High Rate of Unnatural Deaths Among Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon – On August 26, Human Rights Watch called on the Lebanese government to address the high rate of unnatural deaths of migrant domestic workers.  Since January 2007, at least 95 migrant workers have died in Lebanon.

Of these 95 deaths, 40 are classified as suicide, while 24 others were caused by workers falling from high buildings, often while trying to escape their employers. By contrast, only 14 domestic workers died because of diseases or health issues.  Key factors pushing these women to kill themselves or risk their lives are forced confinement, excessive work demands, employer abuse, and financial pressures.

A 2006 survey quoted by HRW showed 31% of 600 domestic workers interviewed were not allowed to leave the home they worked in.  “Many domestic workers are literally being driven to jump from balconies to escape their forced confinement,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Domestic workers are dying in Lebanon at a rate of more than one per week…All those involved – from the Lebanese authorities, to the workers’ embassies, to the employment agencies, to the employers – need to ask themselves what is driving these women to kill themselves or risk their lives trying to escape from high buildings,” said Houry.

In early 2006, an official steering committee was established to ease the problems of domestic workers. The committee has three main goals.  First, to create standardized employment contracts in Arabic, English, French and the native language of the worker. Second, to publish a booklet detailing the rights and obligations of employers and employees, to be distributed at airports, ministries and recruitment agencies.  Lastly, to formulate a new law for migrant workers.

But according to Houry, “to date” the committee “has failed to deliver any concrete reforms … it’s time for the Lebanese government to show real leadership and actually deliver” these promises, he said.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Star – Domestic Workers Risking Death to Flee Employers – 27 August 2008

BBC – Lebanon Maid Deaths Cause Alarm – 26 August 2008

HRW – Annex: Deaths of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon – 26 August 2008

HRW – Lebanon: Migrant Domestic Workers Dying Every Week – 26 August 2008

High Rate of Unnatural Deaths Among Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon – On August 26, Human Rights Watch called on the Lebanese government to address the high rate of unnatural deaths of migrant domestic workers.  Since January 2007, at least 95 migrant workers have died in Lebanon.

Of these 95 deaths, 40 are classified as suicide, while 24 others were caused by workers falling from high buildings, often while trying to escape their employers. By contrast, only 14 domestic workers died because of diseases or health issues.  Key factors pushing these women to kill themselves or risk their lives are forced confinement, excessive work demands, employer abuse, and financial pressures.

A 2006 survey quoted by HRW showed 31% of 600 domestic workers interviewed were not allowed to leave the home they worked in.  “Many domestic workers are literally being driven to jump from balconies to escape their forced confinement,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Domestic workers are dying in Lebanon at a rate of more than one per week…All those involved – from the Lebanese authorities, to the workers’ embassies, to the employment agencies, to the employers – need to ask themselves what is driving these women to kill themselves or risk their lives trying to escape from high buildings,” said Houry.

In early 2006, an official steering committee was established to ease the problems of domestic workers. The committee has three main goals.  First, to create standardized employment contracts in Arabic, English, French and the native language of the worker. Second, to publish a booklet detailing the rights and obligations of employers and employees, to be distributed at airports, ministries and recruitment agencies.  Lastly, to formulate a new law for migrant workers.

But according to Houry, “to date” the committee “has failed to deliver any concrete reforms … it’s time for the Lebanese government to show real leadership and actually deliver” these promises, he said.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Star – Domestic Workers Risking Death to Flee Employers – 27 August 2008

BBC – Lebanon Maid Deaths Cause Alarm – 26 August 2008

HRW – Annex: Deaths of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon – 26 August 2008

HRW – Lebanon: Migrant Domestic Workers Dying Every Week – 26 August 2008

High Rate of Unnatural Deaths Among Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BEIRUT, Lebanon – On August 26, Human Rights Watch called on the Lebanese government to address the high rate of unnatural deaths of migrant domestic workers.  Since January 2007, at least 95 migrant workers have died in Lebanon.

Of these 95 deaths, 40 are classified as suicide, while 24 others were caused by workers falling from high buildings, often while trying to escape their employers. By contrast, only 14 domestic workers died because of diseases or health issues.  Key factors pushing these women to kill themselves or risk their lives are forced confinement, excessive work demands, employer abuse, and financial pressures.

