Iran Reopens Kazemi Case

By Kevin Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s Supreme Court has ordered a new trial over the death of an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who died four years ago in a Tehran prison.

Zahra Kazemi, who was 54, was arrested in June 2003 while taking photographs outside notorious Evin Prison in the north of the capital. There, she endured more than three days of interrogation and eventually died in jail. She was never formally charged with any crime.

Shortly after her death in 2003, an Iranian judiciary accused intelligence ministry agent Mohammad Reza Aghdam Ahmadi of “semi-intentional murder,” which he pled not guilty. In November 2005, Ahmadi was acquitted but an appeals court ordered the case to be reopened because of “shortcomings in the investigations.” On Tuesday, verification branch of Iran’s Supreme Court had reviewed the lower courts’ rulings and ordered a new investigation to be undertaken by more “competent authority.”

Kazemi’s cause of death, meanwhile, is in dispute. Although a presidential inquiry revealed that Kazemi died from a fractured skull caused by a “physical attack,” the lower court had ruled that she died in custody from a fall after her blood pressure dropped during a hunger strike. However, a former doctor at the Iranian defense ministry who examined Kazemi during her detention said that there were obvious signs of her having been tortured and brutally raped by interrogators at the time.

Kazemi family’s legal team believes Ahmadi was a mere scapegoat who was covering up for the guilt of a higher-ranking official such as senior justice official in Evin prison, Mohammad Bakhshi. Bakhshi along with Iran currently faces a 17 million civil suit filed in Quebec Superior Court.

The case severely strained relations between the Canadian and Iranian governments since her death. Iran hastily buried Kazemi’s body after she died and rejected Canada’s request for her body to be exhumed and handed over for a new post-mortem. Furthermore, the Canadian government has repeatedly demanded that Iran agree to an international investigation into the journalist’s death to no avail.

For more information, please see:

United Press International – Iran to look again at journalist’s death – 28 November 2007

BBC News – Iranian court reopens Kazemi case – 27 November 2007

AFP – Iran orders retrial over Kazemi killing – 27 November 2007

Associated Press – New probe in death of Iranian-Canadian – 27 November 2007

The Canadian Press – Son of slain Iranian-Canadian photojournalist says Iran is playing games – 27 November 2007

Brutal Rape of 11 Month Old in DRC

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch Reporter, Western and Central Africa

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo – An 11 month baby girl has died following her rape in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The alleged rapist is a twenty year old man, who faces a life sentence.

The brutal rape and death come after a Red Cross hearing in Geneva that denounced the “systematic violence” against girls and women in DR Congo.

ICRC official, Dominik Stillhart stated, “What really shocked me personally the most, was the systematic violence especially against women and girls which is producing immense suffering.”

An estimated 16,000 victims of rape, with most rape victims suffering from obstetric fistula, have been treated at the Panzi General Hospital in Bukavu alone since 2000. Furthermore, additional cases of sexual assault and rape are unlikely to be reported, due to the social stigma attached to rape and the fear of embarrassment.

Human Rights Watch has accused The United Nations Mission located in Monuc, Congo, of failing to act against widespread abuse and rape of women in the region. Presently, around 5,000 UN peacekeepers are in DR Congo to secure peace after a five-year conflict officially ended in 2002.

Presently, in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) province of Equateur, the government has imposed a nighttime curfew in the area to curb incidents of murder and rape by armed men.

For more information, please see:

BBC – DR Congo child rape victim dies  – 29 November 2007

IRIN – DRC: Campaign against sexual violence in South Kivu  – 29 November 2007

IRIN- DRC: Curfew imposed in Equateur to stem worsening insecurity  – 28 November 2007

Violence at West Bank Funeral

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

HEBRON, West Bank – On November 28, thousands of members from Hamas and the Islamic fundamentalist Hizb al-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) attended the funeral of Hisham al-Baradi in Hebron.  Baradi, a member of the Party of Liberation, was killed at an anti-Annapolis demonstration on November 27.  Demonstrators claim that Baradi’s death was caused by gun fire from the Palestinian Authority security forces.  However, the police deny these allegations.

