One Million Displaced in Somalia

One Million Displaced in Somalia

By Elizabeth Costner
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa

MOGADISHU, Somalia – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR) announced today that the number of displaced people in Somalia has hit a “staggering” one million.   About sixty percent, or 600,000 people are thought to have fled the capital of Mogadishu since February, with nearly 200,000 being displaced in the last two weeks alone. The total population is approximately 8.8 million according to the most recent World Almanac.

Citizens have been forced out of their homes due to a renewed conflict between Islamist insurgents and Ethiopian-backed government forces.  The UNHCR has stated that those who have fled may end up living in desperate conditions.  Those in the Afgooye area, about 30km from Mogadishu, are “using plastic bags and rags to patch up their flimsy mud and straw huts.” 

Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in December of last year in an effort to drive the Islamic Courts Union out of Mogadishu and to establish and restore the UN-backed transitional government.  Following the invasion, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi promised his troops would remain for only a few weeks, however they have yet to leave and have become involved in a guerilla-type conflict.  Islamists responded to the invasion by launching an insurgency against the Somali government and Ethiopian troops. 

Meanwhile, Ethiopia is calling on the UN Security Council to deploy peacekeepers to Somalia.  The African Union previously pledged 8,000 troops to assist the weak government, however to date only 1,500 Ugandan troops have arrived. 

The increased violence and instability in the region has prompted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to rule out sending any peacekeepers to the Horn of Africa, except for a “coalition of the willing.”  On Monday, the Security Council admitted that there is a need for a contingency plan for possible deployment of UN troops, but gave no promises.  Previous peacekeeping efforts by the UN and the US were extremely unsuccessful and disastrous in the mid-1990s and Somalia has since had a difficult time getting assistance. 

For more information, please see:

CNN – Million displaced in Somalia – 20 November 2007

BBC News – ‘One million’ homeless in Somalia – 20 November 2007

Reuters Africa – Number of displaced Somalis hits 1 million – 20 November 2007

AFP – Ethiopia urges quick deployment of peacekeepers in Somalia – 20 November 2007

VOA News – Tensions Grow in Somalia – 20 November 2007 

Iraqi AP photographer faces charges

By Vivek Thiagarajan
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

UNITED STATES- The U.S. military has recommended charges against an Iraqi photographer employed the Associated Press for being linked to insurgents.  Bilal Hussein was part of the AP photo group that won a Pulitzer prize in 2005.

Bilal Hussein has been held by the US military without charges for the last 19 months.  The military has refused to inform Hussein of his alleged conduct or present its for holding Hussein.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell cited that “new evidence has come to light” regarding Hussein, which caused the government to formally bring charges now.  (AP)  However, the government has remained silent regarding the exact charge crimes.   Instead, Morrell stated that the military has “convincing and irrefutable evidence that Bilal Hussein is a threat to stability and security in Iraq as a link to insurgent activity” and asserted that Hussein was “a terrorist operative who infiltrated the AP.”  (AP)

However, the AP has rejected the Government’s assertions of convincing and irrefutable evidence.  The Associate General Counsel for the AP responded, “That’s what the military has been saying for 19 months, but whenever we ask to see what’s so convincing we get back something that isn’t convincing at all.”  (AP)

AP President and CEO Tom Curly asserted that Hussein should be immediately released, because Hussein has been denied due process of law.  “The steps the U.S. military is now taking continue to deny Bilal his right to due process and, in turn, may deny him a chance at a fair trial. The treatment of Bilal represents a miscarriage of the very justice and rule of law that the United States is claiming to help Iraq achieve.”  (Reuters)

Hussein’s defense lawyer has also raised the difficulty of creating a viable defense.  The classified evidence against Hussein is inaccessible for the defense lawyer until the trial, which handicaps the defense lawyer.  However, even if Hussein wins the case and is released it does not bar the defense military from further detaining Hussein as a security risk.

For more information, please see:

AP- US Plans Case Against AP photographer- 20 November 2007

Reuters- US seeks charges against AP photographer in Iraq- 19 November 2007

CNN- News photographer in Iraq accused of insurgent ties- 19 November 2007

BBC News- Iraq reporter faces terror charge- 20 November 2007

Allegations of Planned British Invasion

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Eastern and Southern Africa

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Last week, an article in the United Kingdom (UK) newspaper, Independent, reported that British General Lord Gutherie and ex Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed invading Zimbabwe. According to the Independent, the UK and many western nations have accused Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe of causing an economic depression by seizing land belonging to white farmers and redistributing it to blacks. Subsequent poor policy decisions further deteriorated the already fragile economy. In addition, the British government accuses President Mugabe of grossly violating human rights.

In response to the article Mr. Charamba, a spokesman for President Mugabe, told the Sunday Mail that they were aware of the British’s desire to not only invade Zimbabwe but to also assassinate President Mugabe and several other political leaders. Mr. Charamba also states that a “defense plan had been operationalised” and that such a plan still exists in preparation for a possible British attack. Charamba claims that the British have not made a move because Blair was told that Zimbabwe had a “very capable army” and thus would be prepared to fight back. In addition, Blair did not have the United State’s support to invade. President Mugabe has always blamed the West for their economic demise. 

