Synagogue Shooter in FBI Custody

By: Kylie Mason
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – On Saturday, October 27th, 2018 the morning services were just beginning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At around 9:54 am, 46-year old Robert Bowes entered the synagogue with an AR-15 type of assault weapon and three handguns. Bowes began shooting into the crowd of members, spewing anti-Semitic slurs as he did so.

Woman Kneels to place a candle at the Tree of Life Synagogue Memorial. Photo Courtesy of Brendan Smialowski. 

Local police and SWAT team members were dispatched immediately. Two first responding police officers, two SWAT team members and two individuals not associated with the Synagogue were shot when they got to the scene. A total of 11 people are dead as a result of this mass shooting.

Bowes attempted to leave the synagogue but was met with two SWAT team members at the door. Bowes then barricaded himself in a 3rd-floor room of the synagogue as a shoot-out with police commenced. As some point, Bowes was shot, although it is unknown whether it was due to his own gun or from a police officer.

Bowes was then taken into custody and brought to a local hospital where he is reportedly in a stable condition.

The Tree of Life Synagogue has stood in the heart of a majority-Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburg for over 150 years. This event, what some residents are calling one of the worst acts of anti-Semitic violence within the United States, has shaken the community to its core.

Bowes, unknown to the FBI before this event, was discovered to be an avid anti-Semitic. His account on the free speech app, Gab, popular with right-wing individuals, was littered with anti-Jew and Judaism posts. From blaming the Jewish nonprofit HIAS for bringing “killers” into the United States, to stating “Jews are the children of Satan” to even accusing President Donald Trump of not representing the country’s interests by allowing “a kike infestation” into the United States.

The owners of the app Gab have archived, deleted and handed Bowes’ account over to the authorities. Gab has made a statement which says that the app and the company behind it do not support terrorism of any kind through their app. Gab continues to cooperate fully with the authorities on this matter.

The FBI has deemed the crimes committed by Bowes to be hate crimes and revealed that Bowes had 21 guns registered to him. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made comments seeking hate crime charges for Bowes as quickly as possible.

President Trump has made several comments regarding the mass shooting. President Trump had commented to the press that if there had been an armed gunman inside the synagogue, the members would have been able to better protect themselves. President Trump also called for Bowes to receive the death penalty, as it is legal in Pennsylvania, but has not been used in over 20 years. President Trump commented that he would be visiting the community of Squirrel Hill but has not given a statement dictating a date for that visit.

For More Information Please Visit: 

NPR – 11 Killed, 6 Injured In Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts – 27 October 2018

New York Time – 11 Killed in Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts – 27 October 2018

BBC World News – Pittsburgh Shotting: What We Know So Far – 27 October 2018

 

Renowned Indigenous Rights Advocate Murdered in Mexico

By: Brianna Ferrante
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico – Julián Carillo, long time defender and advocate of Mexico’s indigenous, was killed by a group of unidentified attackers some time after midnight on Wednesday, October 24th.

Julián Carillo in Chihuahua, Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Erica Guevara-Rosas at Amnesty International.

Carillo was a Rarámuri indigenous defender and leader of the indigenous community known as Coloradas de La Virgen, located in Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico. The community has a demonstrated history of turbulent legal battles involving both the Mexican government and private entities. The encroaching forces often threaten infringement on the community’s ancestral territories as well as exploitation of its natural resources.

Three weeks prior to the killing, members of the community had made a formal report to government authorities regarding an intrusive mining coalition in their lands lead by private individuals.

The community exhibits high levels of crime, poor security, and a distinct absence of basic social services. Multiple organized crime groups occupy the region and constitute a steadily growing presence. Carillo frequently met with Amnesty International in recent years and shared concerns about locals being pressured to appropriate lands to criminals, whom utilize it for cultivation of poppy and cannabis. In an attempt to seek assistance from a distant police force, the former landowners were met with threats or for some, assassination.

Reports from Amnesty International demonstrate nine land-reclamation related murders have taken place in the past two years.  Five of these victims have been among Carillo’s own family members.

Approximations from the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders & Journalists, 16 human rights defenders have been killed in Mexico since January. The budget for the mechanism is also scheduled to be defunded in the upcoming year. Carillo and his family have been under the official protection of the government’s ‘Protection Mechanism’ since 2014.