There are also reports that Palestinian Authority security forces used excessive force against Palestinians journalists during the rallies against the Annapolis conference.  There are claims that reporters were beaten and/or otherwise prevented from covering the demonstrations.  In addition, prior the conference, Abbas banned the occurrence of any demonstration against Annapolis.  Members of Hamas and other groups who disagree with the talks in Annapolis accuse Abbas prohibiting dissent.

At the funeral, violence erupted when the funeral procession developed into another anti-Annapolis demonstration.  Hamas and Party of Liberation members began fighting with members of the Palestinian Authority security forces when the marchers diverted from the pre-planned route and started hurling stones and bottles at the police.  The security forces responded by firing live ammunition in the air and by hitting demonstrators with batons.  Over 300 members of the security force were deployed to Hebron, specifically for the purpose of containing any demonstration stemming from the funeral.

Medics at near by hospitals report treating at least one serious gun shot injury, involving a man who was shot in the neck.  In addition, an estimated 20 to 60 people were treated with less serious injuries.  This number includes both demonstrators as well as police officers.  There are also reports of report that dozens of demonstrators were arrested by the police.

On November 29, Hamas warned that since Israeli missile attacks have killed 12 militants since November 25, that “all options were open to the Islamists against Israel.”  The Israeli military claims that the most the recent air strikes occurred in Gaza and targeted militants.

For more information, please see:

AFP – All options open against Israel after peace meet: Hamas – 29 November 2007

Independent – Abbas loyalists open fire at funeral march, injuring 26 – 29 November 2007

BBC – Dozens hurt in Mid-East protest – 28 November 2007

Jerusalem Post – At least 60 injured in Fatah-Hamas clashes – 28 November 2007

New York Times – Bush promotes Middle East peace dialogue – 28 November 2007

Reuters – Palestinian security men open fire at W.Bank funeral – 28 November 2007

International Herald Tribune – Palestinian protester killed in West Bank – 27 November 2007

Turkey: Increased Attacks on Religious Minorities

By Vivek Thiagarajan
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

MIDYAT, Turkey- Father Daniel Savici’s car was found abandoned on Wednesday in south eastern region of Mardin, Turkey.  The Syraic priest was kidnapped and is being held captive.  His kidnappers demanded 300,000 Euros as ransom for his safe release.

Lately, the Turkish Christians have faced many attacks.  Last week marked the beginning of trial for men accused of brutally murdering three Protestant Christians during a Bible study in April.   (See Story)  Also, last year a Catholic Priest was shot and killed by a young zealous nationalist.

Turkey has about 25,000 Syriac Christians.  In total, Turkey only has about 100,000 Christians out of the 75 million residents in Turkey.  The Christians have always faced opposition since the emergence of Christianity in Turkey.  Some nationalists have feared that the Christians are outsiders just seeking to rebel against the government while changing Turkish culture.  This idea has been reinforced since most Christians are either Greek or Armenian.

The animosity faced by the Christians as a different outsider religion has recently affected the atheists.  Erol Karaaslan, publisher of Steven Dawkins’s “The God Delusion,” has been recently investigated by Turkish prosecutors for insulting Turkishness, believers, and attacking “sacred values.”  (Guardian Unlimited)  The book tries to dismiss the possibility of God.

In an interview with Reuters regarding the prosecutorial investigation, Karaaslan said “[a] Turkish citizen complained, saying that this book was hurtful to members of religions living in Turkey, and wanted the book banned and the publishers punished.” (Reuters)  The “God Delusion” has sold over 6,000 copies in Turkey.

Although Turkey is officially secular, Turkey’s population is mostly Muslim.  Thus, Islam is seen as an integral part of the “Turkishness” that is protected under Article 301, which allows any person to be prosecuted for insulting the countries values. (See Article 301 story) The European Union has stated that Turkey must relax its enforcement of article 301 in order for Turkey to enter the Union.

The Turkish government must show a strong commitment to protecting minority belief systems in Turkey.  It must adapt its rendition of secular society to include the free expression of religions throughout the country instead of regulating under the guise of a secular society.  This will enable all non-Muslims such as Christians, Jews, and Atheists to believe freely without fear of possible ramifications.  Also, protection of the religious minorities is necessary for Turkey in its possible effort to join the EU.

