned Berisha and his family from entering the country in 2021. The decision was announced by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who stated that Berisha's corrupt acts undermined democracy in Albania. Albania's political scene has been unstable as tensions between the ruling Socialist Party and the opposition continue to escalate over Berisha's corruption charges. The vote lifting Berisha's immunity puts him at risk of being arrested, and he faces a 4 to 12-year prison sentence if he is found guilty.

Indonesia – 23 December

Indonesian 74-year-old Apollinaris Darmawan has been convicted of "blasphemy" for writing a book and posting on social media his criticisms of Indonesia's Muslim leaders and Islamic law. His prosecution violates his rights to freedom of expression and belief protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other treaties ratified by Indonesia. Darmawan, a retired railway company executive who converted from Islam to Catholicism, was arrested in August 2020 by a Muslim mob and charged with defaming Islam and insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter and YouTube. In December 2020, the Bandung district court convicted Darmawan. Under the Electronic Information and Transaction Law, it sentenced him to 5 years in prison and an 800 million rupiah (US $55,000) fine for blasphemy. Darmawan has been jailed for blasphemy before, including his book Enam Jalan Menuju Tuhan (Six Ways Toward God) in 2009, which critically compared religious teachings and figures, particularly Islam. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated that "blasphemy laws … are incompatible with the Covenant." Darmawan's views should not result in prosecution and imprisonment, as he has already served two-thirds of his prison term, making him eligible for parole.

Cameroon – 22 December

Atoh Walter M. Tchemi, a prominent Cameroonian human rights lawyer, was beaten by police during a meeting with a truck driver involved in an accident in Kumba, South-West region of Cameroon. The police took the driver's identity card and license without showing an arrest warrant and ordered him to accompany them to a local police station. Tchemi was beaten, thrown in their van, and had bruises all over his body. At the station, a police commander told him to go home, which he initially refused, intending to bring legal action. The arbitrary nature of Tchemi's beating highlights the risk lawyers take in Cameroon, as they should not be targeted for doing their jobs and should be able to work without fear of harassment or assault. The authorities should promptly, credibly, and impartially investigate Tchemi's attack and issue a public statement reinforcing that abuses against lawyers won't be tolerated.

Israel – 22 December

Amnesty International has criticised the United Nations Security Council's adoption of a compromise resolution calling for urgent steps to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza and creating conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities. Arguing that the resolution is insufficient in the face of the ongoing carnage and extensive destruction wrought by Israel's attacks in the occupied Gaza Strip. The vote on the resolution, which was watered down significantly to avoid a US veto, fails to call for an immediate halt in the fighting, instead including a call to create conditions for a cessation of hostilities. Amnesty International also criticises the US for stalling and using its veto power to force the UN Security Council to weaken a call for an immediate end to attacks by all parties. The resolution seeks to establish a mechanism to expedite humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza. Amnesty International has been calling for an immediate ceasefire by all parties since October 26 to put an end to unlawful attacks and protect civilians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Malawi – 22 December

Malawi's government is jeopardising refugee rights at the Dzaleka refugee camp by expelling an important refugee rights group, INUA Advocacy. The Malawian Ministry of Homeland Security terminated its partnership with INUA Advocacy in November 2023, ordering it to vacate the camp. The group had been providing independent scrutiny of the human rights situation at the camp. The Malawian authorities should stop targeting those exposing abuses against refugees and advocating for refugee rights. INUA Advocacy and other organisations demanding respect for human rights and accountability in the treatment of refugees should be allowed to operate without fear of being deregistered or targeted by the authorities. The government's encampment policy restricts the freedom of movement of refugees and asylum seekers by requiring them to live in the camp. The group has lobbied for amending the law requiring refugees to live in the camp indefinitely and to enshrine refugees' rights to freedom of movement, work, and education.

Thailand – 21 December

Thailand is set to become the 3rd country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage, marking a significant step towards LGBTI rights. The Bills, introduced by the lower house of Thailand's Parliament, aim to recognise same-sex marriage and set a bold example for LGBTI rights in the region. However, much work still needs to be done for their complete protection. The final version of the draft legislation must not water down calls for the full spectrum of the right to family life, including access to adoption and inheritance for LGBTI couples and legal recognition of same-sex couples as 'spouses' on an equal footing with different-sex couples. Amnesty International Thailand Researcher Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong believes that if the legislation passes on 1st reading, Thailand's Parliament should prioritise the immediate adoption of the law, demonstrating to the LGBTI community that they are listening and valuing their voices.