A 2006 survey quoted by HRW showed 31% of 600 domestic workers interviewed were not allowed to leave the home they worked in.  “Many domestic workers are literally being driven to jump from balconies to escape their forced confinement,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Domestic workers are dying in Lebanon at a rate of more than one per week…All those involved – from the Lebanese authorities, to the workers’ embassies, to the employment agencies, to the employers – need to ask themselves what is driving these women to kill themselves or risk their lives trying to escape from high buildings,” said Houry.

In early 2006, an official steering committee was established to ease the problems of domestic workers. The committee has three main goals.  First, to create standardized employment contracts in Arabic, English, French and the native language of the worker. Second, to publish a booklet detailing the rights and obligations of employers and employees, to be distributed at airports, ministries and recruitment agencies.  Lastly, to formulate a new law for migrant workers.

But according to Houry, “to date” the committee “has failed to deliver any concrete reforms … it’s time for the Lebanese government to show real leadership and actually deliver” these promises, he said.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Star – Domestic Workers Risking Death to Flee Employers – 27 August 2008

BBC – Lebanon Maid Deaths Cause Alarm – 26 August 2008

HRW – Annex: Deaths of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon – 26 August 2008

HRW – Lebanon: Migrant Domestic Workers Dying Every Week – 26 August 2008

BRIEF: Myanmar Pro-Democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi Misses Meeting with UN Envoy

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – The detained Myanmar opposition leader, Aung San Sun Kyi, missed a scheduled meeting with a United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.  Mr. Gambari, a UN representative on a five-day mission to push for reconciliation between opposition groups and the military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962.  He met briefly Wednesday with top leaders from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, but his planned meeting with Aung San Sun Kyi did not take place.  Nyan Win, a spokesman for her National League for Democracy, said he did not know why Aung San Sun Kyi did not go, but added, the reason could be that Suu Kyi is not satisfied with the present condition during this visit of Mr. Gambari.  Nyan Win also expressed his concern about Aung San Sun Kyi’s health.

Suu Kyi, who has been confined without trial for more than 12 of the past 19 years, was suffering from low blood pressure and was unable to leave her bed, Japan’s Nikkei news agency reported.  In September 2003, Suu Kyi also underwent gynecological surgery, and was hospitalized in 2006 for a stomach ailment.  The junta stopped allowing her physician to visit her home for monthly medical checkups earlier this year, National League for Democracy member Soe Aung said.

For more information, please:

AFP – UN envoy meets Suu Kyi’s party, but fails to see her – 20 August 2008

Bloomberg – Myanmar Opposition Concerned About Aung San Suu Kyi’s Health – 20 August 2008

New York Times – Myanmar: Opposition Leader Misses U.N. Meeting – 20 August 2008

Woman Tortured in Nepalese Prison

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MORANG, Nepal – Sumitra Khawas was detained at Area Police Office (APO) of Belbari in the Morang district on September 9th for allegedly murdering her husband. Sumitra disclosed to a Nepalese human rights organization, Advocacy Forum (AF), about her abuse in the hands of police officers.

Sumitra told AF lawyers and activists that she was forced to strip naked for prolonged periods of time.  Then, she was repeatedly beaten by punches, and threatened with poisonous lizards to be dropped in her clothes. She said the interrogation lasted about two hours while police tried to get Sumitra to sign a confession for her husband’s murder. Sumitra refused. She recalled three perpetrators, two men and one woman, who were police officers at APO.

AF lawyers wrote letters to government officials, including the Ministry of Justice, to request the transfer of Sumitra from the APO of Belbari. However, AF received no response. When human rights groups tried to visit Sumitra in prison, police officers threatened them by reportedly saying they would “get beat up by the locals.”

As of date, Sumitra is still in police custody at APO. She told AF lawyers that she has received threats, but she has not been tortured since her initial detention. AF lawyers are currently working on Sumitra’s appeal.

Torture is a widespread problem in Nepal. Human Rights Watch and various NGOs have reported of Nepal’s police brutality and the sexual assault of women during their arrests by police officers.

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Nepal: Torture of Woman Included Threat to Put Poisonous Lizards in her Clothes – 24 September 2008

Asian Human Rights Commission – A Woman Torture Victim Faces Threats by Police After Disclosing Her Torture Incident – 22 September 2008

Jurist – HRW: Nepal Must ‘Vigorously’ Investigate Human Rights Abuses – 12 September 2008

New Zealand MP Calls on Indonesia to Account for Human Rights Abuses in West Papua

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

JAYAPURA, West Papua — A New Zealand MP along with Human Rights Groups are calling on Pacific countries to confront Indonesia on human rights abuses in West Papua.