For more information, please see:

AP- Turkish Prosecutor Probes Atheist Book- 28 November 2007

BBC News- Turkish Christian priest abducted- 29 November 2007

Guardian Unlimited- Dawkins publisher may be tried for attack on ‘sacred values’- 28 November 2007

International Herald Tribune (AP)- Turkish prosecutor probes whether atheist book “The God Delusion” assaults values- 28 November 2007

Javno- Christian Priest Kidnapped in S. East Turkey- 29 November 2007

NTV MSNBC- Mystery surrounds kidnapping of Turkish priest- 29 November 2007

Reuters Africa- “God Delusion” publisher may face prosecution- 29 November 2007

BRIEF: Former Resistance Leader Shot in Bougainville

KONO, Bougainville – Bougainville is an autonomous province in Papua New Guinea, and it experienced civil war during its fight for independence from PNG.  Jacob Naisi, deputy commander of the Bougainville Resistance Force (BRF), was shot dead at close range last Sunday afternoon in his village while walking home from the bakery with his two neices.  It is believed that the shooters are the same group who commandeered a UN vehicle in the area last week.

Naisi, who was instrumental in the peace process, died as he was being rushed to the village.  Donald Hamau, regional chairman for the BRF, said that Naisi’s death highlights the need for the Bougainville government to address lingering reconciliation and weapons disposal issues.

Bougainville president Joseph Kabui  said that it was likely that Naisi was killed by Me’ekamui rebels to derail the peace process.  He said, “It is the one spot in Bougainville that is still — there are tensions so on and so forth, still suspicions, still haunting the area.”

For more information, please see:

The National – BRF leader shot dead – 28 November 2007

Radio Australia – Bougainville President pays tribute to dead resistance fighter – 28 November 2007

Radio New Zealand International – Bougainville killing in Kono recalls former tensions – 28 November 2007

Peacekeeping Force in Sudan Possibly Delayed

By Elizabeth Costner
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Deployment of a joint UN-AU peacekeeping force to Darfur may be delayed due to several challenges in the region.  On Tuesday the head of UN peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, “complained that Sudanese government red tape and lack of resources are delaying the deployment of an international force to protect civilians in the war-stricken region of Darfur.”

The joint peacekeeping force, named UNAMID, was approved in July in order to eventually take over for the current 6,000 ill-equipped African Union forces that have been in the area since 2004.  Khartoum has put up much resistance to the force, and only accepted it on the condition that it be mostly composed of African troops.  Further demands from Khartoum have made it “impossible for the mission to operate” according to Guehenno.   The UN is still awaiting authorization for non-African troops, land for the UNAMID bases, and authorization for night flights. 

It is now five weeks before the scheduled deployment and transfer of authority to UNAMID and the UN and AU have both been facing problems getting the needed troops. The force is also short of critical mobility capabilities such as helicopters. 

Additionally, the ongoing conflict between the government and rebel groups has made things even more difficult and dangerous for those in the area.    Peace talks began in Libya on October 27 but have been boycotted by most of the rebel groups.  Jan Eliasson, the UN’s top political envoy for Darfur says the atmosphere is less positive than it was this summer and that they “will only be able to make progress if the parties show seriousness, political will, and a focused commitment to peace.” 

Violence in Darfur has displaced 30,000 people since October alone, brining this total for this year to 280,000.  Since fighting began in 2003, over 200,000 people have died and more than 2.2 million have been displaced.  On Monday, the International Crisis Group issued a report cautioning that new dynamics in Darfur could lead to an Arab insurgency, further leading to worries of increased danger.

For more information, please see: – Sudan: Darfur Fighting ‘Displaced 30,000 in October’ – 28 November 2007

BBC News – Sudan ‘blocking’ Darfur mission – 28 November 2007

LA Times – Darfur may not get peacekeeping force – 28 November 2007 – UN: Sudan blocking Darfur force – 28 November 2007

AFP – Darfur peace force delayed: UN official – 27 November 2007

For more information on the Sudan situation, please see the following Impunity Watch reports: Threat of War in Sudan; Continued Delays in Deployment of Sudan Hybrid Force;  Sudan Talks Falter; Upcoming Peace Talks in Sudan in Jeopardy; New Atrocities in Darfur; Ceasefire Ends in Sudan; African Union Peacekeepers Attacked in Darfur; Ongoing Conflict in Sudan; ICC Prosecutor Demands Arrests in Sudan; Secretary General Urges Sudan President to Commit to Ceasefire; Peace Talks on Darfur Scheduled for October 

