UNHRC Fails to Appoint Special Rapporteur for Turkmenistan

By Kristy Tridhavee
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Asia

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan – The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted against appointing a special rapporteur for Turkmenistan, disappointing several human rights organizations.

Former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov was known for his reclusive, authoritarian policies and dismal human rights record. According to many experts, the situation in has changed little under the new administration.

The reason for the voting against a special rapporteur was unclear since the vote was taken behind closed doors. The UNHRC declined to explain the vote, citing the vote’s confidential nature. However, Turkmenistan will undergo review again in December along with all other member countries.

Sebastien Gillioz of Human Rights Watch commented, “All UN members will be reviewed, and in December it’s time for Turkmenistan, among others, to be reviewed. It’s a public process, it’s a political process, and a set of recommendations will be adopted after that review. In addition, the special rapporteur on freedom of religion, who visited the country a few weeks ago, will deliver her report in March. So there is a lot of pressure now on Turkmenistan, and that’s a positive outcome for us.”

Leonid Komarovsky, a former Russian journalist and U.S. Citizen, spent five months in a Turkmenistan prison after being accused of plotting to assassinate Niyazov in 2002. He alleges he was drugged and beaten while in prison. He was released from custody after pressure from Washington.

Komarovsky commented on the recent vote, “Unfortunately, nothing has changed for my friends in Turkmenistan. Their situation remains awful. The election of a new president has not brought any changes. The current regime is as abominable as the previous one and continues to brutalize the Turkmen people. Such a regime has no right to exist.”

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Tribune – No Special Rapporteur for Turkmenistan23 September 2008

Human Rights Tribune – A Special Rapporteur for Turkmenistan – 18 September 2008

Radio Free – UN Human Rights Council Fails to Appoint Turkmen Envoy – 30 September 2008

Olmert: Return Occupied Territories for Peace

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East
 

WEST JERUSALEM, Israel – On September 29, Yedioth Aharonoth, Israel’s largest newspaper, published a farewell interview with the now interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  In the interview, Olmert stated that “We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories.”  In addition, in order to reach a peace agreement with Syria, Israel will have to withdraw from the Golan Heights.

The most controversial element of Olmert’s statement is that a final peace agreement will require Israeli withdrawal from East Jerusalem.  Official Israeli policy regarding East Jerusalem is that it is a part of Israel and that Jerusalem is the “eternal and unified capital” of Israel.  Olmert argues that maintaining sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem would involve bringing 270,000 Palestinians inside Israel’s security barrier. 

“A decision has to be made,” said Olmert. “This decision is difficult, terrible, a decision that contradicts our natural instincts, our innermost desires, our collective memories, the prayers of the Jewish people for 2,000 years.”

Olmert’s comments in his farewell interview surprised many as he has long opposed any territorial concessions to the Palestinians.  According to Olmert, he was “not prepared to look at reality in all of its depth.”  While this is the first time Olmert has stated these thoughts publicly, “his Palestinian negotiations partners have heard this before, as have the Americans and the Europeans,” said Mark Regev, Olmert’s spokesman. 

Response from both the right and left wings of Israeli politics was swift.  Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu party, denounced the prime minister’s comments as “insanity.”  Lieberman continued by stating that Olmert was “endangering the existence of the State of Israel irresponsibly.”

Leftwing politicians criticized Mr Olmert for speaking his mind at a time when he had lost the power and credibility to make the territorial concessions he talked about.  Aluf Benn, of Ha’aretz, characterized the comments as “too little, too late.”

Despite recently resigning as Prime Minister, Olmert remains the interim Prime Minister and, in theory, will continue peace negotiations while awaiting the new government.  However, since Olmert is a lame-duck Prime Minister, some analysts believe that a final peace agreement will not occur in his remaining months.  Rather, his comments are to prepare the Israeli public for a possible peace agreement under his successor.

For more information, please see:

Financial Times – Olmert Calls for Return of “Almost All” Territory – 29 September 2008

Guardian – Ian Black: Ehud Olmert’s Valedictory Jewish New Year Message is Worth Listening To – 29 September 2008

Ha’aretz – ANALYSIS: Olmert’s Epiphany is Too Little, Too Late – 29 September 2008

Jerusalem Post – Olmert: We Must Leave Most of W. Bank – 29 September 2008

New York Times – Olmert Says Israel Should Pull Out of West Bank – 29 September 2008

Voice of America – Olmert Says Israel Must Withdraw From “Almost All” of Occupied Territories – 29 September 2008

Egypt Convicts Journalist Critical of the Mubarak Government

By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt – On September 28, Ibrahim Issa, editor of Al Dustour, an independent newspaper published in Egypt, was sentenced to two months in prison for publishing rumors that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was near death.  The verdict followed a lower court ruling in March that had sentenced Issa to six months in prison.

