Thousands Protest Political Deal Behind Tahiti’s Presidential Election

By Hayley Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

PAPEETE, Tahiti –- More than 8,000 Tahitians marched through torrential rain on Saturday to protest a political deal that effectively turned the leader of the smallest party in Parliament into the President of French Polynesia.

The Tahitian government has long been plagued with instability. In the last four years, there have been seven governments and five different presidents. While Tahiti has its own assembly, president, and budget, it is still a semi-autonomous territory of France, and receives subsidies, education, and security from the French government.

Before the election, Gaston Tong Sang, of the Tatou Aia party, was favored to win the presidency after his coalition won 27 of the 57 seats in Parliament, only two short of an absolute majority. Gaston Flosse, leader of the Tahoeraa Huiraatira (People’s Rally) party, was sworn into office last month after winning only 10 seats.

Flosse was elected after making a deal with his political foe, Oscar Temaru, who was also the leader of Parliament’s second largest party, Union for Democracy, which won 20 seats. The coalition combined enough seats in Parliament to win Flosse the election. On Friday, Temaru was made Speaker of the French Assembly.”The last one in the race is running the land” Tong Sang said.

Following Friday’s political deal, Flosse’s coalition immediately dropped from 30 to 28.“Tomorrow they will only be 20,” hinted an official to Tong Sang’s eight-party coalition, referring to a possible motion of no confidence against Flosse’s new government directly following the municipal elections.

News of the Flosse- Temaru political coalition was ill-received in Paris where the ruling party, Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), condemned the deal as “against nature.” Although once supportive of Flosse’s party, the UMP announced it would cut all ties to protest the election.

Saturday’s demonstration was also aimed at mobilizing Tahitians to vote against Flosse’s party candidates in the upcoming municipal elections which are scheduled for March 9 and March 16.   

For more information, please see:

The Sydney Morning Herald — Political deal angers French Polynesians — 3 March 2008

Tahiti Presse — Some 8,500 Tong Sang supporters march to protest Flosse’s election — 3 March 2008

Pacific Magazine — French Polynesia’s Flosse Unveils Coalition Government Line-up — 3 March 2008

Pacific Magazine — Close To 10,000 In Post-Election Pape-ete March — 3 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Nearly 9,000 march in French Polynesia against political deals — 3 March 2008

State of Emergency Declared in Armenia

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

YEREVAN, Armenia – On March 1, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan declared a state of emergency.  This declaration followed clashes between state police and protesters in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.  The Armenian Health Ministry reported that the violence left eight individuals dead and 131 people, including 57 police officers, injured.

Protesters began to gather in the capital on February 20, to demonstrate against what they claim to be “rigged” elections.  The February 19 presidential elections resulted in Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian winning a 53% majority to the opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian’s 21.5%.  For ten days, protesters engaged in peaceful demonstrations, which consisted of mostly marches and slogan chanting.  By March 1, over 15,000 people had gathered in Yerevan to protest the election results.

The opposition and protesters claim that the government rigged the election in favor of Sarkisian, a close ally of Kocharyan, the current president.  While most media report that election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) claimed that the elections were “mostly democratic,” the New York Times writes otherwise.

According to the New York Times, OSCE observers concluded that 16% of the count was “bad” or “very bad.”  They state that in one recount, a Western observer opened an envelope supposedly containing ballots for Sarkisian; however, the top ballot was marked for Ter-Petrosian.  Also, there are claims that votes were bought and that television coverage, which is mostly state run, was “embarrassingly skewed.”

On March 1, protesters and state police clashed in the capital; resulting in President Kocharyan declaring a state of emergency.  The source of the violence is disputed.  According to Reuters, Kocharyan accused demonstrators of firing weapons and grenades and planning a coup.  However, the opposition states that weapons were planted near the demonstrators’ camp, that the police used force to disperse the opposition supporters, and that the violence escalated after a protester was killed by the police.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, both expressed concern over the lethal force used by the state’s police and military against the demonstrators.  HRW called for an immediate investigation of whether lethal force was used in accordance to international law.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials limits the use of lethal force to the minimum extent necessary.  This means that lethal force may be used only when less extreme means are insufficient to protect lives.

The state of emergency is in effect until March 20.  During this period all public gatherings are banned and a media blackout is imposed.