BRIEF: Fighting between Rival Factions in Northern Lebanon

TRIPOLI, Lebanon – Rival factions engaged in a gunfight in Shiraa Square in the Abu Samra neighborhood of Tripoli.  Members from the Islamic Unification Movement (IUM) and from the Tripoli Brigades exchanged automatic fire for about 30 minutes.  IUM is close to the pro-Syrian opposition while the Tripoli Brigades is linked to the anti-Syrian March 14 political coalition and leader Saad Hariri.

The fighting resulted in one death, allegedly the son of the leader of IUM, and six other injuries.  There are also unconfirmed reports of the death of a member of the Tripoli Brigades as well.

Fighting subsided when Lebanese Army troops arrived at the square.  Additional troops were deployed to the area and the police reports that relative calm has been restored.

For more information, please see:

AHN – Rival factions clash in Lebanon: 1 dead, 6 injured – 28 November 2007

BBC – Gunfight raises Lebanon tension – 28 November 2007

Reuters – Rival factions clash in North Lebanon, one dead – 28 November 2007

Solomons Government Still Unsettled

By Sarah C. LaBelle
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Oceania

HONIARA, Solomon Islands – Earlier this month, nine high-level government ministers in the Solomon Islands defected to the opposition, creating an opening for the opposition to call for a no confidence motion against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.  Both sides maintain that they have the numbers to rule, causing a political stand off, and rumours are still flying over alleged defections from both sides.  (For more on the initial events, please see the Impunity Watch report here.)

This week, the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation that four MPs defected from Opposition for the government, but those MPs deny that this is the case.  Gordon Lilo, one of the nine initial defectors, criticised SIBC’s report, telling Radio New Zealand International, “Those claims are just frivolous because the bodies are still with us; physically, they’re still with us, and it’s just unbelievable for people to think that people like Steve Abana could ever move, Edward Huni’ehu could ever move,  Stanley Sofu would move.  They’re just trying to create uncertainty, it’s only propaganda.”  Abana, Huni’ehu, and Sofu were among the four recently reported to have defected to the government.

Opposition leader Fred Fono has accused Sogavare and Attorney General Julian Moti of abusing the court process based on Moti’s declared intent to file a case with the High Court yesterday afternoon, seeking a clarification of the constitutional issues surrounding the political turmoil.  A spokesman for the High Court confirmed that the Court received Moti’s paperwork, and that while a date has not been set for the hearing, the Court is treating it as an urgent case.

Fono has also called on Sogavare to fill the five open ministerial portfolios for Public Service, Aviation, Peace and Reconciliation, Home Affairs, and Education.  Fono says that if Sogavare truly has the numbers to rule, it would not be a problem to fill those positions.  However, he suspects that Sogavare is leading the nation with “a minority and lying to the whole nation that he still has the numbers,” according to the Solomon Star.  The opposition alleges that they have 26 of the 48 MPs, and therefore the majority.

Governor General Sir Nathaniel Waena has set December 13th as the date for parliament to convene.  He rejected both the opposition’s request for December 3rd and the government’s request for December 31st.  Waena feels that he is now constitutionally obligated to resolve the political impasse by convening parliament, and he believes that Moti’s court motion will interfere with his constitutional responsibilities.

Interestingly, the opposition group has not decided who will be Prime Minister if they succeed in ousting Sogavare, telling the Solomon Star that the important thing right now is to remove Sogavare from office.

