Tunisia’s Human Rights Condition a Concern

By Kevin Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TUNIS, Tunisia – Amnesty International is calling on the international community to communicate the Tunisian authorities to end the human rights violations on the 20th year anniversary of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s rule. During his 20 year tenure, Tunisia has been accused of various human rights violations including arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials, harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and curbs on freedom of expression and association. Amnesty International believes Tunisia’s positive economic performance should no longer excuse the country from violating human rights.

Most recently, a Tunisian court jailed a former Guantanamo Bay detainee for three years on terrorism charges. Although Lotfi Lagha, who spent his last five years in the detention center at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba, insisted that he has never been involved in any terrorist activity, the 40-year-old was found guilty. It is also alleged that he was mistreated by the Tunisian authorities while in detention after being sent home. In addition to Lagha, eight detainees who remain at Guantanamo have been convicted in Tunisia of crimes in absentia.

Additionally, and unfortunately for Lahga and many others, discussion of human rights in the media is taboo under Ben Ali government. The government tightly controls the press and broadcasting, and journals are screened by the authorities before publication. And those who undertake coverage of sensitive topics are subject to harassment and intimidation like journalist Slim Boukhdir, whose passport was taken away since 2004.

Moreover, even though Tunisia’s online population has grown dramatically in the past seven years, freedom of expression is nowhere to be found as Internet monitoring is omnipresent. In 2005, Mohammed Abbou was sentenced to three years in jail for a blog he wrote comparing torture in Tunisia to the U.S. abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. Some rights group claim Tunisia’s internet policies “among the most repressive in the world.”

Amnesty International claims the human right situation in Tunisia has significantly deteriorated since the introduction of the 2003 anti-terrorism law. The organization believes the law’s vague definition of terrorism has been used by the Tunisian security forces to perpetuate crimes against humanity.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Human rights briefing for 20th anniversary of President Ben Ali’s rule – 2 November 2007

Bloomberg – Tunisia websurfers learn criticism of leader ‘cannot be found’ – 2 November 2007

AllAfrica – Journalist goes on hunger strike after being denied passport – 2 November 2007

Reuters – Tunisia jails ex-Guantanamo prisoner for 3 years – 24 October 2007

BBC News – Country profile: Tunisia – 9 October 2007

BRIEF: Iraqi Official Gunned Down

The top aide to Iraq’s Finance Ministry, Qutaiba Badir al-Din Mohammed, was gunned down along with his driver in Baghdad.  The government has not commented on the death.

Also in the northeast province of Diyala,  10 people were killed.  The fighting arose through clashes between insurgents and policemen and the 1920’s Revolution Brigade.  The fighting claimed an eight year old child and women as collateral damage.  The victims were killed in seemingly random acts of violence.  For example, a policeman was killed in a drive by shooting.  Also, a bomb killed three people including a young child.

Associated Press- Iraqi Official Gunned Down in Baghdad- 4 November 2007

BRIEF: RAMSI Probes Alleged Brutality by Tongan Force

MALU’U, Solomon Islands – A platoon of Tongan soldiers on North Malaita assisted in an arrest last week involving several youths who had been wanted by the police for a long time.  Following the arrests, rocks were thrown into the soldiers’ camp, and there was an attempt to break into the camp on 23 October.  After disturbing the intruders, soldiers found a bag containing weapons, which they turned over to the police.

Lieutenant Colonel Ian Upjohn, the RAMSI military commander, assured Solomon Islanders that RAMSI soldiers follow the same laws as everyone else in the Solomons.  He told Radio New Zealand International, “If they are attacked I expect them to defend themselves. By the same token everyone is subject to rules of engagement and the need to use force only if reasonable and necessary and not more than that. And if my investigation leads me to people who have conducted themselves improperly then they will be dealt with quite severely.”

For more information, please see:

Solomon Star – RAMSI probe Malu’u incident – 02 November 2007

Islands Business (Pacnews) – RAMSI investigates Tongan soldiers alleged brutality – 02 November 2007

Radio New Zealand International – RAMSI probes reports of altercation between soldiers and drunk Solomons youths – 02 November 2007

Iraq: Government signals removal of Contractors’ Immunity

By Vivek Thiagarajan
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq- On Tuesday, the Iraqi government proposed legislation to remove immunity for independent government contractors like Blackwater USA.  This draft law would overrule the Order 17 by L. Paul Bremer on June 27, 2004, which gave all private contractors and others associated with Bremer immunity from Iraqi law.

Bremer was the Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Iraq and Administrator of the Coalitional Provisional Authority.  In essence, he was the top U.S. official in charge of Iraq and reported to the U.S. Secretary of Defense until the handover to the Iraqis for self governance.

