No Convictions in Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer,

MANILA, Philippines – The European Commission has acknowledged that the number of extrajudicial killings have decreased and more cases are prosecuted, but at the same time, there have been no convictions. Human Rights Watch [HRW] asks that the United Nations should review the Philippine’s government’s failure to hold responsible parties accountable.

The European Union and the Philippine government have pledged to create the EU Justice Assistance Mission [EUJAM], which will help strengthen the country’s criminal justice system. The 18-month program will help build ties between the criminal justice institutions, civil society, and independent agencies like the Commission on Human Rights and the Office of Ombudsman.

The European Commission head of delegation, Alistair MacDonald, said, “We will provide the Philippine government technical assistance in conducting investigation, forensics, training for the judiciary, the Commission on Human Rights and we will even coordinate with members of the civil society.”

For the last 7 years, nearly a thousand members of the left-wing political parties, activists, journalists, and clergy have gone missing or been killed. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, Philippine human rights groups, and HRW all have strong evidence of military involvement in the disappearances and murders.

The Philippine government has said that it is a priority to address the extrajudicial killings and disappearances by bringing the perpetrators to justice and prevent future killings. The government also reported that the number of killings had dropped significantly in 2007.

Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW, pointed out that the drop in killings is only one improvement. She said, “A pause in political killings will mean little in the long run unless those responsible are prosecuted. Of the hundreds of political killings since 2001, not a single military official has been convicted.”

For more information, please see:

HRW – Philippines: Justice Absent in Killings and ‘Disappearances’ – 27 March 2008

The Inquirer – ‘More Prosecutions but No Convictions on Extrajudicial Slays’ – 4 April 2008

The Manila Times – EU, Philippines to Work on Extrajudicial Killings – 5 April 2008

Rights Groups Condemn Saudi Fatwa

By Ben Turner
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East Desk

RIYDAH, Saudia Arabia – A group of over 100 Arab rights groups and intellectuals condemned a Saudi religious edict calling for the death of two newspaper columnists, saying the fatwa was the result of “clerics of darkness” performing intellectual terrorism.

“All we can see in this fatwa is intellectual terrorism which sees ‘Islam’ as its exclusive monopoly and only sees in the ‘other’ blood which can be shed freely,” said the statement sent out by the rights groups.  The statement also said that religious scholars who branded other Muslims as infidels were “clerics of darkness, fooled through their arrogance and inflated by their status into thinking that they speak in the name of God.”

Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, one of Saudi Arabia’s most revered clerics, said in a rare religious ruling in March that two newspaper columnists should be put to death unless they renounced their “heretical articles” in public.

“Anyone who claims this has refuted Islam and should be tried so that he can take it back. If not, he should be killed as an apostate from the religion of Islam,” Barrak said. “It is disgraceful that articles [of] this kind of apostasy should be published in … the land of [Mecca and Medina].”

Writing in al-Riyadh newspaper, Yousef Aba Al-Khail and Abdullah bin Bejad questioned the Sunni Muslim view in Saudi Arabia that Christians and Jews should be considered unbelievers.  Barrak, who was backed by a group of 20 Saudi clerics, said their statement implied that Muslims were free to follow other religions. None of the clerics speak for the Saudi government, which is represented by the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Al al-Sheikh.

Barrak is seen as one of Saudi Arabia’s leading religious authorities and his fatwa, or religious ruling, was praised by clerics who asked God to support him in the face of liberals with “polluted beliefs.”  Fatwas by radical Muslim clerics led to the assassination in 1992 of the Egyptian writer Farag Foda and to an attempt in 1994 in Cairo to murder the Egyptian Nobel prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz.

“We are extremely worried about the safety of our colleagues and ask the Saudi government to ensure their safety,” Committee to Protect Journalists Executive Director Joel Simon said. “It is ironic that writers advocating tolerance and reform are subject to incitement and death threats.”

For more information, please see:
Washington Post – A Hint of Tolerance – 4 April 2008

Guardian – Intellectuals Condemn Fatwa Against Writers – 3 April 2008

New York Times – Saudi Ruling Assailed – 2 April 2008

Reuters – Arab Rights Groups, Figures Slam Saudi Death Fatwa – 1 April 2008

Arab News – Of Fatwas and Infidels – 27 March 2008

CPJ – Saudi Cleric Issues Fatwa Against Two Journalists – 20 March 2008

UPDATE: Hu Jia, Chinese Dissident, Sentenced to 3.5 Years for Subversion

BEIJING, China – A Chinese court has sentenced Hu Jia, Chinese dissident and activist, to jail for 3.5 years for “inciting subversion of state power.” The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reported that Hu Jia made a confession, which lead to the court to give a relatively light sentence.