For more information, please see:
ArmenPress – Parliament Confirms State of Emergency, Health Authorities Confirm Death of 8 People Killed in Clashes – 2 March 2008

BBC – Eight Killed in Armenia Protests – 2 March 2008

Human Rights Watch – Armenia: Civilians Die as Police Suppress Demonstrations and Riots – 2 March 2008

The Independent – Riots over Vote Force State of Emergency in Armenia – 2 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – Armenia Clamps Down after Post-Election Violence – 2 March 2008

New York Times – Protesters and Police Clash as Armenia Unrest Grows – 2 March 2008

Reuters – Eight Killed in Armenia Protests, OSCE Sent – 2 March 2008

UN News Centre – Deadly Post-Election Protests in Armenia Concern UN Human Rights Chief – 2 March 2008

Human Trafficking Across North Korea-China Border

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea is a source for men, women, and children trafficking.  The men, women, and children are used for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. North Korea was rated as a Tier 3 country in US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Person Report in 2005. Since then, the government has failed to comply with minimal international standards to prevent the human trafficking from its borders.

Between 80 percent and 90 percent of the refugees from North Korean, especially women and young children, end up as trafficking victims in China. Reports estimate tens of thousands of North Koreans are believed to be hiding in China. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to traffickers in China because the Chinese government’s policy of detaining the refugees and sending them back to North Korea.

In the most common form of trafficking, North Korean women and children who voluntarily cross the border into China are picked up by trafficking rings and sold as brides to Chinese or placed in forced labor. However, sometimes North Korean women and girls are lured out of North Korean by the promise of food, jobs and freedom, only to be forced into prostitution, marriage, or exploitative labor arrangements once in China.

A young woman was sold to a 34-year-old Chinese man for marriage and deported to North Korea. There, she was thrown into a North Korean State Safety and Security Agency Camp, where she was forced to undress and physically abused. According to her statement, pregnant inmates were forced to miscarry on the grounds they were bearing Chinese children. She also expressed that she is willing to go back to the Chinese man who bought her first because she had a better life with him, as well for the benefits to her blind mother and young brother.

A senior U.S. official urged China to change its law to protect victims of trafficking instead of returning them home, and also to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to operate along the border region with North Korea.

For more information, please see:

The Chosun Ilbo – Human Trafficking Thrives Across N.Korea-China Border – 2 March 2008

U.S. Department of State – North Korean Refugees Frequent Victims of Human Trafficking – 20 July 2005

U.S.State Department Trafficking in Persons Report – Human Trafficking & Modern-Day Slavery – June 2007

YonHap News – US Blames China on NK Human Trafficking – 3 March 2008

Land Clashes Break Out in Western Kenya as Power-Sharing Talks Resume

By Ted Townsend
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

NAIROBI, Kenya – At least 13 villagers were killed early Monday when dozens of people with assault rifles and machetes stormed a village in western Kenya. Among the dead were six children. Police in the area placed the blame on the Sabaot Land Defense Force, a militia group fighting for the redistribution of land in the Mount Elgon region in western Kenya. The victims were accused by the militia of not paying protection money, according to the police.

A National Police spokesman said the attack was in Embaski village, 300 miles northwest of Nairobi.  The village sees frequent, bloody clashes over land.

The militia reportedly shot some villagers, while others were burned alive in their homes. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a three-year old child hacked to death as he ran from his parents house and a pregnant woman burned alive in her own home.

The bloodshed in western Kenya was not necessarily linked to the chaos that has engulfed the country for months. However, land disputes were one of the major unresolved issues as power-sharing talks between the government and the opposition resumed in Nairobi.

Last week, the power-sharing deal was signed, ending months of turmoil that followed the disputed December 27, 2007 election in which over 1,000 were killed, and 300,000 more were left homeless. The committee in charge of the mediation talks will next work with “Agenda Four.” This covers, among other items, essential changes in law and the Constitution, and their application to disputes over land and wealth.

Former United Nations leader and Chief Mediator Kofi Annan left the country this week, after forty-two days of diplomacy. He left “confident Kenyans would finally have the peace they so much desired following the turmoil that saw community rise against another, leaving behind an unprecedented trail of blood, death, injury and destruction.” Annan paid tribute to both President Mwai Kibaki and opposition rival, Raila Odinga, for their leadership in coming to agreement. He added that the next phase of talks, led by a new mediator, Oluyemi Adeniji, were crucial especially as they pertained to land issues.