The act, if passed, would only apply to future acts.  It probably will make the hiring of government contractors such as Blackwater USA much more difficult, because of the contractors’ reluctance to be held to Iraqi law.  Blackwater USA and other contractors were specially utilized because of their different rules of engagement, which typically allowed them more discretion when facing hostile situations than the official military.  However, this incentive will be dropped because the contractors will be held at higher standards by the Iraqi government than the official U.S. soldiers.

The U.S. government, however, may try to extend the immunity to the government contractors.  Since the legislation is not retroactive the lift on the ban could not apply to the Blackwater USA agents involved in the September 16 shooting where 17 Iraqis were killed.  If those agents acted wrongfully the conduct would fall under the jurisdiction of the United States.  However, it will be difficult for a fact finder to hold the agents liable because most of the agents who testified were granted immunity for those actions.  Concurrently, Blackwater’s owner maintains that his company was justified in their actions on September 16, and Blackwater not guilty of any wrongful misconduct.

Every government must show a firm commitment to protect its citizens.  This law lifting immunity for contractors is necessary for the Iraqi government to show its willingness to protect its citizens irregardless of outside pressures.  Although the immunity ban would not be retroactive, if enforced, it can set a clear precedent of greater protection for Iraqi civilians from future contractors.

For more information, please see:

BBC News- Blackwater men ‘given immunity’- 30 October 2007

BBC News- Iraq to end contractor immunity- 30 October 2007

Houston Chronicle (AP)- Iraq bill would lift contractor immunity- 30 October 2007

International Herald Tribune- Immunity deals offered to Blackwater guards- 29 October 2007

COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY ORDER NUMBER 17 (REVISED)- STATUS OF THE COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY, MNF- 27 June 2004

Amnesty International Questions Rwandan Justice System

By Elizabeth Costner
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa

KIGALI, Rwanda – Amnesty International issued a press release on Friday urging governments worldwide to not transfer any individuals suspected of crimes during the 1994 Rwandan genocide for trial.   The organization raised several concerns with the Rwandan justice system related to its ability to investigate and prosecute crimes fairly and impartially, and in accordance with international standards of justice.   

Amensty highlighted three main issues that need to be addressed: concerns about the right to a fair trial within Rwanda; the risk of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment including “appalling prison conditions”; and the ability of the systems that are in place to ensure that victims and witnesses that take part in the process are provided full protection and support.

Amnesty International also urged the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to not transfer any of its cases to Rwanda until the government addresses the issues raised.  The ICTR was created in 1994 by the Security Council and tries the most serious cases in Arusha, Tanzania.  To date, the court has tried 27 cases and issued 22 convictions.   

The Rwandan government has made several formal and informal requests to various governments for the extradition of several individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.   In June of this year, Rwanda abolished the death penalty in hopes that it would enable countries that object to capital punishment to extradite suspects. 

In 2001 the country turned to the traditional “gacaca” system, when the jails were packed with more than 100,000 genocide suspects.  Amnesty argues that “the guarantees of fair trials are not applied in the gacaca courts” that that “drains the whole legal system.”

Rwanda has rejected all of Amnesty International’s objections as unfounded.  Rwanda’s prosecutor general, John Ngoga, told IRIN: “What Amnesty International is not offering is actual facts and evidence…It’s just blatant allegations.  We will continue to pursue fugitives, wherever they are.”  Ngoga further accused Amnesty of agitating for impunity.

Since the genocide ended 13 years ago, Rwanda has been keen to play a role in the prosecution of those responsible in the orchestrated slaughter of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.  Many see the use of domestic courts, rather than international or foreign courts, as being key to calming tensions that have persisted.   

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica.com – Rwanda: Country Scoffs at Amnesty Claims – 3 November 2007

BBC News – ‘Don’t extradite’ Rwanda suspects – 2 November 2007

AFP – Don’t extradite Rwandan genocide suspects: Amnesty – 2 November 2007

AllAfrica.com – Rwanda: Genocide Justice System Prompts Row With Amnesty – 2 November 2007

AllAfrica.com – Rwanda: Amnesty International Asks the ICTR Not to Transfer Cases –2 November 2007

VOA News – Amnesty Urges Governments Not to Extradite Genocide Suspects to Rwanda – 2 November 2007

AllAfrica.com – Rwanda: Prosecutors Trained to Handle Genocide Cases – 2 November 2007

Another Hijacked Ship

By Myriam Clerge
Impunity Watch Reporter, Eastern and Southern Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – Two ships were hijacked in two consecutive days off the coast of Somalia. A Japanese chemical tanker with 23 crewmen was hijacked on Sunday and a North Korean vessel was hijacked either late Monday or early Tuesday. The East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme and the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, a regional maritime organization and a piracy watchdog respectively, confirmed the hijacking of the Japanese ship known as the Golden Nory. Although a U.S. destroyer sank two skiffs attached to the ship, it remained under pirate’s control. The fate of the Japanese tanker and its crewmen are presently unknown, however the U.S. Navy continues to monitor its movement.

