United Nations Sees No Improvements in Myanmar

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – The United Nations [UN] special envoy to Myanmar reported that its last visit to the country was its most disappointing yet because senior government leaders refused to meet with them. Ibrahim Gambari, a representative from the envoy, commented, “Whereas each of my previous visits produced some tangible result that could be built upon, it is a source of disappointment that this latest visit did not yield any immediate tangible outcome.”

The only thing the UN special envoy was able to do was leave a list of UN recommendations for international monitoring that would enhance the “credibility and inclusiveness” of the democracy project the military junta says it is undertaking. The Myanmar government has begun to implement a seven-step process called “a road map to democracy.”

Critics, however, believe the plan will only guarantee continued military dominance. The “road map to democracy” calls for elections in 2010 and bars participation by Aung San Suu KyiAung San Suu Kyi is a leader of the National League of Democracy, and she has been under house arrest for 18 years intermittently. During the UN special envoy’s visit, Ibrahim Gambari met withAung San Suu Kyi, and during the visit she urged that there could be no reconciliation until she was treated as partner in the dialogue.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also expressed disappointment with the constitutional and referendum process. The draft of the constitution had yet to be distributed, and there are laws prevented debate concerning it. The UN will attempt to introduce a draft statement based on its concerns and lack of progress on important issues. However, U.N. Ambassador U Kyaw Tint Swe said that “no Security Council action is warranted with regard to Myanmar.”

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej made his first visit to Burma and made controversial comments, which were quite contrary to the UN’s reactions. During his weekly TV program, the prime minister said, “Killings and suppressions are normal there but we have to know the facts.” He went on to praise the Senior General Than Shwe. He then went on to add, “And Senior (Gen) Than Shwe practices meditation. He says he prays in the morning … and the country has been in peace and order.” Senior General Than Shwe ordered troops and riot police to fire at peaceful street protestors, which were lead by thousands of Buddhist monks.

For more information, please see:

AP – UN Envoy Disappointed with Myanmar Trip – 18 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – UN Envoy Disappointed by Myanmar Visit – 19 March 2008

Inter Press Service – Thailand Queers ASEAN’s Burma Pitch – 19 March 2008

UPDATE: Nuon Chea Refused Bail

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Khmer Rouge Tribunal rejected Nuon Chea’srequest for bail.  Nuon Chea is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as Pol Pot’s right-hand man during the Khmer Rouge regime’s rule of Cambodia. Nuon Chea had argued that he was not a flight risk and his safety was not in danger because he had been living for years “in peace and harmony” at his home in the jungle along the Thai border.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Pol Pot’s Number Two Loses Bail Bid – 20 March 2008

United Nations Sees No Improvements in Myanmar

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – The United Nations [UN] special envoy to Myanmar reported that its last visit to the country was its most disappointing yet because senior government leaders refused to meet with them. Ibrahim Gambari, a representative from the envoy, commented, “Whereas each of my previous visits produced some tangible result that could be built upon, it is a source of disappointment that this latest visit did not yield any immediate tangible outcome.”

The only thing the UN special envoy was able to do was leave a list of UN recommendations for international monitoring that would enhance the “credibility and inclusiveness” of the democracy project the military junta says it is undertaking. The Myanmar government has begun to implement a seven-step process called “a road map to democracy.”

Critics, however, believe the plan will only guarantee continued military dominance. The “road map to democracy” calls for elections in 2010 and bars participation by Aung San Suu KyiAung San Suu Kyi is a leader of the National League of Democracy, and she has been under house arrest for 18 years intermittently. During the UN special envoy’s visit, Ibrahim Gambari met withAung San Suu Kyi, and during the visit she urged that there could be no reconciliation until she was treated as partner in the dialogue.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also expressed disappointment with the constitutional and referendum process. The draft of the constitution had yet to be distributed, and there are laws prevented debate concerning it. The UN will attempt to introduce a draft statement based on its concerns and lack of progress on important issues. However, U.N. Ambassador U Kyaw Tint Swe said that “no Security Council action is warranted with regard to Myanmar.”

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej made his first visit to Burma and made controversial comments, which were quite contrary to the UN’s reactions. During his weekly TV program, the prime minister said, “Killings and suppressions are normal there but we have to know the facts.” He went on to praise the Senior General Than Shwe. He then went on to add, “And Senior (Gen) Than Shwe practices meditation. He says he prays in the morning … and the country has been in peace and order.” Senior General Than Shwe ordered troops and riot police to fire at peaceful street protestors, which were lead by thousands of Buddhist monks.

