BRIEF: Saudi Police Arrest 57 Men for “Flirting”

MECCA, Saudi Arabia – On February 23, the Prosecution and Investigation Commission started an investigation into 57 young men arrested on February 21 for allegedly “flirting” with girls at malls in Mecca.  The men were arrested by regular police officers after the police were summoned to the malls by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the religious police or Muttawa.  According to the Saudi Gazette, an English-language daily, the muttawa sent 20 of its staff and policemen to Meccan malls to arrest the young men, who were transferred to the Al-Mansour Police Station.

The young men are accused of wearing “indecent clothing and playing loud music and dancing” to attract the attention of the opposite sex.  The men found innocent upon investigation will be released and the others will be referred to the court of law.

For more information, please see:
AFP – Saudi Police Crack Down on Flirting in Mecca – 23 February 2008

BBC – Saudi Men Arrested for “Flirting” – 23 February 2008

Saudi Gazette – 57 Men Nabbed for Flirting – 23 February 2008

Peace Now: Blatant Discrimination Against Palestinians

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

JERUSALEM, Israel – On February 21, Peace Now, an Israeli organization that monitors settlement expansion, released a report in which the group states that there is a clear policy of discrimination against Palestinians.  As the result of the Olso Accords, the West Bank was divided into three different areas: Area A, controlled by the Palestinian Authority; Area B, controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Israel; and Area C, controlled by Israel.  In order to build private homes, expand private homes, or to build public buildings and infrastructure in Area C, a permit needs to be issued by the Israeli Civil Administration.

The Peace Now report states that between 2000 and 2007, less than 6% of building permits submitted by Palestinians have been approved.  During this period, only 91 (of 1,624) building permits submitted by Palestinians were approved, while 18,472 homes were built in the West Bank for Israeli settlers.  Also, the report states that of the 4,993 demolition orders issued to Palestinians, 1,663 were carried out, resulting in a 33% rate of demolition.  In contrast, of the 2,900 demolition orders issued to Israeli settlement buildings, 199 demolitions were carried out, resulting in a 7% rate of demolition.

Most of the demolitions have been carried out against private homes and buildings that were built illegally without a permit.  Captain Zidki Maman, spokesman for the IDF unit that oversees civil affairs in the West Bank, stated that “If Palestinians would submit request for building permits, there could be thousands more approvals.”  However, Palestinians frequently complain that the authorities reject most building requests as a matter of policy.

The status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank remains a focal point in the peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Abbas.  At the beginning of the talks, Olmert announced a settlement freeze in which no new settlements would be built, but did not limit the construction of new homes in existing settlements.  As a result, the expansion of settlements continues; evidenced by new homes in settlements such as Eli, south of Nablus, and Maskiot, in the Jordan valley.

While the IDF oversees all settlement activity and is aware of the construction, it has not approved the construction or issued permits for the construction.  Maman stated that the IDF is aware of the situation and “in the end, all illegal building is taken care of.”  He declined to say whether the illegal homes would be dismantled.

Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer stated “the Civil Administration figures clarify that the West Bank territories controlled by Israel are for Jews only.” Also, Oppenheimer said that “the data proves that the discrimination is clearly and blatantly against the Palestinian population, and the denial of permits and the firm enforcement in the Palestinian communities raises the suspicion that this is an intentional policy aimed at bringing about a quiet transfer of the Palestinians from Area C.”

For more information, please see:
BBC – W Bank Building “Bias” Condemned – 21 February 2008

Peace Now – Area C: Palestinian Construction and Demolition Stats – 21 February 2008

Yedioth – Peace Now: Only Palestinians’ Houses Demolished – 21 February 2008

Ha’aretz – Construction Continuing in West Bank Settlements Despite PM’s Pledge – 20 February 2008

Jerusalem Post – IDF Says Homes Still Being Built in Eli – 20 February 2008

YouTube – Making Maskiot: Israel’s Settlement Expansion – 20 February 2008

Reuters – ISRAEL-OPT: House Demolitions Cause Palestinians to Leave Village – 19 February 2008

Brief: War Crimes Sentences Upheld in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – In a decision handed down last year, Alex Tamba Brima, Santigie Borbor Kanu, and Brima Bazzy Kamara were sentenced to 50, 50, and 45 years respectivly for eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The crimes against the former leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Counsel included rape, terrorism civilians, and abductions. The crimes were committed during the country’s 1991-2002 conflict.