Fortunately, the crew of the North Korean ship, MV Dai Hong Dan, was able to overpower the hijackers. According to reports of the investigation, the same men that were supposed to dock the ship conceived the hijacking plan. After its seizure, militiamen demanded $15,000 ransom to release the ship and its crew on Tuesday. That same day, the U.S. Navy received a distress call from the ship. A helicopter was dispatched to the vessel to investigate the call and soon after the 22 crewmen overwhelmed the five hijackers, leaving two dead.

According to Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell, the assistance of the U.S. military was not an indication of a more aggressive stance at Somali piracy however the surge of terrorist involvement is a concern. In total this marks the 26th ship attacked by Somali pirates this year, presently four boats are being held by armed pirates.

Somalia has been in a state of anarchy since 1991. The transitional government and Ethiopian forces has been unable to keep the streets of the capital safe, never mind the coasts of the country.

For more information please see:

Yahoo News (AP)- US Military Takes on Latter-day Pirates – 2 November 2007

BBC – Pirates ‘Overpowered’ Off Somalia – 30 October 2007

Reuters: Africa- Somali Pirates Hijack Japanese Tanker – 29 October 2007

AllAfrica.com- Somalia: U.S. Navy Saves Korean Hijacked Vessel off Coast – 30 October 2007

Yahoo News- With US Help, Ship Crew Defeats Pirates – 30 October 2007

Reuters: Africa- Somali Pirates Seize another Ship – 30 October 2007

BRIEF: Ugandan Rebels Ask for ICC Charges to be Dropped

KAMPALA, Uganda – The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has sent a peace declaration to the Ugandan government, but are asking that the ICC indictments against rebel leader Joseph Kony and three of his top commanders.  The chief rebel negotiator and legal advisor have asked for the Ugandan government’s help in securing a UN Security Council 12-month renewable suspension of the indictments.   

Kony and his commanders are wanted by the ICC for the alleged war crimes of killing civilians, hacking off limbs and kidnapping children to use as soldiers.  Analysts agree that a peace deal will be difficult until the warrants are lifted.  The government, however, insists that it will only ask for the ICC to drop the indictments if the LRA signs a comprehensive peace agreement to end the two decades of fighting. 

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica.com – Uganda: Help Us On ICC Warrants, LRA Asks Ssekandi – 2 November 2007

AllAfrica.com – Uganda: Rebels ‘Ready to Make Peace’ But Want ICC Charges Dropped – 2 November 2007

AllAfrica.com – Uganda: LRA Negotiators Arrive in Kampala – 1 November 2007

Azerbaijan Editor Sentenced to Eight and a Half Years Over Article

By Kevin Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAKU, Azerbaijan – An Azerbaijani newspaper editor was sentenced on Tuesday to eight and a half years in prison over an article on Iran. The Court for Grave Crimes convicted Eynulla Fatullayev, the founder and editor of the now extinctReal Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan Daily newspapers, on charges of terrorism, incitement of ethnic hatred and tax evasion. The decision came amid a steady rise in the Azerbaijan authorities’ harassment of independent press this year.

This is the second time Fatullayev has been brought to trial this year. In April, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for dubious libel charge.

His lastest trial focused on terrorism charge in which an article in Real Azerbaijan listed various facilities in Azerbaijan to be in danger of retaliation if the government chooses to support the American military action against Iran. Even though the former Soviet republic pledged that it will not assist U.S. in its operation, people along the border live with constant rumors over the possibility that the United States could use their territory to attack neighboring Iran. The charge of inciting racial hatred also derived from this article when he warned that this policy could revive ethnic tension within Azerbaijan.

Furthermore, Fatullayev was fined more than 200,000 Manat (approximately $235,000) for alleged tax evasion.

Fatullayev’s lawyer believes that neither the terrorism and its related charges nor the tax evasion charge can be substantiated with plausible evidence. Rights group around the globe also questions how the commentary could be construed as advocating ethnic hatred and warrants a criminal prosecution. In addition, his lawyer believes that reported calcuation behind the tax evasion charge was erroneous.

Fatullayev denounced the verdict as politically motivated. Fatullayev is known in Azerbaijan for his frequent criticism of the government. Consequently, he has been a victim of harassment and intimidation for many years. His father was once kidnapped and the kidnappers threatened to kill both Fatullayev and his father unless he stopped publishing his newspapers. His father was eventually released, but the kidnappers remained at large. Fatullayev and his family also received many death threats but Azerbaijan authorities refused to investigate these claims.