Last week, the Forum leaders summit met in Niue to address key issues among the Pacific island countries. Absent from those issues, was the continuing unrest and protests taking place in West Papua. Keith Locke, an MP for Zealand’s Green party, criticized the Forum leaders for postponing the discussion over West Papua’s future. In addition, Mr. Locke is encouraging New Zealand and other Pacific Island countries to push Indonesia into a dialogue about their intentions regarding West Papua.

Since last year’s Forum meeting, several reports of human rights abuses have surfaced. Specifically, West Papuans have reported abusive treatment by Indonesian military. Indonesian law has made it illegal for West Papuans to raise nationalistic flags such as the Morning Star.

“The intimidation by the security forces of the West Papuan people is all pervasive and creates a climate of fear in the people of West Papua. The overwhelming military presence ensures that the security  forces can act with total impunity,” Joe Collins, of the Australia West Papua Association (AWPA), told the Fiji Daily Post.

In April 2008, several students were imprisoned for waving flags suggesting Papua’s right to self-determination and independence from Indonesia. 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.

Collins says independent Pacific countries must stand up for the rights of other Pacific peoples struggling for independence and self-determination.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — New Zealand MP critical of Pacific Forum countries for ignoring plight of Papuans – 24 August 2008

Fiji Daily Post — Forum urged to consider West Papuan rights — 22 August 2008

ABC, Radio Australia — Forum leaders arrive in Niue for summit — 20 August 2008

The Pacific Islands Forum — Press Statement: Sis Leaders Conclude 17th Summit in Niue — 19 August 2008

Fiji’s No Show at Niue Creates Stir at Pacific Forum

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

ALOFI, Niue — Last week Fiji’s interim government decided to boycott a meeting of the Pacific Island Forum in Niue and the move has caused rumbles throughout the region.  In the wake of their no-show other members of the Forum have threatened to take action against Fiji.

The leaders at the Pacific Forum, who have paid particular attention to Fiji’s movement towards restoring democratic elections after its December coup in 2006, have called Fiji’s lack of attendance unacceptable. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark, described Fiji’s non-attendance in light of their recent announcement that democratic elections would not be held on the original 2009 timetable.  “They have also signalled that they are not going to just let the issue drop, they did accept undertakings in good faith, that there is no technical, administrative, managerial reasons why elections cannot be held by March next year. Only political will is lacking.”

One proposed sanction for Fiji is for the country to be suspended from the Forum.  However, this solution is far from certain because any the suspension of Fiji could cause a cessation of aid money from the European Union and the United Nations.

Despite the statements of Pacific leaders, Fiji’s interim government has maintained that it did not transgress by not attending the meeting in Niue.  Fiji’s Interim Foreign Affairs Minister, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, said that claims that Fiji did not attend because of its election timetable are “misleading” and that the real reason was because of the political agenda of New Zealand and Australia.  Frank Bainimarama also called on the 16 member nations of the Pacific Island Forum to not allow the Forum to become a tool of New Zealand and Australian foreign policy.

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times — Interim PM makes fresh unity call — 25 August 2008

Radio Australia — Fiji warns Forum to watch out for Australia, New Zealand — 23 August 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji interim government blames New Zealand for its “no-show” at Forum summit — 21 August 2008

Radio New Zealand International — NZ prime minister says suspension would damage Fiji economy — 21 August 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Forum considers suspending Fiji if it reneges on election commitments — 21 August 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji won’t lose much if suspended from Forum, says Chaudhry — 21 August 2008

Khmer Rouge Official Convicted

By Pei Hu
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – On October 14th, Khem Ngoun, a key Khmer Rouge official,  and four others were convicted of kidnapping and murdering Christopher Howes, a British mine clearing expert for Mines Advisory Group (MAG).

Christopher Howes worked in a mine-clearance operation near the town of Siem Reap, Cambodia, 12 years ago. Ngoun was largely regarded as being responsible for the kidnapping and execution of Howes. The Khmer Rouge ambushed Howes’ team, held 20 miners hostage, and demanded ransom money from Howes and his interpreter, Houn Hourth. Howes refused and was taken back to the main Khmer Rouge camp where Ngoun ordered his execution. The 20 miners were later released or escaped. Howes and Hourth were often seen as heroes, sacrificing their lives for their colleagues.