In August 2007, Issa published a series of articles in Al Dustour alleging that Mubarak’s health was rapidly deteriorating, and claimed that the President had lapsed into a coma.  Issa was arrested and charged with “publishing false information and rumors … and damaging public interest and national stability.”  According to prosecutors, as a result of Issa’s allegations, foreign investors withdrew more than $350 million dollars from the Egyptian stock exchange.

According to Issa, “The verdict opens the door of hell…it deals a blow to all illusions of a free press and confirms the state’s hostile position towards freedom of opinion and expression.”

The Egyptian government has a history of cracking down on journalists for publishing on a range of issues including the President’s health, inflation, poverty and government corruption.  Often, journalists or bloggers who publish on such issues are arrested, detained and imprisoned.

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, four years ago, Mubarak promised that he would end imprisonment for crimes related to free press.  Yet in the last year, at least seven Egyptian journalists were sentenced to up to two years in prison on charges ranging from misquoting the Minister of Justice to spreading false rumors about Mubarak.

In protest over Issa’s conviction, more than 23 Egyptian newspapers suspended publication for one day. The Journalists Syndicate filed a petition requesting the prison sentence be delayed pending an appeal to Egypt’s highest appeals court.  Reporters Without Borders denounced Issa’s trial, and Amnesty International stated that the trial and conviction are part of a pattern by the Egyptian government to “chill” freedom of the press.  According to the Egyptian Hisham Mubarak Legal Centre, Issa’s conviction for publishing allegations of the President’s failing health is in violation of international treaties that protect freedom of the press, of which Egypt is a party.

For more information, please see:

Al Arabiya – Egypt Editor Jailed Over Mubarak Health Rumours – 28 September 2008

Al Jazeera – Egypt Editor Jailed Amid Press Row – 28 September 2008

BBC – Egypt Editor’s Jail Term Cut – 28 September 2008

Los Angeles Times – EGYPT: Editor Sentenced to Jail – 28 September 2008

According to Government Report, Physicians in American Samoa are “Left Making Guesses About Patient Diagnoses”

By Sarah E. Treptow

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa – The U.S. Interior Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report stating that physicians at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Medical Center (LBJ) in American Samoa are “left making guesses about patient diagnoses” due to a lack of medical specialists and critical equipment.  According to the report, one of the most serious problems the hospital has is recruiting and retaining physicians and overworking the ones it does have.  LBJ is the only hospital in American Samoa, which is home to 65,000 residents.

The report contains personal observations of the OIG and interviews of the staff members of the hospital, combining to provide an idea of the difficulties.

Togiola Tulafono, American Samoa’s Governor, claims the federal government should take part of the blame for the deteriorating standard of health care on the island.  The governor said the reason the hospital cannot hire specialists and buy critical equipment is a lack of funds.  Mr. Tulafono reported the hospital can only afford to pay specialists a third of the salary they would earn in Hawaii or the mainland.

The governor said the report was issued to coincide with the Health Summit sponsored by the government taking place this week in Honolulu.  The report and finding solutions to specific issues it has pointed out will be topics of discussion at the Summit.

The governor left Sunday and will return Thursday. He has promised to brief the community when he returns.

For more information, please see:

Pacific Magazine – Togiola Welcomes Critical U.S. Report on Territory’s Medical Care – 30 September 2008

Radio New Zealand International – American Samoa Governor blames US government for problems at medical centre – 29 September 2008

Pacific Islands Report – Scarcity of Doctors Hampers Pago Hospital – 29 September 2008

LBJ American Samoa Medical Center Authority

Two Sons of Chinese Pastor Reported Beating by Chinese Officials

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

BEIJING, China – According to the U.S. based rights group China Aid Association, house church leader Zhang Mingxuan’s two sons were brutally beaten by up to 15 officers of China’s Public Security Bureau.  Zhang’s oldest son, Zhang Jian, was “severely beaten” unconscious when police raided the family’s home in Beijing.  The injuries were serious, and he may lose sight in his right eye.  A younger son was also beaten, China Aid Association added.  The family was evicted from their apartment, and Pastor Zhang was detained in Kunming city, southwest China.