A US based rights organization rated that Azerbaijan is among the world’s worst ten states for press freedom.

For more information, please see:

Associated Press – Azerbaijan editor jailed over article – 1 November 2007

Amnesty International – Prisoner of conscience sentenced to a further eight and a half years’ imprisonment – 1 November 2007

Reporters Without Borders – Long jail term for newspaper editor confirms Azerbaijan’s poor ranking in world press freedom index – 31 October 2007

Human Rights Watch – Outspoken editor sentenced to eight years and six months – 30 October 2007

Reuters – Azeri court quadruples jailed reporter’s sentence – 30 October 2007

Deadly Clash in Niger Delta

By Meryl A. White
Impunity Watch Reporter, Western and Central Africa

NIGER DELTA, Nigeria – During a clash between the Nigerian navy and suspected militants in the Niger Delta, two people were killed. The attack occurred near a Shell oilfield.

This attack follows the five-month ceasefire against workers of the oil industry. The ceasefire was an attempt for armed groups in the area to abandon their weapons and seek discussion with the Nigerian government.

The militant group called the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has refused the option of ceasefire.

In a MEND email, the militant group stated “The attack was to again prove to the oil majors and the Nigerian government that the presence of the Nigerian military in the Niger Delta cannot deter an attack nor provide protection to oil facilities when we decide to attack them.”

Since January 2006, more than 200 oil workers have been kidnapped by armed militants and criminal gangs in the oil rich region. These militants want more of the oil revenues to be spent on developing infrastructure in local poverty stricken communities.

Currently, criminal gangs take advantage of Nigeria’s oil state, as it allows for targeted kidnapping of wealthy and political individuals. According to journalist, Tony Tamuno, “It is all about cash; criminals have taken over,” he said. Conversely, other militants take hostages in an attempt to gain more political rights.

The “commercialization” of kidnappings has lead to much instability in the region. The abductions as a whole have been a major detriment to Nigeria’s oil export industry, as it has cut oil production by one quarter. More than 150 foreigners have been seized in 2007 alone.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Nigerian Navy in Deadly Oil Clash – 31 October 2007

Reuters Africa – Nigeria says stability in Niger Delta improving – 1 November 2007

Reuters Africa – Nigerian Militants Attack Navy Vessel, Kill One – 1 November 2007

Impunity Watch – Gunmen in Nigeria Seize Chief’s Son – 13 July 2007

Impunity Watch – Twelve Hostages Released in Nigeria – 12 June 2007

Israel evicts Palestinians

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

HEBRON, West Bank – On October 29, nearly 300 Palestinians living on the Israeli side of the separation barrier were handed eviction orders by Israeli soldiers.  Soldiers broke up the encampment and told the 27 families to move to Idhna village, located on the other side of the barrier.  No comment is available from Israeli authorities.

The separation barrier, approved by the Israeli government in 2002, is a combination of concrete wall, barbed wire, and fencing separating Israel from the West Bank.  Israel maintains that the purpose of the barrier is security; to prevent bombers from entering Israel.  Israel began building the separation barrier in 2002 and has completed 56% of the planned route.  Of the 260 km remaining, 100 km are currently being disputed in Israeli court and 160 km are still in the planning phase.

Some Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community condemn the barrier as contrary to international law and causing serious humanitarian crises.  Their argument rests on the fact that the barrier is not built on the “Green Line” – the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank – but rather “snakes” into Palestinian lands in the West Bank.  The route creates niches of Palestinians villages surrounded by the barrier, limiting the resident’s access to the West Bank and more importantly, their farmland.

According to the Ministry of Defense, as of March 2007, there were 39 petitions concerning the separation barrier waiting to be heard by Israel’s Supreme Court; 28 of them involved objections to the planned route.  In September 2007, the court ordered Israel to re-route the barrier in the Bilin area. The three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the planned route was “highly prejudicial” against the villagers and ordered that an alternative route be mapped out.

The Israeli Supreme Court held that the villagers were being discriminated against by having their land seized and their olives trees cut down for construction.  While Bilin residents celebrate, the Israeli Supreme Court has rejected petitions in the past, holding that Israel’s security interests outweigh the negative impacts on Palestinians when no alternative route exists.  However, in 2004, the International Court of Justice held that building the barrier along the planned route is contrary to international law and construction of the wall on occupied territory should be suspended.

For more information, please see:

Jerusalem Post – Fence section completion since July: 0 – 31 October 2007

AFP – Israel evicts Palestinians on “wrong” side of barrier – 29 October 2007

AFP – Court orders Israel to re-route barrier – 4 September 2007

Ministry of Defense – Status report – legal aspects of the Security Fence – 1 March 2007

International Court of Justice – Advisory Opinion – 9 July 2004