Category Archives: News


South Sudan/AU: Set Meeting on War Crimes Court

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir (bottom L) and South Sudan’s rebel commander Riek Machar (bottom R), together with African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui (top L), Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta (top C) and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, attend the signing a ceasefire agreement during the Inter Governmental Authority on Development Summit on the case of South Sudan in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, Feburary 1, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

(Nairobi) – South Sudan’s government and the African Union should urgently meet to clarify plans to set up a proposed hybrid court for wartime atrocities, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to both the government and the AU that was published today.

The Hybrid Court for South Sudan would bring together judges and prosecutors from South Sudan and across Africa as the country’s domestic court system is not prepared to handle such sensitive, complex cases.

“South Sudan’s parties have committed to justice for the victims of war crimes and asked the AU to take the lead on creating a hybrid court,” said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “But there is no communication between the key players and the process is stalled. The AU and South Sudanese representatives should urgently convene a meeting to develop a plan to establish the court.”

Human Rights Watch met in August and September 2019 with representatives of South Sudan’s government, the AU, and the United Nations, as well as opposition leaders, diplomats, and regional and local activists in Juba, South Sudan and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The meetings revealed a lack of a shared understanding between the government and the AU on establishing the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and the respective responsibilities to make the court operational.

Some members of the government indicated that no action on the court is possible until the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity is formed, currently scheduled for November 12. But others, including government and AU officials, indicated that important preparatory steps can, and should, be taken ahead of the transitional government’s formation.

The AU Peace and Security Council is scheduled to meet about South Sudan on October 23 and 24 in Addis Ababa. AU representatives should organize a meeting on the Hybrid Court for South Sudan in the margins of the council meeting with South Sudanese officials and with participation of South Sudan’s regional and international partners. Such a meeting would reinforce a commitment to justice and support for victims of atrocities committed during the conflict.

“An independent court that brings those responsible for the worst crimes to justice is crucial for creating a durable peace,” Nantulya said. “A meeting with South Sudanese stakeholders and AU representatives would provide a much-needed forum to build a shared understanding and commitment for the hybrid court.”


Everyone in France Should Have a Right to a Family

French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn gives a speech to introduce the debate on a bill that would give single women and lesbian couples access to in-vitro fertilization, at the National Assembly, in Paris, September 24, 2019. 

© 2019 AP Photo/Thibault Camus

All women in France are one step closer to achieving equality when it comes to family planning.

Despite criticism from conservative and religious groups, the National Assembly last month approved a bill that will allow single women and lesbian couples to access the same medical help for having children as heterosexual couples, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

These procedures are currently only legal for infertile heterosexual couples – meaning that lesbian couples and single women who want children can’t even pay to have the procedures done privately in the country. Many end up traveling abroad to get the costly reproductive procedures.

The bill, which will go to the senate on October 15, is expected to pass next year.

The bill has sparked religious and political opposition, reminiscent of 2013 protests against same-sex marriage, with opponents stoking fears that lesbian parents and single mothers will undermine traditional notions of the family. Supporters say the existing law is unfair because it arbitrarily privileges some families over others, and discriminates against people based on sexual orientation or marital status.

International human rights law protects the rights to privacy, to non-discrimination, and to the highest attainable standard of health. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides that “[t]he widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family.”

Same-sex marriage has been legal in France since 2013. Earlier, in 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a lesbian woman could adopt children.

Within the European Union, 18 out of 28 countries allow for single women, lesbians, or both to pursue medically assisted reproduction. European countries should allow all women the right to have a family and provide a route to parenthood, in addition to adoption.

The proposed law would mean the French healthcare system would cover up to four rounds of IVF for eligible women. For lesbian couples, the birth certificate of the child would read “mother and mother” instead of “mother and father.”

At the end of the day, whether married or single, lesbian or heterosexual, all parents will be taking care of their kids, accompanying them to school, and helping with homework, no matter what route they took to get there. 


Bulgaria: Despite Court Order, Australian Still Detained

Bulgaria’s prosecutor general Sotir Tsatsarov, right, speaks during a press conference in Sofia, on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. 

© 2018 Valentina Petrova/AP Photo

(Budapest) – Bulgarian authorities should clarify the legal basis for the continued detention of an Australian citizen, Jock Palfreeman, or release him immediately, Human Rights Watch said today.

