• For the first time, an alleged perpetrator of crimes in Dafur faces justice;
  • Foreign soldiers identified as Russians involved in mass executions in Mali;
  • IMF should prioritize social protection and rule of law in loan talks with Sri Lanka;
  • High time to hold Hungary’s government to account for threats to EU values;
  • Repression in Vietnam increased despite EU trade deal;
  • It is still possible to prevent a climate catastrophe – but only just.
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Almost precisely fifteen years after an arrest warrant was issued against Ali Muhammed Abd-Al-Rahman, better known as Ali Kosheib, or Kushayb, the former commander of government-sponsored militias in Sudan is standing trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague today. Ali Koseib, who is charged with 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in 2003 and 2004 in four villages in West Darfur, is believed to have been the principal leader of the Janjaweed militias who worked alongside the Sudanese government forces during its armed conflict with rebel groups to carry out a systematic campaign of “ethnic cleansing” in Darfur. It is the first time that a high-level alleged perpetrator of crimes in Darfur will be held to account, and shows that those who commit crimes can still face justice, even more than a decade later. The trial marks a major milestone toward closing a persistent impunity gap in Sudan, and is a long-awaited chance for victims and communities terrorized by the notorious Janjaweed militia and government forces in Darfur to see a leader held to account. However, four other people, including former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who are facing ICC charges, remain fugitives of the court. Fuelled by this kind of massive impunity, including rewarding some of those implicated in crimes, serious crimes in Darfur by government and government-allied forces have persisted over the years. With military leaders having regained control in Sudan after staging a coup in October last year and dissolving the transitional government, the current climate of crackdown and lack of accountability remains a threat to victims of crimes in Darfur as well as across the entire country. International and Sudanese activists will be discussing the significance of the trial in a Human Rights Watch Twitter Space today.

New Human Rights Watch investigations revealed that over the course of several days in late March, Malian army forces and foreign soldiers – identified by several sources as Russians – executed several hundred men in the central Malian town of Mour, which has been the epicenter of conflict-related violence, abuses, and displacement since 2015. The men, some of whom were suspected Islamist fighters, were among people detained during a military operation that began on March 27. The killings, which are the worst in Mali in a decade, occurred amid a dramatic spike in unlawful killings of civilians and suspects since late 2021 by armed Islamist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and by Malian government security forces. Since January, residents in the area have described to Human Rights Watch the presence of scores of white, non-French-speaking armed men participating in military operations in and around several central Malian towns. Residents said they believed these soldiers were Russians. All of the survivors and witnesses said that members of the Malian army and “white soldiers” killed the men. 

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has caused acute shortages of essential goods including medicines, a crippling lack of fuel and electricity, spiralling inflation, and desperate hardship for millions of people. The crisis has led to growing protests in Colombo, the capital, and across the country. In an attempt to curb these, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency on April 1, then imposed a 36-hour curfew and blocked social media. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is about to begin talks with Sri Lanka about a potential loan program, it should give priority to ensuring adequate investment in social protection programs before making any adjustments that would raise the cost of living, and require the Sri Lankan government to address corruption and entrenched obstacles to the rule of law as well as restore the independence of institutions, including the judiciary, auditor general, and attorney general rather than recommend fiscal adjustments that would have adverse impacts on low-income people. “Sri Lanka needs economic help,” says Sarah Saadoun, senior researcher focusing on poverty and inequality at Human Rights Watch, but “reforms should ease people’s economic hardship, not exacerbate it.” 

Hungary’s national election, which was held last Sunday and saw the ruling Fidesz party win a fourth term, was marred by serious concerns about its fairness. Until now the EU has responded insufficiently to the hollowing out of democracy and the rule of law during 12 years to date of a Fidesz government under Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The country has a devastating rights record which is rooted in successive Orban governments undermining the independence of the judiciary, hijacking public institutions, controlling the media landscape, criminalizing activities by civil society organizations, harassing independent journalists, and demonizing vulnerable groups and minorities. Fidesz’s win should raise alarm bells at the Council of the European Union and prompt member states to finally hold Orban’s government to account for threats to EU values. “EU institutions should keep a close eye on Hungary’s human rights record in the coming four years and be prepared for further attacks on democratic institutions and core EU values,” says Lydia Gall, senior Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Brussels should stand in solidarity with those upholding EU values, including Hungary’s embattled civil society, and do everything it can to halt the downward spiral.” 

The European Union should call on Vietnam to comply with its human rights obligations, end its crackdown on activists, and release all political prisoners, during their bilateral human rights dialogue scheduled to be held in Brussels tomorrow. The EU had claimed that closer ties with Vietnam would lead to human rights improvements. Instead, Hanoi’s repression has only intensified since a 2020 trade deal. Vietnam currently holds at least 153 political prisoners. In 2021 alone, the courts convicted at least 38 people for criticizing the government and sentenced them to long prison terms. Recently there has been a worrying spike in arrests of social and environmental activists on alleged tax evasion charges. In early March 2022, security agents prevented eight democracy supporters from attending an event in Hanoi to show solidarity and support for Ukraine in the face of the Russian invasion. Brussels should no longer tolerate these blatant violations of human rights obligations and commitments but be adamant that Vietnam’s increased repression will carry consequences for the country’s leadership.

This week, the world’s leading scientific body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released a damning report that underscores the urgent need to hold high-emitting governments and corporations accountable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to an extent that will prevent devastating climate harms. The report, produced by more than 278 authors from 65 countries, shows it is still possible to keep global warming to 1.5˚C and prevent catastrophic outcomes such as "unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, and widespread water shortages." However, this will require “rapid and deep” emission cuts across all sectors, and massive changes to energy production, industry, transport, our consumption patterns and the way we treat nature. While the report makes clear, that we have the resources and means globally to achieve effective and equitable emissions reductions, the current track record is not promising. Average annual greenhouse gas emissions from 2010-2019 were higher than in any previous decade, with fossil fuels and industry responsible for the largest growth in emissions. Meanwhile, government commitments to reduce emissions are not ambitious enough, and implementation efforts are falling even further behind what is needed. The next few years are critical, the researchers say. If emissions aren't curbed by 2030, limiting global warming to 1.5°C will be beyond reach. To get there will require political will. Yet so far, “governments and business leaders are saying one thing and doing another,” said United Nations Secretary General António Guterres when announcing the report. “High emitting governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye they are adding fuel to the flames”. Those that continue to delay and defer needed climate action and thus endanger the lives and livelihoods of future generations will need to be held to account.

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