The Weekly Round-up: Earthquake aftermath, crimes against humanity, and Ukraine
20 February 2023
In the news
The United States has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, US Vice-President Kamala Harris accused Russia of ‘gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape and deportation’ and said those who had committed crimes would be held to account. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also spoke at the event over the weekend, where he urged leaders to ‘double down’ on military support for Kyiv.
Syria and Turkey continue to face devastating consequences in the aftermath of last week’s earthquakes. The death toll caused by the 7.8 magnitude tremor has surpassed 46,000 and is expected to continue to rise. In Turkey, the scale of the damage has been partly attributed poor construction practices and President Erdogan’s government has been criticised for failing to implement stricter building regulations.
In Syria, the UN is facing backlash for failing to deliver humanitarian relief to the north-western, opposition-held regions of the country. The Syrian government has allowed two new border crossings to be opened from Turkey. The UN’s decision, however, to wait for President Assad’s permission to use these routes has been widely condemned. Meanwhile, the British government has pledged an additional funding package to support the earthquake recovery effort.
Finally, Boris Johnson has urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak not to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill. Set in motion by Mr Johnson’s government, the bill gives the UK Government powers to dispense of parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. An announcement on a prospective new agreement between Sunak’s government and the EU on Northern Ireland is expected this week.
In other news
- The Home Office has confirmed it will not appeal a High Court decision which found that individuals with pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) should not have to make a second application to continue residing in the UK. The High Court judgement, issued in December 2022, concluded that part of the Home Office’s scheme was based on an incorrect interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU.
- In a report published this week, Human Rights Watch has condemned the forced displacement of inhabitants of the Chagos islands (now the British Indian Ocean Territory) by the British government. During the 1960s and 1970s, an estimated 1,000 people were evacuated from the archipelago to allow for the construction of a US-leased military base. The UK and US governments are called upon to provide full reparations to the people of Chagos, including financial reparations and the restitution of Chagossian citizens to the islands.
- Three members of the environmental protest group, Insulate Britain, have been found guilty of public nuisance at the Inner London crown court this week. The defendants took part in a traffic blockade at Bishopsgate in October 2021. These verdicts are part of a series of proceedings involving Insulate Britain activists, with other members due to be sentenced in March.
In the courts
- In CX1 & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for Defence & Anor  EWHC 284 (Admin), an application for judicial review made on behalf of eight Afghan nationals who were employed by the BBC and other media outlets was approved. The claimants in this case made applications to be relocated to the United Kingdom under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP). The ARAP scheme allows Afghan citizens who worked with the British Government in Afghanistan in exposed, meaningful roles to be relocated to the UK. As employees of the BBC (and not a government department), the applicants were deemed ineligible for the scheme. Finding in the claimant’s favour on one ground of appeal, Mr Justice Lane stated that the caseworker in this instance had erred by failing to consider whether a journalist working for the BBC and any other news organisation could be said to have worked alongside a UK government department. Mr Justice Lane commented that the Taliban’s perception of the relationship between the BBC and UK Government was relevant in the claimant’s circumstances. The decisions have been returned to the Home Secretary and Defence Secretary for review.
- In Halet v. Luxembourg (application no. 21884/18), the European Court of Human Rights held that a fine of EUR 1000 imposed on an employee for disclosing confidential documents was a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression). Mr Halet, while employed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, disclosed 16 confidential tax documents to a media outlet. The documents were used to draw attention to advantageous tax agreements made between multinational companies and the Luxembourg tax authorities. The Court considered the changing role of whistle-blowers in democratic societies and consolidated the case-law principles on the protection of whistle-blowers, by refining six relevant criteria: (1) the channels used to make the disclosure; (2) the authenticity of the disclosed information; (3) good faith; (4) the public interest in the disclosed information; (5) the detriment caused; and (6) the severity of the sanction. The Court found Mr Halet’s disclosure had contributed to an important debate on tax avoidance, exemption, and evasion in Luxembourg and other European states. The public interest of the information outweighed the detrimental effects of the disclosure and, as a result, the interference with Mr Halet’s freedom of expression had not been ‘necessary in a democratic society’.
- Two leading human rights lawyers have been threatened with defamation proceedings during an inquiry into allegations of corruption within the Gibraltar government. Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC and Adam Wagner (of Doughty Street Chambers) are representing Gibraltar’s former chief of police, Ian McGrail, in the proceedings. During a recent hearing for the inquiry, Sir Peter Caruana KC (who is instructed by the Gibraltar government) said that Gallagher and Wagner’s submissions had been ‘outrageous’ and ‘highly defamatory.’ The chair of the inquiry described the threats of defamation as misplaced, and emphasised that people must not be deterred from participating in the hearings.