For more information, please see:

AP – UN Envoy Disappointed with Myanmar Trip – 18 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – UN Envoy Disappointed by Myanmar Visit – 19 March 2008

Inter Press Service – Thailand Queers ASEAN’s Burma Pitch – 19 March 2008

UPDATE: Nuon Chea Refused Bail

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Khmer Rouge Tribunal rejected Nuon Chea’srequest for bail.  Nuon Chea is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as Pol Pot’s right-hand man during the Khmer Rouge regime’s rule of Cambodia. Nuon Chea had argued that he was not a flight risk and his safety was not in danger because he had been living for years “in peace and harmony” at his home in the jungle along the Thai border.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Pol Pot’s Number Two Loses Bail Bid – 20 March 2008

Kenya’s Legislature Approves Power-sharing deal

By: Julie K. Narimatsu
Impunity Watch Managing Editor, Journal   

NAIROBI, Kenya – The Kenyan legislature approved the constitutional amendment that creates the position of prime minister and two deputies and creates a coalition between the two major parties, President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity and opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement.  In light of the disputed elections late last year that fueled ethnic conflict resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 and the displacement of 600,000, Kibaki and Odinga originally reached the political deal at the end of February.

The National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008 names Odinga as the prime minister while Kibaki will retain the presidency.  The Act provides that the cabinet will include the president, vice president, prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and other ministers.  Ministers cannot be discharged without approval from their corresponding party.  The deal stipulates that the two parties will share equal power, however, if one party decides not to participate, the coalition will be disbanded.  The bill does not afford a new election in the event this situation arises.

On a reconciliatory note, both parties have agreed to investigate the violence that occurred directly after the election.  The commission will comprise of independent, international experts who will be appointed by both parties.  This comes after Odinga and his party filed a formal complaint with the International Criminal Court in January accusing Kibaki and his government of using force against opposition demonstrators.  The commission’s work is expected to be completed within three months.

Much of the world has supported the deal, including former Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, who helped facilitate negotiations between the parties.  Both leaders had urged the National Assembly to approve the legislation.  Odinga recognized Kibaki as president and thanked him for his efforts, while Kibaki requested that Kenyans try to move past the violence of the past few months and move forward.

For more information, please see:

africanews.com – Kenya: MPs endorse amendment – 19 March 2008

BBC News – Kenya MPs support power-sharing – 18 March 2008

The Jurist – Kenya parliament approves power-sharing agreement in bid to end violence – 18 March 2008

impunitywatch.net – Kenya reaches peace deal; its government defends against allegations of planned violence – 5 March 2008

CNN.com – Kenya power deal ‘on the right track’ – 28 February 2008

Iranian Woman Escapes Stoning

By Ben Turner
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

TEHRAN, Iran – On March 17, the Iranian Judiciary Amnesty Commission released a woman sentenced to death by stoning.  Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, was convicted of adultery and had been in prison for the last 11 years, was released in the city of Qazvin.

Ebrahimi was released along with her four-year-old son whom she conceived with Jafar Kiani.  Kiani, also convicted of adultery, was stoned to death in July 2007.  Kiani was stoned to death despite a 2002 directive by judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi that imposed a moratorium on such executions. Kiani’s stoning was the first such execution to be confirmed in years.

Ebrahimi’s lawyer, Shadi Sadr, said that his client could not believe that she was pardoned.  “I cannot tell how the commission came up with this decision,” Sadr said. “Whether it was our defense, top clerics’ rulings against stoning or Ayatollah Shahroudi’s decree.”

“But you cannot deny the role of public opinion and domestic and international pressures,” said Sadr.  Sadr is a leading women’s rights activist and is campaigning to remove stoning from Iran’s law books.

According to Amnesty International, death by stoning is still legal under Iranian law.  Article 102 of the Iranian penal code states that men should be buried up to their waists and women up to their breasts while being stoned.  Another article prescribes the size of stone to be used.

Sadr said that Ebrahimi and her son had returned to northern Iran to be with her family.

