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After years of negotiations, the European Parliament has approved a significant reform aimed at tightening the EU’s migration and asylum regulations. The EU Asylum and Migration Pact, which has been in development since 2015, is set to become effective in two years’ time. Its objectives include expediting the asylum process, enhancing the repatriation of irregular migrants to their home countries, and establishing a system of shared responsibility among EU member states for asylum seekers.

Last year, there was a notable increase in illegal border crossings within the EU, prompting the need for such reforms. The pact, though met with some opposition from certain member states, is expected to gain full approval by the end of April through majority voting.

Under the proposed rules, EU countries will be obligated to either accept a quota of migrants from frontline countries like Italy, Greece, and Spain, or provide additional financial aid or resources. Additionally, the pact emphasizes swift processing of asylum claims, particularly those deemed to have low chances of approval, and aims to reach decisions within a maximum of 12 weeks. Forcible returns of rejected asylum seekers to their home countries would also need to occur within the same timeframe.

The pact introduces stricter pre-entry screening procedures within seven days of arrival, including biometric data collection for migrants aged six and above. It also establishes mechanisms to address sudden influxes of migrants.

The pact received support from the two main political groups in the European Parliament, although it faced opposition from some left-wing and far-right factions, as well as NGOs. Critics argue that the agreement may lead to increased suffering for asylum seekers, particularly those with low chances of acceptance, who might undergo processing on border islands or in detention facilities with limited access to fair procedures.

Despite its imperfections, many MEPs saw the pact as a workable compromise, acknowledging its significance in addressing the challenges of migration within the EU. However, concerns remain regarding the potential consequences of expedited processes and increased detention.

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A group of elderly Swiss women have achieved a significant victory in the European Court of Human Rights, marking the first climate case success in the court’s history. These women, primarily in their 70s, emphasized their vulnerability to the impacts of heatwaves associated with climate change due to their age and gender.

The court criticized Switzerland for its insufficient efforts in meeting emission reduction goals, deeming them inadequate. This ruling holds significance as it’s the first time the court has addressed the issue of global warming.

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish activist, joined in the celebration with other activists at the court in Strasbourg. One of the leaders of the Swiss women, Rosemarie Wydler-Walti, expressed disbelief at the victory, highlighting its magnitude.

The court’s decision carries legal weight and could potentially influence legislation in 46 European countries, including the UK. It found Switzerland in breach of its duties under the Convention concerning climate change, noting deficiencies in the country’s climate policies, such as failure to quantify reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The group of Swiss women, known as KlimaSeniorinnen or Senior Women for Climate Protection, argued that they faced health risks during heatwaves in Switzerland and were unable to leave their homes. Data showed that March of the same year marked the world’s warmest, continuing a trend of record-breaking temperatures.

However, the court dismissed similar cases brought by Portuguese youths and a former French mayor, who also claimed that European governments were not acting swiftly enough to address climate change, thus violating their rights.

Elisabeth Smart, a member of KlimaSeniorinnen at 76 years old, highlighted her lifelong observations of climate change in Switzerland, having grown up on a farm. Despite the nine-year commitment to the case, she emphasized the innate drive within some individuals to take action rather than remain passive.

While governments worldwide have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions significantly, experts and activists warn that progress remains slow, jeopardizing efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

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Nicaragua has asked the UN’s highest court to halt German weapons sales to Israel at the start of a landmark case.

Germany is accused of breaching the UN genocide convention by sending military hardware to Israel and ceasing funding of the UN’s aid agency.

Berlin rejects the claims and will present a defence to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Tuesday.

In 2023 some 30% of Israel’s military equipment purchases came from Germany, totalling €300m ($326m; £257m).

The allegations build on a separate case taken by South Africa in January, where judges in the Hague ordered Israel to take “every possible measure” to avoid genocidal acts. The court also ordered Hamas to release all hostages taken from Israel during its 7 October attacks immediately.Israel rejects accusations that it is engaging in genocidal acts in its campaign in Gaza, and has insisted it has the right to defend itself.

More than 33,000 have been killed in Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry there says, the majority of them civilians. Gaza is on the brink of famine, with Oxfam reporting that 300,000 people trapped in the north have lived since January on an average of 245 calories a day.

Nicaragua says Germany’s arms sales to Israel, which totalled $326.5m last year – a tenfold increase on 2022 – make it complicit in Israel’s alleged war crimes.

Components for air defence systems and communications equipment accounted for most of the sales, according to the DPA news agency.Germany was also one of 15 Western nations which suspended funding for the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) over allegations that some of the agency’s staff were involved in the 7 October attacks on Israel.

According to papers filed with the ICJ, Nicaragua wants the UN’s top court to order Berlin to halt weapons sales and resume funding of the aid agency, one of the few international bodies still operating in Gaza.

It says in the absence of such measures, “Germany is facilitating the commission of genocide and is failing in its obligation to do everything possible to prevent the commission of genocide”.

Speaking as the trial opened, Alain Pellet, a lawyer for Nicaragua, said it was “urgent that Germany suspend continued sales.

“Germany was and is fully conscious of the risk that the arms it has furnished and continues to furnish to Israel,” he told judges.