Hu Jia is a prominent human rights activist and dissident that has openly criticized the Chinese government. Recently he wrote: “Is China improving its human rights record? When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing, you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people. Please be aware that the Olympic Games will be held in a country where there are no elections, no freedom of religion, no independent courts, no independent trade unions; where demonstrations and strikes are prohibited.”

Dozens of supporters stood outside the courthouse when the sentence was announced. Li Hai, a supporter, commented, “Hu Jia is a hero to us because he stood up to speak out, so we should also speak out.”

For more information, please see:

Impunity Watch – Chinese Dissidents Detained and to Stand Trial for Criticisms– 10 March 2008

Impunity Watch – UPDATE: Human Rights Watch Calls Hu Jia’s Trial a “Sham” –18 March 2008

International Herald Tribune – Chinese Civil Rights Activist, Hu Jia, Sentenced to Prison – 3 April 2008

BRIEF: Pakistan’s New Government to Reform Laws in Tribal Areas

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – New Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, and his government announced on April 1st that they are developing a plan to replace the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan.  The current FCR has been in place since 1901, and has long been criticized for violating human rights and keeping the FATA from developing.

The FCR is a colonial-era legal regime the British used to attempt to control strong Pashtun opposition in the area.  It keeps residents of the area from participating in politics and instead grants authority to a local administrator called a Political Agent.  Further, the FCR establishes a collective responsibility system, meaning that an entire community is held responsible for the actions of one person.

Many people living in the FATA want the FCR abolished, but they have concerns over what will replace it.  Some would prefer Islamic laws while others want the area absorbed into Pakistan’s national legal structure.  Either way, implementation of the new laws once enacted will be difficult; Taleban and Al Qaeda efforts in the area have eroded any current governing structures and the groups will likely continue to fight maintain control.  Insecurity and war ravage the area.

Gillani announced that his goal is to bring “economic, social, and political reforms” to the tribal areas to prevent the further spread of terrorism.  His new government has formed a four-person parliamentary committee that will be determine how to replace the FCR.

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Europe – Pakistan: New Government Announces Major Reforms in Tribal Areas – 3 April 2008

International Human Rights Organization Criticizing IOC’s Non-political Role in China

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – The International Olympic Committee [IOC] is under fire for refusing to publicly articulate concerns about the human rights situation in China before the Beijing Games.  Amnesty International, the London-based human rights watchdog said, “The Olympics have so far failed to catalyze reform in China and pledges to improve human rights before the Games look disingenuous after a string of violations in Beijing and a crackdown in Tibet.”

Human Rights Watch is also accusing the IOC of operating in a moral void, undermining human rights in China and flouting the spirit and letter of the Olympic Charter.  The letter issued by Human Right Watch  earlier in the week urgedthe Ethics Commission to articulate standards compatible with the respect of human rights to guide the Olympic movement. Human Rights Watch is also urging the IOC to publicly assess the extent to which current human rights violations are linked to the preparation of the Games.

Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper fired back, saying the committee was not an activist group or a government.  Chairman of the IOC’s inspection commission for the Beijing Games, Hein Verbruggen called the suggestion by Amensty International that awarding the Games to Beijing had worsened human rights in China “blatantly untrue.”  He also said at a news conference at the end of the final IOC inspection, “We are not a political organization, so in spite of all the criticism we get, I am not afraid to tell you that we should not speak out on political issues.”  Verbruggen said it would be unfair to link Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics to issues such as “Guantanamo or Iraq,” and unjust to tie Madrid’s bid for 2016 to problems with Basque separatists.

However, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson said, “The question is not whether the IOC is a human rights organization.  It’s whether the Olympic movement respects human rights. If it does, remaining silent as China’s crackdown intensifies isn’t acceptable.”

IOC officials have made their final inspection ahead of this year’s games in Beijing and “satisfied with renewed assurances” over a number of concerns, includes making sure foreign news websites are unblocked and live television pictures are beamed around the world without any delay.

For more information, please see:

ABC – IOC pleased with China censorship pledges – 3 April 2008

AP – IOC: We’re can’t interfere in politics – 3 April 2008

Reuters – Amnesty lays into China on rights before Olympics – 2 April 2008

Reuters – IOC vigorously defends non-political role in China – 3 April 2008

Human Rights Watch – China: Letter to Ethics Commission of International Olympic Committee – 31 March 2008

Human Rights Watch – China: International Olympic Committee Operating in Moral Void – 1 April 2008

BRIEF: Zawahiri Declares UN ‘Enemy of Islam’

CAIRO, Egypt – Al Qaeda’s media arm, al Sahab, announced last December that Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s ideological chief and second-in-command, would answer questions submitted by the public on various websites.  In a 103-minute video Zawahiri addressed issues ranging from Palestine, opportunities for female militants and Osama bin Laden’s health.  This video was billed as the first installment of Zawahiri’s responses to the over 900 questions submitted.