U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood called on “the government of China to immediately release Pastor Zhang and permit his family members to return home, to condemn the violent acts committed against his sons, and to bring to justice those individuals responsible for such acts.”

However, Chinese government called remarks by the United States, regarding religious intimidation of Pastor Zhang, “groundless” and “irresponsible.”  Jiang Yu, spokeswoman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “We encourage the U.S. to pay more attention to its own human rights problems, instead of viewing itself as a human rights bodyguard interfering in other country’s internal affairs.”  Jiang also said that Chinese citizens enjoy religious freedoms, but nobody can use religion as an excuse to commit crimes.

Zhang Mingxuan was nicknamed Pastor Bike for having traveled China by bicycle to distribute Bibles and preach the Christian gospel. Chinese officials have harassed members of the house church where Zhang Mingxuan preaches in the past. “During the past 22 years,” said China Aid Association, “Pastor Zhang has been arrested 26 times, beaten and evicted from his home numerous times for his faith.”

For more information, please see:

AFP – US presses China to free EU prize-winning dissident – 23 October 2008

Reuters – U.S. condemns beating of sons of Chinese pastor – 23 October 2008

Voice of America – Religious Repression In China – 28 October 2008

XinHua – China refutes U.S. remarks on religious beating – 25 October 2008

One Year After Violent Crackdown in Myanmar

By Ariel Lin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s military junta claims its recent release of several political detainees and about 9,000 other prisoners marks the dawn of a new political era and another milestone in its roadmap to “disciplined democracy”. At least four other prominent former members of the NLD were also released. The mass release of prisoners has come as a surprise to diplomats and residents in Yangon.

Win Min, the country’s longest serving political prisoner and a veteran journalist and political activist, among those freed last week, says that the release probably signals the start of Junta’s preparations for the national elections in 2010.  The mass release of prisoners has come as a surprise to diplomats and residents in Yangon.  Suu Kyi, however, remains under house arrest in the Yangon residence where she has spent more than 13 of the last 19 years, with no sign she will be freed any time soon.

However, according to Human Rights Watch, repression in Burma has increased since the ruling military government crushed pro-democracy protests a year ago.  A report released by Human Rights Watch last week, says some 2,100 political prisoners are in Myanmar’s jails while “pseudo-political reforms” go on.  It also accuses the international community of failing to demand real reform and accountability from Myanmar’s military junta.

The crackdown that began on September 26, 2007, was a brutal response to growing protests in Myanmar.  Buddhist monks in Rangoon, Mandalay, and other towns across Myanmar staged peaceful marches to protest government policies and poor living standards.  “Last September, the Burmese people courageously challenged their military rulers, and they were answered with violence and contempt,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The repression continues. While a handful of political activists have been released, more are being arrested and thousands remain in prison.”

The group acknowledges that seven political activists were among thousands of prisoners recently released by Burmese authorities.  But it says about 39 political activists were arrested in August and September alone.  It also says the authorities have done nothing to bring justice to the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and torture during last year’s crackdown.

For more information, please see
:

Asia Times – False dawn in Myanmar – 27 September 2008

BBC – Burmese gloom one year after protests – 25 September 2008

BBC – No progress in Burma, says group – 25 September 2008

Human Rights Watch – Burma: One Year After Violent Crackdown, Repression Continues – 26 September 2008

Bus Attack Kills Soldiers in Lebanon

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

TRIPOLI, Lebanon – On September 29, a bomb exploded in Tripoli, killing several Lebanese soldiers and civilians.  Explosives, mixed with nuts and bolts, detonated as a bus carrying Lebanese Army soldiers passed, killing five and wounded at least 17 others.  The dead included four soldiers. 

Officials state that the bomb was stored in a stationary car and that it was detonated as the bus passed.  The detonation occurred at 8:00am, local time.  The bus was carrying soldiers, as well as civilians, to work.  The police immediately cordoned off the area and forensic experts began collecting evidence.