Guinea – 21 December

Guinea's landmark trial over the 2009 stadium massacre has entered a new phase, with 7 witnesses testifying. Judges have heard from each of the 11 accused, including former President Moussa Dadis Camara, and over 100 victims, including victims of sexual violence. The massacre was one of the most brutal incidents in Guinea's history, with security forces opening fire on peaceful protesters in Conakry. Over 40 witnesses are expected to testify. The trial's recent progress follows an unprecedented incident, with four of the highest-level accused, including former President Dadis Camara, leaving the detention facility with armed forces on November 4. Security at the prison is a significant challenge, and victims and lawyers have reported facing security threats. Guinea's international partners, including the European Union, the United States government, the United Nations human rights office, and the UN's team of experts on sexual violence in armed conflict, should engage Guinean authorities to ensure that recent challenges, especially relating to security for victims, lawyers, and the accused, are surmounted.

 

Lithuania – 21 December

Human Rights Watch has submitted a report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding protecting education from attack. The submission focuses on the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental political commitment that allows countries to express support for protecting students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict. The UN Secretary-General encouraged all governments to endorse the Declaration in June 2022, and as of October 2023, 118 states have endorsed it. Lithuania has also strongly supported Ukraine following its full-scale invasion by Russia, endorsed the Declaration in 2019 and adopted an action plan for its implementation in 2021. As of January 2022, 1,000 Ukrainian military officials had been trained in the Safe Schools Declaration and the guidelines. In July 2022, a high-level military order was issued to restrict military use of educational facilities further. Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the Lithuanian government to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration and ensure that Lithuanian laws, policies, and training protect schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.

Guatemala – 20 December

Amnesty International has demanded the release of former prosecutor Virginia Laparra, who was sentenced to four years in prison for the crime of abuse of authority in December 2022. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared her detention arbitrary in May 2023, calling for her immediate release. However, Laparra has been jailed for 22 months, far from her daughters and family. The Supreme Court of Justice has suspended the hearing to consider an appeal that could allow her conditional release. Amnesty International urged the Guatemalan authorities to heed the United Nations Working Group's and the international community's call to release her immediately. The Guatemalan justice system's widespread criminalisation of justice officials, journalists, and human rights defenders who have fought corruption and impunity has forced dozens of people into exile in recent years. It is estimated that at least 45 prosecutors and judges have been forced to flee Guatemala since 2018 to avoid facing the same fate as Virginia Laparra: an unjust and baseless prosecution that would send them to prison.

Iran – 20 December

Iranian female football fans were allowed to cheer for their favourite teams at the Tehran Football Derby on December 14, marking the first time in years that women and girls have been allowed to attend stadium games. For nearly 4 decades, Iranian authorities have banned girls and women from watching football and other sports in stadiums, leading to arrests, beatings, detention, and abuses against women and adolescent girls. In September 2019, a female football fan, Sahar Khodayari, was sentenced to jail for trying to enter a stadium and died by suicide in front of Tehran's revolutionary court. In October 2019, FIFA set a deadline for Iran to allow women and girls stadium access. Still, the Iranian government has used various tactics to restrict the number of women and girls at stadiums. Iranian women campaigned against the stadium ban for over 15 years and called out FIFA's failure to use its influence on the Iranian Federation to end the discriminatory ban.

 

China – 19 December

Chinese activist Li Qiaochu is set to face trial on charges of "inciting subversion of state power," according to Amnesty International. The trial aims to silence rights activism in China, with minimal evidence of guilt by association. Since 2019, Li has been repeatedly detained, first for running a blog sharing articles written by her jailed partner, Xu Zhiyong. The trial highlights the deeply repressive environment for human rights advocates in China, even when their activities are peaceful and protected under international law. Amnesty International calls for an independent investigation into her allegations, allowing her to seek medical care. Li Qiaochu is on trial solely for exercising her right to freedom of expression and must be released. She has been detained for almost three years and faces a sentence of up to 5 years in prison or longer if deemed a ringleader. Human rights defenders in China continue to face intimidation, harassment, arbitrary detention, and torture for defending human rights and exercising their freedoms of expression and association.

Yemen – 19 December

Human Rights Watch has condemned the Houthi authorities in Yemen for sentencing a human rights defender to death on charges of espionage and "aid[ing] the enemy." Fatima Saleh al-Arwali, a 35-year-old human rights defender and former head of the Yemen office of the Arab League's Union of Women Leaders, was convicted and sentenced to death in Sanaa, Yemen. Arwali had no legal representation at the trial and had only been able to contact her family twice since her arrest in August 2022. The Houthi Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) forcibly disappeared Arwali and provided no access to legal counsel. The repression of human rights defenders and women's rights activists in Houthi-controlled territories is reaching terrifying new levels. Fatima Al-Arwali, a Yemeni woman detained in Houthi prison, has been subjected to systematic abuse and torture. Her family has attempted to visit her multiple times, but the intelligence service has blocked the visits. Arwali is reported to be kept in a mouldy room without a window and has been subjected to sexual assault and virginity tests. The Houthi government has sentenced 350 people to death since 2014 and executed 11 of them. There have been calls for a fair trial for Fatima and the end of widespread repression against women and human rights defenders in Yemen. The Houthi government should give her a fair trial and end their repression.

 

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