Berlin has rejected the allegations, but has remained tight-lipped about its legal strategy ahead of the hearings.

“We note Nicaragua’s lawsuit and we deny the allegations as unjustified”, government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner said.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been a vocal supporter of Israel’s right to self-defence, but he has faced increasing domestic hostility to the continuation of arms sales to the country.

On Sunday, a group of civil servants wrote to the German leader calling on the government to “cease arm deliveries to the Israeli government with immediate effect”.

“Israel is committing crimes in Gaza that are in clear contradiction to international law and thus to the Constitution, which we are bound to as federal civil servants and public employees,” the statement said, citing January’s ICJ ruling.

In January’s case, the ICJ ruled that “at least some of the acts and omissions alleged by South Africa to have been committed by Israel in Gaza appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the Convention”.

But critics of the case have been quick to highlight that Nicaragua itself has a spotted human rights record, with its government accused of cracking down on opposition. In March, the UK’s mission to the UN accused President Daniel Ortega’s government of a “relentless” crackdown on human rights and civil liberties.

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Lyudmila Navalnaya, the mother of Alexei Navalny, stated in a video that she was shown her son’s body by Russian authorities, but they are pressuring her to agree to a “secret” burial. She reported signing a death certificate at a morgue. Navalny’s press secretary mentioned a medical report indicating natural causes, while his widow believes he was killed by Russian authorities. Navalnaya expressed frustration at officials refusing to hand over her son’s body and alleged blackmail, stating that they are dictating conditions for the burial. She demanded the return of Navalny’s body and claimed threats from authorities.

Navalnaya met with US President Joe Biden along with Navalny’s widow and daughter in San Francisco. Biden praised Navalny’s courage and anti-corruption efforts, announcing forthcoming sanctions on Russia. Navalny died in a penal colony on February 16, purportedly after falling ill during a walk, though his widow accuses Putin of ordering his killing. The Kremlin denies involvement, dismissing Western reactions as “hysterical.”

Analysts suggest that showing Navalnaya the body aims to negotiate a non-politicized funeral. Navalny was previously poisoned with Novichok in 2020, survived after treatment in Germany, then imprisoned upon returning to Russia in 2021. Russian authorities have aggressively cracked down on attempts to commemorate Navalny’s death, detaining hundreds and removing makeshift memorials.

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France has taken decisive action by announcing the ban of 28 Israeli settlers who stand accused of perpetrating attacks against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank. This move aligns with similar measures enacted by other nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, which have also imposed restrictions on individuals involved in comparable activities. The French government’s decision comes amidst escalating violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, prompting a firm condemnation of such actions.

In a statement issued by the French foreign ministry, the country emphasized the gravity of the situation, denouncing the unacceptable violence perpetrated against Palestinian civilians. France, along with Poland and Germany, collectively announced sanctions against Israelis implicated in attacks within the West Bank. This concerted effort underscores the international community’s recognition of the need to address the escalating tensions and safeguard the rights of Palestinians in the region.

The French government reiterated its stance on the illegality of colonization under international law, emphasizing the imperative to halt such activities. It emphasized the necessity of ending colonization to pave the way for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, thereby enabling Israelis and Palestinians to coexist peacefully and securely. France also expressed its intention to pursue sanctions at the European level, highlighting the importance of a coordinated approach among European Union member states in addressing the ongoing conflict.

While the individuals affected by these measures have not been publicly named, the broader context underscores the gravity of the situation. The imposition of sanctions by France and other nations reflects a concerted effort to address the escalating violence and promote stability in the region. As the international community continues to grapple with the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such actions serve as a testament to the importance of upholding human rights and seeking avenues for peaceful resolution.

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European leaders are gathering in Brussels with the aim of resolving a deadlock over financial aid for Ukraine, a €50 billion package that was vetoed by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban in December. Orban’s decision is believed to be connected to the EU withholding €20 billion from Hungary due to concerns about human rights and corruption in the country.

This impasse is preventing crucial funding from reaching Ukraine, particularly as the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion looms. Orban, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has consistently opposed EU sanctions on Russian oil and gas, contributing to the growing frustration among EU leaders with Hungary’s stance.

As the EU leaders attempt to address the Ukrainian aid issue, there are rumors of potential punitive actions against Hungary. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has asserted that the EU will find a solution to support Ukraine, even if it means proceeding without Hungary’s approval. Reports from the Financial Times suggest that Brussels officials could take measures affecting Hungary’s economy if Orban continues to block the aid package. In response, Orban accused the EU of blackmail, emphasizing the need for a resolution.

The summit is unfolding against the backdrop of widespread farmers’ protests across Europe that have persisted for weeks. Farmers are demonstrating against EU measures aimed at making the agricultural sector more sustainable and the bloc’s decision to lift quotas on Ukrainian grain exports. The protests have alarmed many European leaders, prompting them to seek solutions from the EU to address farmers’ concerns.

The European Commission has made some concessions, proposing an exemption to an unpopular fallow-land requirement and introducing a “safeguard mechanism” to reimpose emergency tariffs on Ukrainian imports if necessary. However, the EU’s farmers’ association, Copa-Cogeca, has expressed dissatisfaction, stating that the proposed safeguard mechanism does not provide sufficient relief for producers.