Annan urged Kenayns to support the agreement and hold their leaders to the promises made, believing long-term issues could be resolved within a year. Political negotiators for each side, however, expressed a desire to speed up their work.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Land clashes break out in Kenya – 3 March 2008

Associated Press – 13 dead in attack on Kenyan village – 3 March 2008

Reuters – Kenyan rivals see speedy resolution to crisis issues – 3 March 2008

allAfrica.com – Annan Leaves as Talks Team Tackle Agenda 4 – 3 March 2008

allAfrica.com – Annan Peace Deal – The Crucial Steps Ahead – 3 March 2008

BRIEF: Questions Surface Regarding Hunter’s Deportation

SUVA, Fiji — Australian publisher Russell Hunter’s expulsion fro Fiji last week has led Deposed Opposition Leader Mick Beddoes and others to ask questions about the interim government’s respect for the rule of law.  Specifically, Beddoes questions an amendment to the Immigration Act of 2003 that took effect the day after Hunter’s removal, which stipulated that orders of removal cannot be reviewed by the judiciary.  Beddoes said, “They’re saying it is pure coincidence that the law was brought in when Mr Hunter was being expelled and they think for some reason that the citizenry in Fiji are a bunch of idiots, and we can’t see through the lies that are being told to the people.”

Beddoes also believes that the change to the law represented a direct subversion of the judiciary.  He has questioned whether or not the judges issuing the injunction of Hunter’s removal were aware of the change or in the law, or if “the ink on the new law still drying when the court decision was handed down.” 

The interim government insists that the timing of the change in the immigration law was purely coincidental.  Interim Immigration Minister Ratu Epeli Ganilau said, “It would have been better for Government had this law come in before Russel Hunter was removed but it didn’t come into force until the day after. And I think the current immigration act was sufficient to actually effect the decision by Government to remove Russel Hunter on the grounds that he had breached the conditions of his work permit.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — Fiji immigration law change not linked to Hunter expulsion, says interim minister — 03 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji Immigration law amended to stop challenge over Hunter expulsion – Mick Beddoes — 03 March 2008

Fiji Times — Regime’s vote of no confidence — 04 March 2008

One of Three Missing Chadian Political Opposition Members Reappears in Cameroon

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

YAOUNDE, Cameroon – Ngarlejy Yorongar has reappeared in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, after disappearing 3 February when armed uniformed men took him into custody at his residence. Yorongar is a deputy in the Chadian assembly and was a candidate in the 2001 presidential election running against the Chadian president.

The seizure of Yoronger occurred during a government crackdown when rebels tried unsuccessfully to take power of the country. Another politician, former Chadian President Ibni Oumar Mahamat Saleh, is still missing. According to an e-mail received by Agence France Press (AFP) sent by a Chadian opposition representative in France, Yorongar said it would be a miracle if Ibni is alive after an alleged beating by the Chadian Presidential Guard.

Yoranger needed medical treatment upon his arrival in Cameroon according to Yorangar’s oldest son who spoke with Yoranger via telephone. The details of his release in Chad and his arrival in Cameroon are disputed at this time.

The Chadian government announced it would launch an investigation into the disappearance of the missing politicians and the coup attempt by the rebels. State run radio said it will create a commission “to investigate and produce information on people declared missing and into damage sustained by the state and the population in districts occupied by the forces of aggression.”  President Deby announced the creation of the international commission upon the termination of the visit of French president Nicholas Sarkozy. The commission will include representatives from the African Union, France, the European Union, and the organization of French-speaking nations. There is concern that the commission will not be neutral because it will be led by parliamentary speaker Nassour Ouaidou, a close aide to President Deby.

Chad will remain under a state of emergency until at least 15 March 2008. The state of emergency permits house to house searches and a crackdown on media outlets.

For more information, please see:

LeMonde.fr – Un des trois opposants tchadiens disparus réapparaît au Cameroun – 3 March 2008-03-03

AFP – Missing Chad opposition leader in Cameroon: sources – 3 February 2008

AFP – Chad opposition leader ‘safe abroad’; Ndjamena launches probe – 3 February 2008

Impunity Watch – Human Rights Groups Urge Chad to Release Suspected Prisoners – 27 February 2008

Yoranger.com – Biographie – accessed 3 March 2008

BRIEF: U.S. Missile Strike in Somalia

The United States has confirmed that it fired a missile at a terrorist target in southern Somalia near Dhoobley.  The strike near the Kenyan border in a region controlled by Islamists was a “known terrorist target” according to a U.S. official. The strike occurred during the night between March second and third. Residents next to the house targeted said that the house was totally destroyed and three planes were flying overhead. Residents in the town have fled or are staying under trees in fear that another strike might occur.

