U.S. Aid Worker and Two German Film Makers Arrested in Niger for “Espionage and Terrorism”

By Meryl White

Impunity Watch Reporter, Central and Western Africa

NIGER DELTA, Nigeria- A U.S. aid worker, Judith Asuni, and two German film makers, Florian Alexander Opitz and Andy Lehmann, have been arrested in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta on charges of “espionage and terrorism.” The German nationals without a government clearance have been filming masked youths from the Ijaw region in the Niger Delta. The Germans were preparing a possible TV documentary about the string of violence in the oil rich region. The Germans were detained last week by the State Security Service.

Judith Asuni has lived in the Niger Delta for 36 years. The United States embassy has released the following statement, “All we know is that Judith Asuni is a peace worker who got funding from academics and international donor agencies to work for peace in Nigeria.” Asuni is in charge of an organization called Academic Associate Peace Work as organization that conducts mediations between the government and militant groups and encourages disarmament In the past, she has organized workshops with the Nigerian police on conflict management.

Asuni was arrested for giving assistance to the German filmmakers. Now all three suspects face accusations of carrying out an act of terrorism against the Nigerian government. Addo Mwazu stated, “The lady is suspected of espionage by exploiting the situation in the Niger Delta.” Other people believe that the arrests were a result of the Nigeria’s fear of the embarrassment following the worldwide release of the documentary.

While members of the government may be uncomfortable with the German filmmaker’s work, Port Harcourt journalist Ibiba Don Pedro believes that these filmmakers “are playing a crucial role in getting information out about the region’s problems.”

The U.S. embassy is presently in touch with Nigerian officials. Meanwhile, Germany’s ambassador to Nigeria has rejected the charges that the Germans are spies and terrorists. German officials insist that the two filmmakers are only journalists.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Nigeria arrests foreign ‘spies’ – 28 September 2007

VOA – American Peace Worker, 2 Germans Detained as ‘Spies’ in Nigeria’s Niger Delta – 29 September 2007

Afriquenligne – Germans arrested in Nigeria are not spies’ – 29 September 2007

Iran: College Student Activists Tortured

By Vivek Thiagarajan
Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran-  In May 2007, three pro-democratic student protesters were arrested regarding their actions protesting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the Amirkabir University.

In December, President Ahmadinejad launched scientific research to determine whether the Holocaust existed.  On the same day he came to the Amirkabir University to display his ability to silence his critics.  However, President Ahmadinejad’s speech to the Amirkabir student body was shortened because of the crowd’s disapproval with the president.  The pro-democratic student body was filled with protesters who chanted “Death to the Dictator” while hurling items at the Iranian president. The Iran security detail used flash grenades to ensure Ahmadinejad’s safe removal from the premises.  Allegedly during his removal, Ahamdinejad threatened student leaders of possible future retaliation.

Following the protest, three Amirkabir University students Ehsan Manouri, Ahmed Ghasaban, and Majid Tavakoli, were arrested as political prisoners.  However, reports show that the evidence used to indict the students may have been falsified by the police.

The Iranian government accused the students of being paid by the US government for beginning a velvet revolution to overthrow and destabilize the Iranian government.  A velvet revolution is also called a soft revolution, which indicates a bloodless revolution through the expansion of certain ideas rather than a revolution through force.  This may be a contributing reason to the new Iranian declaration that the CIA and the US military are terrorist organizations.  (International Herald Tribune)

The students were mistreated.  For example, reports show Mansouri was beaten so brutally that the prison guards would not initially accept Mansouri as a prisoner, unless he was taken to the hospital for immediate attention.

The students were taken to Evin, which is an Iranian prison for political prisoners where they were interrogated. They were placed in solitary confinement and supposedly beaten while in prison. The Guardian Observer reported that the college students “had undergone marathon interrogation sessions lasting up to 48 hours and frequently involving severe beatings. Interrogation teams of up to eight men have subjected the students to physical assaults interspersed with insults and psychological abuse. The students have been made to lie on the floor while interrogators stood on their backs. They are also said to have been beaten with electric cables. When they fainted from stress, the interrogators revived them by throwing cold water over them.”

