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Weekly News Digest


Compiled by Sara Anis Ali, Grey Cohen, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Ryan Simons, and Tobyn Smith

Edited by Sara Anis Ali, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Meagan McColloch, Niamh Dempsey


Europe

European Court Rules Against Switzerland Over Climate Change Inaction

This week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Switzerland had violated a group of elderly Swiss women's human rights, ruling that their gender and age make them vulnerable to the effects of climate change. While no sanctions were placed on the Swiss government, this decision may have a trickle-down impact on the 27 EU member states that are legally bound to this agreement, setting a regional precedent for fighting climate change. The verdict ultimately asserted that the Swiss government was not prepared enough to cut emissions, which would set a precedent for other European countries, reinforcing the importance of the Paris Accord and judicial oversight. 


Europe has seen increased climate change-based lawsuits, as cases in France and Portugal have also been filed. However, the Portuguese government was ruled admissible as the claimant had not “exhausted all other legal avenues,” and the case filed in France was struck down over the claimant's lack of current links with the region it was filed. While unsuccessful, it is clear that more claims are on the horizon as Europe tries to reduce greenhouse emissions. Reports issued by the European Round Table for Industry suggest that Europe must invest at least €800 billion to meet the EU’s 2030 target to reduce net carbon emission levels by 55%. The recent ECHR ruling sets a precedent for those European countries to comply as activist Greta Thunburg announced ‘this is only the beginning’ in judicial pressure on governments. 



Middle East and North Africa

Fears of Retaliation Following Israel’s Attack on Iranian Embassy in Syria

On April 1st, Israeli warplanes conducted an air raid on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria. The attack killed several military advisors and soldiers in Iran’s military organization, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Following this attack on a diplomatic building and its soldiers, Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated Israel “must be punished” for its attack. In response, Israel’s Foreign Minister has asserted that Israel will retaliate if Iran seeks to attack Israel.


The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides embassies and consulates numerous diplomatic immunities from their host nation’s law to ensure that ambassadors are protected and do not face attacks or any unnecessary adjudications of the law. The convention does not account for third-party actors launching attacks. However, when the convention is combined with international customary law, there is a larger consensus that countries must not target diplomats and should allow a nation’s diplomats to fulfill their missions. The attack on Iran’s consulate in Syria was a violation of customary law. Additionally, according to the United Nations Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, Israel can be held liable for the attack under an international court. International law only allows for Israel’s actions if Israel can provide evidence to show that the exigency of the attack was so imminent that they had no other option at that given moment but to attack a consulate. However, under these same draft articles, Iran is not allowed to retaliate and must inform other parties if it seeks to perform retaliatory measures. 


Given Iran’s consistent declarations of retaliation, U.S. officials affirmed that they too would enter the fight, emphasizing their “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Despite the increasing threat of escalation, there is potential for diffusion. To reduce tensions, foreign ministers from Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE spoke with Iran, and for now, Iran has announced it will not take any hasty measures. While it does seem Iran will avoid major confrontation, Israel’s escalation of its War on Gaza does have the potential to escalate to a larger regional conflict, paving the way for more issues in the future.


North America

U.S.-Japan-Philippines Discuss Chinese Aggression in the South China Sea

This week, United States President Joe Biden will hold the first-ever trilateral meeting between the United States, Japan, and the Philippines. Though both are allies of the U.S., Japan and the Philippines have not been close partners due to historical conflicts. However, these countries are uniting over growing concerns about China’s increased aggression in the South China Sea and the future of freedom of navigation through the Indo-Pacific. The South China Sea is an important and strategic area for maritime commerce and security. Recently, the Chinese have been more active in exerting their claim over the South China Sea. In March, a Chinese Coast Guard ship fired water cannons on a Philippine supply ship resulting in significant damage and injury to personnel. The Biden administration has encouraged this summit to reaffirm the U.S.’s commitment to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.


The meeting will cover more than Chinese aggression. The U.S. and Philippines recently signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement which allows the U.S. access to an additional four, on top of the existing five, Philippine military bases in the Indo-Pacific. There are also plans to allow Japanese military personnel to be stationed on Philippine territory for the first time ever. This will allow agencies like the United States Agency for International Development and the Department of Defense to establish disaster relief operations throughout the Indo-Pacific, aimed at combating natural disasters. The three states also plan on coordinating green-industry development like semiconductors and clean energy technology, as well as enhanced maritime patrol operations in the Indo-Pacific. This is a historic summit and the beginning of a new U.S. policy aimed at combating China’s rise. 


