BRIEF: Interim Prime Minister Tries to Establish Political Forum

BRIEF: Interim Prime Minister Tries to Establish Political Forum

SUVA, Fiji — After the Pacific Island Forum’s condemnation of Fiji for a lack of progress towards democratic restoration, the interim government has called for a political forum to discuss Fiji’s electoral process.  Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who is currently in Singapore on a fact finding mission, called for the nation’s politicians to gather to work together for the betterment of Fiji.  Particularly, Bainimarama has appealed to deposed PM Lasenia Qarase to engage in talks in order to tackle of question about Fiji’s democracy and to improve their failing economy.

Qarase told Radio Australia that he has been trying to form a political forum for sometime, but, to date, he has refused to meet with Bainimarama.  He said that he has been trying to establish a political dialog between his SDL party and the interim prime minister for sometime and hopes that the two organizations can come together for the good of all.

Radio New Zealand International reports that it is the interim government’s intention to do away with the electoral system laid down by the constitution.  They said that Fiji must not return to the era of racial discrimination and high levels of political corruption.  Bainimarama also said that deposed leaders should not think that the government will return to pre-December 2006 status.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — Fiji interim PM appeals to critics co-operation — 30 April 2008

Radio Australia — Fiji’s interim PM appeals for cooperation — 30 April 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji regime says President supports forum on electoral reform — 30 April 2008

Israeli Operation Kills 7, 4 Children

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BEIT HANOUN, Gaza – On April 28, four young children and their mother were killed during an Israeli incursion into northern Gaza.  Palestinian medics identified the dead children as sisters Rudina and Hana Abu Maateq, aged six and three; and their brothers, Saleh, four, and Mousad, 15 months. Their mother, Meissar, died later of wounds she sustained.  In addition, two older siblings sustained serious injuries.

Responsibility for the deaths is unclear, and Israeli and Palestinian officials each blame the other.  Palestinian sources say that the family was killed by shrapnel resulting from Israeli missiles which landed at their door.  While Israeli Defense Force (IDF) sources say the deaths were caused when explosives, carried by two nearby militants, blew up.

On April 29, IDF officials promised that a full investigation will be conducted into the cause of the explosion.  “Due to the sensitivity of the matter and the complexity of the battle … additional inquiries are to be carried out,” it said in a statement.

According preliminary findings by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, around 8:15am, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) fired a missile, targeting a group of militants.  The missile landed 10 meters away from the Meatak home, seriously injuring a militant.  Less than a minute later, two more missiles were fired at the same location, landing at the door of the house and killing one militant.

“The shrapnel destroyed the door of the house and flew inside, where Meissar Abu Maateq, 40, and her six children were eating breakfast just two meters from the door,” the organization said in a statement.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, began conducting its own investigation shortly after the incident.  B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli, said that they have no “concrete, clear proof of anything,” but that its preliminary findings are similar to the military’s.

“There was a group of militants near the house and the drone fired a missile at them. They were carrying bags that probably had grenades in them,” Michaeli said, adding that no one was killed in the first strike.  “A minute later a second missile was fired at one of the men about a meter (yard) and a half outside the front door of the Abu Maateq house,” killing Ibrahim Hajuj, a Palestinian militant.

“The debate turns on whether he was carrying a bag that somehow caused a larger secondary explosion or whether the missile itself killed the four children and their mother,” she said.

According to a military spokeswoman, IDF “targeted from the air two Palestinian gunmen who were approaching the soldiers while carrying large bags on their backs.  A big explosion erupted on the scene… indicating the presence of bombs and explosives in the gunmen’s bags… As a result of this big explosion, extensive damage was caused to a house that was near the gunmen and uninvolved civilians were hit.”

Contrary to B’Tselem’s preliminary findings and IDF statements, Palestinian residents claim that no militants were killed during the attack.  The children’s father, who was close to the house and witnessed the explosion, told Al Jazeera there was no fighting in the area.  “I did not see any fighters, there were no fighters around here … no fighting, neither from the Arabs or the Israelis,” he said.

On April 29, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert expressed regret over the killings.  “The state of Israel and the government of Israel are deeply sorry when any civilian or non-combatant is hurt, particularly with regard to the mother and four of her children, who were killed,” Olmert told his cabinet at its weekly meeting.  But he laid the blame on Hamas for allowing militants to operate within residential areas and “turning the civilian population in Gaza into an indivisible part of its war.”

PM Olmert also discussed a possible truce or ceasefire with Hamas.  On April 25, Hamas proposed a six-month “period of quiet” in Gaza, which it said could then be extended to the West Bank.  Under terms of the Egypt-backed proposal, the militant group would stop its rocket attacks on Israel for six months, while Israel would open Gaza’s border crossings and cease military operations in the territory.

Israel dismissed the truce offer, saying Hamas would use the lull to re-group and re-arm its militants. At the same time, Israel promised to hold fire if Hamas and smaller Gaza militant groups halt their attacks.

