Tag Archives: international relations

Crimes of Humanity

by Saba Brittain

On the 10th of January of 2023, the trial of 24 individuals involved in volunteering humanitarian assistance to migrants on the shores of Greece began (Kennedy 2023). This trial appears to follow the trend of European authorities targeting humanitarian workers to discourage solidarity with migrants and deter the arrival of refugees to Europe (Kennedy 2023).

The defendants face serious charges for their work at the Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI), a Greek non-profit organisation that provides emergency aid in dangerous environments. Operating on the Greek island of Lesbos, the “crimes” committed at the ERCI include assisting people whose lives are at risk, searching and rescuing migrant boats in distress, assisting migrant boats on the shoreline (Kitsantonis 2023).

The defendants are accused of facilitating illegal migration to Europe, these accusations have drawn widespread criticism among international human rights organizations. Their charges include espionage, forgery, involvement in a criminal organization, people-smuggling, money laundering and other “farcical” accusations according to Amnesty International (Kitsantonis 2023).

The accusations of espionage condemn the defendants’ initiatives of monitoring local radio channels to learn the whereabouts of migrant boats in distress. (Smith, 2023). The money-laundering allegations incriminate fundraising efforts for the ERCI organization (Smith 2023).

“I am not a people smuggler”, says Sarah Mardini during an interview with BBC, a human rights activist accused of criminal activity and people smuggling following her lifesaving work at the Emergency Response Centre International (BBC 2018). She is one of the 24 defendants on trial and is herself a refugee from Syria (BBC 2018).

A European Parliament report has described this trial as the “largest case of criminalization of solidarity in Europe” (Aljazeera 2023). Many other critiques have suggested this trial is indicative of the efforts to discourage the work of migrant rights defenders and organizations, and deter refugees from coming to Europe (Amnesty International 2022). Simply put, the compassion and solidarity driving the action of the volunteers has been weaponized and criminalized (Amnesty International 2022).

In addition to creating a hostile and insecure environment for human rights volunteers showing solidarity to migrants, this trial delays the work of the ERCI organization. A UN human rights expert suggested that a guilty verdict for the defendants could lead to more migrant deaths at sea (OHCHR 2021). Along with this trial in Greece, several other prosecutions have been set in motion across Europe against NGOs and individuals. Considering the thousands of migrant deaths at sea every year, the effects of these sorts of trials must not be overlooked. Many are calling upon Greek prosecutors to drop all charges against the 24 individuals. (Amnesty International 2022).

Works Cited

“Greece: Guilty Verdict for Migrant Rights Defenders Could Mean More Deaths at Sea – UN Expert.” OHCHR, 18 Nov. 2021, www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/01/greece-guilty-verdict-migrant-rights-defenders-could-mean-more-deaths-sea-un.

“Greece: Migrant Rescue Trial to Begin.” Human Rights Watch, 22 Dec. 2022, www.hrw.org/news/2022/12/22/greece-migrant-rescue-trial-begin.

“Solidarity on Trial in Europe.” Amnesty International, 6 May 2022, www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2020/03/free-to-help/.

Al Jazeera. “Drop All Charges against Refugee Aid Workers, UN Tells Greece.” Migration News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 13 Jan. 2023, www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/13/un-asks-greece-drop-charges-in-syrian-migrant-rescuer-trial.

Kennedy, Niamh. “They Saved Refugees Stranded at Sea. Now They’re on Trial.” CNN, Cable News Network, 10 Jan. 2023, www.cnn.com/2023/01/10/europe/migrant-aid-workers-mardini-binder-trial-intl/index.html.

Kitsantonis, Niki. “Greece Opens Espionage Trial of Aid Workers Who Helped Migrants.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Jan. 2023, www.nytimes.com/2023/01/10/world/europe/greece-trial-migrants.html?searchResultPosition=1.

Smith, Helen. “Long-Awaited Trial of 24 Aid Workers Accused of Espionage Starts in Lesbos.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 Jan. 2023, www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/jan/13/long-awaited-trial-of-24-aid-workers-accused-of-espionage-starts-in-lesbos.

The Detention of the Two Michaels: A Story on China’s Human Rights Abuses

By: Peter Xavier Rossetti

Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor, known as the “two Michaels,” returned to Canada after spending over 1000 days detained in China. Their collective story is a harrowing example of China’s human rights violations and willingness to use people as a means for geopolitical gain. Now that they are home and present in the minds of Canadians and others, it is essential to report their treatment while in China accurately. Background information is necessary to understand the severity of the tribulation the two Michaels faced.

