China coal mines destroy homes above

Coal mines in Da Antou, China, are cracking and destroying the homes above. Over the last several years, buildings have slumped and split apart because of the caverns created by the coal mines. Because of China’s growing economy, and thus need for energy, coal companies are expanding production. Coal meets 70% of China’s energy needs. More than half of the houses in Da Antou, forcing 400 people to move. In Shanxi province, Government officials estimate that more than 7,700 square miles have been hollowed out by miners, leaving the earth riddled with empty caverns and causing the crust to sink in more than 1,800 places. 

 The increase in mining also effects farmers. After the coal is extracted, it is trucked across the province. The black dust then falls on corn and wheat crops. The mining has effected the Da Antou water system in, forcing farmers to haul water from a communal pipe installed in the village square, which also sometimes goes dry. Also, according to farmers, terraced fields have been left unworkable because of the sinkholes.

 The Chinese Work Safety Administration reported 4,746 miners were killed in Chinese coal mine accidents last year, making it among the world’s deadliest. 

For more information, please see:

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/31/AR2007053102191.html chinadigitaltimes.net/2007/06/chinas_energy_rush_shatters_village_edward_cody.php

www.freeinternetpress.com/story.php?sid=12027

www.newsique.com/world/chinas_energy_rush_shatters_vill/

Morality police arrested after deaths

        Five of the Mutaween were arrested on Monday following recent deaths. Ahmed al-Bulawi, a fifty year old man, died during interrogation by the Mutaween. Twenty eight year old Salman al-Huriasy was killed while being detained by them. Another woman was seriously injured because she jumped from a four story building to avoid the Mutaween.

        The Mutaween are religious police employed by the Saudi government to enforce its civic values. The official title of the service is the “Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”  They enforce Islamic Sharia law follow through its broad discretionary powers. It also ensures that the deeply religious codes are followed. For example, it inspects clothing to make sure that people dress appropriately and that shops are closed for prayer.  According to the BBC, there are 3,500 government sponsored officers, and thousands of other volunteers to supplement its force.

         The religious police have been criticized since March 2002 when fifteen schoolgirls were killed in a fire. Male rescuers were prohibited from attempting to rescue the girls because they were unveiled. The Mutaween has since relaxed its broad enforcement techniques. For example, they have stopped beating women with sticks, solely because their faces were showing.

 

        The two men who died were Ahmed Bulawi and Salman al-Hurisasy. Bulawi was arrested by the Mutaween for “illegal seclusion with a female, who was not his wife.” He was in a car with a woman. It turned out that the woman was a relative of his wife. During the interrogation process of the Mutaween, fifty year old Bulawi died of a heart attack. Al- Hurisasy was arrested for offenses relating to alcohol. According to his family, he was dragged out of his house to be interrogated while the Mutaween beat him.  He died during detention from his wounds.

The Saudi government has tried to silence the growing uprising. The Saudi state news agency released a report that the leader of the religious police would be very firm on prosecuting its members. He stated that he has created committees to review procedures and raise his control on the agency to reduce the number of errors committed.

The difficulty with the organization is the fact that there is no membership requirements to become a member of the Mutaween. Anyone can become a member at any time, making it impossible to stop an impostor from enforcing the vague mandate of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.  Therefore, the offenses cannot be dealt with unless the Mutaween has strict membership requirements, and its discretionary power of the religious police is limited. Otherwise, people like Bulawi and al-Hurisasy may continue to die. 

BBC News. Saudi hold five religious police. 4 June 2007.
BBC News. Saudi Minister rebukes religious police. 4 November 2002.
Reuters. Saudi religious police hold review after deaths. 6 June 2007.
Yahoo News. Saudi religious police quizzed over man’s death. 3 June 2007.

“Ninja Rebels” to Disarm in Democratic Republic of Congo

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch, Africa

In the Republic of Congo, Frederic Bistangou, also known as Pastor Ntumi, has agreed to destroy some of his arms in a ceremony. Bistangou is the leader of the “Ninja Rebels,” a renegrade group that named themselves after the famous Japanese warriors. These rebels were responsible for the five-year insurgency in south-eastern Republic of Congo that lasted until 2003. The intense fighting between the rebels and the government displaced thousands of civilians who resided in the southern Pool region. In March 2003, Pastor Ntumi agreed to end the insurgency and allowed for the government to maintain control over Pool region.