The U.S. has not confirmed any casualties but local officials state four people were killed. LeMonde reports that three strikes were made, two of which targeted residences. The U.S. conducted two strikes in Somalia in 2007 aimed at terrorist targets. The U.S. later confirmed that none of those targeted were hit. Local government officials stated that one-hundred people were killed in the January 2007 strike which targeted two targets.

For more information, please see:

CNN.com – U.S. official: Missiles fired at Somalia terror target – 3 March 2008

LeMonde.fr – Un raid aérien américain en Somalie aurait fait quatre morts, selon les chefs locaux – 3 March 2008

BRIEF: UN Chief Calls for Gaza Ceasefire

GAZA CITY, Gaza – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip to halt the violence that has escalated over the past few days. Troops killed at least 96 people over four days, with more than 60 people dead on Saturday alone – one third of those killed estimated to be children.

Addressing an emergency session of the Security Council in New York on Sunday, Ban condemned Israel’s “excessive” use of force and called Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel “acts of terrorism.” Ban said: “While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children.” Ban also condemned Palestinian rocket attacks that triggered one of the bloodiest days in Gaza since Israel withdrew in 2005. “I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism,” he said.

Although members of the Security Council are currently discussing a draft resolution regarding the conflict in Gaza, its completion will likely take more than a few days. Libyan delegation representing the Palestinians has put forward a draft, but it is expected to be rejected because the resolution condemns Israel’s killing of civilians without mentioning the Palestinian rocket fire. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week to try to revive peace talks.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – UN chief deplores Gaza assault – 2 March 2008

BBC News – UN chief condemns Gaza violence – 2 March 2008

Voice of America – UN Security Council condemns violence in Gaza – 2 March 2008

70 Armed Arab Nomads Reportedly Killed in Sudan

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

ABYEI REGION, Sudan – Reports Sunday of fighting between Misseriya tribesmen and fighters from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) indicate 70 armed Arab nomads were killed in the oil-rich Abyei border region of Sudan. The actual number of dead and injured is disputed at this time.

The SPLM, a former rebel force, has shared power with the National Congress Party (NCP) since 2005. The SPLM governs the semi-autonomous Abyei region in southern Sudan. Eward Lino, spokesman for the SPLM , has accused the NCP of supporting the Misseriya in order to prevent the delineation of the border and prevent the countries census from taking place. The census is to start April 15th and last two weeks. The census is necessary to prepare for Sudan’s first democratic election in twenty-two years.

The Misseriya claims the SPLM remains in their territory and stated that as long as the SPLM is in Misseriyan territory problems will continue.

This is the second clash in the region since the 21st of December 2007. On that date, an Arab militia supported by Khartoum attacked an SPLA camp. One-hundred people were killed in that conflict.

The UN mission in Sudan is very concerned over the recent clashes and there is concern that the tensions, if not resolved, will threaten the 2005 peace agreement that ended the countries twenty-one-year north-south civil war in which two million people were killed. The civil war placed the Islamic Khartoum government against the largely animus and Christian rebels in the south.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Arab nomads dead in Sudan clashes – 2 March 2008

Reuters – Dozens killed as Sudan nomads clash with ex-rebels – 2 March 2008

LeMonde.fr – Des affrontements entre nomades et ex-rebelles font 78 morts au sud Soudan – 2 March 2008

Israel Warns of Gaza Invasion; 32 Palestinians Killed

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

GAZA CITY, Gaza –On February 29, the violence between the Israeli military and Gazan militants continued to escalate.  According to the BBC, 32 Palestinians were killed in night raids conducted on February 29 and early morning raids on March 1.  Yedioth News reports that “seven children, three women, two unarmed men and 20 gunmen… were killed in the IDF operation Saturday (March 1).”

The March 1 IDF operation targeted militants in the Jabaliya refugee camp.  Two children, a sister and brother, were killed when the Jabaliya refugee camp was struck.  Also, a father and his 19-year-old son, died in an air strike outside their home.  Later, two teenaged sisters were killed.  The Israeli military reports that five IDF soldiers were “lightly wounded” in the operation.