The students have recently been released and reportedly did not have connections to the US government.

For more information, please see:

Guardian Observer- Tyranny in Tehran- 30 September 2007

International Herald Tribune- Iran government backs parliament’s ‘terrorist’ label for US army, CIA- 30 September 2007

Radio Free Europe- Iran: Former Inmates Shed Light On Secret Prison Ward- 27 September 2007

Controversy over Moroccan Bread Price Hike

By Kevin Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CASABLANCA, Morocco – The Moroccan government canceled a 30 percent price hike of bread due to violent protests that left at least 50 people injured. The protest was reminiscent of bread riots in 1981 that resulted hundreds dead in Casablanca. Breads and pastries are widely consumed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as families hold large feasts after daytime fasting. The government had authorized the price rise back on September 10.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Morocco rolls back bread price hike – 25 September 2007

Huston Chronicle – Moroccan unrest over bread price – 25 September 2007

U.S. Aid Worker and Two German Film Makers Arrested in Niger for “Espionage and Terrorism”

By Meryl White

Impunity Watch Reporter, Central and Western Africa

NIGER DELTA, Nigeria- A U.S. aid worker, Judith Asuni, and two German film makers, Florian Alexander Opitz and Andy Lehmann, have been arrested in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta on charges of “espionage and terrorism.” The German nationals without a government clearance have been filming masked youths from the Ijaw region in the Niger Delta. The Germans were preparing a possible TV documentary about the string of violence in the oil rich region. The Germans were detained last week by the State Security Service.

Judith Asuni has lived in the Niger Delta for 36 years. The United States embassy has released the following statement, “All we know is that Judith Asuni is a peace worker who got funding from academics and international donor agencies to work for peace in Nigeria.” Asuni is in charge of an organization called Academic Associate Peace Work as organization that conducts mediations between the government and militant groups and encourages disarmament In the past, she has organized workshops with the Nigerian police on conflict management.

Asuni was arrested for giving assistance to the German filmmakers. Now all three suspects face accusations of carrying out an act of terrorism against the Nigerian government. Addo Mwazu stated, “The lady is suspected of espionage by exploiting the situation in the Niger Delta.” Other people believe that the arrests were a result of the Nigeria’s fear of the embarrassment following the worldwide release of the documentary.

While members of the government may be uncomfortable with the German filmmaker’s work, Port Harcourt journalist Ibiba Don Pedro believes that these filmmakers “are playing a crucial role in getting information out about the region’s problems.”

The U.S. embassy is presently in touch with Nigerian officials. Meanwhile, Germany’s ambassador to Nigeria has rejected the charges that the Germans are spies and terrorists. German officials insist that the two filmmakers are only journalists.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Nigeria arrests foreign ‘spies’ – 28 September 2007

VOA – American Peace Worker, 2 Germans Detained as ‘Spies’ in Nigeria’s Niger Delta – 29 September 2007

Afriquenligne – Germans arrested in Nigeria are not spies’ – 29 September 2007

China Bans Bra and Underwear Ads

By Juliana Chan
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – In an attempt to “purge the nation’s airwaves of social pollution,” China communist government has banned television and radio advertisements for push-up bras, figure-hugging underwear, and sex toys.

This comes days after banning “sexually provocative sounds” on television.

According to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), among other targets are commercials featuring experts of famous people demonstrating the efficacy of medicines.

Further, this measure is just the latest in a slew of bans imposed by the government.  Other measures have included canceling reality shows featuring sex changes and plastic surgery, and banning advertisements for sexual aids that claim to boost performance in bed and talent contests during prime-time.