Presiding judge George Gelaga King said he found no reason to reduce the sentences noting that “Women and young girls were gang raped to death. … Sons were forced to rape mothers, brothers were forced to rape sisters” and that “Men were disembowe[l]ed and their intestines stretched across a road to form a barrier. Human heads were placed on sticks on either side of the road to mark such barriers.”

 For more information, please see:

Special Court for Sierra Leon Press Release – Appeals Chamber Upholds Sentences of Convicted AFRC Leaders – 22 February 2008

Reuters – S.Leone court upholds sentences on militia chiefs – 22 February 2008

BRIEF: Khmer Rouge Judges to Visit Genocide Sites

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Co-investigating Khmer Rouge Tribunal judges will inspect the Tuol Sleng Torture Center and the killing fields outside as part of their investigations actions. Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, will lead them through the sites and describe his past actions for the judges. He oversaw the torture center during the Khmer Rouge Regime and is alleged to be responsible for nearly 16,000 deaths.

During the Khmer Rouge regime, over 16,000 persons were sent to the Tuol Sleng Torture Center where they were tortured and then executed in the nearby killing fields. Only a handful is known to survive. The killing fields nearby are littered with numerous mass graves. Thus far, Kaing Guek Eav has not denied allegations against him. The investigations will be closed to the public; however, there is some suspicion that some of the regime’s victims will be present.

For more information, please see:

The Earthtimes – Khmer Rouge Court Judges to Inspect Cambodian Genocide Sites – 22 February 2008

Radio News Netherlands – Cambodia Tribunal to Visit KRouge Torture Centre – 22 February 2008

BRIEF: Child Soldiers in Sri Lanka – Human Rights Watch Calls for Sanctions

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka- In the midst of new fighting between the Sri Lankan government and rebel groups, the United Nations Security Council’s working group on children is meeting today to review the situation of children in the country.  United States based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the United Nations to sanction both the rebels and the government for using or condoning the use of child soldiers.

The HRW press release states that the rebel groups, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Karuna group (a faction that split from the LTTE in 2004), use child soldiers in blatant violation of international law.  According to the release, the Sri Lankan government should also be held responsible because it fails to investigate cases of child recruitment and abduction.  There are also allegations that the government’s security forces have assisted in child abductions.

In October 2007, the rebel groups signed an agreement to release all of their child soldiers by the end of 2007, however UNICEF reported that at least 196 children were working under the rebels as of the end of January 2008.

According to Jo Becker, child rights advocate at HRW, “the Security Council should punish [the rebels’] brazen violations with concrete action.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – UN: Sanction LTTE, Karuna Group for Child Soldiers – 21 February 2008

International Herald Tribune – Rights group lashes rebels, government over child soldiers as fighting rages in Sri Lanka – 21 February 2008

UPDATE: Pakistan Opposition Parties Form Coalition Government

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan- On Thursday, Pakistan’s two main opposition parties announced that they had formed a coalition government.  After winning the majority of parliamentary seats in Monday’s election (see Impunity Watch briefhere), the parties agreed to put aside their differences and agree upon “a common agenda.”

It is expected that the coalition opposition government will put further pressure on President Pervez Musharraf.  The parties have already agreed thatMusharraf should immediately reinstate the chief justice he fired in November, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Pakistan People’s Party leader, Asif Zardari, said that the parties had “a lot of ground to cover” but “in principle [they] have agreed to stay together.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Pakistan parties agree to coalition – 21 February 2008

Thailand Relaunches War on Drugs Despite Connection to Extrajudicial Killings

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer,
Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s Prime Minster Samak Sundaravej vowed to relaunch the country’s war on drugs despite its past connections to more than 2,500 extrajudicial killings. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej stated, “We will pursue a suppression campaign rigorously. There will be consequences [to drug use].” The Prime Minister said the government would not be deterred by allegations that extrajudicial killings were being committed by the police. Interior Minster Chalerm Yubamrung, a former police captain, supported the Prime Minister when he said that he would adopt Thaksin’s approach in his anti-drug campaign even if “thousands of people have to die. When we implement a policy that may bring 3,000 to 4,000 bodies, we will do it.”

Soon after Thailand’s announcement, human rights groups warned that the country may be heading down a similar path as the anti-drug campaign launched by ousted Prime Minster Thaksin Shinawatra in 2003. During the original campaign, there were allegations that police were forced to create lists of suspects to be targeted, and police officers included innocent persons on them. Human rights groups also alleged that nearly 2,500 extrajudicial killing occurred during the first “war on drugs.” The Thai government, however, blames most of the deaths on inter-gang warfare.