For more information, please see:

Solomon Star – Waena tells PM to call parliament – 26 November 2007

Solomon Star – We’re going to court over date, says PM – 26 November 2007

Solomon Star – PM, Moti accused of abusing courts – 26 November 2007

Solomon Star – Opposition group says removing Sogavare comes first – 26 November 2007

Solomon Star – Opposition refutes report – 27 November 2007

Solomon Star – Fono tells PM to fill up vacant portfolios – 27 November 2007

Solomon Star – Government moves to block parliament sitting – 27 November 2007

Solomon Times – Opposition Members Deny Switching to Govt – 27 November 2007

Radio New Zealand International – More claims and counterclaims of MPs swapping sides as Solomons political crisis continues – 27 November 2007

Radio New Zealand International – Solomon Islands opposition MP grouping insists it has support – 27 November 2007

Islands Business – Government moves to block parliament sitting – 27 November 2007

Islands Business – MPs told to put budget first – 27 November 2007

Present Clashes in Chad

By Meryl White
Impunity Watch Reporter, Western and Central Africa

ABECHE, Chad – According to the Chad army, several hundred rebel fighters were killed near the eastern border. The present clashes have ended the month- long cease fire. The clashes took place near the volatile border of Sudan’s Darfur region, an area where 4,000 European Union peacekeepers are expected to be sent next year.

A rebel leader of the Union Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) has confirmed that seventeen of his armed militants were killed. The leader also claimed that 100 government soldiers were killed in the fighting that took place in the small towns of Forchana and Hadjer Hadid, located 70 kilometers east of Abeche. The UFDD has also stated that they will abandon the peace agreement signed with the government.

A military spokesman has reported that the “partial [rebel] toll is around 50 vehicles seized, around 40 vehicles destroyed, several hundred dead and several prisoners of war.”

Presently more than 60 people are being treated for combat related injuries in the hospital in Abeche. Aid workers based in Forchana have reported hearing machine gun and heavy gun fire on Monday morning. 

EU peacekeepers are hesitant to enter the region. One Chad based diplomat said, “This is a forewarning … nobody from the EU is going to feel confident now that there has been heavy fighting.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Hundreds Dead in Chad Fighting  – 27 November 2007

Reuters South Africa – Chad fighting points to risks of EU deployment   – 27 November 2007

Janes- Potential for renewed hostilities as Chad truce lapses  – 27 November 2007

BRIEF: Demonstrations against Annapolis across Gaza and West Bank, One Demonstrator Killed

GAZA CITY, Gaza – Thousands of Palestinians gathered in cities across Gaza and in the West Bank to protest the peace conference currently underway in Annapolis.  At the largest rally, in Gaza City, leaders of Hamas spoke amongst chants of “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”.  Hamas, who is labeled as a terrorist organization by the US, was not invited to the conference, and has been protesting against the conference for several days.  At the Gaza City demonstration, Haniya, the former Palestinian Prime Minister, stated that the “conference cannot change the reality of history and geography,” and that any conference that denies this reality is “doomed to failure.”

In the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) banned any demonstration against the conference, smaller rallies took place in major cities, such as Ramallah, Hebron, and Nablus.  At these demonstrations, PA policemen dispersed demonstrators by firing live ammunition in the air, using tear gas, and by hitting individuals with batons.  At the largest West Bank demonstration in Hebron, one demonstrator was shot in the chest and was killed.  Medics report that several individuals sustained serious to minor injuries.  The Palestinian police have refused to comment.

Demonstrations against the Annapolis conference also occurred in other countries, such as Jordan and Israel.

For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Hamas says “Annapolis Doomed” – 27 November 2007

BBC – Gaza rally against Mid-East talks – 27 November 2007

International Herald Tribune – Israeli, Palestinians hard-liners demonstrate against US-sponsored Mideast conference – 27 November 2007

Reuters – Jordanians stage anti-Annapolis protest – 27 November 2007

Reuters – One killed in Palestinian clashes over Annapolis – 27 November 2007

Telegraph – Annapolis Middle East summit : Q&A – 27 November 2007

Somali Refugees Granted Asylum

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Eastern and Southern Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – More than half of Mogadishu’s population has fled the city since fighting began between forces of the transitional government backed by Ethiopian troops and Islamic insurgents. According to the UN, more than one million Somalis are homeless and nearly 200,000 have fled their home in the past two weeks alone. Many of the refugees fled to nearby Kenyan camps, despite the fact that Kenya closed its border with Somalia in January.

Two weeks ago, a group of Somali refugees flew from Mogadishu to Uganda via Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Of that group, 18 were forcibly deported back to Mogadishu without being given a chance to file for asylum according to Emmanuel Nyabera, spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR. The UNHCR was denied access to the detained women and children. The remaining refugees were held in the airport and chose to engage in a hunger strike until they were allowed into the refugee camp.

