MONTHLY WRAP JUNE 2023
UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered spywares and disinformation are on the rise, and regulation of digital space has become urgent, according to independent rights experts. The UN Human Rights Council appointed experts condemned the already “alarming” use and impacts of spyware as well as surveillance technologies on the work of human rights defenders and journalists, “often under the guise of national security and counter-terrorism measures”. They also called for regulation to address the lightning-fast development of generative AI that’s enabling mass production of fake online content which spreads disinformation and hate speech. The experts stressed the need to ensure that such systems do not further expose individuals and communities to human rights violations, including through the expansion and abuse of invasive surveillance practices that violate the right to privacy, facilitate the commission of serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, and discrimination.
In his annual review presented to the UN Human Rights Council, UN human rights chief, Volker Türk insisted that such cooperation was “vital” in a world plagued by conflict, climate disasters and development setbacks. A lack of strong cooperation with the international human rights system leaves States “adrift”, as Mr. Türk addressed rights emergencies in dozens of countries including Iran, Mali and Russia. Mr. Türk said, following a request from Mali to the UN Security Council to immediately withdraw its peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, from the country. The UN human rights chief called on Russia to cooperate with the Council-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine. He stressed the need for human rights monitors to have access to both Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia, and to Russia itself, “not least, to visit civilian detainees, prisoners of war and Ukrainian children and people with disabilities who have been taken to these areas”. Turning to Iran, Mr. Türk expressed concern over the “massive” recent increase in executions of prisoners – mostly for drug-related offences and a disproportionately high number representing minorities – as well as continuing discrimination against women and girls. Regarding Afghanistan, Mr. Türk deplored the dismantling of “the most fundamental principles of human rights”, particularly for women and girls, by the country’s de facto authorities, while noting that some “openings for engagement” have been possible, notably by experts including the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan, Richard Bennett.
Although the UN tribunal prosecuting decades-old war crimes in Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia is moving closer to completion, much remains to be done, the Security Council heard on 12 June. Two senior officials with the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), briefed ambassadors on recent developments, including the arrest of a top fugitive from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, and the final verdict related to atrocities committed in the Balkan wars. Judge Graciela Gatti Santana, Mechanism President, reported that in-court proceedings are all but concluded as only one case related to core crimes committed in Rwanda now remains on the docket. “This represents a watershed moment in the life of the Mechanism and for international criminal justice more generally,” she said. The Mechanism performs essential functions previously carried out by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which closed in December 2015, and another for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, which concluded two years later. Ms. Gatti Santana also addressed areas that she said require the Council’s “urgent attention and vigorous backing”, such as enforcement of sentences. However, she reported that arguably the biggest threat they face is the “relentless attempts to undermine our current work and also the judgements issued by the ICTR, the ICTY and the Mechanism”. “Moreover, there is the disturbing trend of genocide denial, the glorification of war criminals, the purported re-writing of history, and even provocative statements by convicted persons shamelessly admitting that they would do it all over again,” she added on.
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – residual functions
The General Assembly, recalling its resolution 75/257 B of 7 July 2021 and resolution 57/228 B of 13 May 2003, Welcoming the efforts of the Secretary-General and the Royal Government of Cambodia towards completion of the work of the Extraordinary Chambers, including with regard to the drawdown of activities and the residual functions:
1. Encourages the Secretary-General and the Royal Government of Cambodia to take all the measures necessary to fully implement the Addendum to the Agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia concerning the prosecution under Cambodian law of crimes committed during the period of Democratic Kampuchea on the Transitional Arrangements and the Completion of Work of the Extraordinary Chambers;
2. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the General Assembly at its seventy-ninth session on the implementation of the present resolution.
UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICE OF THE HIGHT COMMISSIONER
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Jill Edwards, expressed alarm at reports and testimonies which appear to indicate that Russian military forces in Ukraine are consistently and intentionally inflicting severe physical and psychological pain and suffering on Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war. “The alleged practices include electric shocks, beatings, hooding, mock executions and other threats of death,” the UN expert said. “If established, they would constitute individual violations and may also amount to a pattern of State-endorsed torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Reports indicate that as a result of torture, ill-treatment and poor conditions of detention many Ukrainian civilians and prisoners of war have suffered physical and psychological traumas. Most individuals reportedly did not have access to adequate medical assistance during their detention.
