Construction on a River Project brings Debate

Construction on a River Project brings Debate

Brazil’s President Lula is attempting to make the history books by beginning a project to shift the course of the San Francisco River, the fourth largest in Brazil, to the poor and semi arid region of northeast Brazil.  The project has been met with feverish debate and has become controversial over the past few years.

The project’s aim is to bring water to the north through the construction of two canals.  As a result of the difference in altitude of the two regions, the water must be pumped to the north which adds to the project the construction of nine pumping stations, 27 aqueducts, eight tunnels, 35 water reservoirs and two hydroelectric plants.  The water is said to be used for irrigation purposes, urban use and rural population but it will end up benefiting the agro-industrial sector the most putting control in the hands of an elite class.

Debate around the project is present from all kinds of interest groups organizing protests.  In 2005 work on the project was stopped briefly when Roman Catholic Bishop Luiz Flavio Cappio went on an 11 day hunger strike to stop the construction.  His strike ended when he was given assurances that the government and the civil society would enter into a dialogue.  Yet, the dialogue was limited to one seminar that took place in May of 2006.  In early 2007 thousands of landless workers attempted to stop the project by invading government property in protest.  The work on the River forced rural workers to leave their land and they face working unproductive lands as agribusiness companies will get the best land.  Many social movements, such as the Landless Workers’ Movement and the Pastoral Fishers Commission, have formed a unified alliance to stop the construction by radical means if necessary.  Those who depend on the river for the livelihood, such as indigenous people, fisherman and small farmers, are constantly ignored.

Opponents of the project argue that the semiarid region’s problem is not the lack of water but the lack of distribution of water resources that already exist.  The area needs an efficient management, not a new system some argue.  In addition, experts have shown that the project ignores the climate change scenarios.  One possible consequence would be a decrease in the runoff of the river by 20% from global warming. International donors have even shown opposition as the World Bank released a study that argued against funding the project since the effects on poverty reduction cannot be proven.  Many argue that there are much cheaper and effective ways to meet the project’s aims. Even the Supreme Court of Brazil has questioned the legality of the project as they are currently analyzing the authorization from the National Congress for water resources to be used in the lands.

Since the beginning of 2007, construction has moved forward despite concerns or opposition.  The $2 billion project was approved by Brazil’s environmental protection agency in March and in June military battalions prepared for construction work.  The project is supposed to be funded through transferring costs to water users which is expected to raise the costs five fold.  Hence, the Brazil’s citizens would be paying the cost of agricultural goods that are exported.  Construction is set to begin at the end of June while more protests are being organized from social movements, indigenous and environmental groups to bring public attention to the disaster.

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Chinese ex-slave laborer tells his story

A 16-year-old Chinese boy, Chen, an ex-slave, told his story to the media this week. He reported that he accepted a job at a factory from a man that approached him at a train station.

He said that he was taken to a brick yard, where he was fed minimally, beaten, and forced to work without pay. As a result, his body is pocked with sores from being beaten by the guards.

Recently police have raided thousands of Chinese coal mines, freeing hundreds of workers.

The boy claims that until the raid, police were bribed by the owners of the mines. He went without a bed, shower, health care, or hair cut. Chen said that he was beaten the guards with iron bars, sticks, or bricks if he worked too slowly. 

Chen and his family are now worried about the possibility of retaliation by the brickyard and they agreed to be interviewed by media only after receiving assurances that the exact location of their home would not be identified.

Since the coal-mine scandal broke last month, more than 8,000 kilns and small coal mines in Shanxi and Henan provinces have been raided, with 591 workers freed, including 51 children.

About 160 suspected kiln bosses have been detained, and at least one village-level Communist Party secretary expelled from the party after his son was found to be operating a kiln where 31 slaves were found laboring under harsh conditions.

For more information, please see:

Iraqi court delivers guilty verdicts in Anfal trial

On June 24, a judge of the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) delivered the verdict as the Anfal trial ended after ten months.  The defendants were changed with various crimes against humanity relating to the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988.  During this campaign Kurds were systematically murdered, tortured, detained, and displaced.  The number of Kurds killed during this year long campaign ranges from 50,000 to 180,000.  During the past ten months, the IHT heard testimony from survivors detailing mass graves, the use of chemical weapons, and mistreatment of detainees.

The defendants included:

  • Ali Hassan al-Majid – former Ba’ath leader in northern Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s cousin
  • Saber Abdul-Aziz al-Duri – director of military intelligence
  • Sultan Hashim Ahmed – military commander of the campaign
  • Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti – deputy of operations for the Iraqi forces
  • Farhan al-Jibouri – head of military intelligence in northern Iraq
  • Taher Muhammad al-Ani – governor of Mosul

** Prosecutors removed Saddam Hussein as a defendant following his execution on December 30, 2006.

Majid, known as “Chemical Ali” for his use of chemical weapons, received five death sentences for his role in the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in 1988.  Defendants Ahmed and al-Tikriti both received three death sentences.  The IHT found al-Douri and al-Jabouri guilty of involvement in Anfal, yet these two defendants received life sentences.  The last defendant, al-Ani, was found not guilty based on a lack of evidence.