Ngoun was the right-hand man to the military chief of the Khmer Rouge. After the regime disbanded, many high-ranking officials sought high-ranking posts in military and civilian life. At the time leading up to Ngoun’s arrest he was free of harassment and worked as a military advisor to a general of the Cambodian army.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has been criticized for being slowing in bring justice to the 1.7 million people that were killed and tortured under the Khmer Rouge regime. However, the director of MAG’s Cambodian office, Rupert Leighton said of conviction of Ngoun, “I think it’s very important for the Cambodian justice system in as much as it’s proof that justice can be done despite lengthy periods between crime and court.” He further added, “I think it’s also a good signal for the [Khmer Rouge] tribunal, and a healthy sign for the justice system in Cambodia.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Past Catches Up with Khmer Rouge Killer – 14 October 2008

NY Times – Cambodia: 4 Convicted in 1996 Killings – 14 October 2008

The Phnom Penh Post – Verdict due on KRouge’s 1996 slaying of deminer, interpreter – 14 October 2008

Israel Plans to Change Barrier’s Route; Week of Deadly Bombings in Algeria; Syria: Mass Trial over Call for Democracy

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

MA’ALEH ADUMIM, West Bank – On August 21, state prosecutor’s office told the High Court that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have decided to “significantly” alter the course of the Separation Barrier.  The barrier will be moved closer to Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest Israeli settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.  The shift will result in 4,000 dunams (400 hectares) remaining on the Palestinian side of the Separation Barrier.

The state’s brief to the court came in response to two petitions filed in 2005 and 2006 by residents of Abu Dis and Suahra e-Sharkiya, Palestinian communities located outside the barrier.  The petitioners allege that the proposed route placed 6,000 dunams of their agricultural lands on the Israeli side of the barrier; making it difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate.

Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel said that he planned to instruct the city’s attorney to petition the High Court against the state’s decision.  According to Kashriel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not have the authority to make such a fateful decision for the city given that he was likely to be in office for only one more month.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Israel ‘to Change Barrier Route’ – 22 August 2008

Ha’aretz – Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor to Appeal new West Bank Fence Route – 22 August 2008

Jerusalem Post – State Agrees to Reroute Security Barrier – 22 August 2008

AFP – Israel to Change Route of West Bank Barrier – 21 August 2008

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ALGIERS, Algeria – A series of deadly attacks have resulted in dozens of deaths and in one of the most violent weeks in Algeria in years.  On August 20, two car bombs exploded in the town of Bouira, southeast of the capital Algiers.  The bombings targeted a military compound and the Hotel Sophie.

The bombing near the hotel exploded as a bus drove by taking workers to a construction site, according to the official Algerian press agency A.P.S.  12 people on the bus were killed and 15 injured.  The bombing near the military compound resulted in extensive damage to the compound and nearby barracks.

In a statement released on August 21, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the attacks.  Until 2006, the group called itself the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat and is the last big extremist group from the Algerian civil war in the 1990s.

The twin bombings follow earlier attacks on August 19 and 17.  On August 19, a suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into a group of young men waiting to take the entrance exam for the police academy in the town of Issers.  The attack resulted in 43 deaths and several dozen injuries; most of those killed were civilians.

In addition, on August 17, 12 people were killed in an ambush of a military commander and his escort.  No group has claimed responsibility for these attacks.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Al-Qaeda Claims Algeria Attacks – 22 August 2008

Guardian – Bombings Add to Fears Algeria is al-Qaida Hotbed – 20 August 2008

New York Times – Bomber Kills at Least 43 Near Capital of Algeria – 19 August 2008

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DAMASCUS, Syria – On July 30, the trial for 12 Syrian dissidents for signing a declaration calling for democracy in Syria began.  Charges include harming the state and spreading false information.  All 12 will deny all charges when they appeared in a Damascus court, the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria (NOHRS).

Among those being tried are Fidaa Horani, president of the national council of the Damascus Declaration, writer Ali Abdallah, doctor Walid Bunni, writer and secretary of the national council Akram Bunni and former MP Riad Seif.  The accused are linked to a pro-reform body know as the Damascus Declaration group. They were arrested in the months following a group meeting in December.

It is the biggest collective trial of Syrian dissidents since 2001 after the so-called Damascus Spring, the brief period of relative freedom of expression that followed President Bashar al-Assad’s rise to power in 2000.

