Greater Middle East

Syrian draft-resister wins landmark asylum case

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on Nov. 19 ruled that foreign military draft evaders may be entitled to asylum in the EU. In what was technically a preliminary ruling in an ongoing case, the court held that there is a "strong presumption" that people escaping military service under authoritarian regimes are entitled to asylum, if evasion is motivated by "political opinions, religious beliefs or...by membership of a particular social group." The ruling follows a referral from the Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgericht) of Hanover, Germany, seeking an interpretation of the EU Directive on International Protection. The Directive provides the standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons to be beneficiary of international protection in the European Union.

Human rights leaders arrested in Egypt

Egyptian authorities on Nov. 20 arrested Gasser Abdel Razek, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). EIPR is one of the country's leading human rights organizations, with a stated goal to "strengthen and protect basic rights and freedoms in Egypt, through research, advocacy and supporting litigation in the fields of civil liberties, economic and social rights, and criminal justice." EIPR claims that authorities took Razek to an undisclosed location from his home in Cairo's Maadi district. Mazek's arrest closely followed the arrests of several other leaders of the EIPR.

Hunger 'emergency' in Syria's Idlib

Nearly a year after the height of a devastating government offensive that forced a million people from their homes in Syria's rebel-held northwest, doctors and aid workers are warning that the region's civilians, especially young children, face a new threat: rising hunger. In Idlib province, the situation is worsened by mass displacement and a population already in dire need after years in the crosshairs of conflict—putting an estimated four million people, including 1.5 million in camps, at particular risk of hunger and malnourishment.

Russian-backed 'crimes against humanity' in Syria

Human Rights Watch condemned Russia and the Syrian government in a report Oct. 15 for launching at least 46 documented deadly attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria's northern Idlib province. The report reveals that the Russian-backed offensive targeted hospitals, schools, markets, and other essential facilities for over 11 months from April 2019. HRW contends that these attacks violated international humanitarian law and may constitute crimes against humanity. The HRW claims are supported by a similar report from Amnesty International in May 2020, which detailed 18 unlawful air and ground attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in northwest Syria.

Hydrocarbons at issue in Israel-Lebanon dispute

US-mediated talks opened Oct. 14 between Israel and Lebanon, aimed at resolving the long-standing maritime border dispute between the two countries. At issue in the talks, held in Lebanon's coastal border town of Naqoura, is an 860-square-kilometer patch of the Mediterranean Sea where each side lays territorial claim. The conflict stems from differing demarcation methods: Israel marks the border as being at a 90-degree angle to the land border, while Lebanon marks it as a continuation of the land borderline. The issue grew more pressing with the discovery of abundant hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean's Levant Basin. Lebanon, which sought to pursue gas drilling off its coast, submitted its demarcation of the maritime borders to the UN a decade ago, claiming this area as within its Exclusive Economic Zone. Israel called this an infringement of its rights, and submitted its own version of the border demarcation to the UN.

Jordan forcibly deports Syrian refugees

Over the past months, dozens of Syrian refugees have been deported by the Jordanian government to Rukban, a desolate camp across the Syria-Jordan border. Authorities say those targeted for deportation have "security" issues, but returnees to the camp deny having had any problems with law enforcement in Jordan. Amnesty International said Sept. 16 that at least 16 refugees had been "forcibly transferred" to Rukban over the past month alone. Watchdog groups say the deportations are a violation of asylum-seekers' rights, and that sending a refugee back to likely harm—known as refoulement—is prohibited under international law. While Jordan has been quietly deporting asylum-seekers for several years, this is the first time it has been accused of forcible transfers to the desert no-man's-land, which experiences scalding temperatures and is largely cut off from food and medicine supplies. "[I]t's still a human rights violation regardless of what [the refugees] are accused of," said Sara Kayyali, a Syria researcher at Human Rights Watch. "These deportations have happened with no fair trial or due process." 

Insurgency re-emerging in regime-controlled Syria

Bashar Assad's Russian-backed reconquest of most of Syria over the past two years is beginning to look like a Pyrrhic victory, as protest and even armed resistance re-emerge in regime-controlled territory. Insurgency is especially mounting in southern Daraa province—where the revolution first began back in 2011. Brig. Gen. Talal Qassem of the army's 5th Division was shot dead Sept. 9 by gunmen on a motorcycle near Busra Harir in the northeast of Daraa. He was the second regime general slain in the province since Assadist forces retook southern Syria in July 2018. They were among more than 200 regime soldiers and officials slain in attacks over this period, and the pace of attacks is escalating. Among regime figures slain in the past month are the mayor of the town of Lajat, a military intelligence officer, and a member of the "reconciliation committees" attempting to rebuild regime support.

UN experts: refer Yemen war crimes to ICC

A UN group of experts has called on the Security Council to refer human rights violations and war crimes committed in the ongoing Yemen conflict to the International Criminal Court. The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded in a report released Sept. 8 that the governments of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Southern Transitional Council are responsible for rights violations including "arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the recruitment and use in hostilities of children." The report also alleges that "de facto authorities" in the capital Sana'a (the Houthi rebels) are responsible for the same violations.

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