Pastor Ntumi now plans to play an active role in the peace and reconciliation efforts. Furthermore, Ntumi wants to transform the “Ninja Rebels” into a political party. In May 2007, there were a significant amount of negotiations between Pastor Ntumi and President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. Nguesso plans to keep 60 bodyguards while absorbing 250 rebels into the national army. The remaining rebels will enter a disarmament and reintegration program.

There will be a two day ceremony to mark the commencement of the disarmament process. This ceremony will take place in Kinkala, the provincial capital of the southern Pool region. The Pool region was once deemed the “breadbasket of the Congo,” but after the civil war, this area has suffered from poor infrastructure, poverty, and famine.

Analysts are skeptical of Ntumi’s power to influence the rebels to disarm. Historically, the Ninja fighters have shown a deep seeded mistrust of the government. In 2003, under the first peace deal, very few of the Ninjas accepted the government’s offer of amnesty in exchange for disarmament.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Country Profiles: Democratic Republic of Congo – June 2007

BBC – Congo’s Ninja Leader to Disarm – 06 June 2007

VOA – Congo Brazzaville’s Nguesso Names Ex-Rebel to Government – 23 May 2007

Increased Calls for Action in Sudan

By Impunity Watch Africa

On June 1 hundreds of women and children fled from Darfur to neighboring Central African Republic after planes and helicopters attacked their village.   The 1,500 refugees walked 125 miles in 10 days and told UN officials that janjaweed militia had attacked their town and that their homes had been bombarded with air attacks.    The UN and African Union peacekeepers have regularly reported Sudanese air force bombs, even though a UN resolution forbids such attacks.

This recent attack has fueled even more calls for action in Sudan.  The UK has stated that they will push for tougher UN sanctions against Sudan if its government does not support international efforts to end the conflict.  The US and Britain have been working on expanded UN sanctions resolution and a no-fly zone for weeks, but Russia and South Africa have questioned the timing and China continue to oppose further penalties.

At the G8 Summit in Germany France has begun pushing for an aid corridor from Chad into Sudan’s Darfur region as a humanitarian solution to the crisis.   Chad and Sudan, however, continue to be hostile to a corridor and a Western presence.  France would also like to create a contact group on Darfur, which would include the UN, AU, Sudan, Chad, and other African heads of state, and China.  France currently has 1,000 troops in Chad but would like to see additional European Union troops involved.

Today the UN and AU were close to a deal on sending 23,000 peacekeepers to Darfur.   Full deployment however is not expected until next year at the earliest.  Sudan has yet to approve the plan, and if they continue to refuse the US and Britain will push for increased sanctions.   Disputes over command and control over the hybrid force has held up the negotiations.  Both Sudan and the AU have objected to giving the UN total control.  AU and UN officials will explain the newest proposal to Sudan at a meeting June 11-12 where it is hoped that an agreement can be reached.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Africa Pushes Darfur Aid Corridor – 06 June 2007

Reuters – Plans Ready for UN Darfur Force but no Deployment – 06 June 2007

NY Times – Darfur Refugees Flee in 125-Mile Trek – June 2007

Yahoo – UK Says Sudan Faces Tough Action if no Darfur Progress – June 2007

Thoughts on Charles Taylor Trial

By Impunity Watch Africa

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has gone on trial in The Hague for his alleged role in backing Sierra Leone’s brutal rebels.

People in Sierra Leone and Liberia share their thoughts (from BBC Online):

Saffie Kamara, Freetown:
“It does not make any difference to me where Charles Taylor is tried, as long as he answers for his alleged crimes.”

Deddeh Lavala, Monrovia:
“I want the trial to be free and fair so that if Taylor is guilty of what he is accused of doing, he will be convinced that he is guilty and face the consequences. But if he is not then surely the law should set him free. Witnesses being called must feel free to testify in the name of fairness.”

Alphanson Nimene, Monrovia:
“I am 100% convinced that the trial will be free and fair. The international community has all the resources available to do anything they like to Mr Taylor. Yet they have decided to bring him before an international court to set an example.”

Amalia Smart-Kamara, Freetown:
“I have come to the special court to listen to how the proceedings are going. I believe in justice and I am happy that Mr Taylor is facing justice. It is one of the happiest days in my life.”

Jerine Colendo, Monrovia:
“I feel bad that Charles Taylor as a former president has been taken to a foreign land for trial. Whenever his birthday comes, I think about him. But equally so, justice has to be done. He has to face justice and there is nothing that we, Liberians, can do about it.”