A SARFT notice explained that not only do these ads mislead consumers, harm people’s health, pollute the social environment, and corrupt social mores, it also affects the credibility of public broadcasting and the image of the Communist Party and the government.  Tian Jin, the deputy head of the regulator, said that advertisement management and television stations must reinforce their political consciousness and responsibility to society.

This comes weeks before the 17th Party Congress meeting where national leaders are appointed and policy is set for the next few years.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo! News (AP) – China bans bra, underwear, sex toy ads – 30 September 2007

Reuters – Bra ads banned ahead of political party meet – 28 September 2007

FOX News – China Bans TV, Radio Ads for Bras, Underwear – 30 September 2007

Extreme Violence in Somalia

By Elizabeth Costner

Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa

MOGADISHU, Somalia – Violence in Somalia continues to be a great concern for the international community.  Extreme violence, attacks and threats against the media, and lack of humanitarian aid plague this war torn country where more than 700,000 civilians have been forced to leave their homes.

Civilians face severe human rights violations by all parties to the conflict including the right to life, disappearance, torture, recruitment of child soldiers, and sexual and gender-based violence.

On Friday, four Somali soldiers were killed and several more wounded when an army truck was ambushed in the capital, where the government is currently battling a deadly insurgency.   This attack follows an earlier ambush on a government base.

The military has ordered thousands of civilians in the Somali capital to vacate their homes in order to search for arms and insurgents.  Most forced to leave their homes have either left Mogadishu or sought refuge with family and friends in other parts of the city.

Journalists and human rights activists are also a target of increasing fear and intimidation.  Since January, seven journalists have been killed and dozens more threatened into silence for their work.   Many have been forced to leave the country.

The violence in Somalia is not confined to their borders, as extremist groups have begun attacks in neighboring countries as well.  On Friday, the United States issued a warning to American tourists in Kenya that Somali-based extremists may try to kip American citizens from the beach resorts.  Kenya shares a 400-mile border with Somalia, which is currently closed.   Kenyan security forces have guarded the border since a radical group controlling much of southern Somalia was ousted last December by Ethiopian troops supporting the weak UN-backed government.

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica.com – UN Expert Voices Deep Concern At Extreme Violence – 28 September 2007

International Herald Tribune – Troops forcing residents from homes in Somali capital, rights group says – 29 September 2007

AFP – Four civilians killed in fresh Somalia violence – 29 September 2007

Associated Press – Somalis May Kidnap Americans From Kenya – 28 September 2007

AFP – Four Somali soldiers killed in Mogadishu attack – 28 September 2007

U.S. Aid Worker and Two German Film Makers Arrested in Niger for “Espionage and Terrorism”

By Meryl White

Impunity Watch Reporter, Central and Western Africa

NIGER DELTA, Nigeria- A U.S. aid worker, Judith Asuni, and two German film makers, Florian Alexander Opitz and Andy Lehmann, have been arrested in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta on charges of “espionage and terrorism.” The German nationals without a government clearance have been filming masked youths from the Ijaw region in the Niger Delta. The Germans were preparing a possible TV documentary about the string of violence in the oil rich region. The Germans were detained last week by the State Security Service.

Judith Asuni has lived in the Niger Delta for 36 years. The United States embassy has released the following statement, “All we know is that Judith Asuni is a peace worker who got funding from academics and international donor agencies to work for peace in Nigeria.” Asuni is in charge of an organization called Academic Associate Peace Work as organization that conducts mediations between the government and militant groups and encourages disarmament In the past, she has organized workshops with the Nigerian police on conflict management.

Asuni was arrested for giving assistance to the German filmmakers. Now all three suspects face accusations of carrying out an act of terrorism against the Nigerian government. Addo Mwazu stated, “The lady is suspected of espionage by exploiting the situation in the Niger Delta.” Other people believe that the arrests were a result of the Nigeria’s fear of the embarrassment following the worldwide release of the documentary.

While members of the government may be uncomfortable with the German filmmaker’s work, Port Harcourt journalist Ibiba Don Pedro believes that these filmmakers “are playing a crucial role in getting information out about the region’s problems.”