One question related to al Qaeda’s suicide attacks on UN offices in Algiers on December 11, which at least 41 people died, including 18 UN employees.  The attacks on the United Nations office and the Constitutional Council building were claimed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

An Algerian medical student wrote, “I want al-Zawahiri to answer me about those who kill the people in Algeria. What is the legal evidence for killing the innocents?”  Zawahiri responded that the people killed were not innocents.  Rather, according to al Qaeda, “they are from the Crusader unbelievers and the government troops who defend them.”  He defended the attacks by stating the one of the targets, a UN building, was a legitimate target because the UN is “an enemy of Islam and Muslims.”

In addition, Zawahiri denied that the group was responsible for killing innocent people and stated, “If there is any innocent who was killed in the mujahedin’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error or out of necessity.”  Instead, Zawahiri claimed that al Qaeda’s enemies of intentionally taking positions amongst innocent people and using them as human shields.

For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Al-Qaeda Deputy: UN Enemy of Islam – 3 April 2008

Bloomberg – Zawahiri Defends Al-Qaeda that Kill Muslims – 3 April 2008

CCN – Al Qaeda No. 2: We Don’t Kill Innocents – 3 April 2008

Los Angeles Times – Bin Laden’s Deputy Fields Queries – 3 April 2008

BBC – Al-Qaeda Deputy Defends Attacks – 2 April 2008

Australia Accuses Fiji Over Using Claim to Deflect Attention from Elections

By Ryan L. Maness
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Editor, Oceania

SYDNEY, Australia — Relations between Fiji and Australia have been strained since the 2006 coup, but the tension has been palpable in recent days.  Since the Pacific Island Forum, the Australian government has placed pressure on Fiji to make substantial movement towards reestablishing democratic elections, going so far as to threaten to relocate Pacific Institutions currently housed in Fiji.  The Fijian government has responded by calling for its neighbors to allow Fiji to work through the problems underlying its “coup culture”. 

The back and forth has ascended to a new level with an accusation by the Fiji Human Rights Commission that the Australian Navy may have violated international law with their military activities in the lead up to the 2006 coup.  Specifically, Fiji Human Rights Commission Director Dr. Shaista Shameem has said that the presence of Australian war ships near Fijian waters and Special Air Service soldiers flying commercially into Fiji represented the early stages of a possible future invasion.  These forces, Shameem told Radio Australia, were assembled after now interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama first threatened to overtake the Qarase government. 

The Australian government claims that the vessels were not in place to invade Fiji, but merely to protect Australian citizens in the event that the coup should turn violent.  They also insist that at no time did the ships enter Fijian waters or make any signs of aggression.  Australian Foreign minister Stephen Smith explained that “The Australian military were effectively on standby so as to ensure the safety and welfare of Australian nationals should that have become necessary.” 

He also says that Australia has heard these “spurious” claims before and that Fiji is presenting them now to try to draw attention away from the lack of progress being made towards free and fair elections.  “The best thing that can happen in Fiji is not spurious suggestions about Australian activity but having an election, returning Fiji to democracy, respecting human rights and democracy and allowing a potentially very prosperous nation to get on with the job of providing for its citizens.”

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times — Concentrate on having an election: Smith — 03 April 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Report receives negative response — 03 April 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Australia’s foreign minister responds to Fiji’s Human Rights Commission — 02 April 2008

Australian Broadcasting Corporation — Smith rejects Fiji accusation — 02 April 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji Human Rights Commission wants probe of Australia’s pre-coup role — 01 April 2008

BRIEF: Khmer Rouge Regime Survivor Dith Pran Dies

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Dith Pran, photojournalist and survivor of the Khmer Rouge Regime, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 65 years old. Before the Khmer Rouge Regime took power in 1975, Dith Pran worked with the NY Times taking notes, translating, and taking pictures. After the Khmer Rouge Regime took power, Dith Pran became a prisoner. Although he and his family had the opportunity to flee Cambodia, Dith Pran choose to stay and let his family go because he believed that “his country could be saved only if other countries grasped the gathering tragedy and responded.”