In early December of 2018, a woman named Meng Wanzhou was about to make a layover stop in Canada while flying to Mexico (Corera, 2020). Nothing, in particular, made this stopover in Vancouver strange, but Wanzhou was no ordinary tourist. Wanzhou is the chief financial officer of Huawei, and the United States wanted her on charges of bank and wire fraud that helped her company circumnavigate the US sanction on Iran (Karphal, 2020). As soon as she landed in Vancouver, Canadian officials arrested her and prepared her extradition case to the States. Several days later, Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig were detained in China.

Korvig, a former diplomat, and Spavor, a businessman, were convicted of vague espionage and spying charges, with the latter being sentenced to 11 years in prison by Chinese courts (Aziz, 2021). Many people speculated that the arrests were an act of retaliation by the Chinese government after the arrest of Wanzhou in Canada. Despite Canadian and American attempts to persuade China into dropping the charges, the two men would go on to spend nearly three years of their lives detained. The conditions of their detention were brutal, and they highlight the gross and arbitrary imprisonment tactics employed by the Chinese government.

Korvig and Spavor spent most of their imprisonment completely cut-off from the outside world. Chinese officials allowed the two men to make only a handful of phone calls throughout their captivity while also barring Canadian diplomats from reaching them (Coletta, 2021). To put into perspective how isolated they were, Korvig and Spavor appeared to be missing common knowledge about current international events. For example, after a long-overdue meeting with a consular in October of 2020, Korvig was finally informed that the pandemic had spread across the world, resulting in the death of millions (Hopper, 2021). Deprived of basic information pertaining to current events, Korvig and Spavor spent their days detached and unaware of what was happening in the outside world.

Isolation was not the only thing the two Michaels had to cope with during their detainment, as the actual physical conditions of the prison cells were inhumane. Reports determined that both men were forced to live in tiny cells filled with other prisoners and were denied the ability to leave (Hopper, 2021). Unlike Western prisons, these detainment centres contain no communal spaces such as exercise yards or dining halls. Besides the confined, brutal living conditions, the two Micheals were also subject to psychological torment. The bright lighting of the cell was kept on during all hours of the day, allowing for little rest, and the two were treated to daily integrations by Chinese authorities (Nossal, 2021). The Chinese government’s mental and emotional abuses inflicted on Korvig and Spavor are unspeakable.

The arbitrary conditions that the Korvig and Spavor were subject to are gross inflictions on human rights. It has been a massive relief to have both men return home. However, it is important to acknowledge that these isolation conditions, physical confinement, and psychological abuse are not unique to the two Michaels. China has been detaining people in this brutal fashion long before the Korvig and Spavor were sentenced to prison there. The Chinese government will continue to act in such a manner until they face a firm international stance. No human being should be subject to such treatment.


Aziz, Saba. “ ‘Free at last’: Canadian Michael Korvig, wife speak about emotional return from China.” Global News, 26 Sep. 2021,


Coletta, Amanda. “Canada’s ‘two Michaels’ back home after more than 1,000 days imprisoned in China as Huawei’s Meng cuts deal with U.S.” The Washington Post, 25 Sep. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/09/24/canada-two-michaels-china-huawei/

Corera, Gordon. “Meng Wanzhou: Questions over Huawei executive’s arrest as legal battle continues.” BBC, 31 Oct. 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-54756044

Hopper, Tristin. “No sunlight, a hole for a toilet: What two years in Chinese detention has been like for the two Michaels.” National Post, 19 Mar. 2021, https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/no-sunlight-a-hole-for-a-toilet-what-two-years-in-c hinese-detention-has-been-like-for-the-two-michaels

Karphal, Arjun. “The extradition trial of Huawei’s CFO starts this month – here’s what to watch.” CNBC, 9 Jan. 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/10/huawei-cfo-meng-wanzhou-extradition-trial-explained. html

Nossal, Kim Richard. “Wrong place, wrong citizenship: The tribulations of the Two Michaels.” The Interpreter, 19 Jan. 2021, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/wrong-place-wrong-citizenship-tribulations-t wo-michaels

Image Attribution: Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor after landing in Calgary and being greeted by Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau (image from The Globe and Mail)