From 30 May until 2 June 2023 Over 200 delegates from more than 90 countries convened at UNESCO Headquarters to discuss the second draft of the 1974 Recommendation concerning education for International understanding, co-operation and peace and education relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms. This signature normative instrument provides a clear roadmap on how education should evolve in the 21st century to drive peace, reaffirm human rights and promote global citizenship and sustainable development in the face of contemporary threats and challenges. During the four days, delegates – technical and legal experts from Member States and Associate Members of UNESCO – thoroughly analyzed and discussed the text in view of its finalization. The outcome of the first meeting was the adoption of the Title, Definitions, Aims, Scope, Guiding Principles, and part of the Action Areas.
On 5 June 2023, the Ministry of Culture of Italy hosted an event to present the new capacity-building course on the safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the country, jointly organised with the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.
Managed by UNESCO through its Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, in close cooperation with the General Secretariat of the Ministry, the course is part of the activities promoted by the Italian Observatory for the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. Its objectives are to increase awareness, knowledge and skills of relevant actors while also advancing nationwide networking and cooperation.
The course, which is part of UNESCO’s global capacity-building programme for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage is primarily aimed at the communities associated with the 17 Italian elements inscribed on the Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices, as well as at the staff from competent bodies, civil society organizations, researchers, and other practitioners in the field of living heritage.
Publication of the decisions of the 216th session of the Executive Board
On 23 June 2023, the decision of the 216th session of the Executive Board of UNESCO was published.
Acting under the authority of the General Conference, the Board examines the programme of work for the Organization and corresponding budget estimates submitted to it by the Director-General.
During the 216th session, the Executive Board adopted the agenda as set out in document 216 EX/1, approved the summary records of its 215th session and analyzed the implementation of the program adopted by the last meeting of the General Conference. With regard to what emerged from the 216th session, the Executive Board recognizes the crucial importance of promoting intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace within the mandate of UNESCO and invites Member States to express their willingness to host the annual Global Forum against Racism and Discrimination. Notes with appreciation the decisions and actions taken by various governing bodies of the UNESCO conventions and intergovernmental programs in support of Ukraine, welcomes the efforts made by the Secretariat, the deployment of a UNESCO Liaison officer to Kyiv and the wide-ranging actions undertaken and planned by UNESCO in its fields of competence to bolster its emergency assistance program for Ukraine; Reiterates its invitation on the governing bodies of all relevant UNESCO conventions and intergovernmental programs to assess and develop measures taking into account the evolving situation in Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders across UNESCO’s fields of competence. It invites the Director-General to ensure the continued implementation of the UNESCO Emergency Assistance Program for Ukraine and, to that end, to continue mobilizing all relevant partners, and requests the Director-General to actively monitor the situation in Ukraine. Furthermore, the Executive Board expresses its appreciation to the Director-General for her efforts to ensure the UNESCO’s active inclusion of in the UN reform processes and for further progress in harmonizing its action at the country level with the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF). It welcomes the range of actions already undertaken and urges the Director-General to continue to establish UNESCO as a strong and credible organization delivering on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and contributing to the action of the United Nations system for development in order to accomplish its mission in a more integrated and fit-for-purpose United Nations development system. Finally, the Executive Board requests the Director-General to present to it, at its 217th session, a report on UNESCO’s contribution to the United Nations Summit of the Future to be held in 2024.
INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE
Admissibility of the declarations of intervention filed by 33 States in the case concerning Allegations of Genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Ukraine v. Russian Federation).
On 9 June 2023, by an order dated 5 June 2023, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, has decided on the admissibility of the declarations of intervention filed by 33 States in the case concerning Allegations of Genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Ukraine v. Russian Federation). The Court decided that the declarations of intervention under Article 63 of the Statute submitted by a certain number of States are admissible at the preliminary objections stage of the proceedings in so far as they concern the construction of Article IX and other provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide that are relevant for the determination of the jurisdiction of the Court.
INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT
Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim A.A. Khan KC, on the referral by the Democratic Republic of the Congo regarding the situation in its territory
The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has submitted a new referral to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court exercising its prerogatives, as a State Party, under article 14 of the Rome Statute. In its referral, the Government of the DRC requests that the Court initiate an investigation into alleged crimes under the Statute committed in North Kivu province of DRC, from 1 January 2022 to date. This is the second referral by the Government of the DRC concerning alleged Rome Statute crimes committed on its territory.
The initial appearance of Mr Abd-Al-Rahman before the ICC took place on 15 June 2020. According to the Prosecution’s submission of the Document Containing the Charges, Mr Abd-Al-Rahman is suspected of 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed between August 2003 and at least April 2004 in Darfur, Sudan.
Here we are talking about the judgment on the appeal of Mr Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman against the decision of Trial Chamber I of 17 February 2023 entitled “Decision on the
admissibility of video and records of telephone calls and on 28 June 2023 the Gudice expressed the acceptability of such evidence in the course of the trial, considering it not detrimental to the accused and thus not infringing Articles 55 and 21 of the Statute, or any norm of customary international law or human rights treaties.
The Netherlands and Canada are summoning Syria to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In their application, Canada and the Netherlands claim that “Syria has committed countless violations of International law, beginning at least in 2011,” and asked for emergency measures to be taken to protect those at risk of being tortured, as stated by the ICJ. Syria’s 12-year civil war has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and dragged on by regional and world powers. The devastation of the conflict has been made worse by the large-scale destruction caused by earthquakes that hit northwestern Syria in February 2023.
A 170-page long complaint has been lodged against Senegalese president Macky Sall. His main opponent Ousmane Sonko has filed a criminal complaint in France for “crimes against humanity” allegedly committed between March 2021 and June 2023. While the government toll for June is 16 dead, Amnesty International has counted 23 fatalities and the opposition tally stands at 30. Sonko alleges that deadly clashes following his sentencing to jail time this month are the latest step in “a generalised and systematic attack on the civilian population” of Senegal since March 2021.
EUROPEAN PUBLIC PROSECUTOR OFFICE
On 20 June 2023, the Italian Guardia di Finanza (Guardia di Finanza) seized assets for about 650,000 euros from one of the suspects in the “Cheap Ink” investigation, conducted by the European Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) of Venice (Italy). The suspect, an entrepreneur from Bolzano, would be part of a criminal organization that sold cheap office supplies fraudulently evading payment of VAT, with profits estimated at 58 million. The judicial order comes in the wake of earlier proceedings in the ‘Cheap Ink’ investigation. Earlier this year, on 26 January 2023, 18 suspects were arrested, including two entrepreneurs of Padua origin (father and son), believed to be the promoters of the scam.
Three people have been charged with subsidy and procurement fraud, in an investigation led by the European Public Prosecutor’s Office in Zlín (Czechia) into suspected manipulation of a public contract at the National History Museum in Olomouc. The defendants are a public official who worked for the museum and another two former employees. The accusations relate to the project ‘Virtual Museum in education – the use of new digital technologies in the connection of formal and informal education’, financed by the European Structural and Investment Funds, Operational Programme for Research, Development and Education, and granted by the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. The estimated damage is of approximately €560 000 (CZK 14 million). According to the evidence, at least 14 members of the team ostensibly working on the project did not carry out any activities. In addition, two of the defendants are accused of unduly favouring a specific supplier during the procedure to award the public contract of the project. One person is also charged with the offence of abuse of authority by an official. In order to recover the damage to the EU budget, the Czech Police – National Centre against Organized Crime (Národní centrála proti organizovanému zločinu – NCOZ), on behalf of the EPPO, seized assets and real estate worth €600 000 (CZK 15 million).
More than 2000 tax, customs and police investigators in seven countries (Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain) conducted a day of action with over 450 searches, as well as seizures of property and luxury cars. Five people were arrested on 14 June 2023. The European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Cologne (Germany) is conducting this investigation, codenamed Huracán, following the discovery of an extensive scheme of VAT fraud involving international trade in more than 10,000 cars. The total fraudulent turnover of the criminal group organised under the scheme is estimated at EUR 225 million and the estimated VAT damage caused by the suspects amounts to at least EUR 38 million.