Soon afterwards, he was sent to the countryside to work all day in the fields. He survived in the countryside doing backbreaking labor and eating only a tablespoon of rice a day for four years. Dith Pran avoiding summary execution by hiding his education, passing himself as a taxi driver, and throwing all his money away. In 1978 he returned to his hometown of Siem Reap and discovered that 50 members of his family had been killed. The wells had been filled with skulls and bones. In 1979 Dith Pran escaped the country over the Thai border and then later come to New York to continue his journalistic career.

For more information, please see:

The NY Times – Dith Pran, Photojournalist and Survivor of the Killing Fields, Dies at 65 – 31 March 2008

BRIEF: Aung San Suu Kyi Barred from Office

YANGON, Myanmar – According to a new proposed constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Laureate and leader of the opposition party, cannot stand for election because she was once married to a foreigner. Reuters obtained a copy of the charter and confirmed that it says a “person who is entitled to rights and privileges of a foreign government, or a citizen of a foreign country” cannot run for office. The provision is not a new creation but copied over from the 1947 and 1974 country’s constitutions. The proposed constitution will go to referendum in May, but voters are unsure how to vote because the public is not allowed to see the final version yet. The constitution is a key provision in the country’s seven-point “road map to democracy.”

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Proposed Myanmar Charter Bars Suu Kyi from Office – 31 March 2008

BRIEF: Human Rights Group Accuses Sri Lanka of Cover-Up

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Action Against Hunger/Action Contre la Faim (ACF), an international human rights organization, has claimed that the Sri Lankan government is responsible for and is covering up the massacre of 17 of their aid workers in 2006.

The mostly Tamil ACF workers were helping rebuild in the town of Muttur after the tsunami when they were murdered.  They were found on the ground of a ACF compound, shot in the head.

The University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR), a Sri Lankan organization, recently published a study on the murders.  The report stated that a local guard and two police constables killed the ACF workers, and that senior police officers covered up the murders.  It stated that three witnesses to the event had already been killed, one was missing, and others had left the country in fear of their lives.  The report also mentioned that since the ceasefire between the government and rebel Tamil Tigers collapsed in 2002, there has been an environment of impunity which has prevented justice from being reached.

The Sri Lankan government originally claimed that the aid workers had been caught in civil war fighting and had been killed by the Tamil Tigers.  The government responded to this latest report by saying that they will conduct an inquiry into the deaths.

Rajan Hoole, a UTHR spokesman, said, “The killing of civilians during time of conflict is a war crime. The perpetrators and their superiors should be brought to justice.”

For more information, please see:

Action Against Hunger – The Muttur Massacre: ACF Demands International Inquiry into Sri Lankan Assassinations – 1 April 2008

BBC News – Sri Lanka accused over massacre – 1 April 2008

NGOs Push Greater Accountability in East Timor

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

DILI, East Timor — Over 170 non-government organizations met in East Timor to vocalize their dissatisfaction with the Timorese government for offering impunity to rebels responsible for the country’s past violence. The forum urged East Timor to be more accountable for both past and present indiscretions.   

The conference mainly focused on the violence that erupted in 2006 after the government fired 600 military members for protesting alleged discrimination. The army divided along factional lines sparking violence that killed 37 and drove 150,000 from their homes. Two years later, roughly 100,000, about a tenth of the population, remain displaced and living in camps outside the capital city, Dili.

At the conference, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao announced that the rebels responsible for the 2006 violence would not be prosecuted. The state, he said, was “not exempt from responsibility”  in allowing the soldiers’ dissatisfaction to escalate. Mr. Gusmao is proposing to pay ex-soldiers to rejoin the army.

But NGOs report that East Timor lacks the economy, security, and housing resources to help its homeless. The forum questioned why crimes committed after 2006 remain unsolved, and why “not one convicted person is in a legally recognized prison facility?”

In 2006, the government looked on as displaced people chased others out of homes and set fire to buildings. “Many people observe that those who commit political crimes go free even though they were recommended for prosecution by independent commissions,” read a statement presented at the forum.

Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group has warned that without greater investigation into the root of the problem, merely rounding up the rebels responsible for last month’s attacks on the President and Prime Minister, will not end the violence.

For more information, please see:

ABC News: Australia — East Timor government, partners, criticized — 01 April 2008 — East Timor Faces Unrest Unless Evacuees Resettled, Group Says — 01 April 2008

The Age: Australia — Timor urged to get tough on offenders — 31 March 2008

Pinoy Press: Phillippines — Timor-Leste’s Displacement Crisis — 31 March 2008

The Morung Express — Timor truth commission ready to report findings — 20 March 2008