The U.S. embassy is presently in touch with Nigerian officials. Meanwhile, Germany’s ambassador to Nigeria has rejected the charges that the Germans are spies and terrorists. German officials insist that the two filmmakers are only journalists.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Nigeria arrests foreign ‘spies’ – 28 September 2007

VOA – American Peace Worker, 2 Germans Detained as ‘Spies’ in Nigeria’s Niger Delta – 29 September 2007

Afriquenligne – Germans arrested in Nigeria are not spies’ – 29 September 2007

US Critical of Egypt’s Recent Human Rights Record

CAIRO, Egypt – The White House raised “deep concern” about Egypt’s recent court cases against the independent press and the closure of a human rights organization.

This month alone, at least seven journalists were sentenced to imprisonment for exercising their right to freedom of expression. On September 13, a Cairo court sent four editors of independent newspapers to prison for publishing stories critical of President Hosni Mubarak and other officials. Less than two weeks later, three more journalists were sent to jail for “damaging the image of justice” by publishing an article calling 90 percent of Egyptian judges incompetent.

Elsewhere, a human rights group dedicated to torture victims was forced to shut down. Association for Human Rights Legal Aid (AHRLA) was one of the country’s leading human rights organizations that reported on human rights violations and provided legal assistance to its victims.

Faced with the rising prosecutions, editors from 15 independent and opposition newspapers plan not to publish on October 7 to protest the state’s “offensive against the press freedom.” Also, AHRLA has appealed the decree to a Cairo court to reverse the government’s order to shutdown the organization.

Some analysts say Egypt’s ruling party wants to quash dissent in anticipation of their transition of power from President Hosni Mubarak to his likely successor, his son Gamel. Analysts also blame waning U.S. pressure on Egypt to improve its human rights record as the reason why Egypt has been willing to contradict their stated commitment to democratic rights.

Nevertheless, U.S. criticized Egypt on Tuesday, and Egypt rejected the comments as “unacceptable interference” in the country’s internal affairs.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Temperature rises as Egypt presses in the dock – 27 September 2007

BBC News – Egypt angry at US rights comment – 26 September 2007

Al Jazeera – Three Egyptian journalists jailed – 24 September 2007

Reuters – Egypt court orders three journalists jailed – 24 September 2007

Human Rights Watch – Four editors get prison terms, fines – 15 September 2007

Iraq: Lawyers complain that the government has wrongly withheld information

BAGHDAD, Iraq-  Lawyers representing Iraqi families of prisoners have accused the Iraqi government of wrongly concealing information, including the whereabouts of over 1,500 detainees.  (IRIN)  Government authorities have not revealed whether the detainees are dead or alive, according to the Iraqi’ Lawyers Association (ILA).  The fifteen hundred detainees have not been detained for indefinite periods of time.  Furthermore, the problem has been compounded because some of the families were not clearly told the reason for the arrested of the detainee.

The US military has stated that it will release up to 2,000 prisoners during Ramadan releasing around 50-80 detainees per day to celebrate the Islamic holy month.  (IRIN)  However, the Iraqi authorities have not yet followed through with the releases.

Also, the ILA has brought allegations of prisoner torture. The questioned techniques include “hooding, stressing, sleep deprivation, food deprivation and noise,” which the lawyers believe should be stopped.   (Guardian Unlimited)  The ILA also contends that two lawyers who have actively tried to obtain information from the Iraqi government regarding the conditions have been intimidated and two were killed.  (IRIN)  The government has denied these allegations and reported that the government has not illegally withheld any information but has vowed to investigate the allegations.

As the Iraqi government tries to establish itself as a new democratic entity, it is essential to convey the freedom of information, which is the strength of a democratic government.  This concealment of information by the government compounds a large issue of violating a person’s human rights through detainee torture.  The government will gain credibility as a democratic government, only through the government’s transparency.

