Leader of West African Terrorist Group is Dead

By Alexis Eka

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

On Thursday, October 16, 2021, the head of Nigeria’s armed forces, Military Commander and Chief of Defense, General Lucky Irabor announced that a key figure in the West African terrorist group, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, had passed away. Al-Barnawi was said to be the son of Boko Haram’s late founder Mohammed Yusuf.

Islamic State West Africa Provenience (“ISWAP”) has been regarded as the most prominent jihadist group in Nigeria since the death of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau that occurred earlier this year. After Shekau’s father died in law enforcement’s custody, Shekau was appointed the group’s new leader. And after, Shekau’s death, Barnawi was said to be the leader of the ISWAP. 

ISWAP is a splinter of Boko Haram, a terrorist group that has killed several thousands of people, kidnapped students, and added to the increasing homeless population in Nigeria. ISWAP has been fighting against the Nigerian armed forces for about 12 years. ISWAP has primarily focused on its attacks on the Nigerian military as opposed to Boko Haram who has terrorized several other groups. However, in Nigeria, the ISWAP insurgency group is still referred to as the “Mamman Nur Faction,” a term coined by West Africans explaining that they are still under the control of Boko Haram.

The two militant groups have been at conflict with each other for several years, until ISWAP became Boko Haram’s successor. The conflict between Boko Haram and ISWAP and the insurgents in Nigeria’s armed forces has spread to neighboring countries, Cameroon and Chad, and has left about 300,000 people dead and millions of Nigerian citizens injured.

Ibrahim Awami, an individual who was kidnapped by ISWAP in 2016 and forced to join the ISWAP insurgency, said that “the death of Shekau will not be the end of insurgency in the Northeastern region.” Awami escaped from the ISWAP insurgency less than a month ago and indicated that there are several Shekaus that are still seeking to abduct other west Africans and enlist them into the ISWAP insurgency. ISWAP stated that often, there are fights that break out for power between the ISWAP members, sometimes resulting in their deaths.

For more information, please see:

AP News – Nigerian Military says Leader of IS-Linked Group is Dead – 14 Oct. 2021. 

BBC News – Nigeria Says ISWAP Leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi is Dead – 14 Oct. 2021.

New York Times – Leader of West African Terrorist group is Dead, Nigerian Army Says – 14 Oct. 2021. 

Reuters – Nigerian General Says Leader of Islamic State West Africa is Dead – 14 Oct. 2021.

Supreme Court to Hear First Pre-Viability Abortion Case Since Roe v. Wade

By: Anna E. Melo     

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

WASHINGTON D.C., United States – On December 1, 2021, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to evaluate the constitutionality of a Mississippi law restricting access to abortion in most situations after 15 weeks of gestation-period. The Department of Health in Mississippi seeks to overturn previously decided landmark abortion cases ensuring a woman’s right to terminate pregnancy up to fetal viability (defined as where a growing fetus would be able to survive ex utero). With a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, proponents for women’s reproductive rights anxiously await a decision that may transform the landscape of accessible healthcare in the United States.

Pro-choice advocates protest outside of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Tom Brenner.

For nearly 50 years, the holdings of cases such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey have established that the 4th and 14th Amendments support a woman’s right of privacy to choose to terminate a pregnancy without unnecessary barriers. Subsequently, some state legislatures have sought to impose restrictions dictating the limited circumstances whereby a woman would be allowed to receive the procedure.

In 1972, Mississippi enacted the Gestational Age Act which is full of language directed towards the potential emotional and physical harm caused by abortion procedures. It describes various fetal developments week by week up to the ‘cut off gestational age’ of 15 weeks (two weeks into the second trimester). The only exceptions past this threshold point that the Act allows for are medical emergencies or in cases of severe fetal abnormality (notably excluding instances of rape and incest). Physicians are tasked with reporting each abortion procedure conducted under oath, with the threat of civil penalties and/or license suspension or revocation for noncompliance with the provisions of the Act.

Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the last operating abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi, leaving women, especially the poor and minorities, with very few opportunities to obtain the procedure.

Jackson Women’s Health sued the State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health to challenge the Gestational Age Act in 2018 on the merits that a pre-viability ban on abortion is unconstitutional. The district court for the Southern District of Mississippi found that the restrictive obstacles the Act imposes on women were unlawful. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision that the Act was unconstitutional in 2019. The State Health Officer of Mississippi Department of Health and the Executive Director of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure appealed the 5th circuits decision, to which the Supreme Court has granted certiorari.