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Italy has expressed strong concern and summoned Hungary’s ambassador after images of Ilaria Salis, a 39-year-old Italian woman, shackled in a Budapest court triggered public and political outrage. Salis, accused of participating in violent assaults against neo-Nazi sympathizers in February 2023, faced restraints on her hands and feet during the court appearance. The attacks occurred following a neo-Nazi rally in Budapest, with alleged far-left militants assaulting individuals after the “Day of Honour” rally.

A video showing anti-fascist activists beating a Hungarian person circulated widely in Hungary, leading to Salis’ arrest along with two German nationals. Salis faces charges of conspiracy to commit assault causing grievous bodily harm, with a potential 11-year jail term if convicted. Her case gained attention in October when her father highlighted the harsh conditions of her detention. Images of Salis in shackles during the court hearing sparked further outrage, with an online petition garnering over 90,000 signatures demanding her return to Italy.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani summoned the Hungarian ambassador to inquire about the perceived violation of fundamental norms on detainee conditions. While Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, an ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has not commented, there are calls for her intervention. The Five Star Movement leader urged Meloni to prioritize the rights and dignity of Italians over political alliances.

Salis’ lawyer criticized the scenes in court as a clear violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Allegations of unsanitary conditions in Hungarian prisons were contested by the prison service, emphasizing high hygiene standards. However, human rights groups reported overcrowded and understaffed prisons in Hungary.

The case, dominating Italian headlines, has also attracted attention in Hungary and Europe. Concerns were raised about the use of physical restraints in court and the perceived repressive nature of Hungary’s judiciary system. The president of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties deemed the scene in the EU state’s court as “appalling.” Salis’s lawyer expressed pessimism about the trial’s outcome and called for Salis to serve pre-trial detention in Italy, citing EU law allowing citizens to be held on house arrest in their resident member country.

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Members of Parliament in Poland have voted to remove the parliamentary immunity of far-right politician Grzegorz Braun after he extinguished candles lit for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in a highly controversial act. The global condemnation of Braun’s actions resulted in a fine in December, but the recent decision to revoke his parliamentary immunity now exposes him to potential criminal charges. Braun, affiliated with the ultra-nationalist Confederation party, used a fire extinguisher to put out the Hanukkah candles and referred to the celebration as “satanic.”

Prosecutors are planning to bring several charges against Braun, including destruction of property, insulting an object of religious worship, and violation of bodily integrity. The unanimous support for revoking his immunity came from all political parties, except the Confederation party, highlighting the widespread agreement that Braun’s behavior was unacceptable. Lawmakers emphasized the need to hold him accountable for his actions.

Grzegorz Braun has a history of provocative stunts, further contributing to his controversial reputation. In addition to the Hanukkah incident, he gained notoriety for dumping a Christmas tree decorated in the colors of the EU and Ukraine into a bin and damaging a microphone during a talk by a Holocaust historian. Prosecutors also intend to charge him for separate incidents that occurred in 2022 and 2023.

The removal of Braun’s parliamentary immunity signifies a significant step in potential legal consequences for his actions, with prosecutors aiming to address various charges related to his behavior. The broader context of his controversial actions and statements adds to the ongoing debate about the boundaries of free speech and the consequences for those who engage in offensive or harmful behavior.

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In Moscow, two Russian poets, Artyom Kamardin and Yegor Shtovba, have been handed lengthy prison sentences for their involvement in a poetry reading featuring anti-war poems. Kamardin received a seven-year sentence, while Shtovba was given five and a half years. Both poets faced charges of “inciting hatred” against Russian troops and making “appeals against state security,” despite pleading not guilty. This harsh punishment is part of a broader crackdown on dissent in Russia, where individuals expressing opposition to the government’s actions face severe consequences.

The sentencing of Kamardin and Shtovba is emblematic of a disturbing trend in Russia, where the government has intensified its efforts to stifle dissent and criticism. The poets participated in the Mayakovsky Readings, an event that took place on September 25, 2022, in Moscow, shortly after President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” campaign for the war in Ukraine. The charges against them are part of an alarming pattern of using state security as a pretext to suppress voices critical of the government’s actions, reflecting a broader erosion of free expression and civil liberties in the country.

The Mayakovsky Readings, a historical poetry event that has taken place since the 1950s, has become a symbol of resistance to oppressive regimes. However, in the current climate of heightened political tensions and military actions, such gatherings are increasingly deemed unsafe. The group had previously faced persecution during the Soviet era, with participants accused of anti-Soviet propaganda and sentenced to gulags. The recent suspension of the Mayakovsky Readings in October 2022 underscores the growing challenges faced by those who seek to express dissent in an increasingly restrictive environment.

The crackdown on dissent in Russia has reached alarming levels, with activists, poets, and opposition figures facing imprisonment for expressing criticism of the government’s actions, particularly in the context of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The sentences handed to Kamardin and Shtovba are part of a broader pattern of silencing voices that challenge the official narrative, raising concerns about the state of democracy and human rights in Russia.

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