On behalf of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) in Venice (Italy), the Italian Financial Police (Guardia di Finanza) – Provincial Command of Piacenza have arrested the suspected ringleader of a VAT fraud scheme involving several countries, with estimated losses of €28 million. The order of detention of the Italian suspect, based in the Emilia-Romagna region, but actually living in Poland, was issued by the judge for preliminary investigations of the Court of Padua and executed between 4 May and 9 May 2023. The investigation, conducted by the Economic and Financial Police Unit of Piacenza, gathered evidence of the existence of a criminal association aimed at committing so-called intra-community VAT ‘carousel’ fraud – a complex criminal scheme that takes advantage of EU rules on cross-border transactions between its Member States, as these are exempt from value-added tax (VAT). According to the investigation, the illegal proceeds were then subsequently laundered. It is alleged that the association, operating as a criminal group, purchased electronic products abroad, using a series of fictitious companies based in Italy and in the European Union, in order to evade the payment of VAT. The investigation uncovered 70 shell companies (34 based in Italy, and the remainder in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain), as well as more than 20 persons implicated. It is understood that the scheme made it possible to generate millions in VAT credits. The sales of technological and IT products at a much lower price than that charged by honest businesses (in some cases, with discounts of up to 50%) also increased the illicit profits. At the request of the EPPO, the judge for preliminary investigations of the Court of Padua ordered the freezing of assets of more than €28 million, in order to recover the damage to the national and EU budgets. The shares of a company belonging to the suspected ringleader, as well as real estate located in a historic building in the centre of Bologna, were seized. VAT carousel fraud, or Missing Trader Intra-Community (MTIC) fraud, is the most profitable crime in the EU, costing around €50 billion annually in tax losses to the Member States, according to the latest estimate by Europol.
On 18 April 2023, the Commission adopted a proposal for a regulation regarding security services and presented a Cybersecurity Skills Academy. With the EU Cyber Solidarity Act, the Commission aims to strengthen the capacity to detect, prepare for and respond to large-scale cybersecurity threats, creating a European Cybersecurity Shield and a comprehensive Cyber Emergency Mechanism. The European Cybersecurity Shield is a pan-European infrastructure consisting of national and cross-border security operations centres, across the EU; the Cyber Emergency Mechanism will increase preparedness and improve incident response capabilities in the EU.
The Ministers of Justice of EU’s Members have agreed on the Council’s position on a draft directive on assets recovery and confiscation, setting minimum rules on the tracing, identification, freezing, confiscation and management of criminal property. The proposed rules will apply to a wide range of crimes, including the violation of sanctions, once the directive on the definition of criminal offences and penalties for the violation of EU restrictive measures has been adopted. This new law will result in a more competences of the asset recovery offices, ensuring the national administrations have tools to go after criminal money, facilitating cross-border cooperation of these offices.
EUROPEAN ANTI-FRAUD OFFICE
European Anti-Fraud Office’s (OLAF) 2022 Report, published on 6 June 2023, outlines the main trends and operations of last year: from the fight against counterfeiting and smuggling to the protection of European funds, including the Resilience and Recovery Facility, up to fraud prevention mechanisms to protect EU financial assistance to Ukraine. For the first time, the report is presented in an interactive virtual format. In 2022, the Office protected over EUR 600 million belonging to European taxpayers, recommending the recovery of more than EUR 426 million from fraud and irregularities and safeguarding a further EUR 200 million. OLAF also stopped a number of smuggling, counterfeiting and customs fraud mechanisms, helped implement EU trade defence measures and continued to develop and adapt fraud prevention and combating policies. As every year, OLAF investigated suspected non-compliance by staff and members of the institutions.
COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe (GRECO) has expressed concern about the restrictive application of the right of access to information in some European states. As a matter of fact, Government entities are often reluctant to disclose information and prefer to apply exceptions enabling them to withhold all or part of the information requested. GRECO calls on European governments to ensure access to information to help fight corruption, reminding countries that they should apply the principles of the Committee of Ministers recommendation on access to official documents and the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents.
On 14 June 2023 Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) has published its annual report for 2022, which provides an overview of its activities, highlighting the need for more action and resources to tackle human trafficking in Europe.