Ibrahim Khalil Sesay, Freetown:
“Members of my family were killed by rebels. Without him the rebels would not have been as strong. I did not have the chance to go to watch the trial, but the trial starting is good news for the people of Sierra Leone, both dead and living.”

Josephus Kennedy, Monrovia:
“Mr Taylor is not going to get a free and fair trial. One does not have to be a brain surgeon to establish this. The court has failed to be transparent. It whisked him off from Sierra Leone to The Hague without any reference to his lawyers. Mr Taylor’s resignation and exile was part of the peace accord.”

Alusine Fofana, Sierra Leone MP:
“Even though Charles Taylor did not appear, I feel happy that his trial has started. I feel good that the day of justice is here and he will answer to any part he played in the destruction of Sierra Leone.”

More Than 30 Foreigners Held Hostage in Nigeria

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch, Africa

Presently, over thirty foreign expatriates are being held hostage for ransom in the southern region of Nigeria by various armed factions. In the past six months, more than 100 foreigns have been taken in the region. Several armed groups have taken hostages to gain economic and social attention for neglected communities. They commit kidnaps to obtain better jobs and social facilities for their communities. Nevertheless, most kidnappings are motivated by large ransoms by global corporate companies.

The latest kidnapping took place on Sunday in Ikot Abasi where bandits kidnapped six Russians who work for the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) which is owned by the United Company RUSAL, the world’s largest aluminum producer. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamyin stated, “Our embassy will provide all necessary support for the representatives of RUSAL who plan to arrive in Nigeria in the near future and join the rescue effort.” Also on Sunday, the British Foreign Office has confirmed that a British citizen was kidnapped from the Schlumberger Anadrill Field Compound in Port Harcourt.

Today, Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and fifth largest exporter of crude oil to the United States. However, the violence and insecurity in the southern region of Nigeria poses threat to oil production and world sales. Thousands of workers have fled the country for fear of being held hostage. This in turn has cut Nigeria’s oil production by more than 25%.

Newly elected president, Umaru Yar’Adua has called for a cease fire in the southern oil-rich region. In response, the militant faction, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), claim that they will end tactics of violence if the government frees its jailed kinsmen. The rebel group has stated that they will suspend attacks on oil installations for one month. MEND hopes that the ceasefire will help “to ruminate on positive and realistic measures towards a just peace in the Delta”.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Briton’s Nigeria kidnap confirmed – 03 June 2007

CNN – Nigeria gunmen seize six foreigners – 03 June 2007

BBC – Nigeria militants offer ceasefire – 02 June 2007

Thai Rak Thai Political Party Banned from Politics

A Constitutional Court in Thailand banned the Thai Rak Thai political party and barred over one hundred of its leaders from politics for five years.

Founded by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Thai Rak Thai is the country’s most popular political party. The party aggressively courted poor rural voters and won mandated elections in 2001 and 2005.

According to the New York Times, the court found the party guilty of election fraud, paying small parties to run against it in the April 2006 election to satisfy a requirement for minimum participation. The Court acquitted the Thai Rak Thai’s rival, the Democrat Party, which ruled the kingdom before the Thai Rak Thai’s election in 2001. The Democrat Party faced similar charges of election fraud.

The rulings have been described as one of three major hurdles for the government in its attempt to steer the country back to democracy. Thai Rak Thai supporters, however, may pose strong opposition to these rulings and make these hurdles difficult to overcome. Analysts say this dissolution of Thailand’s most popular party would undermine the military’s claim to restore democracy.

Demonstrators have called for an end to the current military leadership that came to power after a coup that ousted the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, prior to an election that his Thai Rak Thai party was expected to win. Demonstrators criticize the Court as a military appointed tribunal. Shinawatra is now living in self-imposed exile.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Thaksin Supporters Rally Over Ban – 31 May 2007
Channel News Asia – Thai Security Clampdown Indefinite: Coup Leader – 31 May 2007
FT – Thaksin’s ban from politics raises doubts on democracy – 31 May 2007
Channel News Asia – Thaksin Ban Reshapes Thailand Politics – 31 May 2007
BBC News – Thai ex-PM’s Party Ban ‘Unfair’ – 31 May 2007
The New York Times – Thai Court Disbands Former Prime Minister’s Political Party – 31 May 2007

