BRIEF: Bahrain Extends Amnesty Deadline

Bahrain has extended its amnesty deadline for illegal workers to January 31, 2008.  The purpose of the extending the deadline is enable illegal workers to stay in Bahrain or leave the country without having to pay high penalties for violating their contracts.  The amnesty was issued as a response to the reported abuses of migrant workers.

The government stated that the amnesty has been successful and that 80% of the illegal workers have benefited from the amnesty.  Around 12,000 workers have already left the country and 22,000 workers legalized their stay.  However, the government is committed to helping the remaining 20%  of illegal workers through amnesty and has promised to launch an “inspection campaign next week to ensure that no one is working in Bahrain illegally.”

For more information, please see:

Gulf Daily News- New deadline for amnesty seekers- 31 December 2007

Human Rights Watch Urges Morocco to Investigate Rights Activists Beating

By Kevin Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

RABAT, Morocco – Human Rights Watch on Friday urged the Moroccan Ministry of Justice to investigate the police beating and intimidation of two human rights activists in Western Sahara. More importantly, the New York-based rights organization expressed “concern that the action is part of a broader attack on human rights monitoring by the authorities in the Western Sahara region.”

Police allegedly detained Dahha Rahmouni and Brahim Alansari, members of two nongovernmental human rights organizations in El-Ayoun, on December 14 and beat them while in custody. Two days later, the authorities released both without charge, but threatened to use statements they were compelled to sign if they continued their activities. Rahmouni is a member of unrecognized organization based in El-Ayoun called the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations. Alansari is a member of the legally recognized Moroccan Association of Human Rights.

Rahmouni and Alansari are known as sympathizers of the independence movement Polisario Front in Western Sahara. In 1976, Morocco annexed the northwest African territory of 260,000 people after Spain withdrew from what is known as “Spanish Sahara.” Although the Moroccan government has offered it autonomy, Polisario Front movement is calling for full independence.

Currently, talks between the two sides are at stalemate. Two rounds of talks to resolve the 32-year-old dispute were held in June and August this year, but each side had stuck to “rigid position.” January 7 negotiation is impending, but many believe the outcome is not hopeful based on past history.

Human Rights Watch said “the Moroccan authorities tightly restrict independent human rights activities in the contested Western Sahara region on the pretext that several rights organizations there violate Moroccan law by espousing independence for Western Sahara,” and added that “authorities frequently keep activists in these organizations under police surveillance and subject them to various forms of harassment.”

The Morrocan government denies all allegations of mistreating independence activists.

For more information, please see:

The Washington Times – Endless conflict in West Sahara – 30 December 2007

Reuters – Morocco urged to probe beating of rights activists – 29 December 2007

Human Rights Watch – Investigate police beating of rights activists in Western Sahara – 28 December 2007

BRIEF: Kibaki Re-elected as President of Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya – The electoral commission has declared that Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki won Thursday’s contested election, amid accusations by opposition leader Raila Odinga that Mr. Kibaki used electoral fraud to win.  Opposition protesters in Nairobi began riots minutes after the announcement.  Mr. Kibaki won with 4,584,721 votes, more than 230,000 more than Mr. Odinga. 

President Kibaki was sworn in for his second five-year term an hour after the announcement was made.  He described the election as “free and fair” and urged all political parties to “accept the verdict of the people.” 

At least 14 people have died in the Nairobi rioting since the vote on Thursday.  The electoral commission suspended announcing the results until Sunday, promising to look into the allegations of fraud.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Kibaki named victor in Kenya vote – 30 December 2007

AP – Kenya Candidate Claims Rigging in Vote – 30 December 2007

Reuters – Kibaki wins Kenya vote, protests erupt – 30 December 2007

Sudan Accuses Chad of Bombing Territory

By Elizabeth Costner
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudan has accused Chad of bombing its territory and sending troops across their shared border, and warned that Khartoum may have to retaliate. Sudan’s Foreign Ministry stated on Saturday that the Friday bombing followed similar attacks in West Darfur earlier this month and in April. Chad’s Foreign Minister Ahmat Allam-mi defended the bombing as necessary to counter Darfur fighters he claimed were preparing to attack Chad’s forces.  Chad denies sending any troops into Sudanese territory.

There has been tension between the two countries over the conflict in Darfur with each side accusing the other of aiding the rebel groups.  Both countries have reiterated their right to undertake any measures they deem necessary for self-defensive purposes.  Khartoum has stated they reserve “its full right to respond in self-defense in the place and at the time Sudan’s interest dictate.”  Chad countered by reminding Sudan of “Chad’s right to take all means to assure its security, notably by preventive measures.”

Meanwhile, a 26,000 strong joint AU and UN peacekeeping force is scheduled to start deployment in Sudan on January 1.  A 7,000 strong AU force has been in Darfur for the last three years, but has been largely unsuccessful.  50 African troops have died, including 12 in the deadliest attack on an AU base in September. 

The increased force was approved by the UN Security Council in July but will not be fully operational until later in 2008.  There have been numerous accusations that Khartoum has stalled the deployment and that contributing countries are not supplying enough hardware. 

UNAMID head Radolphe Adada warned that “the situation in Darfur will not be transformed overnight” but that they “are optimistic that the deployment of UNAMID will help to begin to improve the security situation in Darfur and create a climate favourable to the achievement of a negotiated settlement of the conflict.” 

For more information, please see:

International Herald Tribune – Sudan criticizes Chad for bombing territory, sending troops across border – 30 December 2007

AFP – New Darfur peacekeepers set to take over Jan 1 – 30 December 2007

Reuters – Sudan accuses Chad of bombing Darfur, Chad denies – 30 December 2007

Reuters – Little relief for Darfur seen from new peace force – 30 December 2007

BRIEF: Alarming Malnutrition in Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sudan – A joint survey carried out by the government and the United Nations found that child malnutrition rates have reached their highest level in three years in war-torn Darfur.  The overall malnutrition rate reached 16.1 per cent this year, compared to 12.9 per cent last year. 

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) continuing insecurity is one of the primary causes.  Access to those in need is compromised due to fighting and violence against civilians and aid workers.  Other contributing causes are poor feeding practices, inadequate sanitation, low health coverage, and low coverage of special feeding programs. 

There are currently more than 13,000 relief workers in Darfur who work for 13 United Nations agencies and 80 private groups, with an annual budget of a billion dollars.  Attacks on aid workers are on the rise, making it more difficult to get aid to the 290,000 civilians displaced in Darfur this year alone. 

For more information, please see:

AllAfrica.com – New UN Survey Reveals Alarming Malnutrition Rates Among Darfur’s Children – 28 December 2007

AP – Child Malnutrition on Risk in Darfur – 27 December 2007

New York Times – Despite Aid, Malnutrition in Darfur Rises – 26 December 2007