For more information, please see:
AFP – Iran Frees Woman Facing Stoning For Adultery: Lawyer – 18 March 2008

AGI – Iran: Woman With Death Sentence Released With Son – 18 March 2008

BBC – Iranian Women Escapes Stoning Death – 18 March 2008

News.com.au – Woman Escapes Stoning for Adultery – 18 March 2008

Amnesty International – Amnesty International appeals against planned executions by stoning – 20 June 2007

UPDATE: Tourist video captures riot in Tibet

BEIJING, China – Michael Smith, an Australian tourist, captured violence in the Tibetan capital Lhasa in video on Friday.  The video shows Tibetans smashing windows and setting fire to Chinese shops and cars, while people are heard cheering. Han Chinese, China’s largest ethnic group, operated many of the businesses targeted by the rioters.  It also shows Chinese security forces, but no clashes between them and the rioters. No deaths or injuries were seen on the video.

Smith said he “met so many Tibetan people on the streets, so many young Tibetan boys just screaming for Tibet’s freedom.”  One young Tibetan male shouted to Smith’s camera “We don’t have any freedoms.  “The Tibetan people are going crazy.  It’s absolute mayhem on the streets,” Smith said.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Tourist video shows riot, flames in Tibetan capita – 18 March 2008

CNN – Tourist films Tibet riots – 18 March 2008

Papuan Activists Jailed for Political Expression

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

JAKARTA, Indonesia –- The Indonesian government is charging nine Papuan activists with plotting against the state for waving a Papuan Morning Star flag at a peaceful, student protest last week. Indonesia’s recent efforts to round up Papuans involved in political expression has drawn harsh criticism from human rights organizations.

Human Rights Watch, the largest human rights organization, is calling for the nine’s release, and condemning the Indonesian government for suppressing freedom of speech. “Raising a flag at a demonstration is a nonviolent act, but in Indonesia it can land you in prison,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. 

While several provisions of Indonesia’s criminal code were declared unconstitutional in 2007, others remained intact; specifically, a law prohibiting the display of the Morning Star Flag in Papua, the South Maluku Republic Benang Raja flag in Ambon, and the Crescent Moon flag in Aceh. All three flags are examples of banned separatist symbols. Just last week, two pro-independence demonstrators were sentenced to 15 and 17 years in prison for preparing flags for the South Maluku Republic.

But political instability and public protests have long marked Papua’s history. Once a Dutch colony on New Guinea’s western end, Papua became Indonesia’s largest province in 1969. Violence erupted in 2003 after President Megawati Sukarnoputri separated Papua into three provinces: Central Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Tengah), Papua (or East Irian Jaya, Irian Jaya Timur), and West Irian Jaya (Irian Jaya Barat). Indonesian courts declared that the creation of the central province was unconstitutional and in opposition to Papua’s Special Autonomy status.

The separation has divided Papuans who accuse the Indonesian military of violating human rights. In addition, many Papuans complain that the money earned from Papua’s natural resources mostly ends up profiting Jakarta. As a result, many Papuans have been campaigning peacefully for independence from Indonesia. 

The nine Papuan activists, including a 16 year old boy, have been in custody since March 13. The West Papua National Authority has reported that Indonesian police have been threatening and harassing relatives of the charged activists. Meanwhile, responding to the military threat, other activist leaders have gone into hiding.

“If Indonesia wants recognition as a rights-respecting nation, it should stop imprisoning people for acts of peaceful expression,” Pearson said.

For more information, please see:
Reuters, Asia –- Free Peaceful Protesters in Papua –- 19 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International –- West Papua National Authority fears Indonesian forces are rounding up more Papuans –- 19 March 2008

UNPO, Netherlands — West Papua: Worrying Signs of Crackdown — 18 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International –- Australian NGO raises concerns about Papuan protestors arrested in Indonesia –- 17 March 2008

News.com.au –- Nine in court for waving ‘Free Papua’ flag –- 18 March 2008

The Jakarta Post –- New law to end Papua legal dispute –- 05 March 2008

Kenya’s Legislature Approves Power-sharing deal

By: Julie K. Narimatsu
Impunity Watch Managing Editor, Journal

NAIROBI, Kenya – The Kenyan legislature approved the constitutional amendment that creates the position of prime minister and two deputies and creates a coalition between the two major parties, President Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity and opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement.  In light of the disputed elections late last year that fueled ethnic conflict resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 and the displacement of 600,000, Kibaki and Odinga originally reached the political deal at the end of February.

The National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008 names Odinga as the prime minister while Kibaki will retain the presidency.  The Act provides that the cabinet will include the president, vice president, prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and other ministers.  Ministers cannot be discharged without approval from their corresponding party.  The deal stipulates that the two parties will share equal power, however, if one party decides not to participate, the coalition will be disbanded.  The bill does not afford a new election in the event this situation arises.