The Thai government responded to claims of innocent deaths and extrajudicial killings. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej denied that innocent persons had died. He asked reporters, “If they were innocent, why were they killed?” Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej also denied that numerous persons were killed by police. He said, “I have no doubt that 2,500 people were killed. It could even be 5,000, but what can the government do when they are killing each other? If police killed someone, then we would call that an extra-judicial killing. There are only 59 such cases, and the police are standing trial for those deaths.”

The Thai government recently arrested anti-drug police for their actions during the original war on drugs. In late January, the government arrested Captain Nat Chonnithiwanit and seven other members of the 41st Border Patrol Police unit for criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, forced intrusion, threatening others with weapons, detaining others, and abducting minors under the age of 15. Thus far, 61 complaints have been filed with the Justice Ministry, alleging that the 41st Border Patrol Police have abducted and tortured them to extract confessions. Victims alleged that they have been electrocuted, suffocated with plastic bags, and severely beaten.

Despite the arrests and the complaints, Human Rights Watch [HRW] questions the Thailand government’s commitment to prosecuting police officers accused of extrajudicial killings. The Royal Police has praised Captain Nat Chonnithiwanit for several years for his service as a role model. Also, Police General Seriphisut Temiyavej, national police commissioner-general, has recently threatened to take legal action against anyone who makes false complaints against police officers. Police General Seriphisut Temiyavej also stated that he does not believe that extrajudicial killings are more than 50 or 60.

Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, responded to the recent statements by the Police General, “Thailand’s national police commissioner-general should be encouraging victims to come forward, not threatening them with legal action. Seriphisut’s threats against victims of police abuse further fuel this vicious cycle of abuses and impunity.”

For more information, please see,

Bangkok Post – PM Prepares to Revive War on Drugs – 22 February 2008

HRW – Thailand: Prosecute Anti-Drug Police Identified in Abuses – 7 February 2008

Reuters – Thai PM Vows Rigorous War on Drugs Despite Outcry – 22 February 2008

Brief: Second Breakthrough in Uganda Peace Talks this Week

KAMPALA, Uganda – Agreement was reached today between the Loards Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government. The surprise agreement comes one day after talks broke down and only three days after an agreement between the two groups regarding trials for alleged war criminals was reached. Today’s agreement does not guarantee the LRA all the positions within the government it sought, but LRA members will be able to be considered for diplomatic, military, and government positions.

The peace process in Uganda began in 2006 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is expected to be signed next week. Included in the CPA will be a date upon which the LRA will lay down their arms.

BBC News – New breakthrough in Uganda talks – 22 February 2008

allAfrica.com – Uganda: Govt, LRA Sign Another Peace Agreement – 23 February 2008

Impunity Watch – Uganda’s Government and LRA Rebels Agree to Special Court for War Crimes – 20 February 2008

Iraq Rounding Up Homeless, Poor

By Ben Turner
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The Iraqi Interior Ministry launched a nationwide campaign on February 19, ordering Iraqi police officers to round up beggars, mentally disabled and homeless people for fear that they would be used as suicide bombers by insurgent groups.

“These [insurgent] groups are either luring those who desperate for money to help them in their attacks or making use of their poor mental condition to use them as suicide bombers” said Maj-Gen Abdul Karim Khalaf, a spokesman of the Iraqi Interior Ministry.

Khalaf said that beggars under the age of 18 would be brought to shelters and adult professional panhandlers would be charged with crimes. The mentally disabled would be taken to hospitals, he said.

“These people with mental defects can cause a lot of damage if they are left on the streets and taken advantage of by al-Qaida,” Khalaf said. “Their proper place is in the hospitals.”

Iraqi law forbids begging, but police have been too busy dealing with insurgent attacks to expend much energy taking care of panhandlers.

This crackdown is in response to a series of suicide bombings where insurgents have used the mentally disabled for suicide bomb attacks.  On February 1, two mentally disabled women were strapped with explosives in a crowded pet market in Baghdad.  The bombs were detonated by remote control, killing almost 100 people.

It was originally thought that the women suffered from Down syndrome, but that is not the case.  U.S. military spokesman for the Baghdad area, Lt. Col. Steve Stover, said, “Both [women] had recently received psychiatric treatment for depression and/or schizophrenia. From what we know now there’s no indication that they had Down syndrome.”

After news had spread about the crackdown, homeless and disabled people disappeared from the streets.  Police in central Baghdad detained eight beggars, three women and five men on February 20, but they found few other street people a day after the campaign was announced.  Those detained in the sweep were to be taken to social welfare institutions and psychiatric hospitals.  According to the Ministry, they will be safe there, as the hospitals can provide shelter and care.