Such efforts have proven to be inadequate, and it is eminent that similar risk may exist for other advocates currently working under the same government granted protective measure both in this region and the country at large.

For more information, please visit:

The Chronicle of Chihuahua – Indigenous leader of Coloradas de La Virgen murdered – 25 October 2018

Amnesty International – Killing of Rarámuri leader highlights lack of state protection for human rights defenders – 25 October 2018 

MNIA – Mexico: Leader of Rarámuri assassinated proves failed protection – 25 October 2018

La Razori – Defender of indigenous rights killed in Chihuahua – 25 October 2018

Hurricane Michael Affects Those Most Vulnerable

By Kylie Mason
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

TALLAHASSEE, Florida– On Wednesday, October 10th, 2018, what has been deemed the worst category 4 hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle area in twenty years, devastated the communities in its path. Hurricane Michael touched down in Mexico Beach, Florida on Wednesday morning and has run to areas in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The 155 mph winds destroyed homes, caused over 900,000 buildings to lose electricity and eliminated all access by road. Massive flooding has damaged homes and displaced property hundreds of miles from the owners.

Hurricane Michael Affects Most Vulnerable. Photo Courtesy of NOAA.

Since the severity of the storm has decreased, the United States Coast Guard have begun the slow process of search and rescue. Overnight, the Coast Guard has performed 10 missions to save 27 different people. As of present, 6 people have been found dead due to the debris that storm has caused. As crews throughout the state attempt to clear the roads blocked with thousands of fallen trees, officials are urging people to stay off the road. Residents of the area were told to stay in their rescue shelters and not return to home, which may not be there any longer.

One group of individuals at the forefront of the search mission are those individuals who were not able to evacuate pursuant to the warnings by public officially of the state. Due to a lack of socioeconomic ability, many residents of the Florida area officials to leave their homes. Additionally, those individuals who cited a lack of anywhere else to go, or lack of ability to go to a rescue shelter also stayed within their homes during the storm.

As of now, there has been no comment by the Florida government concerning the state of these individuals. Additionally, the Trump administration has not commented on the state of those displaced individuals.

No reports have been given regarding the number of residents affected by hurricane Michael, or how many residents have been relocated to temporary shelters. As there has been no solidified estimates of possible trapped, injured, or dead persons, there has been little information regarding the rescue efforts designed to target these specific populations.

As the Coast Guard and local rescue services continue clearing roads for emergency services to enter into more remote areas, the total individuals injured or dead increases.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Monster Storm Mauls US South-East – 11 October 2018

New York Times – Search and Rescue Begins Amid Ruins of Florida Coast – 11 October 2018

New York Times – ‘I Got Stuck’: In Poor, Rural Communities, Fleeing Hurricane Michael was Tough- 11 October 2018

NPR – Recovery Work Begins After Hurricane Michael Carves Through Florida Panhandle –  11 October 2018

Presidential Election in Cameroon Amid Escalation of Violence

By: Skylar Salim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

YAOUNDE, Cameroon — On October 7, 2018, a presidential election took place in Cameroon. This election occurred during a period of increasing violence in the Anglophone regions of the country. President Paul Biya is seeking his seventh term in office in this election. During his election bid Biya vowed to end the crisis and violence in the Northwest and Southeast regions of the country. The current president’s main opposition is Social Democratic Front party candidate Joshua Osih.

Government soldiers in Ekona, a small town in the English-speaking region that has been abandoned. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Gilbertson.

Two years ago, tension began to rise in Cameroon with protests and riots led by teachers and lawyers in the Anglophone regions. These protests surrounded the differences between the English and French systems in the country. In 2017, the protests turned into calls for secession. The separatist sentiments that were building led to a violent government crackdown. The government has been accused of using the military to kill armed separatists and English-speaking civilians. In their struggle to secede and form their own country, called Ambazonia, the armed separatists have been accused of killing both soldiers and civilians.