This is the second attack in the past two months that has targeted the Lebanese military.  On August 13, a suitcase bomb exploded as a bus carrying Lebanese Army soldiers passed, killing at least 15, including 9 soldiers.  In the earlier attack, explosives were also mixed with nuts and bolts.  It was the deadliest in Lebanon in more than three years.

The September 29 attack occurred two days after an alleged suicide attack targeted Syrian security forces in Damascus.  According to Syrian authorities, the car, packed with explosives, crossed into Syria from a “neighboring Arab country.”  Some have placed blame on Sunni militant groups in the region and claim that sectarian tensions in neighboring countries, such as Iraq and Lebanon, are spilling over into Syria.

Tripoli has been the site of a number of sectarian battles, with dozens of people killed or wounded in recent fighting between pro-government Sunni fighters and pro-Syrian Shias.  Despite the recent reconciliation agreement, sectarian tensions are still high. 

For example, last month Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President, stated that Sunni extremists were destabilizing north Lebanon.  Then, two weeks ago, Assad deployed thousands of Syrian troops along the north Lebanon border.  The official reason cited by the Lebanese Army is to fight smuggling.  However the deployment triggered fears in Beirut of a possible incursion.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Blast Hits Lebanese City of Tripoli – 29 September 2008

BBC – Analysis: Lebanon-Syria Attacks Linked? – 29 September 2008

New York Times – 4 Soldiers Killed in Lebanon Bombing – 29 September 2008

Reuters – Car Bomb Hits Bus Carrying Troops in Lebanon, 5 Dead – 29 September 2008 

The Times – Six Dead and Seventeen Injured in Tripoli Car Bombing – 29 September 2008

Deadly Car Bomb in Syria

By Yasmine S. Hakimian
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On September 27, a car bomb explosion killed at least 17 people and wounded 14 others. The victims included women and children. The attack is one of the deadliest in Syria in more than a decade.

The intersection where the explosion occurred leads to an important Shiite shrine in the Syrian capital. The al-Sayyida Zeinab shrine is one of Syria’s holiest sites. The shrine is a popular pilgrimage location and attracts tens of thousands of Shiites from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon each year.

Muhammad Abdul-Sattar al-Sayyid, Syria’s Minister of Religious Endowments, is shocked that such an attack occurred so close to Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan. General Bassam Abdul-Majid, the Syrian Interior Minister, believes the bomb was a terrorist act. A counter-terrorist unit is currently working to find the perpetrators.

According to the Middle East Times, the bombing may be the work of extremist groups or part of a “struggle between security forces.” Although, there are many speculations about who is responsible for the bombing, authorities are heavily investigating Islamist militants. Islamist groups were responsible for similar attacks during the 1980s when authorities fought an uprising by Muslim militants.

Fawaz Najia, an Arab political analyst, links the attack to growing Sunni-Shiite tension in the region. Najia also believes the Sunnis fear Iran’s Shiite infiltration of predominantly Sunni Arab countries. Sunni militants have clashed with pro-Syrian gunmen in the Lebanese city of Tripoli for the past several months. According to Najia, a Syrian study centre reported that Iran was pouring millions of dollars into Syria to convert Sunnis to Shiism.

Syria is currently at a political crossroad. In the last few years, there have been numerous clashes with security forces killing Islamist militants and arresting hundreds more. In addition, there has been recent unrest with Islamist prisoners in Syrian jails.

Despite efforts to talk, tension remains between Syrians and Israelis. The clash involves Syria’s support for groups like the Palestinian Islamist movements, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.

The UN Security Council has stressed the need to bring the “perpetrators, organizers, financiers, and sponsors of this reprehensible act of terrorism to justice” and has urged all states to actively assist the Syrian authorities.

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – UN Condemns Deadly Syria Attack – 28 September 2008

Jerusalem Post – Syria Says ‘Terrorists’ Coming From Outside Border – 28 September 2008

Middle East Times – Syria Hunts for Damascus Bombers – 28 September 2008

BBC – At Least 17 People Have Been Killed By a Car Bomb on the Outskirts of Syria’s Capital Damascus, Officials Have Said – 27 September 2008

CNN – Syria: Car Bomb Kills 17 in Damascus – 27 September 2008

Fiji Interim PM Indefinitely Delays Democratic Elections

By Hayley J. Campbell
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – Despite harsh criticism from the Pacific community, Fiji’s interim prime minister has told the United Nations that democratic elections will not be held next March as originally promised.