The topic of abortion is inherently contentious. It invites arguments and counterarguments concerning religion, philosophy, politics, and medicine. A case on the Supreme Court’s docket, especially in 2021, may leave more questions than answers.  Will advancements in medicine naturally shift ‘fetal viability’ earlier into a pregnancy?  Will an outright overturn of predominant case law in women’s and reproductive rights cause a domino effect in various conservative states to ban abortion altogether or the adoption of certain restrictions such as the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ at six weeks gestation?  Will we see action by Congress in an attempt to implement federal law that counters prohibitory state actions? In the next few months, the Supreme Court will be tasked with balancing these delicate matters that will have an undoubted impact on the status of women’s health and human rights in the United States.

For more information, please see:

5th Circuit – Decision Jackson Women’s Health Org. v. Dobbs, 945 F.3d 265 – Dec. 13, 2019.   

Mississippi Gestational Age Act – Current through 2021.  

United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi – Decision Jackson Women’s Health Org. v. Currier, 349 F. Supp. 3d 536 – Nov. 20, 2018.

United States Supreme Court – Decision Granting Motion for Certiorari Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health – Oct. 12, 2021.

Supreme Court of India Reinforces the Rights of People Suffering With Mental Health Conditions

By: Camisha Parkins

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

INDIA – On September 1, 2021, the Supreme Court of India ordered all states and Union territories of the country to establish a system for facilitating vaccination against COVID-19 of all individuals residing in a mental health facility– including service providers, health care professionals, and all other associated staff. Each state must submit a progress report to the Department of Social Justice and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on or before October 15, 2021 explaining the steps taken and the number of people who have been vaccinated.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and the lockdown that followed exacerbated the long-standing inadequacies that already existed within India’s mental healthcare system. In the initial weeks of the lockdown, patients and doctors at mental health hospitals and institutions throughout India received very little support from central or state governments in battling the COVID-19 crisis, which placed patients and mental health professionals in imminent danger of the spread of the virus. Throughout the pandemic, hospitals were forced to turn away patients living with chronic mental illnesses who relied on hospitals due to lack of beds, staffing issues and the inability to provide sufficient medication. “Disabled people accessing health infrastructure, especially people with mental illness, were the last ones to be thought about,” said Anjlee Agarwal, founder of disability advocacy organization Samarthyam.

The Entrance to the Institute of Mental Health in Chennai, India. Photo Courtesy of The Hindu.

The Court’s order came in a contempt petition filed by advocate and petitioner-in-person in this case, Gaurav Kumar Bansal. Bansal accused states of disregarding a July 10, 2017 order from the Indian Supreme Court that required states and union territories to set up rehabilitation homes for mentally ill patients who remained in government-run mental health institutions despite being cured and ready for discharge. After reviewing status reports submitted by states and union territories following the July 2017 order, the Court said it “[did] not find that any genuine progress has been made… though different State Governments have indicated varying time lines for setting up the Halfway homes.” Accordingly, the bench of Justices led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud mandated the establishment of halfway homes and rehabilitation homes for the mentally ill and directed the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to establish an online dashboard that monitors the progress of the states and union territories. Information on the dashboard depicting the availability of institutions, facility provided, capacity, occupancy and region-wise distribution of halfway homes must be updated “on a real time basis.”

The bench, in making such court orders, noted that these problems involving people with mental health conditions “are of serious concern.” While this recent action by India’s Supreme Court counts as a major victory for advocates who work tirelessly in fighting for people with disabilities’ right to equal access to health care in India, ensuring that state governments take “appropriate and timely action” to meet the needs of people suffering with mental illnesses is of utmost importance. As Bansal stated, “We are just at the beginning of the battle… And we will keep fighting, together, until one day, people with psychosocial disabilities can live in dignity.”

For further information, please see:

Hindustan Times – Vaccinate inmates, staff of mental health facilities in a month, Supreme Court tells states – 2 Sept. 2021

Human Rights Watch – India’s Supreme Court Orders to Vaccinate Patients in Mental Health Facilities – 5 Oct. 2021

India Legal – Supreme Court directs all states to ensure vaccination of mentally-ill persons within 1 month – 1 Sept. 2021 – In India, coronavirus crisis has been particularly hard for mental health patients and hospitals – 3 Nov. 2020

Supreme Court of India – Gaurav Kumar Bansal vs. Mr. Dinesh Kumar & ORS – 1 Sept. 2021

Unauthorized Science: Estate of Henrietta Lacks Sues Pharmaceutical Company For Using Cells Without Consent

By: Tim Murphy

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

BALTIMORE, Maryland – The estate of Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose continuously dividing cells have been used in scientific and medical research for decades, is suing the pharmaceutical company Thermo Fisher Scientific for unjust enrichment, stating that Lacks’s cells were taken without her consent and have been used without the estate’s compensation for decades.