A report released by Amnesty International on September 18, 2018 notes that violence has been increasing in Anglophone regions as the election approaches. According to the report, tens of thousands of civilians have fled the region in the past year while at least 400 have been killed. In response to the crisis, the current government denounces the separatists as terrorists and says the government refuses to open any dialogue with them. As government forces are facing their own allegations of human rights abuses, communications minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary said that officials are investigating incidents as they hear about them.

While the presidential candidates spoke of bringing peace to the country, violence was prevalent during the voting period. Fighting and threats from separatists kept many from voting in the English-speaking regions of the country. In response to this, the governor of the Northwest region, Deben Tchoffo, said “We shall not allow terrorists to disrupt the election…We are informed that armed men are shooting indiscriminately to frighten voters.” Fighting between armed separatists and the military picked up on October 6th, and buildings that house voting materials were burned down. Two armed men were killed by the military in Bamenda in the Northwest region. While violence escalates between the military and separatists, at least 17 million people in Anglophone regions are put at risk as they are caught between the fighting.

Election observers such as the African Union are not working in the English-speaking regions due to the current level of violence of the crisis. While many are unable to reach polling location in these regions, it is expected for President Biya to win his re-election bid.

For further information, please see:

Washington Post — Cameroon Votes Amid Violence, Threats From Separatists — 7 October 2018

Al Jazeera — Death, Displacement, Trauma: Human Cost of the Anglophone Crisis — 6 October 2018

NYT — Cameroon on Brink of Civil War as English Speakers Recount ‘Unbearable’ Horrors — 6 October 2018

CNN — Amnesty International says 400 Killed in ‘Escalating Violence’ in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions This Years — 18 September 2018

 

 

Venezuela Announces Migration Force to Stem Border Crossings

By: Zoe Whitehouse
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — In a televised address this past Friday, Venezuela announced plans to implement a police force to strengthen its border security. According to Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, this Migration Force will help monitor and control the thousands of citizens fleeing Venezuela.

Since 2015, millions of Venezuelans have left amid economic turmoil and political instability. Shortages of consumer goods, increasing inflation, and a drastic drop in international oil prices has generated economic insecurity for a once prosperous nation.

Colombian aid agency assisting migrant children. Photo Courtesy of Luisa Gonzalez.

In early 2014, protestors lead anti-government demonstrations to combat the economic crisis, which lead to repressive tactics by the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela’s draconian response has garnered international attention by organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

On September 26, 2018, six countries, including neighboring Colombia, filed a petition with the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations in Venezuela. Days later, France joined the petition. The ICC petition alleges President Maduro’s government committed generalized and systematic attacks, known as the Zamora Plan, against civilians from 2014 to 2015 for subversive activity.

Generalized attacks included arbitrary detentions, murders, extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual abuse and rape. Reports indicate the government’s systematic attacks comprised of arresting young men between the ages of fifteen and thirty without due process protection. Anyone who resisted arrest faced automatic execution by the government. In the petition, a UN panel of experts have verified that Venezuela’s repressive tactics constituted crimes against humanity.

Venezuelan refugees in Northern Colombia. Photo Courtesy of Greg Kahn of National Geographic.

Many have equivocated the mass exodus of Venezuelans to neighboring countries such as Brazil, Columbia, and Peru, with the Mediterranean refugee crisis. In the past fifteen months alone, over one million Venezuelans have relocated to Colombia. To assist with the Venezuelan refugee crisis, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has partnered with agencies and government institutions in Bogota to provide food kitchens, temporary shelters, and medical care.

In light of the growing humanitarian crisis, the Venezuelan government believes its new Migration Force will help determine that the “truth will come out and not the imperial lies that Washington wants to be sold to the world.” By monitoring the 72 official entry and exit points, as well as strengthening border control at ports, airports, and border crossings, this Migration Force will deter illegal crossings with neighboring Colombia.

Since the televised announcement this past Friday, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez has not provided any further details regarding the new border security force.

For further information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Venezuela forms Migration Force as thousands continue fleeing — 6 Oct. 2018

Americas Society/Council of the Americas — Explainer: The Case against Venezuela in the ICC — 4 Oct. 2018

International Criminal Court — International Petition — 26 Sept. 2018

Reuters — Venezuela creates migration police, new passport payment system — 5 Oct. 2018