Palfreeman appears to have been unlawfully detained in the Busmantsi immigration detention center in Sofia since September 19, 2019, when the Sofia Appellate Court ordered his conditional release — parole — and his deportation to Australia. Although the Appellate Court’s ruling is final under Bulgarian law, the prosecutor general challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court of Cassation, contending that two of the three judges on the panel were biased because they attended seminars organized by a prominent human rights group, the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, which had given Palfreeman legal aid during his jail term. The Supreme Court of Cassation held a hearing on the matter on October 7 and said it would hand down a decision within two months – as per Bulgarian law.

“Palfreeman was ordered released by a high court in a final decision not subject to appeal. He has his passport and plane ticket. Australia wants him back. Why is he still detained?” said Lydia Gall, senior Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Under the rule of law, you can’t just lock people up or prevent them from leaving just to make a point – there has to be a clear legal basis or it’s unlawful.”

Palfreeman’s lawyer, Kalin Angelov, told Human Rights Watch that the Sofia Prosecutor’s Office issued a travel ban for his client in the days following the parole decision. Angelov said that neither he nor his client had seen the travel ban yet, despite a formal request, and that he could not fathom the grounds for the ban. Angelov said that almost three weeks after his client was taken to Busmantsi immigration detention center, neither of them have received an official document outlining the legal basis for his client’s continued detention. In a letter dated October 4, Human Rights Watch asked the interior minister and the prosecutor general to clarify the legal basis for the travel ban, and if no legal basis exists, to urge his immediate release. Human Rights Watch has not received a reply.

The right to leave a country is a basic right and any restriction should be based in law and be individual and proportionate, Human Rights Watch said. Any restrictions on travel should be temporary and with the right to appeal.

Palfreeman’s September 19 conditional early release from prison sparked an outcry among politicians and the media. Palfreeman had been convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2007 murder of a Bulgarian student. Palfreeman maintains his innocence. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee provided legal aid and other support to Palfreeman.

Following the parole decision, the political party VMRO (Bulgarian National Movement), one of the members of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s ruling coalition, asked the prosecutor general to de-register the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, saying that it “directly and indirectly exerts pressure on Bulgarian magistrates and engages in unconstitutional, unlawful, immoral and openly anti-Bulgarian activities.”

The prosecutor general on October 8 issued a statement saying that he will not bring proceedings to de-register the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. In response, the VMRO issued their own statement saying that the party will start its own legal proceedings requesting the group’s de-registration – a legal possibility under Bulgarian law.

The media has reported that Parliament will consider amendments to the code of criminal procedure, prompted by the Palfreeman case, to allow for review of final parole decisions in extraordinary circumstances.

The case has also split Bulgaria’s legal system. The 25-member Supreme Judicial Council, the supreme administrative body of the Bulgarian judiciary, issued a highly unusual  statement following the parole decision, expressing its sympathy for the relatives of the man who had been killed and shared “their sense of broken balance between law and justice.” The unusual and seemingly interfering statement prompted a critical reaction by the head of the Supreme Court of Cassation and resulted in a rebuke signed by 292 judges defending the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.


UNICEF charters 1.6 million doses of oral cholera vaccines to Sudan

Source: UN Children’s Fund
Country: Sudan

The vaccines arrived in Sudan at a critical time as cholera cases continue to be reported. They will be used in the vaccination campaign, the first in three years, kicking off on 12 October.

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KHARTOUM, 7 October 2019 – UNICEF chartered a plane carrying 1.6 million doses of Oral Cholera Vaccines (OCV) to Khartoum yesterday. The vaccines arrived to Sudan at a critical time as cholera cases continue to be reported. According to the Federal Ministry of Health, since the beginning of the outbreak on 8 September, eight deaths were reported in the Blue Nile and Sennar states.

Funded by the Global Alliance of Vaccines (GAVI), the vaccines will be used in the vaccination campaign, the first in three years, kicking off on 12 October.

Timely procurement and urgent delivery of vaccines is a top priority for UNICEF to prevent cholera from spreading further in Sudan. UNICEF and its partners are working to strengthen water treatment systems, distribute water purification products for stagnant water, and provide technical support including monitoring for planning and implementation.

Across Sudan, humanitarian teams and community volunteers are raising awareness on hygiene practices and prevention methods, through disseminating information about cholera symptoms and the crucial need for vaccination.

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