Central America and the Caribbean

U.S. Evacuation Flights From Haiti Have Come To An End

On Friday, the last opportunity for U.S. nationals to flee Haiti arrived. Haiti has seen a stark increase in violent and gang-related crime, causing a crisis with no end in sight to the chaos in the Caribbean nation. Last week, the U.S. State Department sent out an email to Americans in Haiti that charter flights are not scheduled to continue following April 12th. It’s believed the last scheduled evacuation flight will arrive in South Florida on Friday afternoon. 


Haiti has become a hotbed for gang violence and political unrest for years. The country spiraled into chaos on February 29th when gangs attacked numerous government institutions. The Haitian government declared a state of emergency that was extended through May 3rd. The Prime Minister’s office stated that a nighttime curfew has been set in place until April 17th. 


The United Nations said that more than 1,550 people have been killed due to the crisis within the first three months of 2024. Democratic lawmakers called on the U.S. government to do more to aid Haiti, urging for a temporary expansion of protection status for Haitian migrants. Since last month, at least 450 U.S. nationals have been evacuated from Haiti.


South America

International Community Condemns Ecuadorian Government Following Embassy Raid

On the night of April 5, a section of the National Police of Ecuador raided the Mexican embassy in Quito to arrest the former Vice President of Ecuador, Jorge Glas. Glas entered the Mexican embassy in December of 2023 to request asylum, alleging political persecution related to multiple corruption-related convictions. The arrest follows a recent dispute between Ecuador and Mexico when the Mexican government made comments regarding the assassination of a key Ecuadorian presidential candidate. The comment caused the Ecuadorian government to expel the Mexican ambassador from the country. When Mexico's Foreign Affairs Secretary, Alicia Bárcena, asked Ecuador to allow Glas safe travel to Mexico following the ambassador’s expulsion, Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa denied the request.


The following day, the Mexican government condemned the raid as a violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and severed diplomatic ties with Ecuador, recalling all diplomatic staff from its embassy in Quito. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called the attack a “flagrant violation of international law and Mexican sovereignty”. Other members of the international community followed suit. Nearby countries including Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba, Venezuela, and Honduras condemned the Ecuadorian government’s conduct and issued similar statements. 


In response, the Ecuadorian government said in a statement that the “immunities and privileges given to the diplomatic mission which was sheltering Jorge Glas had been abused,” and that his political asylum was “contrary to the legal framework”. Glas has since been transferred to a maximum security prison in Guayaquil. Lawyers representing the former Vice President expressed concerns for his safety over fears that “something may happen to him” in the country’s notoriously dangerous prison system, where hundreds of people have died during violent riots over the past few years. Experts also worry that in his attempt to be seen as a strong leader during a period of political instability, President Noboa will neglect human rights and further disregard international law. By violating international law, regardless of domestic politics, the Ecuadorian government has further ostracized itself from the international community and has invited feelings of distrust from regional partners. 


Sub-Saharan Africa

War Crimes Court Approved by Liberian SenateA law proposed by Liberian President Joseph Boakai, which would create a court to try those responsible for abuses during Liberia’s two civil wars, was passed by Liberia’s senate this past Tuesday. The effort was overwhelmingly supported, with no votes against it, and only one abstained. Liberia’s lower house of parliament deliberated and voted on the bill earlier this year, in early March. Just as in the Senate, the bill was also largely supported in the lower house. After passage in both of Liberia’s houses of parliament, it is now in the hands of the President to sign the bill into law.


Justice being brought to those who perpetrated war crimes in Liberia’s civil wars has been desired for years, but until now, no convictions have been made domestically. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2009 to investigate war crimes but did not have the power to try or convict the accused. While many celebrate the creation of this new court, some fear that it will cause old memories and tensions to resurface, as well as violate an amnesty law that led to the civil war’s conclusion.


Liberia’s civil wars occurred from 1989-2003. Several rebel groups, the most prominent led by Charles Taylor, fought against Samuel Doe’s violent and ethnic-based regime. Both government and rebel forces widely targeted civilians and employed ruthless tactics such as mass rape and forced conscription of children. Eventually, Charles Taylor overpowered the government forces and was elected President after the conclusion of the first civil war in 1997. Discontent with his regime soon caused the civil war to resurface, and Taylor’s forces were eventually overpowered in 2003.

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