Commodore Frank Bainimarama, the interim prime minister, addressed the UN General Assembly in New York, saying that for democratic elections to occur, he must first rebuild his country. According to Bainimarama, a democratic election system cannot coexist with the “evils of self-interest, incompetence, intolerance, and greed.”

In addition, Bainimarama claims that his duty to rebuild his country may necessarily take precedent over adhering to Fiji’s constitutional laws:

“To-date, my Government, which remains in effective control of governance in Fiji, has done all within its power to adhere to the current Constitution. We recognize that this is the supreme law of our nation. At the same time, we have come to also recognize that the very foundation, on which we have been seeking to build our nation, has been shaky and weak.”

In his address, the prime minister also criticized Australia and New Zealand for imposing travel sanctions on Fiji following Bainimarama’s bloodless coup of the Federal government in 2006. Bainimarama explained that the sanctions hurt Fiji’s progress toward building a more democratic election process.

Last month, the Pacific Forum, a peacekeeping group of Pacific Nations, threatened to suspend Fiji from the union if the country did not follow through with its democratic elections in March 2009.

Last week, Bainimarama wrote the Pacific Forum asking for reinstatement. The Forum has yet to reply.

For more information, please see:
Fiji Times – Deeper into the quagmire – 29 September 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Fiji interim PM says he has done his best to adhere to constitution – 28 September 2008

ABC, Radio Australia – Fiji urges UN to help remove coup culture – 28 September 2008

UN News Centre – Fijian leader tells UN that planned parliamentary elections must be delayed – 27 September 2008

Musharraf Faces Charges of Human Rights Violations

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pervez Musharraf resigned the Pakistani presidency on August 18, 2008 under the pressure of impeachment from the coalition government and is now in the midst of facing charges, including treason and various human rights violations.  In May 2008, Human Rights Watch reported that human rights concerns in Pakistan included “arbitrary detention (including of lawyers and human rights defenders); lack of fair trials; mistreatment, torture and enforced disappearances of terrorism suspects and political opponents; harassment, intimidation and censorship of the media; violence against women; and discrimination against religious minorities. Since November 2007, the Government has severely interfered with democratic institutions and dissolved the independent judiciary.”

“A failure to hold Musharraf and the army responsible will only result in those abuses continuing and hamper Pakistan’s development into a full democracy,” said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch.

Musharraf is currently facing two criminal charges:  murder and treason.  Khalid Kwaja petitioned the Islamabad High Court to try Musharraf for the murder of rebel leader, Nawaz Akbar Bugti, which occurred at the army assault on the Red Mosque which occurred in 2006. Bugti’s death occurred while hiding out in a cave that collapsed during the assault.  A former judge stated that it is improbable that he will be convicted for this crime since he does not bear direct responsibility.

If convicted of treason, Musharraf would face serious consequences.  Musharraf himself has acknowledged that he violated the constitution by imposing a state of emergency in order to remove judges from the Supreme Court, who were in the process of ruling if he could legally serve another five year presidential term.  If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of death.

Musharraf may also face charges for the enforced disappearance of hundreds of terrorist suspects.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Universal Periodic Review of Pakistan:  Human Rights Watch’s Submission to the Human Rights Commission – 5 March 2008

MSNBC – Musharraf Unwinds with Tennis After Resigning; Much Speculation on Whether Ex-President Will Face Treason, Other Charges – 20 August 2008

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization – Balochistan:  The Case Against Musharraf – 22 September 2008

New UAE Visa Law Leaves Many Overseas Filipino Workers Stranded

By Nykoel Dinardo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East


AL AIN, United Arab Emirates –
New visa laws passed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have caused many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to be stranded outside the UAE.  There are reports that as many as 6,200 OFWs are waiting in Iran and Oman for new visas so that they may reenter the UAE;  some have been waiting as long as a month.

Many OFWs come to the UAE looking for work in the UAE, Oman, and Iran on a visit visa.  However, in March the government of the UAE passed new visa laws that limit the ability to renew visit visas.  Visitors seeking to come to the UAE may apply for a visit visa which is valid for up to 60 days, with a 30 day extension available.  Under the new law, after the visit visa expires, OFWs must apply for a tourist visa.  However, the visa applications can take as long as 60 days to process, leaving many OFWs without valid visas. Before the new law, visa renewals often took no more than 2 or 3 days.  Although the new law applies to anyone wishing to get a visa, many of those affected were Filipino workers.