GRETA reports published in 2022 show that a number of improvements have been made by States to respond to human trafficking but gaps still persist. Some of the problems in the implementing GRETA’s recommendations are due to lack of political will, resources and training.
GRETA’s report includes a thematic chapter devoted to managing the risks human trafficking linked to the war in Ukraine, with practical measures that can be implemented to minimize them. GRETA encourages States parties to the convention to pursue the fight against trafficking in human beings by strengthening national strategies, resources and partnerships.
On 28 June 2023, the European Union ratified the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CETS No. 210), known as the “Istanbul Convention”. The European Union through this convention assumes an important tool to combat violence against women who still live in fear and insecurity, considering the fight against this form of violence a priority. The Convention also establishes a specific monitoring mechanism, GREVIO, to ensure the effective implementation of its provisions. The Convention will enter into force for the European Union on 1 October 2023.
OSCE is engaged in regional consultations on the United Nations Program of Action for CyberSecurity. A regional consultation on the UN Cybersecurity Action Program was held on 14 June 2023. The event is part of a series of consultations by United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), requested by the General Assembly, in collaboration with regional organizations, which will act as a platform for States to share views on the Programme of Action for cybersecurity proposal. They aim to promote responsible behaviour in the use of information and communication technologies in the context of international security.
Ukrainian and international legal professionals, civic activists, experts gathered to discuss how to better use constitutional justice to defend human rights in times of war. The initiative, organized by the OSCE Support Program in co-operation with the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, culminated on 28 August 2023, the country’s Constitution Day, with the International Conference “The Constitution of Ukraine and the Triad of Values European Unions: A Eurointegration Perspective“, supporting European values such as democracy, human rights and rule of law.
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Pavlov and Others v. Ukraine (Application no. 30722/21 and 2 others)
In the case of Pavlov and Others v. Ukraine the Fifth Section of the European Court of Human Rights held unanimously that had been a violation of Articles 3 (prohibition of torture) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The applicants complained the inadequate conditions of their detention and lack of effective remedies in this connection. The Court noted that the applicants were kept in detention in poor conditions, particularly in a serious lack of space in prison cells: according to the Court’s case-law, the cell’s space is a factor to be taken in account for the purpose of establishing whether the detention conditions are degrading from the point of view of the Article 3.
Urgesi and Others v. Italy (Application no. 46530/09)
The applicants are eight Italian nationals. In July 2000, the Taranto District Court convicted some of the applicants (Urgesi, Albano and Florio) in the “Cahors” case, concerning activities of a criminal organisation operating in Puglia: the applicants in question were charged with usury, extortion, criminal conspiracy and membership of a mafia-type organization. The Court found a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the Convention (right to access to an independent and impartial tribunal), based on the compliant that the court of appeal, which ruled on the application of the preventive measures, was not impartial due to the presence on the bench of a judge who had previously, as a prosecutor, expressed an opinion on the criminal responsibility of some of the applicants.
Fanouni v. France (Application no. 31185/18)
In the case Fanouni v. France, the Court held unanimously that there had been no violation of Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 (freedom of movement) to the European Convention of Human Rights. The case concerned a home curfew imposed to the applicant in the context of a state of emergency, declared after the Daesh-claimed terrorist attacks in Saint-Denis and Paris on the night of 13 November 2015. On the 26 January 2015, the prefect of the Val d’Oise department had already ordered Mr. Fanoui to surrender all weapons and ammunitions in his possession and prohibited him from acquiring or possessing any weapons or ammunition. After 16 November 2015, the Minister of Interior imposed a home curfew on Mr. Fanoui, prohibiting him from leaving the municipality of Champagne-sur-Oise, requiring reporting four times a day to a gendarmerie station and to remain home between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. The Court noted that the legal basis for the measures complained had fulfilled the requirements of foreseeability of the law, finding that the aims pursued had been legitimate. As to the factual basis for the measure, the Court noted that the administrative authority had relied on precise information, provided by the intelligence services, and reported in a “note blanche” indicating that that a large quantity of prohibited weapons and ammunitions had been found at the applicant’s home. The consideration of these factors by the administrative courts had been accompanied by sufficient procedural safeguards and found that the conclusions which the court had been drawn had been neither arbitrary nor manifestly unreasonable.