The trial was adjourned and will resume on August 26.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Syria Hold Mass Trial Over Call for Democracy – 30 July 2008

BBC – Trial of Syrian Dissidents Begins – 30 July 2008

BRIEF: China Sentences Two Women to “Re-Education through Labor”

By:  Lindsey Brady
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor – News

Two elderly women, Ms. Wu (79 years old) and Ms. Wang (77 years old) were notified this past Monday that they had been sentenced to “re-education through labor” for a period of one year.  The two women had been seeking permits to hold demonstrations in one of China’s newly designated protest areas.  It was their fifth visit to the police when they were told they had been given the administrative punishment for their acts of “disturbing the public order.”

Ms. Wu and Ms. Wang had been neighbors in Beijing before their homes were destroyed to make way for China’s redevelopment project.  Despite agreeing to the move on the premise that they would have a new home built for them, six years later both women are living in rundown apartments on the outskirts of Beijing.  The Chinese government announced in July that three city parks would serve as protest areas while the Olympics were in Beijing but so far no demonstrations have taken place and no applications for demonstrations have been approved.  Ms. Wu and Ms. Wang wanted to use one of these protest areas to fight what they view as unjust compensation for the demolition of their homes.

Ms. Wu and Ms. Wang are not the only applicants who have faced what human rights advocates view as unjust treatment.  It has been reported that two Chinese advocates were seized from a Public Security Bureau’s protest application office and have not been heard of since.  Ms. Wang’s son, Mr. Li, has attempted to apply for a permit since his mother’s sentencing but has not even been allowed the opportunity to fill out the required forms.  Human Rights advocates have been criticizing the use of administrative sentences such as “re-education through labor” because they are handed down without a trial or option of appeal.  Similar punishments have been handed out to Chinese citizens caught taking pictures of schools destroyed during the earthquake in China and believe government corruption led to the school’s faulty construction.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Two Women Sentenced to “Re-Education” in China – 20 August 2008

Canadian Press – 2 Chinese Sentenced to Labour Camp – 20 August 2008

AFP – China Detains Six US Pro-Tibet Activists at Olympics – 20 August 2008

Impunity Watch – A Pre-Olympic Look at China’s HR Record; Pakistan’s Taliban Threatens Women with Acid; Sri Lankan Government Accused of Allowing Serious Human Rights Violations to Continue – 04 August 2008

Female Bomber Targets Pilgrims in Iraq; Israel Clears Tank Crew Involved in Journalist’s Death; Bus Bombing in Lebanon

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On August 14, a female bomber detonated her explosives amongst a group of Shiite pilgrims in Iskandariyah, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold 30 miles south of Baghdad.  The explosion followed a government announcement describing new measures to protect worshippers.

There are conflicting reports on the number of casualties.  The U.S. military put the death toll at 17, including one policeman and 16 civilians. A senior provincial security officer said 26 people were killed and 75 wounded.

Earlier on August 14, two smaller bombings in Baghdad killed two and injured 16.  These bombings were thought to target pilgrims as well.  Last month, three women suicide bombers attacked Shiite pilgrims during a festival in Baghdad, killing at least 32 people and wounding more than 100.

No group has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack, but given the target, Shiite pilgrims, it is thought that the Sunni extremist group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, is responsible.

For more information, please see:

Xinhua – Female Suicide Bomber Kills 18 Iraqi Pilgrims – 15 August 2008

Associated Press – Bombs Target Shiite Pilgrims in Iraq, Kills 17 – 14 August 2008

BBC – Iraq Suicide Blast Kills Pilgrims – 14 August 2008

Foreign Policy in Focus – Behind the Surge in Iraqi Women Suicide Bombers – 11 August 2008

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TEL AVIV, Israel – The Israel Defense Force has closed its probe into the April death of Fadel Shana, a Reuters cameraman.  The IDF issued a letter to Reuters announcing its decision to close the investigation.  In the letter, Israel’s top military lawyer, Brigadier General Avihai Mendelblit, stated that the tank crew involved in the shooting could not tell whether Shana was holding a camera or a weapon.  The letter continued by claiming that the crew reached the “reasonable conclusion” that Shana was “hostile”.

One reason for the tank crew’s suspicion was that Shana and his soundman were wearing blue flak jackets, which are “common to Palestinian terrorists.”  However, Shana’s jacket was clearly marked with “PRESS” and his vehicle was marked with the words “TV” and “PRESS”.

“I’m extremely disappointed that this report condones a disproportionate use of deadly force in a situation the army itself admitted had not been analyzed clearly,” said David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters.

