The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, the highest court in Russia, on Dec. 6 upheld a decision to draw a border between the republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya. In September the two republics signed an agreement to define the border between them. This was the first time that the border has been defined since the split of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic after the collpase of the USSR. The agreement became law in each republic in October, but a group of Ingush deputies challenged the law in the Republic of Ingushetia. The case was heard in the Ingush Constitutional Court, which held that the law and agreement cannot be legally binding without passing a referendum. The Ingush Republic's head, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, appealed this decision to the highest court in Russia. He asserted that the Ingush Constitutional Court did not have the authority to decide on this question, but that it was a question for the Russian high court.
The Parliament of Kosovo approved a package of bills on Dec. 14 that will allow Kosovo to form a military and defense ministry. All three bills—one establishing a Defense Ministry, one that converts the limited Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) into a professional army, and another that regulates service in the forces—garnered convincing majority votes in Kosovo’s 120-seat legislature, with 101, 98 and 96 yes-votes respectively. Notably absent for the vote, however, were the Parliament's ethnic Serb MPs.
The UN Committee against Torture posted a letter online Dec. 11 that calls on Saudi Arabia to release over a dozen imprisoned activists and cites credible claims of improper treatment, sexual assault and torture. The UN group charged with overseeing compliance with the Convention Against Torture claims that seven activists have been held without official charges since May 2018 and subjected to inhumane treatment. The monitoring group also called for another six peaceful activists to be released, including Raif Badawi, a blogger who has been publicly lashed and is currently serving a 10-year sentence for expressing dissenting opinions. The statement calls for a review of cases of corporal punishment to ensure that Saudi Arabia is upholding its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.
The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic on Nov. 28 stressed the need for greater information and accountability to be provided to the families of missing persons and detainees. The report begins by noting that the Syrian government is still carrying out mass public arrests and detentions. These detentions have led to the torture and eventual death of a number of individuals, while their families were induced to pay bribes to learn their whereabouts. The report goes on to say that many families did not learn of their relatives' whereabouts at all until May 2018 when information was provided in bulk by the Ministry of Interior. The Commission notes that even after this information was disclosed it was obfuscated, with causes of death being listed as "heart attack" or "stroke"—while many individuals died on the same day. The Commission infers that mass executions may have occurred in some of these facilities, particularly as so many of them are on military bases.
Mexico’s highest court ruled Nov. 15 that the recently enacted "military policing" law is unconstitutional. Mexico passed the controversial Internal Security Law in December 2017, establishing a legal framework for employing the national army and navy in place of civilian police forces in order to combat increasing violence in the country. Legislators argued that many of the local police forces had become corrupted by drug cartels and that drastic measures were required. The bill drew widespread criticism from a wide variety of sources, including human rights groups and the UN.
The Trump White House issued a proclamation on Nov. 9 that bans migrants caught entering the US unlawfully from seeking asylum. The ban's stated purpose is to funnel immigrants from Mexico and Central America to ports of entry along the border, where they will be allowed to apply for asylum "in an orderly and controlled manner instead of unlawfully." The ban is set to last for 90 days, or until such time as the US strikes a "safe third country" deal with the Mexican government. The opening paragraph of the statement makes reference to the caravan of Central American migrants currently traveling through Mexico. It states that this group "appear[s] to have no lawful basis for admission into our country" and "intend to enter the United States unlawfully or without proper documentation and to seek asylum."
In a joint report released on Nov. 6 (PDF), the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) highlighted the challenges that are faced in providing justice for the families of victims found in mass graves in the territory formerly controlled by the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL). The final number of mass graves found was 202, with an estimated 6,000 to 12,000 victims buried at these sites. However, the final number of victims will not be available until all the sites are exhumed. The victims range from women and children to the elderly and those with disabilities, as well as members of the armed forces and police, and some foreign workers. It is anticipated that more mass grave sites will be found in the coming months and years.
In an independence referendum that drew record numbers to the polls Nov. 4, voters in the South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia voted 56 to 44 percent to remain a French territory. The referendum marked a major milestone in an independence movement that has spanned decades. Political leaders initially agreed in 1988 to hold a vote on independence after a 10-year period of economic and social development. Subsequent negotiations extended the deadline to the end of the 2014-2018 session of the New Caledonian Congress. The final details were settled this past spring when legislators adopted eight criteria to determine who would be eligible to participate in the referendum. While the 80% turnout and 12-point margin against independence led some observers to declare a decisive victory for the loyalist movement, the future of the archipelago is still uncertain. French law allows for the possibility of a second and third referendum if the first results in a vote against independence. To organize another referendum, pro-independence groups would have to secure the support of one third of the membership of the New Caledonian Congress, who could then petition the High Commissioner. Such a petition may be submitted as early as six months from the date of the first referendum.