It is not clear, however, how safe they would be in the hospitals.  American and Iraqi troops recently detained the acting director of the al-Rashad psychiatric hospital in eastern Baghdad on suspicion of helping supply patient information to al-Qaida in Iraq.

For more information, please see:
Los Angeles Times – IRAQ: Rounding up the poor – 21 February 2008

Associated Press – US: Bombers Didn’t Have Down Syndrome – 20 February 2008

BBC – Iraqi police detain street people – 20 February 2008

CNN – Iraq to round up homeless, mentally ill, to prevent bombings – 20 February 2008

The Guardian – US: Bombers Didn’t Have Down Syndrome – 20 February 2008

Lebnanews – IRAQ: Government moves to curb suicide bombings – 20 February 2008

The Washington Post – Iraq Moves To Halt Use of The Disabled In Bombings – 20 February 2008

UPDATE: AU Chairman Pushes for Agreement in Kenya

Jean Ping, the newly elected chairman of the African Union Commission, has said this weekend is critical for resolving the situation in Kenya and has called on both sides to agree on the exact terms of the recently agreed power-sharing plan. The remaining disagreement is likely to center around the amount of power to give the new position of prime minister.

Ping hopes that final agreement will be achieved next week. The AU has noted that the conflict in Kenya has hurt the region’s economy causing an economic slowdown.

For more information, please see:

Impunity Watch – BRIEF: Prime Minister Post Approved by Kenyan Negotiators – 21 February 2008

BBC News – AU head urges Kenya peace deal – 22 February 2008

Reuters – Africa’s top diplomat pushes Kenya rivals to agree – 22 February 2008

BRIEF: Amnesty International Claims Chadnian Government is Violating Human Rights

NAIROBI, Kenya – Amnesty International has accused the Chadian Government of persecuting political opposition members under the guise of a state of emergency. The state of emergency was declared February 14th by President Idriss Deby after a long standing armed opposition movement launched a major offensive on the capital city of N’Djamena. This movement has led low level insurgencies on towns since 2000. The latest offensive saw the rebels lay siege to the capital for three days, before government forces drove them out of the city. President Deby’s state of emergency gave provincial governors increased powers, instituted media controls, and imposed an overnight curfew.

Amnesty believes the government issued the state of emergency solely to flush out its political opposition. In the wake of the rebel attacks at least one opposition leader was arrested, and at least two others have disappeared. Amnesty International believes the government has used the state of emergency to “flush out and arrest supporters – actual or perceived – of political opposition parties.” The London-based organization is very concerned about the missing political members, and has urged Chad to either charge or release the detainee’s. It has also reached out to France, the former colonial occupant of Chad, to reveal any information it may possess with regards to the opposition leaders’ disappearance.  French authorities claim to be prioritizing the fate of the prisoners, but emerging information seems to point to the conclusion that the French Government knew about the arrests.

For more information, please see:

Yahoo! News – Amnesty: Chadian opposition persecuted – 21 February 2008

allAfrica.com – Chad: Human Rights Crisis Brewing in Aftermath of Attack on N’Djamena – 20 February 2008

BRIEF: Prime Minister Post Approved by Kenyan Negotiators

NAIROBI, Kenya – After three weeks of back and forth talks of a power-sharing resolution, today’s meeting adjourned with a “more or less” agreement to a prime minister post. The details of the agreement have not been confirmed by Kofi Annan, who has been leading the negotiations between mediators for President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Annan has reported that a broad governance structure and a joint outline have been approved. Also, an amendment to the Kenyan Constitution will likely take place since the prime minister post does not currently exist within it. Oppositions are demanding the post carry a number of responsibilities and a necessary allocation of authority and power.

Although the tentative agreement by both sides is a positive sign that may cease the deadly clashes, the International Crisis Group’s Donald Steinberg is warning against making short-term deals without addressing long-term issues, mainly the division and resentment amongst the ethnic groups.

According to the recent ICG report, Kenya is balancing on the edge of violence until an agreement has been finalized and approved. On Wednesday, the opposition warned of a mass protest unless power-sharing talks continued. Today, a man was hacked to death in a Nairobi slum during a fight between Kiyuyus and Luos.

Odinga’s party and supporters argue that the power-sharing resolution is the only way to end the violence but some fear the compromise may spark new fighting.

Talks are expected to resume on Friday.