Many may have learned about Henrietta Lacks from a high school biology class, or read about her life in Rebecca Skloot’s popular 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which was later adapted into a film starring Oprah Winfrey. Born in 1920, Lacks was a Black woman who was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer when a doctor took and used a sample of Lacks’s cells in a petri dish without her consent. The cells, which later became known as “HeLa cells,” continued to rapidly reproduce outside the body, becoming the first human cell line to do so. Henrietta Lacks died shortly after in 1951. Neither Lacks nor her family was not compensated for her cells. 

Four of Henrietta Lacks’ grandchildren and attorney Ben Crump outside the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo courtesy of The Baltimore Sun.

It wasn’t until decades after her death that the general public became aware that the HeLa cells were originally taken and used without Lacks’s consent. While there are now policies in place to protect patients from non-consensual use of cell-samples, these regulations did not exist at the time Lacks was undergoing treatment. Regardless, companies like Thermo Fisher Scientific are still using and profiting from HeLa cells without the compensation of Lacks’s estate.

The lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific seeks “the full amount of its net profits obtained by commercializing the HeLa cell line to the Estate of Henrietta Lacks.”  However, for grandson Ron Lacks, the lawsuit is not just about the money. “We will celebrate taking back control of Henrietta Lacks’ legacy,” he said. The estate also plans to file lawsuits in the following weeks against other companies that profit from the HeLa cell line.

For further information, please see:

CNN – Estate of Henrietta Lacks sues biotechnical company for nonconsensual use of her cells – 5 Oct. 2021

Live Science – Henrietta Lacks’ family sues biotech firm for use of ‘stolen’ cells – 8 Oct. 2021

NPR – Henrietta Lacks’ estate sued a company saying it used her ‘stolen’ cells for research – Oct. 4 2021

The Baltimore Sun – Family of Henrietta Lacks files suit against biotech company for using famous ‘HeLa’ cells without permission – 4 Oct. 2021

The Washington Post – 70 years ago, Henrietta Lacks’s cells were taken without consent. Now, her family wants justice – 4 Oct. 2021

Achimota School Appeals Judgment that Greenlights Wearing Dreadlocks in School

By: Spencer Kwabena Boateng Mensah

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

ACCRA, Ghana – On May 31, 2021, an Accra High Court ordered against the senior high school’s regulation that demanded Tyron Marhguy and Oheneba Nkrabea, two Rastafarians by religion, to cut their dreadlocks before being admitted into the school. 

Teroe Marhguy grants interview to multiple media persons after High Court ruling in favor of his son, Tyrone Marhguy who is behind his father taking selfies in the midst of crowded Rastafarians. Photo Courtesy of My Joy Online.

Achimota School and the Attorney General are in the Court of Appeals challenging a judgment by the Human Rights Division of the High Court which declared that wearing dreadlocks in the school is lawful.

In its judgment, the court stated that “[i]n the absence of such compelling justification grounded on the public good of the school as a whole in the face of constitutionally guaranteed rights, I am unable to tip the balance in favor of the implementation of the rule of the Respondents to restrict the Fundamental Human Rights of the Applicant to practise and manifest his religious belief.”

The court further declared that the failure or refusal of the school to admit the applicant on the basis of his Rastafarian religion inclination, beliefs, and culture characterized by his keeping of rasta is a violation of his right to education guaranteed under Ghana’s Constitution.

After admitting the students in their dreadlocks however, the school and the Attorney General have filed an appeal seeking the decision of the High Court to be set aside.

According to them, the High Court erred in declaring that the school’s uniformity regulation which required the students to cut their dreadlocks interferes with his expression of religion.

Achimota School admission forms specify that admission is conditioned on “good academic work, good conduct and strict observation of all school rules and regulations.” The rules among others require all boys in the school to “keep their hair low.”

The judgment divided the public into two sides; while others praised the applicant for setting a precedent, others were concerned that the judgment will open a flood gate of non-compliance of schools’ rules and regulations.    

Reacting to the appeal, father of Tyron, Tereo Marhguy told local news sources that the decision of the school to appeal is motivated by what the school’s alumni want. “If [the school] had filed the appeal shortly after the ruling, it would have made sense,” he stated and added that it was actually because his son was nominated to represent the school for the annual National Science and Maths Quiz.

Ghana’s Constitution advocates for freedom of religion and right to education as fundamental human rights; and the people of Ghana are keenly waiting for a decision from the Court of Appeals on the case – which was filed on September 13, 2021. 

For further information, please see:

Citi Newsroom – Achimota School, AG appeal court ruling on rastafarian student Tyrone Marhguy – 13 Sept. 2021.

Hen Ara Ghana – Achimota vs Rasta students verdict: People are doing Facebook argument – Kwaku Azar – 6 June 2021.

Pulse Ghana – Achimota School’s appeal against my son ill-motivated – Rasta student’s dad – 15 Sept. 2021.