For more information, please see:

IRIN- IRAQ: Lawyers accuse government of concealing information about detainees- 19 September 2007

Guardian Unlimited- Lawyers accuse MoD of retaining evidence on abused Iraqi detainees- 22 September 2007

Israeli raids kill 9 Palestinians

On September 26, up to nine Palestinians were killed in two separate Israeli raids into Gaza.  Four or five members of the Army of Islam were killed during a strike carried out by the Israeli Air Force (IAF).  Palestinian medical authorities report that four men were killed, while the Army of Islam report that five were.  Witnesses report that a missile hit the vehicle the militants were driving at a crowded intersection in Gaza City.

IAF officials report that these men were in the process of transporting several Qassam rockets.  The group was responsible for the kidnapping of Alan Johnston and believed to be the group who kidnapped Gilad Shalit, an Israeli corporal.

The second raid, a ground operation in Beit Hanoun, resulted in the deaths of three civilians and one gunman.  Also, at least twenty other Palestinians were injured, several critically.  The deaths and many of these injuries resulted from tank fire.  IDF entered Beit Hanoun to “dismantle terrorist infrastructure” in the area.

These raids came a few hours after Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, stated that Israel was “getting closer to carrying out a widespread operation in Gaza.”  For several weeks, members of the security cabinet have been discussing how to combat the frequent rocket fire from Gaza.  On September 26, it is believed that 10 Qassam rockets and 20 mortar shells were fired into Israel from Gaza.  While no injuries occurred, Prime Minister Olmert and the Israeli government are receiving a lot of pressure to react to these frequent attacks.

However, Israeli media reports that Israel ruled out military operations last month, in favor of economic sanctions such as cutting off the delivery of fuel and electricity.  Reports on the probability of a full military operation, compared to limited raids such as the two on September 26, are conflicting.  While Barak reports that full military operations are near, some Israeli ministers, such as Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of the inner security cabinet, claim that such an operation is the very last alternative there is.

Also, Israel has declared an indefinite closure of both Gaza and the West Bank in preparation of the Jewish holiday, Succot.  It is quite common for Israel to enforce a blanket travel restriction during Jewish holidays.

For more information, please see:
Independent- Barak says Israel is ‘close’ to Gaza Operation– 27 September 2007

Jerusalem Post- Nine Palestinians reported dead as Gaza violence intensifies– 27 September 2007

Associated Press- Israeli strikes kills 8 in Gaza, wound 25– 26 September 2007

BBC- ‘Eight die’ in Israeli Gaza raids– 26 September 2007

New York Times- Israeli strikes in Gaza kill up to 9 Palestinians– 26 September 2007

Reuters- Gaza operation is nearing-Israeli defense minister– 26 September 2007

Teenagers Beaten and Detained After Writing Pro-Tibetan Independence Slogans

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

AMCHOK BORA, China – The Chinese government has detained seven Tibetan high school students on suspicion of writing pro-Tibetan independence slogans on the walls of the Amchok Bora village police station and other buildings. The slogans called for the return of the Dalai Lama and a free Tibet.

Relatives that had last seen one of the teenagers reported he was beaten and was bleeding. The teenagers were first held in a police station in Amchok Bora, and were allowed to see their families. However, since then, the students have been moved to the town of Xiahe (Labrang). Since the move, officials in Xiahe have refused to reveal the students’ location, requests from their families to visit, or even to confirm that they are in custody. The state-controlled news media have also been silent on the case.

The names of five of the teenagers are Lhamo Tseten, age 15; Chopa Kyab, age 14; Drolma Kyab, age 14; Tsekhu, age 14; and a second Lhamo Tseten, age 15. The identity of two teenagers is unknown. The identity of the beaten teenager is also unknown. The students attend school in Xiahe (Labrang) county, Gannan prefecture in Gansa province. The Gannan is one of China’s official “Tibetan autonomous” areas.