On February 29, one year old Malak al-Kafarna died of injuries sustained after a missile landed near her home in Beit Hanoun.  Hamas claims that her death was caused by an an Israeli surface-to-surface missile, which injured four other civilians.  However, Reuters reports that residents in the area state that “improvised rockets fired by militants at Israel have fallen short and landed inside Palestinian territory.”  This seems to suggest that Kafarna’s death was caused by Palestinian rocket fire.

Despite the increase in Israeli operations in Gaza, militants continue to launch rockets at Israel.  According to the Times, militants have fired nearly 130 rockets into Israel since February 26, when the violence between Israel and Gaza began to escalate.

Several of the rockets fired landed in Ashkelon, a large city located about 20km north of Gaza.  While Ashkelon is occasionally a target of the longer-range rockets, never has so many rockets been fired at it in one day.  One rocket struck a housing complex and another landed near a school and injured a student.

Following the rocket attacks on February 28, Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Vilnai, stated that “the more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”  In this statement, Vilnai used the Hebrew word “shoah”, which is generally restricted to describe the Nazi genocide against European Jews during World War II.

Israeli officials acted quickly to clarify Vilnai’s use of the word “shoah” and its connection with the Holocaust.  Eytan Guinsburg,Vilnai’s spokesperson, commented that “the minister used the Hebrew term ‘shoah’ which means ‘catastrophe’ and in this context does not refer to the ‘the Shoah’ – the Holocaust.”  Also, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, said that “Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai used the Hebrew phrase that included the term ‘shoah’ in the sense of a disaster or a catastrophe, and not in the sense of a holocaust.”

However, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak supported the underlying theme of Vilnai’s statement and stated that Israel is close to launching a full scale offensive in Gaza.  During a closed-door meeting on February 28, it is reported that Barak said that a “major ground operation is real and tangible. We are not afraid of it.”  In addition, Israeli defense officials said that preparations for a large-scale ground offensive to storm Gaza are complete.

While there is support for a large scale operation into Gaza, many Israelis fear that such an operation will lead to Israel being dragged back into a “costly, long-term military occupation of Gaza.  Also, in 2006, Israel received international criticism for an offensive operation into Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths.  The five month incursion also failed to stop the rocket fire from Gaza.

Palestinians, both from Hamas and Fatah, condemn Israel’s recent actions.  Thousands of Palestinians throughout Gaza demonstrated against the recent air strikes.  In a rally by the Jabaliya refugee camp, a child in funeral shroud held a sign that read “They’ve killed my right to childhood.”

On February 29, former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, spoke after afternoon prayers at a mosque in Gaza City.  He told worshippers that “Gaza today faces a real war, a crazy war led by the enemy against our people.”

In addition, Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, stated that Israel’s military actions “meant only one thing: the Israeli government … aims to destroy the peace process.”  Israeli Arab Knesset members called on Abbas to cease the peace talks with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert in order to create a political crisis.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit the Middle East next week to support the peace talks between Abbas and Olmert.

For more information, please see:
Associated Press – Israel Warns of Disaster in Gaza – 1 March 2008

BBC – New Israeli Raids on Gaza Kill 32 – 1 March 2008

The Guardian – Israeli Raids on Gaza Kill 32 – 1 March 2008

Ha’aretz – Meshal: Gaza is “Real Holocaust”; PA Threatens to Halt Peace Talks– 1 March 2008

Telegraph – Israeli Minister Vows Palestinian “Holocaust” – 1 March 2008

Times (London) – Israel Threatens to Unleash “Holocaust” in Gaza – 1 March 2008

Yedioth News – Abbas: IDF’s Gaza Operation Worse than a Holocaust – 1 March 2008 l

AFP – Thousands of Gazans Protest over Deadly Israeli Raids – 29 February 2008

Al Jazeera – Israel Warns of Gaza Invasion – 29 February 2008

Reuters – Gaza Child, Bombmaker die in Gaza Missile Strikes – 29 February 2008

Thai Soldiers Use Force and Dogs to Deport Lao Hmong

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – According to witness’ accounts, Thai soldiers forcibly removed a group of Hmong asylum seekers from their refugee camp. The Thai government, however, alleges that the group left voluntarily and should be models for other Hmong in Thailand.