For more information please see:

Yahoo News- Kenya OKs Prime Minister for Rivals – 21 February 2008

BBC- Annan Hails Kenya Talks Progress – 21 February 2008

Brief: Upsurge of Violence in Darfur

DARFUR, Sudan – The bombing of a refugee camp in western Darfur and the presence of government forces and militia in the Jebel Moun region are “worrying signs”, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “that there will be continued hostility in the area.”

Although the camp was empty at the time several people were injured. Witnesses claim army planes were responsible for the bombing. The Sudanese army claims the offense was carried to clear out the Jem rebels whom they accuse of blocking aid deliveries to the area.

Between January 1st and January 24th, 23 fully loaded U.N. World Food Program trucks have been hijacked. Yesterday, Ban urged both sides to agree to a cease fire. UN humanitarian chief Sir John Holmes warns that the consequences for 20,000 civilians in the area could be disastrous, if the attacks continue.

Presently, only about 7,500 military personnel and 1,500 police officers are in Darfur. The UN and AU have authorized the deployment of 26,000 officers and troops.

Roughly 200,000 people have been killed and nearly 2.2 million displaced since the fighting began five years ago.

For more information please see:

BBC – Darfur Bombing is ‘Unacceptable’ – 20 February 2008

Yahoo News- UN chief urges cease-fire in Darfur – 20 February 2008

Kenya is at risk of Renewed Violence

By:  M. Brandon Maggiore
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report stating that Kenya is at risk of further violence if the political crisis is not resolved soon. Kofi Anan has been mediating talks in Narobi; however, an agreement has not been reached. There are armed groups preparing for attacks in support of both President Mwai Kibaki and the opposition.

Kenya’€™s opposition party will launch nationwide protests in one week. The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), led by Professor Peter Anyang Nyongo, accuses President Kibaki of derailing the gains made in negotiations. The ODM accuses President Kibaki of failing to respect both the wishes of the majority and the mediation led by Anan.

President Kibaki and affiliated parties will not accept a power-sharing deal that violates Kenya’s constitution. A solution to the political impasse proposed by President Kibaki’€™s rival, Raila Odinga, would create a sharing of power in which President Kibaki would remain head of state and Odinga would be the head of the government. In response to this proposal, Kenya’€™s foreign Affairs Minister, Moses Weangula, said, “Agreeing to enter into a quick fix for the sake of Raila is a betrayal of the people of Kenya and the constitution. Legitimizing an illegal deal that violates the constitution will mean that we will be playing in creating an illegal office of the prime minister.” The international community views a power-sharing agreement as the most viable solution to the political situation and supports such a plan.

Kofi Anan responded to discouraging reports asserting that the negotiations are going well and are on track.

Raila Odinga was first elected a Member of Parliament for the cosmopolitan constituency of Langata, Nairobi in December 1992. He retained his seat in general elections in 1997 and 2002.

Over 1,000 people have been killed and nearly 500,000 people have been displaced since President Kibaki was declared the winner of the December 2007 presidential election.  Human Rights Watch researchers have documented instances of extra judicial killings, excessive use of force by the police, and attacks based on ethnicity.

The ICG report warns that the risk of ethnic and territorial conflict and a failure of the democratic process in Kenya “would have sever[e] consequences for the whole of east Africa…”€

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Kenya ‘at risk of fresh violence’ – 21 February, 2008

Human Rights Watch – Kenya: Justice Key to Securing Lasting Peace – 17 February, 2008

Raila2007.com – About Raila Odinga – accessed 20 February, 2008

Africanews – Kenya opposition back to streets next week – 20 February, 2008

Africanews – Kenya: Kibaki rejects power sharing principle – 20 February, 2008

allAfrica.com – Kenya Talks Facing Uncertainty – 21 February, 2008

BRIEF: Khieu Samphan Halts Cooperation

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Jacques Verges, the lawyer for Khieu Samphan, has said that his client will no longer cooperate with the Khmer Rouge Tribunalbecause thousands of pages of evidence had yet to be translated to French. Jacques Verges stated that without the translation, he is unable to effectively defend his client. The court documents are in English only thus far.

Tribunal co-investigating judge Marcel Lemonde told AFP that other suspects have invoked their right to “remain silent at every stage of the proceedings.” However, Marcel Lemonde said that it would not delay the court’s investigation into the crimes. In an email, he said, “We have to organize the investigation differently, that’s it.”

Jacques Verges has been nicknamed “devil’s advocate” because of his past work defending the world’s most notorious criminals. During his legal career, he has defended Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, also known as Carlos the Jackal.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Khmer Rouge Leader Halts Cambodian Genocide Court Cooperation: Report – 20 February 2008