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CWA # 439, 7 March 2021
The World This Week #109, Vol. 3, No. 10
The World This Week #109, Vol. 3, No. 10
Sourina Bej, Harini Madhusudan and Jeshil Samuel J
Saudi Arabia: The criminal case against Mohammed bin Salman
On 2 March, the Reporters without Borders (RSF) filed a criminal complaint in Germany, charging Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and four other high-ranking officials with crimes against humanity, including the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The lawsuit has been submitted in front of Germany’s Public Prosecutor.
The lawsuit comes less than a week after the CIA released an intelligence report that concluded the Crown Prince had “approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.”
What is the background?
First, Saudi Arabia’s notorious records in stifling press freedoms. RSF has ranked Saudi Arabia 170th out of 180 countries on its World Press Freedom Index. Their complaint takes into account the situation of 34 journalists arbitrarily imprisoned in the country. It includes writer Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 2014 and 1,000 lashes for a blog he founded. The complaint comes after a detailed record of willful killing, torture, sexual violence, and enforced disappearances of journalists. Amongst it, the killing of Washington Post columnist Khashoggi has been one of the triggers for the RSF. After two years, the response to the killing has been only sanctions and visa bans by the US for 76 Saudi officials. The Biden administration has stopped short of pursuing a tough stance against Mohammed bin Salman.
Second, the spurt in crackdowns of dissidents by Mohammed bin Salman. Apart from imprisoning journalists, dissenting voices of several activists and royal members have been equally repressed by the crown prince. In February 2021, the mysterious disappearance of a Saudi dissident, Ahmed Abdullah al-Harbi, living in Montreal adds to the new fear among the Saudi exiles of abduction and deaths. Similar has been the fear allayed by Prince Khaled bin Farhan al-Saud, who now lives in Düsseldorf in Germany after leaving the Kingdom where he had incensed MBS with his calls for human rights reforms. In recent years, several reports have surfaced of Saudi authorities under the Prince, repeatedly intimidating critics living abroad and in some instances abduct or repatriate them to Saudi Arabia. Domestically, Prince Mohammed has been tightening his grip on power since he was appointed as crown prince in 2017. With King Salman’s old age and possible ill-health as a trigger, he has detained senior royals in 2020 including two members, Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz and Mohammed bin Nayef who were immediate contenders to the royalty.
Third, the role of Germany’s judiciary in safeguarding freedoms under international law. Germany has been selected to file the complaint due to its legal system that gives the court jurisdiction over international crimes committed abroad. Germany’s Code of Crimes Against International Law includes the right to prosecute crimes against humanity committed “as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilians.” The principle of universal jurisdiction is enshrined in Article 1, allowing German prosecutors and courts to prosecute crimes that were not committed in Germany or against German citizens. The most recent example has been on 24 February when under this law, a former member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security services was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for abetting the torture of civilians in the Syrian civil war. Commonly, the ICC hears the cases charged with crimes against humanity but Saudi Arabia has neither signed nor ratified the international agreement. Thus, making it important for RSF to choose Germany.
What does it mean?
Two questions: Will Germany prosecute? Even if it does, will it have any impact on MBS?
Until now Germany has led cases pertaining to the ones filed against the Islamic State and officials involved in the Syrian civil war. But in indicting the crown prince, if the German court decides to hear the case it will send a strong signal from Europe to the country, which until now has been lacking since the killing of Khashoggi. The diplomatic relation is bound to play a role in determining how the verdict will be delivered. But more importantly with an ambition to power, it remains to be seen what MBS would do next. Until now the international pressure against the crown prince has done minimal to upset the domestic clampdowns and a possible hearing could do the same.
The UK: The post- Brexit fallout with the EU over Northern Ireland
On 3 March, the EU announced that the ‘unilateral decision’ of the United Kingdom on Trade Rules is a breach of international law and threatened legal action. During Westminster’s annual budget, the UK announced its decision to unilaterally extend the grace period on the checks for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, which is a violation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
On 2 March, Michel Barnier stepped down as the EU's chief Brexit negotiator and his specialist team of eurocrats have been disbanded. Barnier warned that there remain "many challenges ahead" for the EU and UK.