The Kenyan police believed the group were not refugees but in fact victims of a human trafficking ring. According to the airport police commander, Joseph Mumira, the group was not being deported but taken back from where they came. This past weekend a Nairobi court held the deportation of refugees to a war zone against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Later the group, which included seven women and five children, was allowed into Dadaab camp. The Muslim Human Rights Forum of Kenya condemned the deportation of the first group but applauded the government’s decision to grant asylum despite the delay.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the Kenyan police detained a group of refugees who illegally arrived through the Liboi border in two vehicles. The group of 50 Somalis were arrested and deported. 

Since the closing of the Kenyan border, hundreds of Somalis fleeing Mogadishu have been living in a makeshift camp in Doble.

For more information please see:

BBC- Hunger Strike Somalis get Asylum – 26 November 2007

Reuters: Africa- UN says Somali Asylum-Seekers let into Kenyan Camp – 26 November 2007

BBC- Somali Refugees on Hunger Strike – 21 November 2007 High Court Reprieve for Somali Asylum Seekers – 24 November 2007

BRIEF: Rudd Gov’t to Close Nauru Detention Facility

YAREN, Nauru – The newly elected Rudd government in Australia has said that Australia’s offshore immigration detention centre in Nauru will be closed, though no timeframe has been released.  Rudd says that the reason for this secrecy is due to the contractual relationships between Australia and Nauru.  He further stated that his government would use a new facility on Christmas Island instead, which is within the Australian commonwealth and has an 800-bed capacity.

Human rights activist Susan Metcalfe agrees with the decision to close the facility, but is concerned about the economic impact the closure will have on Nauru.  She told Radio New Zealand International, “I feel quite concerned for Nauru, there is quite a dependency on the camps and to pull them out very quickly will hurt the country, I believe.  I hope that the Labor party will handle that transition very carefully.  They need to have a lot of discussions with the Nauruan government and the aid package that they give, I hope, will be substantial.”

Rudd also did not commit Australia to taking the 72 Sri Lankans who were granted refugee status in September but remain in detention in the Nauru facility.  (For background on this story, please see the Impunity Watch reportshere and here.)  The coalition government is currently looking for other countries willing to take the refugees, but the refugees themselves have asked that the incoming Rudd government make a resettlement decision quickly.

For more information, please see:

The Age – Rudd has no timeframe for Nauru closure – 21 November 2007

Islands Business – Refugee group expects new Australian govt to close Nauru centre – 26 November 2007

Islands Business – Detainees make appeal to Rudd – 27 November 2007

Radio New Zealand International – Human rights activist says Nauru will need compensation from Canberra when camp closes – 27 November 2007

Lahoud’s term ends leaving Lebanon without a President

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon – On November 23, the Lebanese parliament postponed the election of a president for a fifth time – until November 30.  This meant that later that day, when current President Lahoud’s term ended, Lebanon was left without a president.  As Lahoud vacated the presidential palace, he declared a state of emergency and handed security powers to the Lebanese Army, lead by General Michel Suleiman.

However, following this announcement, Prime Minister Siniora rejected Lahoud’s declaration of a state of emergency, stating that it was unconstitutional since the required cabinet approval was not given.  Instead, Siniora claims that the cabinet acts as a caretaker until a new president is elected by the parliament.  Still, over 20,000 Lebanese soldiers are deployed in and around Beirut to prevent and contain any factional fighting.  During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel and the conflict against militants this summer, the army gained respect within Lebanon as a neutral institution.

Currently, Lebanese politics are divided between two main factions: pro-Syrian and pro-Western.  The pro-Syrian faction includes former President Lahoud and Shia groups such as Hezbollah; and receives support from Syria and Iran.  The pro-Western faction includes current Prime Minister Siniora and receives support from the US and Saudi Arabia.

For the past year, tensions between the two groups have grown and resulted in the resignation of several parliament and cabinet members.  For the past few months, Hezbollah party members and pro-Syrian members have been boycotting parliamentary elections, preventing the necessary quorum, thus making any result unconstitutional.  Pro-Syrians also claim that the government is unconstitutional, following the resignation of five pro-Syrian members.  The current situation has prompted fears that a parallel government will be created and that a political power struggle between the two will result in a second civil war.