The Foreign Press Association was also dismayed by the decision to close the investigation. “The IDF’s decision to close its probe without taking any disciplinary action is the latest in a long line of cases clearing its soldiers of deadly negligence,” it said.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Israelis Who Shot Cameraman Cleared – 14 August 2008

Guardian Unlimited – Gaza: Israel Clears Tank Crew over Killing of Reuters Cameraman – 14 August 2008

Washington Post – Israel Clears Troops in Death of Journalist – 13 August 2008

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TRIPOLI, Lebanon – On August 13, a roadside bomb detonated as a bus full of off-duty soldiers passed in northern Lebanon.  According to Reuters, at least 15 people were killed, including nine soldiers.  However, earlier security reports stated that at least 18 people were killed.  In addition, medical sources state that 45 people were injured, four critically.

“It seems that the bomb was detonated wirelessly by remote,” Lebanon’s police chief Ashraf Reefi said.  Following initial investigations, it appears that the bomb was placed at a bus stop where soldiers gathered; deliberately targeting the Lebanese military.

There has been no immediate claim for the attack.  But an army statement described the attack as a “terrorist bombing”; a phrase used in the past by the military when it suspects militant Islamist involvement.

The attack followed a day after the new unity government received a vote of confidence from parliament.

For more information, please see:

The Daily Star – Security Chiefs Probe Tripoli Blast as Army Buries Slain Soldiers– 15 August 2008

BBC – Lebanese City Rocked by Bus Bomb – 13 August 2008

Reuters – Lebanon Bomb Kills 15 in Attack on Army – 13 August 2008

French Polynesian Budget Debate Delayed After Continuing Internal Disputes Threaten Majority; Samoan Police Officer Accused of Sexual Harassment; Solomon Islands’ PM is Served With Arrest Warrant for Drunk Driving

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

PAPEETE, Tahiti — French Polynesia’s ruling party, To Tatou Aia, has been unable to address the budget debate due to a continuing struggle to maintain its majority.

The budget meeting set for this morning was delayed after disputes arose among the To Tatou Aia’s members. Hiro Tefaarere was one such member who withdrew his vote for the ruling party and threatened to form his own party.

The wife of Aia Api leader, Emile Vernaudon, also withdrew her vote from To Tatou Aia when the government refused her husband a land deal. Mrs. Heifara Izal later gave her support creating a one-vote majority in the To Tatou Aia assembly.

Internal dissents have plagued the ruling party ever since French Polynesian elections took place four months ago. Members of the opposition have made numerous threats of employing a no confidence motion.

Radio New Zealand International reports that President Tong Song will, “do what he can, and if he cannot fulfill his mandate it won’t be his fault.”

For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand International — Political instability in Tahiti delays budget debate — 13 August 2008

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APIA, Samoa — The Police Commissioner has launched an investigation and suspended a Samoan police constable after allegations surfaced accusing the officer of sexually offending a 19-year-old woman.

An organization known as the Samoa Victim Support group first reported the allegations two weeks ago. The woman reported the offense, and an investigation soon followed. The young woman is currently under the care of the support group.

Papalii Li’o, assistant police commissioner and spokesman, has said that the Ministry of Police will not tolerate such behavior especially among its police force.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — Samoan police constable suspended for alleged harassment — 13 August 2008

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands — The Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands is facing charges of driving under the influence of alcohol.  An arrest warrant was issued after Prime Minister Dr. Derek Sikua failed to appear at court.

The drunk driving incident occurred while Dr. Sikua was the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education in 2006. The prosecution already completed its case in March, but the court is still waiting on the defense case. Private attorney, Charles Ashley, is representing Dr. Sikua.

Acting director of Police Prosecution, George Ofu, has said that Dr. Sikua’s hectic schedule is the reason for the defense case’s delay.

But Mr. Ofu has also warned that if Dr. Sikua fails to appear for his October 21st court date, the police will have to enforce the law.

For more information, please see:
Solomon Star — Prime Minister Faces Arrest Warrant In Drunk Driving Case — 13 August 2008

Ousted Fiji Leader says that Proposed Charter Will ‘Divide Fiji’; NGOs Concerned Over Proposed Greater Role of Military in Fij ; Draft of Fiji Charter Released

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

SUVA, Fiji — Ousted Fijian Prime Minister Lasenia Qarase, long an outspoken critic of Fiji’s interim government, has come out this week in opposition to the draft of the proposed People’s Charter.  According to Qarase the draft, as written, will do more to divide the people of Fiji than it will do to unite them.