What is the background?
First, the unilateral decision by the UK and the apparent breach of international law over the Northern Ireland Protocol. As the tensions between the two sides escalated, the European Commission Vice President said that the British decision to take unilateral action on trade rules relating to Northern Ireland marks the second time it has declared its intention to breaching international law. The UK had previously asked for the deadline to be extended until 2023, but the EU had not agreed to it. The UK government's decision indicates that it will waive customs paperwork on food entering Northern Ireland until October. This is beyond the 1 April deadline it had previously agreed with the EU. In September 2020, the UK had considered breaking the terms of the Brexit divorce agreement relating to Northern Ireland, only to back down. Both cases give the EU leverage to start legal proceedings through the terms of the protocol.
Second, new issues vis-a-vis Northern Ireland. With the decision to keep the land borders free of checkpoints, they hoped to prevent additional troubles between the UK and Northern Ireland. This came with a price; that is, the goods arriving from the rest of the UK would be subject to checks and extra paperwork as they cross the Irish Sea. Many members of PM Johnson’s party and Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland believe that the deal treats the region differently from the rest of the UK. On 2 March, Ireland Democratic Unionist Party’s agriculture minister ordered officials to halt work on permanent border control posts. In January 2021, the EU triggered an override clause in the Northern Ireland Agreement, to secure vaccine supplies. This unilateral decision was taken without consulting in London or Dublin.
Third, emerging EU-UK complexities from the two months of the new arrangements. When the deal was signed in December 2020, many issues were given a grace period to ensure the proper measures are in place. For example, the immediate impact was felt with the fisheries sector and the lorry workers who would transport goods across the borders. Both complained of longer paperwork and processing time. Late January also witnessed the EU taking export control measures to deal with the imbalance in the vaccine procurement and administering strategy of the UK. Following this, new issues relating to the banking and financial sectors have emerged. This way, political and legal obligations have propped up many times during the past months.
What does it mean?
Though the EU and UK were expected to face short-term losses and logistical challenges, Northern Ireland seems to face the substantial brunt of the post-Brexit trade deal.
Second, the new trade deal disputes over border protocols have wreaked havoc among the already fragile arrangements that exist between them. The unilateral decision would necessarily ease the impact of the Brexit on the businesses in Northern Ireland but comes in the way of “the proper implementation,” of the Brexit deal.
Iraq: Pope Francis meets the Grand Ayatollah in Baghdad
On 5 March, Pope Francis arrived in Baghdad, commencing his historic three-day visit to Iraq. This is the first-ever papal visit to the region, and also the Pope’s first international visit since the pandemic began. During this visit, the Pope will meet prolific Islamic leaders and address the Christian community in the region.
On 6 March, the Pope visited the city of Nafaj, where he met the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Both the religious leaders spoke regarding the dwindling Christian community in Iraq and the threats against them. The Ayatollah affirmed that Christian citizens should be given a chance to live in peace and security just as any other Iraqi.
What is the background?
First, the Christian community in Iraq. Iraq has one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating back to 01 AD. The country’s largest denominations include the Chaldean Catholics (67 per cent), who recognise the Pope’s authority, and the members of the Assyrian Church of the East (20 per cent). The Christian population in Iraq was nearly 1.4 million before 2003, after which the number declined drastically.
Second, the rise in intolerance towards Christians and their persecution. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the public opinion towards the West and its culture turned hostile. The Christian population were regarded as defectors siding with the US. Since then, churches were attacked, Christians could not practice their religion freely, and Islamic fundamentalists fuelled hatred towards Christians. The 2010 terrorist attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad resulted in a massive exodus of the Christian population from the country. In 2014, when Islamic State militias overran northern Iraq, tens of thousands of Christians migrated to other countries fearing persecution.