Witnesses told reporters that the Thai soldiers used force and dogs in order to coax a group of Hmong asylum seekers onto trucks. The Thai soldiers arrived at 1 PM at the Huay Nam Khao Camp and began to drag refugees to the trucks. Three to four soldiers were needed for each person in order to physically drag them and then collect their belongings from the camp. One witness reported to Radio Free Asia that “Some of them [Hmong asylum seekers] hung on to bushes or small trees and had to be pulled free and thrown onto the trucks—bushes were uprooted.” However, when two young men refused to be taken away on the truck, the soldiers use even more threatening measures. An unnamed witness told Radio Free Asia, “Two young men in their 20s jumped off the trucks after they started to move. The soldiers sent dogs out to find them and they were badly mauled, and those men are now in Khao Kao hospital.”

Both the United Nations [UN] and Medecins Sans Frontieres [MSF] have serious doubts that the group removed from the Huay Nam Khao camp was done voluntarily. One of the women “voluntarily” removed was separated from her five young children. After the mistake was discovered, Thai authorities refused to send her back to the refugee camp, and instead she was sent to an adjacent facility in order to use its loud speaker. At the adjacent facility, she was to “call her children to come to Laos with her,” according to MSF National Director Gilles Isard. Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], stated, “We have received a number of reports that call into question whether everyone actually volunteered to go back. Such returns should be strictly voluntary, conducted with dignity and in accordance with international standards.” Additionally, MSF warned that many in the camps had authentic claims for refugee status because of their physical scars from clashes with the Lao and Vietnamese military.

Despite the entirely different accounts from witnesses and doubts from the UN and MSF, the Thai government alleges that the return was voluntary. In an interview, Department of Border Affairs Deputy Director Maj Gen. Voravit Darunchoo said, “The Hmong you saw being returned to Laos this morning could be considered lucky. It was a good opportunity for them because they are the first group who wholeheartedly volunteered to go back to their country, without any kind of pressure.”

The Hmong in Thailand fled Laos after the Communist takeover in 1975. The group alleges that it fears political persecution because it fought on the side of the pro-United States Laotian government. Although the UNHCR has recognized the Hmong in Thailand as refugees and in need of protection, the Thai government regards the Hmong as migrants and alleges they have entered the country illegally.

For more information, please see:

The Nation Multimedia – MSF and UN Question if Hmong Going Back to Laos Voluntarily – 29 February 2008

Radio Free Asia – Thai Soldiers Forced Lao Hmong Back to Laos – 28 February 2008

Thai News Agency – Hmong Migrants Returned from Thailand to Laos – 28 February 2008

Thai Soldiers Use Force and Dogs to Deport Lao Hmong

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Asia

BANGKOK, Thailand – According to witness’ accounts, Thai soldiers forcibly removed a group of Hmong asylum seekers from their refugee camp. The Thai government, however, alleges that the group left voluntarily and should be models for other Hmong in Thailand.

Witnesses told reporters that the Thai soldiers used force and dogs in order to coax a group of Hmong asylum seekers onto trucks. The Thai soldiers arrived at 1 PM at the Huay Nam Khao Camp and began to drag refugees to the trucks. Three to four soldiers were needed for each person in order to physically drag them and then collect their belongings from the camp. One witness reported to Radio Free Asia that “Some of them [Hmong asylum seekers] hung on to bushes or small trees and had to be pulled free and thrown onto the trucks—bushes were uprooted.” However, when two young men refused to be taken away on the truck, the soldiers use even more threatening measures. An unnamed witness told Radio Free Asia, “Two young men in their 20s jumped off the trucks after they started to move. The soldiers sent dogs out to find them and they were badly mauled, and those men are now in Khao Kao hospital.”

Both the United Nations [UN] and Medecins Sans Frontieres [MSF] have serious doubts that the group removed from the Huay Nam Khao camp was done voluntarily. One of the women “voluntarily” removed was separated from her five young children. After the mistake was discovered, Thai authorities refused to send her back to the refugee camp, and instead she was sent to an adjacent facility in order to use its loud speaker. At the adjacent facility, she was to “call her children to come to Laos with her,” according to MSF National Director Gilles Isard. Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], stated, “We have received a number of reports that call into question whether everyone actually volunteered to go back. Such returns should be strictly voluntary, conducted with dignity and in accordance with international standards.” Additionally, MSF warned that many in the camps had authentic claims for refugee status because of their physical scars from clashes with the Lao and Vietnamese military.

Despite the entirely different accounts from witnesses and doubts from the UN and MSF, the Thai government alleges that the return was voluntary. In an interview, Department of Border Affairs Deputy Director Maj Gen. Voravit Darunchoo said, “The Hmong you saw being returned to Laos this morning could be considered lucky. It was a good opportunity for them because they are the first group who wholeheartedly volunteered to go back to their country, without any kind of pressure.”