Following the end of Lahoud’s presidency and the ensuing presidential vacuum, both sides have agreed to maintain the relative peace and stability until the scheduled election on November 30.  Each side maintains that the most important goal right now is security and for a peaceful resolution.  However, Hezbollah has complicated the situation by demanding that the next president support the group’s fight against Israel.  While the pro-Western government currently does not have relations with Israel, it is hesitant to provoke hostilities with their neighbor.

Some analysts believe that the upcoming peace conference in Annapolis will help resolve the conflict.  Some believe that Syria is purposely delaying the election and is waiting to see what happens in Annapolis.  If Syria is allowed to be a major player in the discussions, it is thought that they will be more likely to pressure the opposition to agree on a president.

For more information, please see:
Associated Press – Hezbollah adds new demand in Lebanon – 25 November 2007

Reuters – Hezbollah raises specter of long Lebanon power void – 25 November 2007

Telegraph – Hezbollah recruits thousands in Lebanon crisis – 25 November 2007

Associated Press – Political crisis deepens in Lebanon – 24 November 2007

BBC – Lebanon faces power vacuum threat – 24 November 2007

Guardian – Lebanon’s president hands power to army – 24 November 2007

Middle East Times – Lebanon in constitutional void – 24 November 2007

New York Times – Vote is postponed as Lebanese president leaves – 24 November 2007

The Press Association – Army in control, says Lebanese PM – 24 2007

Reuters – Lebanese PM says cabinet assumes presidential powers – 24 November 2007

BBC – Lebanese presidency ends in chaos – 23 November 2007

International Herald Tribune – With Lebanon in political turmoil, army emerges as nation’s last line of defense – 23 November 2007

BRIEF: Kenya’s Police Alleged to Have Killed Over 8,000

NAIROBI, Kenya – The Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic has come forth claiming that the Kenyan police have killed more than 8,000 Mungiki people since 2002.  These people were executed or tortured by Kenya’s General Service Unit during a crack-down on the banned Mungiki politico-religious sect in slum areas.

A Kenyan police spokesperson called the report “fictitious” and states that instead criminals are responsible for the deaths.  The Oscar Foundation, however, claims that they have “documented 8,040 cases of death by execution and torture perpetuated by state agents and another 4,070 cases of disappearance where victims remain unaccounted for in the period between August 2002 and August 2007”.  The report is based on autopsy reports, relative interviews, and other records.

The Oscar Foundation report closely follows a statement by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights that linked Kenyan police to 500 Mungiki executions in the past 5 months.  It also comes out ahead of the Kenyan general election next month, where President Mwai Kibaki will seek his second term.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Lawyers say police killed 8,000 Kenyans in sect crackdown – 25 November 2007

BBC News – Kenyan police ‘killed thousands’ – 25 November 2007

Malaysia Sun – Kenyan police blamed for mass murders – 25 November 2007

Brief: Ballu Khan Sues Fiji over Maltreatment

SUVA, Fiji — Ballu Khan is suing the interim government of Fiji for $26 million for his maltreatment at the hands of police officials.  Khan, who was detained following an alleged assassination attempt against interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama, is still in hospital healing from the fractured skull and cheekbone that he received while in police custody.  The suit, filed by Peter Williams QC, alleges that the Fijian military police are guilty of assault, battery and wrongful imprisonment.

The suit alleges that Khan did not resist arrest, but that he was still severely beaten and military police officials were indifferent to whether Khan lived or died.  Williams says that this treatment is tantamount to torture.

Solicitor-General Christopher Pryde has called this request for compensation “extraordinary and outrageous”.  He has said that the government of Fiji will vigorously defend itself from this lawsuit.  The interim PM has commented that he believes that the New Zealand businessman is faking his injuries.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International —  New Zealand businessman injured by Fiji police, seeks millions for maltreatment — 22 November 2007

Radio New Zealand International — Ballu Khan suing Fiji interim government alleging assault and battery, and wrongful imprisonment — 22 November 2007

Radio New Zealand International — Lawyer says Fiji military’s treatment of suspect tantamount to torture — 22 November 2007

Fiji Times Online — Ballu sues State for $40m — 22 November 2007