Without a valid visa, many OFWs have been left stranded in Oman and Iran.  There are reports that as many as 5,000 people are currently stranded on Kish Island in Iran.  Kish has less stringent immigration laws allowing visitors to stay as long as 14 days without a visa, with an extension available for a fee.

Many are living in hotels, others on the streets.  Since laws on Kish forbid immigrants to stay in private homes without a visa, there are limited options.  Photos sent to the Philippines show as many as 12 people living in a single room.  Filipino government officials have said that many are not staying in hotels since many hotels require guests to leave their passports at the desk to ensure payment.

The Filipino government has asked for leniency from the government of the UAE for Filipino immigrants who are stranded, saying that the situation of the OFWs has amounted to a humanitarian crisis.  Many of those who could afford it have returned to the Philippines, but others, especially those employed in the UAE, wish the stay in the Middle East.   However, it is thought that the UAE will not allow for exceptions since the new law was announced over three months before it’s implementation.  Reports say that travel agents may be to blame for misinforming the OFWs as to the effects of the new laws. 

For more information, please see:Khaleej Times – Over 5,000 Await Visas on Kish – 28 September 2008

 

Inquirer – Travel Agencies Blamed for Stranded OFWs Outside UAE – 27 September 2008

Overseas Filipino News – Government Asks UAE’s ‘Leniency’ on Stranded Filipinos – 27 September 2008

ABS-CBN News – 6,000 Pinoys Stranded in Mideast Due to UAE Visa Snags – 26 September 2008

ABS-CBN News – Stranded Pinoys in UAE a Humanitarian Crisis – 26 September 2008

Khaleej Times – Coordinated Effort to Bail Out Filipinos Stranded at Al Buraimi – 24 September 2008

Khaleej Times – 45 Stranded at Al Buraimi Border – 22 September 2008

BRIEF: Turkish Warplanes Target Rebel Stronghold in Iraq

ANKARA, Turkey– On September 25, at least 10 Turkish warplanes launched an air strike against 16 suspected PKK targets in northern Iraq.  According to the PKK, the strike killed one of its members and wounded two civilians.  The Turkish military has not given any casualty figures for the latest raid.

Yesterday’s bombing campaign targeted the villages of Kutak, Surage and Kozala in the Qandil Mountains in Iraq.  Several homes were destroyed, displacing at least five families.  In addition, PKK claims that a school was also damaged.

According to Brig. Gen. Metin Gurak, spokesman for the Turkish military, the raid was in retaliation to the numerous attacks launched by the PKK against Turkish soldiers during the past month, which had claimed the lives of 17 Turkish soldiers.

In October 2007, the Turkish parliament authorized the military to step up activities against PKK strongholds in northern Iraq.  Over the past year the Turkish military has carried out numerous aerial raids and a week long ground incursion against PKK rebels in Iraq.  Last week the Turkish government stated it will request parliament extend the mandate by one year.  The current mandate is set to expire October 17.  According to the military, the PKK rebels regularly carry out cross-border attacks from their bases in northern Iraq against Turkish targets.

For more information, please see:

AFP – Turkish Jets Hit 16 Rebel Targets in Northern Iraq– 26 September 2008

Al Jazeera –Turkey Bombs PKK Bases in Iraq – 26 September 2008

Associated Press – Turkish Warplanes Hit 16 Rebel Targets in Iraq– 26 September 2008

BBC – Turkey Planes Hit PKK Rebels – 26 September 2008

Jerusalem Post – Turkish Warplanes Hit Kurdish Targets in Iraq – 26 September 2008

Top Economist Accuses Fiji’s Finance Ministry of “Twiddling its Thumbs”

By Sarah E. Treptow

Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania

SUVA, Fiji – By August, Fiji’s Ministry of Finance had only spent $15 million of the $162 million allocated for the entirety of 2008. A leading economist, Dr. Biman Prasad, the head of economics at the University of the South Pacific, criticizes the spending, “This is criminal negligence or downright incompetence. While our people are crying out for good roads, reliable water supply and better medical services, the Finance Ministry was sitting around twiddling its thumb.” The comments from Prasad were given at the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions third delegate’s conference at the Suva Civic Centre.

Prasad hopes that with the exit of the interim Finance Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry, the 2009 national budget will include expenditure policies which will help stimulate the economy. He added, “such inertia in such a key ministry is shocking.”

