UNHRC Fails to Appoint Special Rapporteur for Turkmenistan

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