The Hmong in Thailand fled Laos after the Communist takeover in 1975. The group alleges that it fears political persecution because it fought on the side of the pro-United States Laotian government. Although the UNHCR has recognized the Hmong in Thailand as refugees and in need of protection, the Thai government regards the Hmong as migrants and alleges they have entered the country illegally.

For more information, please see:

The Nation Multimedia – MSF and UN Question if Hmong Going Back to Laos Voluntarily – 29 February 2008

Radio Free Asia – Thai Soldiers Forced Lao Hmong Back to Laos – 28 February 2008

Thai News Agency – Hmong Migrants Returned from Thailand to Laos – 28 February 2008

Update on Charles Taylor Trial

By Ted Townsend
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor continued this week with the cross-examination of prosecution witness TF1-275 Foday Lansana (“Lansana”), a former radio operator for the Revolutionary United Front (“RUF”). As the examination continued,  Taylor was taken to the hospital for undisclosed reasons, where he remained a day for monitoring.  No further reports on his health were released, though it was generally understood that he was kept overnight strictly for monitoring. Though Taylor was out of the courtroom, he gave his consent to his defense counsel to continue with the cross examination of Lansana.

Defense counsel Morris Anyah (“Anyah”) conducted the cross examination of Lansana, first attacking the witness’s credibility claiming Lansana’s entire testimony was based on information he heard while imprisoned, and that “none of it actually happened.” Lansana denied this allegation, and stated that he experienced all of the things he spoke of in his direct examination.

Anyah continued to question Lansana on events, names and places that the former radio operator had testified about, attempting to establish that Lansana fabricated testimony. Most notably, Anyah questioned Lansana about his testimony relating to the “Coca Cola Factory” speech Taylor gave to the special forces, that Lansana purportedly witnessed. Anyah focused mainly on other documents, where Lansana claimed to have heard the speech over the radio. Lansana disputed this, saying he was present for the speech, but not when Taylor spoke on the phone with a correspondent at the BBC relaying the message from the speech. Prosecution documents placed Lansana at both locations, a fact the witness admitted was false.

The defense also focused their cross-examination on times when Lansana either “did not work as a radio operator or did not function well as such.” Other questions revolved around Lansana’s substandard performance and the activities of another Foday Lansana who was also working with the RUF.

After the cross-examination finished, Prosecutor Christopher Santora re-directed the witness clarifying the discrepancy in Lansana’s testimony regarding the Coca-Cola factory speech as well as other smaller details. The witness was then dismissed.

The court this week also determined that the next prosecution witness, witness TF1-362, will be examined in closed session.

Two other notable developments involving the trial occurred this week. First, Prosecutor Stephen Rapp (“Rapp”) announced that he was closing in on a 600 million dollar (400 millions Euros) blood diamond-haul that had been collected by Taylor. The prosecution would like to reclaim these assets, and “make them available to victims both in Sierra Leone and Liberia.” The funds would be used not only to pay the legal bills, but also to aid thousands of victims in the countries, intentionally mutilated by the rebels. Not all of these assets are officially in Taylor’s name, but the prosecution is working with a special team from the British government to bring them back.

Second, Varmuyan Sherif (“Sherif”), a former bodyguard for Taylor who testified earlier in the trial has gone into hiding after receiving multiple threats relating to the evidence he gave.  Rapp said rocks were thrown at Sherif’s home, and a threatening letter was sent to his brother. Sherif and his family have been temporarily relocated, until it is safe for them to return. United Nations officials and local police are investigating the threats.

Sherif testified that Taylor smuggled arms, cash and communications equipment to the militia.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from actions during Sierra Leone’s ten-year war, which ended in 2002. The charges against him include rape, murder, torture and enlisting child soldiers.

For more information, please see:

allAfrica.com – Taylor Taken to Hospital But Proceedings Continue – 27 February 2008

allAfrica.com – Charles Taylor Taken for Medical Attention – 27 February 2008

The Trial of Charles Taylor – last accessed 1 March 2008

Associated Press – Taylor witnesses being threatened – 28 February 2008

AFP – War crimes prosecutor has Taylor blood diamond haul in sights – 29 February 2008

Impunity Watch – Update on Charles Taylor Trial – 23 February 2008