Prasad says further, “Besides improving infrastructure, so much employment could have been created had the money been put to good use. The buck for this pathetic state of affairs stops with the interim Finance Minister.”

Also present at the conference was ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Dr. Prasad highlighted the faults of Qarase’s government and said his party’s squandering of resources and reckless spending gave impetus for the coup that Prasad claims damaged the economy in 2006.

Interim Finance Minister Chaudhry has yet to respond to the accusations.

For more information, please see:

Fijilive – Economist slams Chaudhry’s policies – 27 September 2008

Pacific Magazine – Fiji Government’s Lack of Spending Criticized – 28 September 2008

The Fiji Times Online – Chaudhry exit ‘good for budget’ – 28 September 2008

Visitation Rights Important to Improve Jail Facilities in the Philippines

By Shayne R. Burnham
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) was reportedly denied agency visitation rights at Fort Bonifacio by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) last week.  Their visitation, including lawmakers from the House of Representatives, was spawned by complaints by detained soldiers of their cell conditions.

CHR Chairperson Leila De Lima said Lieutenant Colonel Iluminado Lumakad, commanding officer of the Philippine Marine Corps Headquarters Battalion, refused to allow the CHR team to visit detained marine officers who plotted against the government in 2006.  Lima asserted that the CHR has a constitutional mandate that grants them visitation rights.

“The AFP has a lot of explaining to do. They do not have any authority in any capacity to prevent the CHR from conducting jail visitations. We need not have clearance from the higher ups just so we could visit detention cells throughout the country. Our constitutional mandate is clearly stated and that is what matters most,” De Lima said in her letter to Chief Alexander Yano of the AFP last week.

Lima and the CHR believes that it is important to allow for unannounced visits to detention centers in order to ensure conditions are humane and most importantly, to curb torture.  Lima told a news conference in Manila on Tuesday that CHR has documented more than 300 cases of torture since 2005.  Moreover, she stated that torture is prevalent in ordinary precincts and police stations, and even ordinary civilians who were arrested or detained arbitrarily by army or police forces were beaten, electrically shocked, burned with cigarettes, or suffocated with plastic bags.

Although the Philippines has signed on to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) in April, the protocol has yet to be ratified in the Republic’s Senate.  In the mean time, the government seeks a three to five year deferment on its implementation.  Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita states that the government wishes to conform to United Nations standards by improving jail facilities and prison conditions.  Ermita said that regardless of whether the OPCAT was ratified, the government “wholeheartedly join[s] [their] colleagues in the community of nations in denouncing torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

Philippine jails are overcrowded, face regular outbreaks of diseases and needs to focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of an inmate.  Waiting to enforce the OPCAT would allow enough time to address these issues.

For more information, please see:

GMANews.TV – RP Seeks 5 Year Exemption From Anti-Torture Protocol – 23 September 2008

INQUIRER.net – CHR Accuses Military of Denying Right to Visit Jailed Troops – 23 September 2008

Reuters – Torture Prevalent in Philippines – Rights Body – 23 September 2008

Amnesty International Calls for Investigation of Ill-Treated Indonesian Prisoner

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

PAPUA, Indonesia – Amnesty International is calling on the Indonesian government to investigate the mistreatment of Ferdinand Pakage, a prisoner in Abepura Prison, after he was beaten by prison officers.

Pakage, who is currently serving a 15 year sentence after a dubious 2006 trial, was beaten by prison officers on 22 September.  The beating was witnessed by other prisoners and resulted in serious injury to Pakage’s hands, legs and left eye.  As of this writing there are no reports of Pakage’s current medical condition.  Prison officials began to beat Pakage after he was removed from solitary confinement.

In their report calling for the investigation, Amnesty International has reminded the Indonesia government that they are signatories to the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment and that they are required to take effective measures to prevent torture and perform impartial investigations after torture is committed.

Amnesty International has also said that this beating, and others like it, have been allowed to continue because the Criminal Code has not been reformed.  They have said that the code must be reformed to provide a legal deterrent against beating and torturing prisoners during their detention.

For more information, please see
:
Amnesty International – Ill-treatment of Papua prisoner must be investigated – 26 September 2008

Radio New Zealand International – Amnesty International calls on Indonesia authorities to act over detained Papuan – 26 September 2008