The British on the other hand continue to deny that they are trying to interfere with Zimbabwe’s political affairs. Despite the conflicting reports, there are some who support a British invasion. Leading Zimbabwe Cleric, Pius Ncube, feels the invasion and overthrow of President Mugabe is necessary when “millions [are] facing death from famine.” Ncube says that the people of Zimbabwe should rally together to overthrow President Mugabe and that he would be “ready to lead the people, guns blazing but the people are not ready.” According to Ncube, fear is preventing the people from acting.

Today, Zimbabwe reported that it has placed its army on high alert against its former colonial master.

For more information, please see:

Voice of America – Following UK Revelations, Zimbabwe Says It Still Sees Invasion Threat – 19 November 2007

AFP- Army on Alert to Prevent British Invasion: Zimbabwe – 19 November 2007

BBC- Zimbabwe ‘ready for UK invasion’ – 18 November 2007

Reuters: African – Zimbabwe accuses UK of plotting to kill Mugabe-paper – 18 November 2007

Reuters: Africa- Zimbabwe Accuses UK of Plotting to Kill  Mugabe – 18 November 2007

BRIEF: Guidelines May Eliminate Ban on Political Reporting in Tonga

NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga – New government guidelines on news reporting may lead to a lifting of the current ban on political reporting, Minister of Information Afu’alo Matoto told Tongan journalists on Friday.  He said that the ban is in place because the government felt that the Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC) was presenting unbalanced news and was concerned with the quality of reporting.  Matoto believes that the new guidelines will be helpful for reporters in the long run, though some, like TBC news editor Nanise Fifita, have expressed their doubts.  The guidelines are still being drafted, and their scope has not yet been determined.

Tongan journalists remain concerned, especially about their lack of access to important documents like pending legislation, which is not released to them unless and until it is passed, and to court decisions, where cost per page can be prohibitive.  During his meeting with the journalists, Matoto said that he will try to improve the flow of information from the government to the news media.

Matoto recently criticized a report from Reporters Without Borders, which ranked Tonga as 119th of 169 countries on its World Press Freedom Index, a large slide from last year when Tonga was ranked 54th.

For more information, please see:

Tonga Now – Minister of Information doubts report by Reporters Without Borders – 14 November 2007

Matangi Tonga – Govt drawing news “guideline” for public broadcasting – 19 November 2007

Radio New Zealand International – Tonga to get guidelines to lift ban on political reporting – 20 November 2007

The Reporters Without Borders annual World Press Freedom Index may be found here.

Abbas steps up security prior to Annapolis conference

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

NABLUS, West Bank – In the beginning of November, Palestinian Authority began to take steps to consolidate control over security in the West Bank.  The Palestinian president, Abbas, is cracking down on militant organizations within the West Bank to demonstrate that he will be able to enforce a future peace agreement made with Israel.  This effort, while occurring across the West Bank, has focused on Nablus, a city notorious for its lawlessness.

Nablus, which is the West Bank’s second largest city, and several surrounding refugee camps are strongholds for militant groups such as Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade.  With Israel’s approval, Abbas deployed more than 300 members of the Palestinian National Security Forces, along with guns, ammunition, and cars, to the city.  Since the beginning of November, the bolstered police force in Nablus have been making near daily arrests.

During the course of the past few weeks, the Palestinian National Security Forces have arrested members of Hamas, Abu Mustafa Brigades (the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)), and al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (the militant wing of Fatah).  On November 18, Palestinian police forces entered el-Ain refugee camp near Nablus and arrested several members of the Abu Mustafa Brigades, thought to be responsible for several attacks against Israeli military.

In addition to an increase in Palestinian security operations, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) continues to carry out near daily operations in the West Bank.  In recent weeks, IOF operations occurred through out the West Bank resulting in several arrests.  Conflicting reports exists as to whether the Palestinian and Israeli forces are working together or separately.  However, Palestinian officials report that these operations are separate from the actions of the IOF and that the IOF operations are detrimental to Palestinian interests.

For more information, please see:

International Middle East Media Center – Israeli army kidnaps five civilians across West Bank – 19 November 2007

International Middle East Media Center – Seven Hamas members arrested across West Bank – 19 November 2007

WAFA – IOF arrests 10 citizens allover West Bank – 19 November 2007

International Middle East Media Center – PFLP’s armed brigades warn of PA crackdown – 18 November 2007

Yedioth – PA security forces carry out mass arrests in Nablus – 18 November 2007

Yedioth – Fayyad threatens al-Aqsa it must cooperate with PA security plan – 14 November 2007

AFP – Security returns to post-gangland Nablus – 13 November 2007

International Middle East Media Center – Security forces kidnap 10 Hamas members – 12 November 2007

Reuters – Palestinian PM vows crack down on outlaws – 11 November 2007

New York Times – Volatile city tests Palestinian police – 8 November 2007

Associated Press – Palestinian police seal refugee camp – 5 November 2007

New York Times – Palestinians clash in West Bank – 5 November 2007

Reuters – Palestinians force enters Nablus in security drive – 2 November 2007

Associated Press – Chaotic Nablus: Testing ground for Abbas – 25 October 2007