This verdict is the second verdict delivered by the IHT.  The verdict for the Dujail trial was delivered in November 2006, where Saddam Hussein received the death sentence.  Recently, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a briefing in which it listed the legal flaws of the Dujail trial.  Serious flaws include:

  • The IHT inferring from the defendant’s position in the government that he had the requisite knowledge and criminal intent; 
  • Failure to show the required lines of command and control necessary to establish command responsibility;
  • Using lower-level defendants’ status as Ba’th party members to prove intent without requiring evidence of individual criminal intent;
  • Allowing witnesses to testify anonymously and prohibiting the defense from questioning the witnesses; and, 
  • Failure to address numerous instances of same-day or late disclosure of prosecution evidence to the defense that was used at trial.

Also, HRW listed two additional concerns relating specifically to the Anfal trial.  First, on September 2006, the presiding judge was removed by the Iraqi president and Cabinet after he made statements perceived to be favorable to the defendants.  Second, the charges against the defendants were vague, making it difficult for the defense to properly prepare their cases.  HRW stressed that while the international community is continually working to stop human rights abuses and holding violators accountable, it is important that the methods used meet international law standards.

For more information on the verdict of the Anfal trial, please see:
The Independent:  “Chemical Ali: The end of an overlord”  25 June 2007. 

New York Times:  “Hussein cousin sentenced to die for Kurd attacks”  25 June 2007. 

BBC:  “‘Chemical Ali’ sentenced to hang”  24 June 2007. 

BBC:  “Timeline: Anfal Trial”  24 June 2007. 

HRW:  “The Anfal Trial”  22 June 2007. 


For HRW’s briefings on the flaws of the Dujail Trial, please see:
HRW:  “Dujail judgment marred by serious flaws”  22 June 2007.

HRW:  “The poisoned chalice”  22 June 2007. 

HRW:  “Judgement of the Dujail Trial at the Iraqi High Tribunal: English Translation”  June 2007.


For HRW documentation of the Anfal Campaign, please see:
HRW:  “Genocide in Iraq:  The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds”  July 1993.

Dispute over deaths in ‘Rape of Nanking’

A group of about one hundred Japanese lawmakers has said the Chinese estimate of the death toll in the ‘Rape of Nanking’ massacre has been grossly inflated.  This disagreement has led to increased friction between the two countries.  The Japanese lawmakers compiled a study indicating the deaths to be 20,000.  China has estimated the number to be over 300,000 deaths.  Historians, however, have generally  agreed that at least 150,000 civilians were slaughters and thousands of Chinese women were raped in the 1937 attack in Nanjing, then called Nanking.

When the Japanese seized the city of Nanjing in 1937, they raped thousands of Chinese women and killed thousands in what came to be known as the ‘Rape of Nanking.’  Many Japanese conservatives are now angry over what they call exaggerated stories of Japanese brutality during World War II.

Amid this new friction between China and Japan, anti-Japanese feelings over the Nanjing attacks among the Chinese have remained strong.  In its 70th anniversary, an American movie about the mass slaughter will open in China next week.  “Nanking” will premiere in Beijing and be released across China.  The movie mixes archival footage with actors’ readings of witness accounts from those who protected Chinese refugees.

For more information, please see:

Rape of Nanking toll disputed

China says ‘Rape of Nanking’ was atrocious crime that Japanese lawmakers cannot deny

‘No massacre in Nanking,’ Japanese lawmakers say

Film about 1937 Japanese assault on ‘Nanking’ to screen in China

Somalia: Violence Despite Curfew

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

The violence in Somalia continues despite the curfew invoked by the government, effective this past Friday, after weeks of bloodshed. Anyone outside his or her home between 7 pm and 5 am will be arrested. Somalia’s intelligence chief Mohamed Warsame Darwish says the curfew is a necessary means to tackle the violence in the evening and secure the city.

The curfew comes after a bombing in the main Bakara market in Mogadishu on Thursday. At least five people were killed, four police officers and one civilian, when a masked man threw a grenade at several policemen patrolling the crowded marketplace in the capital of Somalia.

Somali policemen continue to be the targets of violence. Early last week two people were killed when insurgents attacked two police stations.

The government and its allied Ethiopian troops have been battling insurgents for nearly six months. The government has accused the Islamists and Mogadishu’s dominant Hawiye clan for Thursday’s bombing.

A national reconciliation conference is scheduled for next month and both the Hawiya clan and Islamists have been invited to create a peaceful resolution. However, neither group has elected to attend or discuss peace until Ethiopian troops are removed from the country.

The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) controlled the government for six months last year until Ethiopian and government troops ousted the Islamic group.

In the meantime, as malnutrition increases in Somalia, about 140 UN trucks carrying food aid to Somalia were forced to remain in the Kenyan border for more than a month. Kenya closed its border to Somalia in January after hundreds of thousands migrated to the neighboring country following the increased violence. The Kenyan land route was chosen after pirate attacks threatened the safety of seamen and cargo.

Today, with the arrival of food and aid, at least three people were killed when hundreds of people stormed a police station where food was being handed out. One witness, whose brother was among the victims, reports that the police opened fire and killed five people. Another witness describes the killing as cold-blooded murder.

For more information please see:

BBC – Shooting at Somali Food Aid Crush – 25 June 2007

BBC – Somalia Food Aid Trucks Stranded – 22 June 2007

BBC – Curfew After Somali Grenade Blast – 21 June 2007

Yahoo – Somalia Violence Kills 6; Curfew Imposed – 21 June 2007