Africa’s Reaction to Zimbabwe

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch, Africa

Even as many continue to criticize the veteran president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and the declining state of the country, President Mugabe remains firm and defiant. During his meeting with the heads of state of Tanzania on Wednesday May 28th, Mugabe pushed aside the fact that the country has the fastest-shrinking economy and a massive food shortage. Instead he focused on his opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), accusing them of “terrorists” acts manifested by Britain and the West to destabilize the government.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, like many African leaders are reluctant to support Mugabe. Mugabe’s strategy to persuade neighboring African countries to side with him against white imperialism has succeeded in the past but it is unlikely to succeed now given the critical position of the country and its people.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, blames Mugabe for turning the once prosperous African nation and former British colony into the country with the world highest inflation rate. Blair recognizes that the solution to Zimbabwe must ultimately come from the nation itself and neighboring regions of Africa. Blair used his farewell tour of Africa to encourage and support the role of South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, as mediator between Mugabe and the MDC.

Although President Mbeki has been pushed by the West and Britain to take a stronger hand against Mugabe, Mbeki has refused. However, President Mbeki has warned that he will not allow the declining conditions of Zimbabwe to threaten South Africa’s opportunity to host the World Cup of 2010. According to the BBC new, some European nations have contemplated challenging South Africa’s appointment if the situation in Zimbabwe continues to spiral downward.

For more information please see:

Yahoo – Zimbabwe crisis needs African solution: Blair – 01 June 2007

Yahoo – Blair backs mediation on Zimbabwe crisis – 01 June 2007

BBC – Mugabe’s hold over African leaders – 28 March 2007

Opening Day in Charles Taylor Trial

By Impunity Watch Africa

The trial of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president, for war crimes committed in Sierra Leone began today in The Hague.  Taylor boycotted the first day of the trial, claiming he had lost faith in the UN-backed court.  In a letter read by the defense counsel, Taylor stated that he “cannot participate in a charade that does no justice to the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone.”  Taylor also dismissed his defense attorney Karim Ahmad Khan from the case and is now seeking to represent himself.  Khan walked out despite an order by presiding Justice Julia Sebutinde to continue representing Taylor for the remainder of the opening arguments.  Taylor’s letter caused confusion in the court, and came as the prosecutor was making a four-hour opening statement.  Justice Sebutinde assigned another attorney to represent Taylor and directed Chief Prosecutor Stephen Rapp to begin his statement.

Taylor faces charges for numerous war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s 1991-2001 civil war including murder, rape, mutilation, and recruitment of child soldiers.  He was the first sitting president of Africa to be indicted by a foreign hybrid court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The case is to be handled exclusively by the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague and is predicted to last until December 2008 with a judgment likely in mid-2009.

Taylor has pled not guilty to all 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.   Prosecutors claim in the indictment that Taylor supported the RUF rebels in order to gain control of Sierra Leone’s mineral wealth and destabilize the government, thereby increasing his regional influence.  Taylor’s defense does not dispute the horrors that occurred in Sierra Leone, but argue that Taylor did not give any orders to troops and did not supply any weapons to the rebels.

Civil society groups have launched a website designed to keep West Africans, particularly those from Liberia and Sierra Leone, informed on the trial.  The website, www.CharlesTaylorTrial.org, will provide daily updates with detailed information and expert analysis on the trial.  The hope is that this website will help keep the victims and those affected in Sierra Leone and Liberia informed, since the trial is being conducted in Europe and many Africans did not know that the trial was beginning, nor why it had been moved.

Amnesty International (AI) released a press statement cautioning the court to keep the trial accessible and known to the victims.  AI pleaded that the victims must observe the justice process and they should be able to see that the trial is “conducted fairly in accordance with international standards, respecting the presumption of innocence.”   Officials for Human Rights Watch, however, have stated that they see the trial as undoubtedly a step in the right direction for prosecuting former heads of state for serious human rights violations and other war crimes.

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica – Liberia: Taylor in the Dock Today! – 04 June 2007

AllAfrica – Website Launched to Cover Taylor Trial – 04 June 2007

Amnesty International – Press Release – 01 June 2007

HRW – Liberian Ex-President Goes on Trial – 30 May 2007

CNN – Taylor Boycotts ‘Charade’ Trial – June 2007

MSNBC – Liberia’s Taylor Goes on Trial Over War Crimes – June 2007

Amnesty International Report on Eve of 40th Anniversary of West Bank Occupation

June 5 will mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 War between Israel and its Arab neighbors.  Before the end of the war, Israeli military forces occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza.  Throughout the occupation, Israelis and Palestinians experienced 40 years of economic hardships and fierce fighting between themselves and each other.