Third, the decline of Christianity in Iraq. Once religious extremist groups like Al Qaeda started taking control over territory in Iraq, the country started exhibiting a zero-tolerance policy towards religious practices. Christians were either forced to convert to Islam or to leave the country. In other cases, they were not offered either of the solutions and were killed mercilessly.
What does this mean?
First, the Pope’s visit could improve religious tolerance in Iraq and preserve the Christian community. At present, Iraq has 250,000-500,000 Christians. The Pope’s call for an end to the violence and strife ensuing in the region could also push the Iraqi government to keep a leash on terrorism and religious extremism. Second, this visit could also cement a better relationship between Iraq and Europe.
Also in the news...
By Avishka Ashok
East and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Military commences month-long exercise in the South China Sea
On 1 March, China’s military began its military exercise in the South China Sea. Other vessels will be prohibited from entering a five-kilometre radius of a point at the Leizhou Peninsula until the end of activities on 31 March. The Chinese Ministry of National Defence said that they will “not lose an inch of land left to us by our ancestors.” The ministry also criticized the US for “Hyping the so-called Chinese threat and urging allies to jointly compete against China.”
China: Huawei CFO expected to appear in Canada Court
On 3 March, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wanzhou, was scheduled to make an appearance at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, Canada for the hearing of her extradition case which initially began in December 2018. The court hearing will plan out a roadmap for the actual hearing of the extradition case. On 4 March, prosecutors urged Canada’s Justice Minister to make the judgement on whether matters of national security and geopolitical concerns can be used to annul Wanzhou’s extradition.
China: Space Agency shares images of Mars
On 4 March, China’s National Space Agency shared an image of the planet Mars, taken by the Tianwen-1 probe. The agency shared two panchromatic images and one colour image which were taken by the probe’s high-resolution cameras from a distance of 300 to 350 km. China’s news agency reported small landforms that were visible in the image. Mountains and craters with a diameter as large as 620 meters have been identified in the image.
Hong Kong: Police detains 47 pro-democracy protestors
On 28 March, Hong Kong Police arrested more than 50 prominent pro-democracy activists out of which 47 were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion. The 39 men and eight women were involved in an unofficial election primary that was being organized by the pro-democracy parties. The individuals have been arrested under the new national security law which issues life imprisonment for crimes of subversion. On 4 March, the court passed its decision to deny bail to 32 activists while 15 were granted bail but were still held in custody.
Australia: Trade with China plummets
On 4 March, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced that the beef exports to China fell by 37 per cent and lamb exports fell by 60 per cent. On the same day, Rabobank, a Dutch multinational bank observed that the political relationship has led to deteriorating trade between the two countries. The report said that the relationship between the two countries would continue to get worse before they pull up. Australia’s export to China was 2.1 per cent higher in 2020.
Japan: Foreign Ministry increases cooperation with European Countries
On 2 March, the Foreign Minister of Japan, Motegi, announced at a press conference that Japan welcomed “the patrol and surveillance activities being undertaken by France now in the waters of Japan.” Motegi explained that there were challenges to national security and democracy in the Indo-Pacific region. Germany has also planned to dispatch a vessel before the end of the year.
South Korea: Moon Jae-in pushes for talks with Japan amidst forced sexual labor issue
On 1 March, the South Korean President spoke about relations with Japan on national television as the country acknowledged the 1919 uprising against Japanese colonialism. He said, “The Korean government is always ready to sit down and have talks with the Japanese government.” The biggest obstacle in the relations between the two nations is the issue of “comfort women.” On 3 March, Lee Yong-soo, one of the victims of Japan’s forced prostitution during the world war met with the Foreign Minister and requested a meeting with the President to take the issue to the International Court of Justice.
