Press Review CW 17/2024: Shrinking Spaces?
Revue de presse 19.4.2024 jusqu'à 26.4.2024

Malheureusement, ce numéro de la revue de presse n’est actuellement disponible qu’en allemand et en anglais.

Political parties and organisations in Mali appeal to the Supreme Court

On Monday, political parties and civil society organisations in Mali called on the country’s Supreme Court to lift the ban on political activity imposed by the ruling military junta. This had been issued by decree by the junta on 10 April and bans all activities by political parties and associations of a political nature until further notice. In a statement on state television, government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga justified the ban on political activity with the need to maintain public order in order to successfully implement the ‘inter-Malian dialogue for peace and reconciliation’ that junta leader and de facto President Colonel Assimi Goita had announced on 31 December 2023. Just one day after the ban was issued, the Malian communications authority La Haute Autorité de la Communication (HAC) also called on all media – television, radio, newspapers and online services – to cease all reporting on political parties or associations. This measure sparked fierce protests among non-governmental organisations, journalists’ associations and civil society. Housseini Amion Guindo, the chairman of the Convergence pour le Développement de Mali (CODEM) party and former judge Mohamed Cherif Kone, called for civil disobedience. The United Nations, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, also sharply criticised the new regulations. On 31 March, more than 80 political parties and civil society organisations had already issued a joint appeal calling for a return to constitutional order through presidential elections as soon as possible after the junta had allowed the transitional period until the end of March to pass without elections.

Mali has been ruled by the military since a coup d’état in 2020 and a second one in 2021 (press preview CW 34/2020). Under pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the transitional government had committed to holding elections in February this year and handing over power to a civilian government by 26 March. In September, however, the Malian authorities then announced that the elections would be postponed indefinitely (press review CW 39/2023). A constitutional referendum in June 2023 further strengthened Goita’s power, granted amnesty to those responsible for the coup and expanded the powers of the army in its operations.

Since seizing power, the Malian junta has taken increasingly repressive action against political opposition, civil society and the media – the country’s civil spaces have shrunk dramatically, according to Human Rights Watch. In the last four months alone, four civil society organisations have been dissolved. These include the student association L’Association des élèves et étudiants du Mali, which Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga dissolved on 13 March, accusing members of the association of using violence in schools and universities. The political organisations Coordination des mouvements, associations et sympathisants de l’imam Mahmoud Dicko, Kaoural Renouveau and the Solidarité africaine pour la démocratie et l’indépendance (SADI) party and the Observatoire pour les élections et la bonne gouvernance, a civil society group that monitors the fairness of elections, had already been dissolved.


House of Lords approves the Safety of Rwanda Bill

On Tuesday night, the House of Lords approved the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill on the planned asylum agreement between the United Kingdom and Rwanda. The bill, which was already approved by the House of Commons of the bicameral parliament in December (press review CW 50/2023), now designates Rwanda as a safe third country and enables the British government to deport migrants who enter the UK irregularly to the East African state without examining an asylum application. With the Safety of Rwanda Bill, the British government led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reacting to the ruling of the Supreme Court, which declared the asylum agreement initiated under his predecessor Boris Johnson to be unlawful last November on the grounds that Rwanda was not classified as a safe third country. The European Court of Human Rights had previously declared a planned deportation flight to Rwanda inadmissible in the summer of 2022, whereupon it was cancelled. The Safety of Rwanda Bill is based on the renegotiated asylum agreement between the United Kingdom and Rwanda from 5 December last year which aims to improve the protection of migrants in Rwanda and, among other things, prohibits Rwanda from deporting them to their countries of origin – in return for which Rwanda is granted safe third country status.

However, the House of Lords had repeatedly delayed the adoption of the bill by making new amendments and sending it back to the House of Commons. The ten amendments introduced to the Safety of Rwanda Bill included, in particular, the establishment of an independent commission to review Rwanda’s categorisation as a safe third country. The negotiations between the House of Commons and the House of Lords dragged on for several months and finally culminated in a four-hour discussion on Monday night, at the end of which all of the House of Lords’ amendments were rejected. Only the demand that Afghans who have served in the British military cannot be deported was accepted. Prime Minister Sunak had previously increased the pressure further at a press conference on Monday morning and announced that the government would force parliament to remain in session on Tuesday night until the law was approved. Deportations to Rwanda would begin in the next ten to twelve weeks and the government had already initiated necessary steps such as the chartering of flights or the training and recruitment of additional immigration workers. Following the successful vote in parliament, the bill was officially approved by King Charles III on Thursday.

However, legal action could still be taken against the law, as numerous experts continue to question its conformity with European and international human rights standards. For example, UN legal experts have pointed out that airlines operating deportation flights to Rwanda could be in breach of international human rights standards. The European Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Michael O’Flaherty, also sharply criticised the law on Tuesday and called on the British government and parliament to refrain from deporting people under the Rwanda Agreement and to reverse the law’s violation of judicial independence. The law would not only raise fundamental questions about the human rights of asylum seekers, but also about the rule of law. Sunak, on the other hand, had already announced that he would simply ignore the ruling if another successful appeal against the plan was brought before the European Court of Human Rights(ECHR), the project was once again successfully challenged. There is also further criticism of the financial and strategic feasibility of the asylum agreement. The National Audit Office (NAO), the UK’s national spending watchdog, had calculated that flying out the first 300 migrants would cost a total of £540 million, or almost £2 million per person. The CEO of the Refugee Council, a British non-governmental organisation, also criticised the fact that a maximum of 5,000 migrants could be flown out per year. This would be a relatively small number, given that several 10,000 migrants are currently seeking asylum in the UK.

The approach of the asylum pact is by no means new – nor are the legal concerns. From 2013 to 2018, Israel’s government had already concluded an agreement with Rwanda to deport African migrants to the East African state. This agreement was also declared illegal by the country’s Supreme Court. Most recently, Denmark had also flirted with an asylum agreement with Rwanda similar to the British one, but then abandoned it in favour of focusing on a joint European solution. Meanwhile, the British government is already looking for other partner countries to conclude further asylum agreements. So far, the British government has held talks with Armenia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire and Botswana. However, the Botswanan government rejected a possible agreement on Tuesday on the grounds that it already had its own challenges with immigration from the region, as Botswana’s Foreign Minister, Lemogang Kwape, explained.

Prime Minister Sunak’s pressure to pass the Safety of Rwanda Bill is also due to the ruling Conservative and Unionist Party’s (Tories) falling poll ratings against the Labour Party in the run-up to this year’s general election. For Sunak, the passing of the bill represents an important part of his central election promise to stop irregular immigration.

In other news

Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir won the women’s London-Marathon on Sunday, setting a new world record in an all-women’s marathon. The 30-year-old completed the 42 kilometre course in two hours, sixteen minutes and sixteen seconds, breaking the previous record set by Kenyan Mary Keitany, who ran a time of two hours, seventeen minutes and sixteen seconds in 2017, also in London. Not only in comparison to the last London-Marathon – when Jepchirchir came third – but also with a view to the Olympic Games, which take place from 26 July to 11 August in Paris, the victory was an important success for the Kenyan. It could secure her a nomination for the Kenyan Olympic team. Second place went to Ethiopian Tigst Assefa, followed by Joyciline Jepkosgei, also from Kenya. Kenya also won the men’s race. Here, Alexander Mutiso Munyao beat Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele and Britain’s Emile Cairess with a time of two hours, four minutes and one second.

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