In 1950 China took control of the Himalayan region in China. In 1959 the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled to India during a failed revolt against the Chinese government. Since then, China has refused to allow the Dalai Lama to return. He is revered as Tibetan Buddhism’s highest spiritual authority.

The arrest of the teenagers has sparked criticism by the New York group, Human Rights Watch. Brad Adam, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said “Arresting teenagers for a political crime shows just how little has changed inTibet. Beating up a child for a political crime shows just how far hina has to go before it creates the ‘harmonious society’ China’s leaders talk so much about.”

Tension between Chinese officials and Tibet residents has grown more strained as the two parties continue to disagree over issues from cultural and religious policies, forced resettlement of Tibetan herders, environmental degradation, replacement of Tibetan cadres with ethnic Chinese ones, and increased migration of ethnic Chinese settlers to traditionally Tibetan regions.

China is a State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UN of Convention on the Rights of the Child calls for children’s right to freedom of expression and demands that no child should be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or detained unlawfully or arbitrarily. If children are legally should be held as only a matter of last resort and for the shortest period of time. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also insists that while in detention, children should have the right to contact their families and have legal assistance.

For more information, please see:

BBS News – Teenage Students Held Incommunicado for Graffiti – 23 September 2007

The NY Times –Tibet: Teenagers Held for Pro-Independence Slogans – 26 September 2007

Taipei Times (AFP) – Seven High School Boys Detained for Pro-Tibet Slogans – 22 September 2007

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights –  Convention on the Rights of the Child

Voice of America – Human Rights Watch Urges China to Release Tibetan Students – 20 September 2007

Update: Monks Defy Assembly Ban, Police Attack

_44139031_burning_ap_203bYANGON, Myanmar- Thousands of monks and protesters defied government directives today and continued protesting.  In response, Myanmar military forces fired warning shots in the air, beat the monks, dragged them into police trucks, and used tear gas on the crowd.

Earlier today, the protesters had started a large march toward the city center and the famous Shwedagon Pagoda- this is where the confrontation started.  Other protester were greeted by warning shots at the Sule Pagoda.

According to hospital sources, one person was killed by the gunfire and five other injured.

The world community continues to react.  The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, called for an immediate UN Security Council meeting, stating that there will be no impunity for human rights violators.

The Canadian Press – Buddhist monks, protesters defy Myanmar junta’s ban on assembly – 26 September 2007

Agenzia Giornalistica Italia – Myanmar (Burma): Tear Gas Used on Monks, Dozens Arrested – 26 September 2007

BBC News – Burmese riot police attack monks – 26 September 2007

Asia Times Online – Buddha vs the barrel of a gun – 26 September 2007

Impunity Watch – Myanmar: Curfew Imposed, Assembly Banned – 25 September 2007

Ongoing Conflict in Sudan

By Elizabeth Costner

Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan – The United Nations Security Council held a summit yesterday, chaired by France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy, aimed at strengthening and mobilizing the international community in working with African Union representatives to map out concrete goals and a plan of action.  Heads of State and government from the 15 Security Council members, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and AU Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konare took part in the debate that largely focused on the ongoing conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution early Tuesday morning approving a European Union-AU peacekeeping force to be sent to Chad and Central African Republic to deal with the spillover from the Darfur conflict.  The resolution, says the “multidimensional presence” of EU and UN forces should protect civilians, help the governments in Chad and the Central African Republic deal with refugees, and assist in the delivery of humanitarian aid.  The resolution authorizes the force to remain for an initial period of a year and states that the UN should plan on and create a UN peacekeeping force to replace it.

Meanwhile, efforts to get rebel leaders to agree to meet for peace talks next month have proven difficult.  On Tuesday, rebel leader Khalil Ibrahim said that he will continue fighting during the upcoming peace talks until a final settlement is agreed on.  Despite the intense international pressure to end the fighting, the rebel leaders continue to refuse to agree to a cease-fire during the peace talks.  Ibrahim stated that ceasing fire is a “termination of the resistance and revolution” and that he refused to do so until a lasting peace agreement was made.