On a reconciliatory note, both parties have agreed to investigate the violence that occurred directly after the election.  The commission will comprise of independent, international experts who will be appointed by both parties.  This comes after Odinga and his party filed a formal complaint with the International Criminal Court in January accusing Kibaki and his government of using force against opposition demonstrators.  The commission’s work is expected to be completed within three months.

Much of the world has supported the deal, including former Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan, who helped facilitate negotiations between the parties.  Both leaders had urged the National Assembly to approve the legislation.  Odinga recognized Kibaki as president and thanked him for his efforts, while Kibaki requested that Kenyans try to move past the violence of the past few months and move forward.

For more information, please see:

africanews.com – Kenya: MPs endorse amendment – 19 March 2008

BBC News – Kenya MPs support power-sharing – 18 March 2008

The Jurist – Kenya parliament approves power-sharing agreement in bid to end violence – 18 March 2008

impunitywatch.net – Kenya reaches peace deal; its government defends against allegations of planned violence – 5 March 2008

CNN.com – Kenya power deal ‘on the right track’ – 28 February 2008

BRIEF: Rights Group Doubts Zimbabwe Election Can Be “Free and Fair”

CAPETOWN, South Africa – International human rights group Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) claims the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe are not likely to be fair, because the current government  intimidated opposition supporters. HRW also says there are deep-seeded flaws in the electoral process. The group alleges human rights abuses leading up to the electoral process, including violence against detractors; restricting freedom of assembly; gaining political advantage through distribution of food and farming equipment; and denying opposition supporters access to the media. Also, HRW believes voter registration lists are inaccurate, saying they have “found evidence of dead people registered to vote including a former minister who died thirty years ago.” The group concludes that the poll, scheduled to take place March 29, cannot possibly be a “free and fair” vote, given the current conditions.

Eighty-four year old President Robert Mugabe is seeking his sixth term in office as representative of the Zanu-PF party, which has held power in Zimbabwe for twenty-eight years following independence. He is being opposed by his former finance minister Simba Makoni and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe’s Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC that “such reports reflected what the West wanted to hear.” He denies any bias in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, and accused HRW of having an agenda.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, however, has said the distribution of polling stations have been biased have been biased in favor of rural areas, where Mugabe has a network of support.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Zimbabwe rejects free poll fears – 19 March 2008

Voice of America – Rights Groups Doubt Zimbabwe Elections Will be Fair – 19 March 2008

UPDATE: Speaker Elected After First Meeting of New Pakistani Parliament

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan’s new parliament met for the first time on Monday, after pressure had been put on President Pervez Musharraf to set a date (see Impunity Watch article here).  The new parliament, filled with a majority of opposition members, is expected to take major steps to make change in the country in resistance of President Musharraf.

During a meeting today, Fahmida Mirza was elected speaker of the parliament.  Mirza is a business woman, veteran politician, and friend of Asif Ali Zardari (the current leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Benazir Bhutto‘s widower).  She is the first woman to ever be elected Pakistani speaker.

Mirza was elected with 249 votes in the 342-seat house.  As speaker she will determine which issues the new parliament, which met for the first time Monday, will address in session.

The Prime Minister has yet to be named, and an announcement is expected next week.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Woman elected Pakistani speaker – 19 March 2008

Impunity Watch – BRIEF: After Many Protests, Pakistani President Sets Date for Parliament – 11 March 2008

Impunity in Afghanistan: UN Statement

By Elizabeth Breslin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KABUL, Afghanistan – The United Nations (UN) released a statement yesterday demanding that the Afghan government do more to bring human rights violators to justice.

The UN recognized that Afghanistan has a young government.  However, during the past three decades of conflict many Afghan citizens have suffered numerous abuses; if they are not addressed immediately the victims will continue to suffer and the impunity will undermine the future of the Afghan government.

In 2005, the government did adopt a plan to address past abuses and promote peace and reconciliation for the country.  Nevertheless, according to the information UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour collected during a recent visit, the plan has not been implemented.  Part of the problem is that Afghanistan does not have strong political representation on national and international levels, and the government has not created an environment conducive to the respect of human rights.

The statement also recognized that the government needs to devote more attention to the current problems of women and girls.  Their right to life is threatened due to high mortality rates and violent home situations (see Impunity Watch article here).

In the UN statement, Chief Human Rights Officer Norah Niland said: “One often hears the phrase ‘action speaks louder than words.’  Here in Afghanistan, the lack of action speaks volumes.  At a minimum, there needs to be the space for a national dialogue that acknowledges the injustices and suffering that have occurred.  The voices of victims need to be heard.”