North Korea: COVAX to supply 1.7 million doses of AstraZeneca by May
On 3 March, COVAX revealed the vaccine allocation plan which has set aside 1.7 million doses of vaccine for North Korea. The vaccine produced by AstraZeneca will reach the country between February and May and will be sufficient to vaccinate 852,000 people with two shots. The number of vaccines is lesser than the earlier promised two million doses.
North Korea: CNN reports activity in nuclear sites
On 2 March, CNN reported that recent satellite images captured by US space tech company hint at activities near sites that were previously alleged to be a nuclear weapons storage facility. The recent images show structures that cover two underground tunnels in the Yongdoktong area. However, the true purpose of the newly constructed infrastructure is yet to be examined.
Myanmar: Anti-military protests that continue to turn violent
On 3 March, a UN official announced that 38 people had been killed so far in the protests staged by the citizens against the military. The police and military were seen firing live ammunition on the citizens while they were expressing their discontent with the military’s usurpation of power in the country. On 3 March, the deputy UN Ambassador appointed by the military also resigned after Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun’s speech and three-finger salute at the general assembly. On 3 March, ASEAN held a meeting with the foreign ministers of member countries to discuss the political crisis in Myanmar. While Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia spoke for democracy to be returned in the country, Vietnam and Cambodia rejected interference in the issue. On 1 March, Suu Kyi was charged with two more charges, thereby increasing her time in prison to 9 years if found guilty. Other members of the NLD have also been arrested and charged with similar charges.
Thailand: Anti-government protests recommence
On 28 February, protestors in Thailand rekindled their fight demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha. The police used rubber bullets for the first time and also used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, some of whom threw bottles at police barricades. Dozens of protestors were injured in the rally which has taken its inspiration from Myanmar’s anti-military protests.
South Asia This Week
Pakistan: Islamabad holds senate elections for 37 seats
On 1 March, the Supreme Court of Pakistan announced that the Senate elections would be held through a secret ballot despite Prime Minister Imran Khan’s insistence on allowing an open vote to restrict corruption in the process. On 3 March, the polling came to an end with Khan’s party securing 18 seats in the elections but lost Islamabad in the process. He announced to seek a vote of confidence from the National Assembly. On 4 March, the opposition urged Imran Khan to respectfully step down from the position.
Pakistan: Fourth International Pakistan Army Team Spirit (PATS) Competition begins
On 1 March, eight domestic teams of the Pakistan Army and eight teams from allied countries participated in the fourth international PATS competition. The foreign countries that will be taking part in the competition include Jordan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. The 62-hour long competition will test the tactical skills and agility of the teams in challenging scenarios.
Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa This Week
Armenia: Protestors demand PM’s exit
On 1 March, thousands of protestors took to the streets in Armenia’s capital city and demanded Prime Minister Pashinyan’s resignation over his handling of the war with Azerbaijan. The protestors occupied France Square in Yerevan and caused traffic jams by blocking several adjacent roads. The protests, which had slowed down due to the winter, saw a return with a renewed vigor.
Djibouti: Smugglers throw 80 migrants overboard, many feared to be dead
On 3 March, the International Organisation for Migration confirmed that at least 20 people had drowned in the waters near Djibouti. The boat was travelling from Djibouti to Yemen when the smugglers realized that it was overcrowded and decided to throw some people in the water. The nationality of the people is assumed to be Ethiopian and Somalian, were trying to move to Saudi Arabia or UAE in order to escape the economic conditions in the home country.
MENA: UNICEF statement on youth
On 4 March, UNICEF Regional Director, Chaiban, for the Middle East and North Africa gave an interview to the AFP news channel in Jordan where he spoke about the youth of the region in most need and risk, ten years past the Arab Spring. He said, “After 2011, the lives and futures of children and young people have been put in jeopardy.” The region accounts for 124 million people under the age of 24 who are suffering from decreased opportunities because of the numerous conflicts and fall in oil prices over the decade. Chaiban opined that 38 million students in the region required assistance.