In 2006, the three rebel groups negotiated a truce, which the government allegedly violated.  Only one of the rebel groups singed that agreement, and many in Darfur have rejected it as inadequate.  Since those talks, the rebels have split into more than twelve rival groups.

Currently, the U.S. is the only country on the Security Council that has labeled the Darfur conflict a genocide.  More than 200,000 people have died and 2 million have been displaced.

For more information, please see:

Reuters UK – Darfur rebel leader says no truce for talks – 26 September 2007

Relief Web – UN Mission in Sudan News Bulletin – 26 September 2007

AFP – US, France back peacekeeping forces to Darfur, Chad – 25 September 2007

Blooomberg – Bush, Citing Darfur ‘Genocide,’ Demands Cease-Fire – 25 September 2007

AllAfrica.com – Sudan: Echoes of Genocide in Darfur, Eastern Chad – 25 September 2007

Be

Brief: Syrian President issues Prisoner Pardon

On September 22, Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, issued Legislative Decree No. 56.  The decree pardoned criminals who committed minor offenses, but refrained from granted “general amnesty” to political prisoners.  The decree also pardoned prisoners over the age of 70 years and those inflicted with incurable diseases.

He came to power in March, 2000, when his father died.  During the first few years of his term, al-Assad released thousands of political prisoners.  Observers had hoped that this would be the first step in Syria moving to a more open, less oppressive country.  However, over the past year, Syria has been reverting back to repressing individual rights and Damascus has arrested several human rights advocates and political dissidents.

For more information, please see:
New York Times- Syrian pardon omits dissidents– 24 September 2007

Syrian Arab News Agency- President al-Assad issues Legislative Decree No.56 Granting a General Amnesty for the Crimes Committed Before 17.07.2007– 22 September 2007

Claims of Abuse by Ugandan Army

KAMPALA, Uganda- Human Rights Watch released a report a couple weeks ago that allege unlawful killing and torture of civilians during a governmental operation in the Karamoja region. The pastoral region, which borders Kenya and trafficks much of the weapons from Somalia, was the scene of a disarmament program which left several children dead. For several years, President Yoweri Musenevi’s government has attempted to disarm ordinary citizens; however his aggressive tactics has only led to increased tension. According to the report, which recounts the testimony of 50 witnesses, the soldiers of the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) opened fire on mothers and children. One boy and his mother were shot during a cordon-and-search operation. The army has denied any human rights abuse.

According to the Ugandan army spokesman Major Felix Kulayigye, his soldiers have been trained on issues of human rights and the reports of witness accounts have been fabricated.

In spite of this denial, the army has demanded the names of soldiers implicated in the allege abuses. Margaret Sekaggya, the chairperson of the Uganda Human Right Commission, did not comment as to whether the names would be submitted. Instead Sekaggya is urging the Parliament to set up an independent committee to investigate allegation of human rights violations.

In the meantime, Uganda is in a state of emergency. Severe rainfall has caused the worst flooding in three decades. Eighteen different countries in Africa and more that 1.8 million people have been affected. Uganda has been hit the hardest. 500,000 people have been displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance and local leaders place the number of dead at 45. To make matter worst fresh rain has complicated efforts to reach those in need. Without air transport to delivery food and drugs, many villages are cut form society; the people are left to the mercy of disease and starvation.

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica.com- Uganda: Army Demands Names of Soldiers in Rights Abuse –  21 September 2007

Human Rights News- Uganda: Army Abuses Civilian in Plan to Secure Karamoja – 11 September 2007

Yahoo News (AP)-  NGO Says Ugandan Army Abuses Civilians – 11 September 2007

Yahoo News- Fresh Rain Hampers Aid Delivery in Flood-hit Uganda – 23 September 2007

Yahoo News- Floods Plunge Uganda Displaced in Further Misery – 22 September 2007