For more information, please see:

Impunity Watch – BRIEF: Women in Afghanistan in Danger – 26 February 2008

Jurist – Afghanistan must do more to stop human rights abuses: UN Official – 18 March 2008

Reuters – Afghan govt must bring rights abusers to justice-UN – 18 March 2008

UN News Centre – Afghanistan must do more to address impunity, advance human rights-UN – 18 March 2008

UPDATE: Tourist video captures riot in Tibet

BEIJING, China – Michael Smith, an Australian tourist, captured violence in the Tibetan capital Lhasa in video on Friday.  The video shows Tibetans smashing windows and setting fire to Chinese shops and cars, while people are heard cheering. Han Chinese, China’s largest ethnic group, operated many of the businesses targeted by the rioters.  It also shows Chinese security forces, but no clashes between them and the rioters. No deaths or injuries were seen on the video.

Smith said he “met so many Tibetan people on the streets, so many young Tibetan boys just screaming for Tibet’s freedom.”  One young Tibetan male shouted to Smith’s camera “We don’t have any freedoms.  “The Tibetan people are going crazy.  It’s absolute mayhem on the streets,” Smith said.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Tourist video shows riot, flames in Tibetan capita – 18 March 2008

CNN – Tourist films Tibet riots – 18 March 2008

BRIEF: Rights Group Doubts Zimbabwe Election Can Be “Free and Fair”

CAPETOWN, South Africa – International human rights group Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) claims the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe are not likely to be fair, because the current government  intimidated opposition supporters. HRW also says there are deep-seeded flaws in the electoral process. The group alleges human rights abuses leading up to the electoral process, including violence against detractors; restricting freedom of assembly; gaining political advantage through distribution of food and farming equipment; and denying opposition supporters access to the media. Also, HRW believes voter registration lists are inaccurate, saying they have “found evidence of dead people registered to vote including a former minister who died thirty years ago.” The group concludes that the poll, scheduled to take place March 29, cannot possibly be a “free and fair” vote, given the current conditions.

Eighty-four year old President Robert Mugabe is seeking his sixth term in office as representative of the Zanu-PF party, which has held power in Zimbabwe for twenty-eight years following independence. He is being opposed by his former finance minister Simba Makoni and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe’s Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC that “such reports reflected what the West wanted to hear.” He denies any bias in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, and accused HRW of having an agenda.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, however, has said the distribution of polling stations have been biased have been biased in favor of rural areas, where Mugabe has a network of support.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Zimbabwe rejects free poll fears – 19 March 2008

Voice of America – Rights Groups Doubt Zimbabwe Elections Will be Fair – 19 March 2008

CNN.com – Rights groups: Election corruption rife in Zimbabwe – 19 March 2008

Members of Iran’s Bahai Religious Community Arrested by Iran Government

TEHRAN, Iraq – Dawn on May 14th, 2008, officers from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran arrested six members of the Bahai community in charge of coordinating activities of the Baha’i religious community.  The six members were taken to Iran’s Evin Prison that has a history of human rights abuses.  Another member, Mrs. Mahvash Sabit, Secretary of the group, was questioned about a burial that took place in a cemetery in Mashad.  The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (“IHRDC”) is concerned that the Iranian government will use these arrests to further persecute members of the Baha’i community merely because of their faith.  The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”) states, “since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power a few years ago, Baha’is have been harassed, physically attacked, arrested and imprisoned.”

There has been a history of oppression under the Iranian government.  The IHRDC says, in 1980, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards arrested nine members of the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly and were never seen again.  In 1981, again, “a second National Spiritual Assembly was constituted and eight of its members were arrested and summarily executed.”  In 1983, history repeated itself when seven members of the Assembly were hunted down and once again executed.  The IHRDC is concerned that the recently arrested members are in danger of meeting the same fate.  The report on the IHRDC website says members of the Baha’i community have been under surveillance by the Iran government since 2005 when the Ayatollah Khamenei ordered military agencies identify and monitor members of the Baha’i community.  Since 2005, Bahai’s have been the targets of attacks by vigilante groups acting with impunity under the Iran government.

For more information, please see:

Iran Human Rights Documentation Center – IHRDC Condemns the Arrest of Leading Baha’is – 15 May 2008

CNN – Iran’s Arrest of Baha’is Condemned – 15 May 2008