In its report, Amnesty International outlined several human rights violations that are currently being committed by both sides of the continuing conflict.  Most of the report focused on Israel’s failure to follow international law in regards at its obligations as an occupying power.  The primary criticism was the building of the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank and the management of border crossing.  The report also criticized various Palestinian organizations for targeting Israeli citizens, including settlers. 

The report recommended that an international organization be created to monitor the parties’ compliance with international law and suggest corrective measures in cases of noncompliance.  In addition, the international watchdog should ensure the accountability of Israel and Palestine to humanitarian law and should investigate and prosecute violations.

The Israeli government has rejected Amnesty International’s report and claims that it is one-sided.  The Israeli government states that it has not violated international law and that it has the right to defend itself against Palestinians intent on terrorizing Israelis.

The Report:
Amnesty International:  “Enduring Occupation”  June 2007. 

For more information please see:

BBC:  “Amnesty Seeks Mid-East Watchdog”  4 June 2007. 

ME Times:  “Israel Rejects Amnesty Criticism Over Barrier”  4 June 2007. 

Person smuggling network caught in Western Sahara

         The Moroccan police made 14 arrests related to a major smuggling ring in Western Sahara. The arrests were made after a shootout which occurred in the city of Dajla in southern Western Sahara. It was the result of a three month investigation to discover a major gang responsible for smuggling immigrants into the Canary Islands. The group’s leader, however, escaped by boat to Mauritius.
       

        The person smuggling industry to the Canary Islands has been a problem which has always plagued the islands. However, lately gangs have gotten involved in the industry and there has been a six-fold increase in the smuggling industry. Last year, over 30,000 immigrants were caught trying to illegally immigrate into the Canary Islands. The number of illegal immigrants arrested in a single weekend can reach 700.       

        The smuggling industry has thrived as gangs have preyed upon desperate people who are seeking to get into the European Union through Spain. It has caused the death of many immigrants en route, and threatened the lives of survivors through severe hypothermia and dehydration because of the poor traveling conditions. The passenger’s goal is to get a job and support their relatives at home, yet the gangs fleece the migrants.

           The gangs usually charge a very high rate for the migrants forcing the migrants to sell all that they own to gain passage on the ship. Following the initial payment, the gangs usually try to exhort more money from the passengers to guarantee better conditions on the boat or a better chance or immigration. Finally, when the passengers have traded everything they have they reach Spain and hope not to be arrested. If they are caught, they are repatriated back to their original countries, restart the process to procure the riches of Europe.

Typically Spanish. Moroccan police break up immigrant network in Western Sahara. 29 May 2007.

International Herald Tribune. Gangs profit from Smuggling of Illegal immigrants into Europe. 20 March 2007.

Africa Cast. Spain repatriates 750 migrants. 21 May 2007.

Niger’s Government Dissolves

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch, Africa

Niger is one of the five poorest countries in the world. It is situated in the southern region of the Sahara Desert. This arid nation has experienced a history of coups and elections since its independence from France in 1960. On Friday, June 1, 2007, Niger was once again without a government when Prime Minister Hama Amadou’s cabinet lost a no-confidence vote brought by parliamentary opposition. Sixty-two delegates in a 113-seat national assembly voted Amadou out of office. He was the leader of the ruling National Movement for a Society of Development (MNSD) since 1998.

The vote was prompted by a fraud case at the education ministry where two former ministers were involved in embezzling foreign funds that were intended for impoverished schools. Between 2002 and 2006, more than $9 million of European Union Aid was allegedly taken in the corrupt scandal.

While Amadou immediately resigned from his position on Friday, he was shocked that four groups allied to the MNSD voted against his government. He said, “After surviving four no-confidence votes, the government has fallen.” Moreover, he stated, “It’s a total surprise, given that the government has a big majority.”

President Tanja now has to pick a successor for the position of prime minister or dissolve parliament and call for new elections within 45 days. Opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou said, “We would like him to make the right choice in order to give Niger a prime minister who will promote good governance and fight corruption and the embezzlement of public goods.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Niger Vote Dissolves Government – 01 June 2007

International Herald Tribune – Niger’s Government Dissolves After No Confidence Vote – June 2007

Yahoo – Niger Government Falls After Losing Confidence Vote – June 2007