Saudi Arabia: Houthis attack Saudi Aramco oil factory
On 4 March, an oil facility owned by Saudi Aramco was damaged after a missile struck it in the city of Jeddah. On the same day, the Houthi spokesperson tweeted that the rebels had hit an Aramco structure in Jeddah as a way of showing retribution to the six-year military campaign in Yemen. A satellite picture was shared by the Houthis rebel group, claiming the attack.
Lebanon: Economic crisis worsens amid political emergency
On 2 March, the Lebanese currency hit an all-time low against the American dollar. The value of the Lebanese pound has crashed since 1997 but on 2 March, it valued at 10,000 pounds to the American dollar on the black market. The depreciation of the currency led to the people revolting in the streets against the soaring food prices and inaccessible healthcare which has left more than half of the population under the poverty line, demanding political maturity in dealing with the situation.
Ethiopia: Antony Blinken expresses concerns over human rights violations in Tigray
On 2 March, the US secretary of State spoke with the Ethiopian Prime Minister and expressed grave concerns over the escalating state of violence and violation of human rights in the Tigray region and offered to help resolve the issue. He urged the Ethiopian PM "to take immediate, concrete steps to protect civilians, including refugees, and to prevent further violence." However, Ethiopia has reacted to Blinken’s concerns by asking him to stay out of the internal matters of Ethiopia. "It should be clear that such matters are the sole responsibility of the Ethiopian government," the ministry said in a statement issued to the press.
Nigeria: Hundreds of abducted girls released
On 2 March, the Zamfara state governor announced that among the 317 girls who were said to be abducted last week, a few of them had escaped from the forest by hiding in bushes. The remaining 279 girls were released by the gunmen after negotiations with the government. No ransom has been paid for their return. This is the third incident of abduction in the last three months.
Europe and the Americas This Week
Austria: Failure of European Union’s vaccine strategy
On 1 March, the Austrian Chancellor announced that the country was seeking vaccines from Israel and Denmark for future production and cooperation. Austria had been critical of the Union’s strategy on procurement and authorization of vaccines which was slower than the UK and the US. Other than Austria, Brussels has also opted for a centralized approach but its plans have been interrupted by supply problems. Other countries in the bloc have turned to Russia and China to fix the gap in vaccine availability in their country.
France: Ex-President sentenced to jail
On 1 March, Nicholas Sarkozy, the former President of France appeared in court where he was sentenced to three years in prison on corruption charges. He was convicted for bribing a judge in 2014 for information on a case. Although the charges are not of embezzlement, he is said to have abused his power to receive information. He will be the first French president to get a custodial sentence
France: Macron admits France’s hand in torture and murder of Algerian nationalist
On 2 March, Emmanuel Macron reassessed the death of a prominent Algerian nationalist and said, “He did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed.” Ali Boumendjel was an Algerian Lawyer who was arrested by the French army during the seven-year war of independence in 1957 and was said to have committed suicide. Macron’s statement represents France and is a move to improve relations with Algiers. The statement is a start to accepting the many atrocities that may have been conducted by European countries during the era of colonization.
Russia: European Union and United States issue sanctions
On 2 March, the US imposed sanctions on Russia in a move to condemn the arrest and detainment of Russia’s critic Alexei Navalny. The sanctions have been issued against seven individuals from the country, 14 entities associated with the country’s biological and chemical agent production unit. There have been no sanctions on Putin as of yet. The EU has restricted two individuals; Alexander Bastrykin and Victor Zolotov, both currently head Russian governmental organization.
About the authors
Harini Madhusudan is a PhD scholar at NIAS, Sourina Bej is an independent researcher associated with the NIAS Global Politics Course, NIAS, Avishka Ashok is a Research Assistant at NIAS and Jeshil Samuel J is a Masters Student at Christ (Deemed to be) University, Bangalore.
V S Ramamurthy and Dinesh K Srivastava
Abigail Miriam Fernandez