UPDATE: Pakistan Opposition Parties Form Coalition Government

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,

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