He has particular concern about the role of Fiji’s Constitution under the new proposed system.  He has said that charter is talking out of both sides its mouth with regard to the Constitution.  “While on one hand they say the supreme law of the land will be the constitution, they are saying that the electoral reforms will have to be in place before the election, and to do that you would need to change the constitution, so they are simply suggesting that the charter will be stronger.”

Qarase has also expressed concern that the Charter to expand Fijian racial divides.  “For the indigenous population it would violate their rights to property (land reforms), as well as their rights to a separate Fijian administration,” he said.

For more information, please see:
Radio New Zealand International — Ousted Fiji PM says new charter fuels divisions — 07 August 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited — Political Parties reject Charter — 09 August 2008

Fiji Daily Post — PEOPLE’S CHARTER WILL ‘DIVIDE FIJI’ — 08 August 2008

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SUVA, Fiji — Among the items included in the draft of the proposed People’s Charter is that Fiji’s military play a greater role in the governance of Fiji.  NGOs have come out to say that the role of the military should not be expanded in Fiji.

Angie Heffernan, executive director of the Pacific Center for Public Integrity,  said that there is no need to expand the military’s role, because its role is already fully explained by the Constitution.  If anything, Heffernan said, the military should be downsized.  “Fiji has a military strength that is ridiculous for the size of Its population, and as long as we feed the monster that we have chosen not to take to task, Fiji will continue to be vulnerable to coups perpetuated with the help of the military,” she said.

The Pacific Concerns Resource Centre has also condemned the suggestion, saying that the military’s involvement in the last three coups demonstrate that the military should not be brought any closer to governance.  “We don’t agree with the recommendation that it should even be involved any further than what we are currently experiencing,” Ema Tagicakibau, campaign director for the PCRC, said.  “If what we are going through is any indication of what future military involvement will be like then I think every law abiding citizen of this country must strongly condemn that call.”

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times — Reject military’s expanded goal: NGO — 07 August 2008

Radio New Zealand International — PCRC opposes Fiji charter’s role for military — 06 August 2008

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SUVA, Fiji — The National Council for Building a Better Fiji has released a draft of its much anticipated People’s Charter on Wednesday.  The draft was released and will be distributed to the public for discussion and consultation.  It is hoped that the draft will be ready to be presented to the President of Fiji by October.

According to council member, Josefa Serulagilagi, the aim of the Charter is to guarantee good governance and provide for social and economic development.  “What we would like to do is to really take out what is always called the coup culture in this country, and if we can, develop a kind of system whereby we move forward, and have solutions, so that we make sure that we don’t have that kind of attitudes in the minds of the people,” Serulagilagi said.

Among the proposed changes in the Charter is to change to convert the Fiji electoral system to proportionate representation, to adopt “12 principles” to end the coup culture and to reduce poverty to negligible levels by 2015.

For more information, please see:
Fiji Daily Post News — The People’s Charter and the Way Forward – Summary — 07 August 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji says it may need help to fund Charter consultation — 06 August 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji council releases draft charter aimed at ending coup culture — 06 August 2008

Aboriginal Land Returned; Pacific Women Offering Sex for Food; Poverty the Reason for Child Sex Trafficking in Indonesia

By Christopher Gehrke
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, South America

CANBERRA, Australia – Over thirty years of state government opposition to indigenous control of land was reversed today when the Australian government returned its largest remaining tract of rainforest to Cape York Aborigines.

Cape York, 695 square miles, has a human population of just 15,000.  According to Reuters, Aborigines have inhabited for 45,000 years.  They have higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence than other Australians.  Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister, apologized to Aborigines in February for 200 years of injustices stemming from Britain’s colonization.

Aborigines have been making steady gains in reaching land agreements allowing them to use traditional lands for their own benefit.  Experts believe that the Cape York land handed over will yield ecotourism opportunities.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Australian Aborigines get pristine forest back – 5 August 2008

ABC News – Qld Govt hands back national park to owners – 6 August 2008

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MEXICO CITY, Mexico – Delegates at a major AIDS conference in Mexico city cited cases of fisherwomen in the Pacific offering sex for food.  This is seen as another consequence of rising food prices, and is raising the rise of HIV infection, U.N. officials said Monday.

