As strongmen around the world exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to grab extraordinary powers, even democratic countries are putting unprecedented police-state measure into place in the supposed interest of a return to "normality." In the latter category is New Zealand, where a bill has been passed giving police sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants while enforcing new "Alert Level 2" rules. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act creates a new corps of "enforcement officers" to track social contacts among the populace and conduct raids on the premises of suspected violators. (NZH)
With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary's parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)
Amnesty International on Feb. 3 urged participants in an international mining conference in South Africa to address human rights violations. African Mining Indaba, a conference centered on promoting the industry on the continent, is set to run this week, but several civil organizations, including Amnesty, are holding their own conference for the eleventh time to bring attention to claims of rights violations in the mining industry in Africa. Amnesty director for East and Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said in statement: "From child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo to squalid living conditions for workers at South Africa's Marikana mine, the mining industry is tainted with human rights abuses. Mining firms have often caused or contributed to human rights abuses in pursuit of profit while governments have been too weak in regulating them effectively."
According to tradition, only men can inherit the chieftaincy title in Lesotho, the land-locked mountain kingdom of southern Africa, Now, one woman, Senate Masupha, is seeking to change this. Masupha is the daughter and only child of David Masupha, former chief of the Ha Mamathe, Teyateyaneng, Thupa-Kubu and Jorotane villages and a direct descendant of King Moshoeshoe I, founder of Lesotho's reigning dynasty. When her father died in 1996, her mother took up the position, as tradition allowed widows of chiefs to become custodians of the title until a male heir is ready. When her mother died in 2008, the title went to her uncle, her father's younger brother. She decided to take the matter to court when the family started moving to evict her from her father's house. "My parents were chiefs for all of their lives—that was their right. I felt very secure when I was growing up. But when my mother passed on, I was taken out of my comfort zone," he told CNN.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled (PDF) July 6 that South Africa violated its treaty obligations by failing to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he visited the country in 2015. Two arrest warrants (PDF, PDF) have been issued for al-Bashir involving numerous charges including "crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of genocide." South Africa contended that because al-Bashir has immunity from criminal proceedings under customary international law that had not been waived in Sudan, the court was precluded from compelling South Africa to detain and surrender him.
In an effort to quell controversy, liberated Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera has declined to be an honoree at New York City's upcoming Puerto Rican Day Parade, writing in a statement to the Daily News: "The honor should not be for me; it should be bestowed on our pioneers who came to the United States and opened doors. It should go for activists and elected officials who fight for justice and a fair society." This comes after Goya Foods and other traditional sponsors of the parade had pulled out under pressure of a media campaign portraying OLR as a "terrorist." The New York Post, of course, has been particularly aggressive, and national right-wing media like Breitbart had also piled on.
Leaders of multiple African countries announced Feb. 1 that they have backed a "strategy of collective withdrawal" from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Prior to this week's African Union (AU) summit, the AU issued a document seen by Reuters that proposed a coordinated withdrawal unless the ICC is reformed. The AU claims that the ICC is improperly focusing on prosecuting individuals from African countries, and its exit could be significant, as almost a third of the ICC's member countries are African. The AU and the ICC have had a tumultuous relationship over the course of the past year. In July an AU advisory board accused the ICC of narrowly focusing its investigations on African government leaders since its inception in 2002. The AU's Economic Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) recommended that members quit the ICC should Rome Statute signatories follow through with a proposed amendment allowing the prosecution and arrest of sitting heads of state. Human Rights Watch stated that giving sitting leaders immunity would defeat the purpose of the ICC's creation.
As Morocco is readmitted to the African Union at the continental body's 28th summit in Addis Ababa, it is pushing for the suspension of Western Sahara, placing the AU in a difficult position. The AU has long backed self-determination for the Moroccan-occupied territory, and recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as the representative of its people. Morocco dropped out of the Organization of African Unity (precursor to the AU) in 1984 in protest at the SADR's admission to the body. At Addis Ababa, Rabat won the backing of a simple majority of AU members for its return to the body. Among the dissenting votes was South Africa, whose ruling African National Congress (ANC) issued a statement calling the readmission of Morocco an "important setback for the cause of the Saharawi people." Rabat stopped short of explicitly demanding the AU withdraw its recognition of the SADR, with King Mohammed VI saying in a statement: "On reflection, it has become clear to us that when a body is sick, it is treated more effectively from the inside than from the outside." SADR's Foreign Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, howver, said Morocco's readmission represents "a victory of the Sahrawi people since Morocco had finally accepted to sit alongside its neighbor, Western Sahara." (Africa in Fact, Feb. 1 via AllAfrica; BBC News, Sahara Press Service, SPS, Jan. 31; The East African, Jan. 30 via AllAfrica)