However, following the Israeli incursion into Beit Hanoun, militants fired 11 rockets and nine mortars from Gaza.  Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak scoffed at talk of truce efforts.  “I think now we’re in a showdown with Hamas,” Barak told reporters. “That’s a more apt description than a possible cease-fire.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – Israel, Right Groups Probe Blast that Killed Gaza Family – 29 April 2008

Al Jazeera – Israel to Examine Gaza Child Deaths – 29 April 2008

Ha’aretz – PM Voices ‘Deep Remorse’ for Gaza Deaths, But Says Hamas put  Victims at Risk – 29 April 2008

(The) Independent – Israeli Attack Kills Palestinian Mother and Four Children – 29 April 2008

International Herald Tribune – Official: 30 Representatives of Palestinian Factions Meet in Egypt to Discuss Truce, Unity – 29 April 2008

International Herald Tribune – Olmert Blames Hamas for Civilian Deaths in Gaza– 29 April 2008

BBC – Family Killed During Raid in Gaza – 28 April 2008

Voice of America – Hamas Chief Awaits Israeli Response on Gaza Cease-Fire – 27 April 2008

BRIEF: EU Reviews Sanctions on Uzbek Government for Human Rights Violations

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – This week, the European Union (EU) begins its twice-yearly review of the current sanctions placed on Uzbekistan and it will decide whether the current suspension on those sanctions should continue.  The sanctions were originally instated in response to the Andijan Massacre, an incident in 2005 when the Uzbek government fired into a crowd of protesters, killing hundreds and then allegedly hiding the bodies in mass graves.

When the EU originally placed sanctions on Uzbekistan, it had also demanded that an independent international investigation be conducted.  The investigation has not yet taken place.

As the sanction review takes place this week, human rights organizations are demanding that the EU reinstate sanctions, assure that an investigation take place, and remember why they imposed sanctions initially.  They point out that if the EU does not do these things, it will be condoning impunity in Uzbekistan.

However, many expect that the suspension on the sanctions will continue due to recent positive steps taken by the Uzbek government.  If that is true, then the sanctions will likely become insignificant as they expire in October 2008 and will not likely be renewed due to the lack of support by many EU states.

“The EU cannot forget why it imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan in the first place – to push for an independent investigation of the killing of hundreds of people protesting against the government,” stated Natalia Alonso, Deputy Director at Amnesty International’s EU office.  She noted that three years had passed and the “families of the [Andijan] victims are still waiting for justice.”

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Uzbekistan: EU must not forget the mass killings of Andizhan – 28 April 2008

Human Rights Watch – Keep the Momentum for Rights Reform in Uzbekistan – 26 April 2008

Rebels Behind East Timor Violence Surrender

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

DILI, East Timor — Twelve rebels suspected of masterminding the assassination attempts on East Timor’s President and Prime Minister in February, surrendered today after hiding in the jungle for more than two months. President Jose Ramos-Horta has declared the peaceful resolution a turning point in East Timor’s violent history.

The surrender comes after rebels shot and seriously wounded the President on the morning of February 11th. Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao was also targeted in a separate attack, but escaped unharmed. The President returned to his duties last week after a two month recovery in Darwin, Australia.

This morning, the twelve, including rebel leader, Gastau Salsinha, and the President’s named shooter, Marcelo Caetano, met with President Horta in an emotional ceremony at the Presidential Palace. Cameras captured a tearful Caetano kiss the President’s hand and ask for forgiveness. In an interview, Salsinha apologized for causing the East Timor people grief. “My men surrendered for the people of this country. … They are ready to face justice,” Salsinha said.

The President has expressed forgiveness, but remains committed to seeing the ends of justice met. “I am happy our sons returned to Dili and surrendered their weapons,” President Horta said. He added, “The truth will be established by the court.”

Prime Minister Gusmao praised the Timorese police and military for their efforts in conducting the two month long manhunt in cooperation with other state institutions. This week Australia announced it will withdraw 200 troops from East Timor, in part due to the improvement in security. Although, since the small country gained its independence in 2002, roughly 2,500 foreign troops have remained to help maintain stability.

In 2006, the twelve rebels were a part of some 600 military members who were fired for protesting alleged discrimination. In the bitter dispute, the army divided into factions, causing 37 deaths and forcing 150,000 from their homes.

President Horta believes today marks an end to the violence that has plagued East Timor since its hard won independence.

For more information, please see:
Associated Press — 12 East Timor rebels suspected in attacks surrender — 29 April 2008

BBC News — Surrender ends troops’ rebellion — 29 April 2008

Christian Science Monitor — East Timor rebel leader surrenders — 29 April 2008

Reuters, UK — East Timor rebel leader surrenders — 29 April 2008

The Sydney Morning Herald — East Timor rebels surrender — 29 April 2008

TVNZ — E Timor rebel leader surrenders — 29 April 2008

BRIEF: UN Urged to Probe US Treatment of Iraqi Inmates

NEW YORK, United States – Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the UN Security Council asking them to address serious concerns about the detention policies of US-led forces in Iraq.  The group said the US invokes Security Council resolutions to justify holding thousands of Iraqis for “indefinite periods, without judicial review, and under military processes that do not meet international standards.”

“The Bush administration pushed the [UN] Security Council to declare that the US-led occupation of Iraq had ended in June 2004,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s Middle East deputy director.  “And the end of occupation means that international human rights standards apply – judicial review, access to legal counsel and family members, and a fair trial,” he added.

Human Rights Watch also called on the US to allow observers from the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq as well as independent Iraqi experts – to visit US detention facilities.  The US-led troops were holding more than 24,000 people in Iraq at the end of last year, according to Unami.

“Four years since abuses at Abu Ghraib became known, Washington should finally allow independent monitors who can report publicly to visit its facilities and speak with detainees,” Stork said.

For more information, please see:
BBC – UN Probe Urged Over Iraqi Inmates – 28 April 2008

Human Rights News – UN: Tell US to End Illegal Detention Practices in Iraq – 28 April 2008

Human Rights News – Letter to the Security Council on MNF Detention Practices in Iraq – 28 April 2008