According to the U.N. overfishing of tuna in the Pacific has forced Papua New Guinea fisherwomen to join the crews of larger boats, where they engage in “fish for sex” deals.

For more information, please see:

ABC News – AIDS Threat:  Trading Sex for Food – 4 August 2008

Radio New Zealand – UN says HIV spreads by Pacific women selling sex for food – 5 August 2008

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JAKARTA, Indonesia – Human sex trafficking thrives in Indonesia due to extreme poverty, reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“The root of the problem is poverty, but in some areas…prostitution is accepted.  It’s the culture,” explains the International Labor Organization’s Arum Ratnawati, describing people so poor they sell or send their children into commercial sex work to earn income for their families.

Over 4 million schoolchildren are unable to go to school in Indonesia, and 70,000 were trafficked for prostitution.  Most girls are tricked into prostitution by family members, relatives, or other people they trust who promise them jobs.  They are often forced to pay off the debt the trafficker paid their parents in brothels, between $55-$110.

For more information, please see:

IRIN – INDONESIA:  Poverty at root of commercial sex work – 24 July 2008

The New Nation – Don’t make women trade-item for tourism – 18 July 2008

Fatah Officials Detained by Hamas; Several Dead in Lebanon after Neighborhood Conflict; Egypt Supports Delay in Arrest of Sudanese Leader

By: Julie Narimatsu

Impunity Watch Managing Editor-Journal

Several members of the Fatah movement, led by Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, have been arrested by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  Hamas responded that the arrests were part of their investigation into a bombing that killed five of its members and a girl, as well as in retaliation for the detentions of several Hamas members in the West Bank.  They are not disclosing specific numbers on how many Fatah men have been detained, and Fatah is denying any involvement in the bombing.

The bombing caused both sides to make numerous arrests in the past week.  However, on Wednesday, Hamas released over half of the detained Fatah activists.  Similarly, Abbas has reportedly ordered the release of all detained Hamas activists that have been arrested in the past week.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch released a report condemning the unlawful arrests and physical abuse of both sides since Hamas gained control of the Gaza Strip in June of 2007.  They have urged both sides to release those unnecessarily detained and to allow independent human rights monitors access to the detainees.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Top Fatah officials held in Gaza – 1 August 2008

NY Times – Abbas Is Said to Release Supporters of Hamas – 1 August 2008

CNN – Palestinian factions trample rights, watchdog group says – 30 July 2008

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New clashes between two neighborhoods in northern Lebanon have resulted in at least seven dead and more than 30 injured.  Rocket-propelled grenades were used to target apartment buildings and mosques, as well as buildings outside the two specific neighborhoods involved.  The Lebanese army has closed the nearby highway to reduce civilian exposure to the violence.

Since June, there have been fourteen deaths and over 100 injured in this region.  The conflicts stem from a long history of religious, territorial, and political tension going back to the 1970’s.

For more information, please see:

Al Bawaba – Seven dead in Lebanon clashes – 25 July 2008

NOW Lebanon – Raging storm – 26 June 2008

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Last month, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, filed several charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and murder against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in relation to his involvement with the conflict in Darfur.  While the ICC has requested an arrest warrant against the leader, Egypt, Sudan’s neighbor to the north, insists that the arrest should be delayed.

Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, discussed the situation with Sudanese Vice President, Ali Osman Taha, who called the charges “baseless and refuted by the facts on the ground.”  According to an Egyptian official, Ahmed Abul Gheit, the charges are “very dangerous and the prosecutor should not have let things go so far.”  He added that the “international community [sh]ould be careful and work for providing stability and look for justice and truth in Sudan.”

Over four million Sudanese refugees live in Egypt.  According to Nora Abdel Khalek, a political activist, Mubarak “does not want to be seen by Egyptians as being responsible for the hardship and troubles that have been going on [in Egypt].”  She adds that the lack of support to the ICC by Egypt and other African leaders is an attempt to “deflect the charges” to maintain their legitimacy.

Other African nations agree with Egypt that an arrest would threaten peace discussions going on in the region.  The African Union has stated that it does not support an immediate plan to arrest al-Bashir.

For more information, please see:

Middle East Times – Bashir Pending Arrest Too Close for Cairo’s Comfort – 1 August 2008

Sudan Tribune – Egypt’s Mubarak reaffirms his support to Sudan’s Bashir vs ICC – 28 July 2008

allAfrica.com – Uganda: Mubarak Here Over Bashir Warrant – 28 July 2008